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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

authorial intent and multivocality

In the second half of the 20th century authorial intent was championed among conservative evangelical scholars as the anchor for biblical hermeneutics. Appeals to authorial intent were made to shore up the interpretation of scripture against the tide of subjectivity that had swept over secular literary criticism where “the death of the author” and the “autonomous text” had produced all sorts of new “readings” of works both within and outside of literary canon.

The notion of authorial intent does not rule out multivocality. The teaching of Jesus in the gospels is riddled with semantically underdetermined texts. Multivocality is built in and regular misinterpretations by the disciples illustrate this. Jesus occasionally corrects the disciples when the are completely off but he does not nail down the correct understanding resulting in a fixed, unyielding, cross cultural, context independent, universal for all time and every place reading of his words. In other words multivocality remains after the disciples are corrected:
John 4:31   Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?”  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” RSV
Jesus hasn’t really cleared up the issue of why he doesn’t need to eat. His answer directs the attention of the disciples away from topic of eating physical food to a more important topic but it still leaves very many questions unanswered. The expression “do the will of him who sent me” is semantically underdetermined and yet it reflects the intent of the author.


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