Oct 21, 2007

?tnetnI lairohtuA ro esnopseR redaeR

This is yet another short one. I really promise that more is coming. In fact, I am almost finished with the big one I’ve been talking about. I hope to finish within the next day or two, depending on the time I have to spend on it. Then, there is another post I feel needs to precede that one. Thus, the big one ~should~ be posted the first week of November (~ two weeks from now).

There are many debates where the Scriptures are concerned. Some want to argue about inspiration or veracity and so on. My purpose in this post is not to argue about these, though I certainly could, and may, at some later date. Today, I just want to provide an illustration of why authorial intent is so critical to proper scholarship. I ran across this sign (below) at an apartment complex this past summer (yes, I have been so busy this is actually back-logged).

I took one of my helpers home and passed by this sign... immediately my mind started thinking about the importance of authorial intent and I just had to stop and take a picture of the sign (yes folks, I’m a dork). I thought of many different ways the sign could be interpreted and were it not for authorial intent, I would be paralyzed in knowing what to do with that spot. Below I have listed seven different interpretations of the same three-word sign, in order to illustrate the point.

1-This sign simply states “Future Resident Parking.” With the notable absence of punctuation in signs (such as my favorite one… “Slow Children Playing” :), there is no way to know exactly what this sign means unless you assume some sort of authorial intent.

2-In this case, the most natural reading would be that the parking is only for those who are not currently residents, but will be (in the sense of guaranteed to be). Thus, parking there could be considered a contract of sorts and to park there and not rent would be a breaking of the contract, which would make you liable.

3-Another way to read the sign is that there may be some problem with the spaces that has made them unfit for use (perhaps unburied mines that may explode if they are parked on). Thus, it would mean that the parking is for residents, but only in the future, not now.

4-Another way of reading it is that future residents must park there and to park anywhere else would cause them not to consider you as a resident.

5-It could also mean that this is the designated place for couples to make out or that they must make out in that spot and so on, like the variations already listed (see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/parking definition number 6 :)

5-It may even mean that they are to orbit there for an indeterminate amount of time (again with all of the variations already discussed).

6-If you really want to go reader response, it could say anything from the equivalent of “Free ice-cream” to “bug off.” But it that is your position, who knows what I am saying to you right now.

Ok, trust me I could go on and on with this one, but I think you get the point… let’s move on. In order to discern what this sign means, you must take into account the placement of the sign (location), the way it is presented (context), who “wrote” it (authorship – see note at bottom of page*), and why (purpose). We do this intuitively in everyday life. This sign was placed in front of the renting office at an apartment complex by the management. It is there as a courtesy to those who are thinking of renting at this particular complex. It is intended to make a good impression and show that they care. Thus, is means that anyone considering renting at this complex may park there and current residents should not. Any other way of reading this sign simply makes no sense. In this case, you could go to the manager and ask them what they mean by it and, no doubt, they would say the same.

It is no different when reading scripture. We cannot go back to the author and ask what he meant when we are confused about a particular passage. However, we can look at the immediate and overall context (as well as other passages by the same author) in order to discern his intention and thus, the meaning. Simply put… reader response is nonsensical and foolish.

*note: this could easily carry us into a discussion of authorship (things like as the use of an amanuensis), since the manager didn’t actually write the sign, but anyway ;-)

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