Biblical Interpretation and the Eunuch’s Shadow



I can’t believe the reaction I’ve gotten to yesterday’s post about the old cliché about “making the Bible come alive.” I’ve gotten some significant response and you readers have got me thinking. So I want to think with you a bit more about how biblical interpretation in the church ought to work.
When I was in graduate school almost 30 years ago, I read an essay by George Steiner that burned down my world as an aspiring scholar. In the quotation below, substitute “interpreter” or “scholar” or “preacher” or “teacher” for the author’s word “critic”
When he looks back, the critic sees a eunuch’s shadow. Who would be a critic if he could be a writer? Who would hammer out the subtlest insight into Dostoevsky if he could wield an inch of the Karamazovs, or argue the poise of Lawrence if he could shape the free gust of life in The Rainbow? …The critic lives at second hand. He writes about. The poem, the novel, or the play must be given to him; criticism exists by the grace of others’ genius.… It is not criticism that makes the language live.  These are simple truths (and the honest critic says them to himself in the gray of morning).*
At first, I thought, “That’s harsh… a eunuch’s shadow?” I mean, we teachers and interpreters, we “critics” (in the liberal arts sense of the term) are committed to the great texts, like the Bible. We keep people reading these texts, we breathe new life into them for each successive generation… don’t we?
And then I started noticing something. So many aspiring scholars, including preachers who wanted to be serious interpreters, like myself back in the middle 1980′s, seemed less interested in the actual text of the Bible, and more interested in “scholarship.” The preparation for a paper, or sermon, began not with the close, mutual scrutiny of reader and text, but with the generation of the bibliography, the framing of a suitable research question, the need for a sermon idea.



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