Interpretation

Immediacy

Chais and RachelThis post marks the first of what I hope will be the beginning of many more short articles. This is my way of sharing my many interests and passion. I hope you will find it beneficial for your own studies.

Have you ever received a quizzical look after you’ve said something? Perhaps you have wondered why people don’t “just get” what you are saying. I imagine we can all relate to this experience. The frustration comes from a desire to be known. We hope that, by speaking, others will understand perfectly without a mediating agent like an interpretive framework. In turn we hope for the same perfect knowledge ourselves. We want to understand and be understood as God understands. However, being known or understanding by way of immediacy is simply not a part of our creaturely existence.

As a Christian minister, I talk a lot. My friends can attest this claim. In my ministry context immediacy has significant ramifications. Belief in the immediacy of Scripture implies understanding passed to the reader without a mediating agent. I read it and “I get it” just as God does. Understanding Scripture by immediacy is intuitive. If immediacy was part of the innate human experience there would be no confusion. Since this is not naturally the case, I assume a need for a mediating agent. Christians have sometimes claimed immediate knowledge to fight interpretations, defend truth by correspondence, and preserve objectivity.[1] However, those who claim immediacy and those who don’t, utilize an interpretive framework whether consciously aware of it or not. Immediacy is a way of interpreting.

Let’s consider two examples where the framework of immediacy fails us because of orientation:

(1)    The picture to the right is a box with a blue and yellow panel. Which one is in front?Immediacy image

Looking at it from one perspective yellow appears to be in front. From another perspective it is blue.                        Both layers come together to make green. In reality neither the yellow or blue panel sit in front of the                      other since it’s a two dimensional plane.

(2)    Solve: √25 = x

In this example you probably come up with the positive integer 5 because 5 x 5 equals 25. This is not the only answer however it could also be -5. Remember that negative numbers become positives when multiplied together.

What does this have to do with immediacy? Our orientation to the object in example 1 changes the answer. Our intuition about what we see affects our interpretation of the object. Two people claiming immediacy can come to completely different answers. Of course the box is not a perfect example of this but I hope you can “get” what I am saying.

The mathematical equation produces two answers, a negative and a positive. It is easy to intuit the answer as 5. Even your calculator will provide that answer for you. However -5 is equally appropriate.

In both examples, immediacy produces a conflict as two people can claim to “get it” or “see it” but fail to agree. There is another image floating around the internet that is a good example of this. Nobuyuki Kayahara created the spinning ballerina that changes as your brain tries to place the 2-dimensional object into a 3-dimensional space.

For Christians, a lack of immediacy has been or is viewed as a postlapsarian consequence, assuming that, pre-fall, we experienced knowledge immediacy but afterwards it was lost to us. The hope is that we can restore this way of godlike intuition. Some make a special claim to immediacy through the agency of the Holy Spirit. However, I believe this claim fails to impress even those who also claim the same special agency of the Spirit. They still don’t agree. Others hope for an eschatological event that will mend this creaturely shortcoming. They suppose that in the resurrection there will be no need for interpretation because they will immediately understand everything. There is however, a more optimistic way of looking at interpretation.

Helpful Works

James K.A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012).

Merold Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).

John Mark Hicks, http://johnmarkhicks.com/2008/05/15/created-for-hermeneutics-part-i/


[1] Merold Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 18-21.

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