Thursday, September 03, 2015

On Language and "contextualization"

Because language and reasoning are image-bearing capacities common to all human beings, they have the potential for constructive communication across differences in gender, ethnicity, language and culture, even as they are context-qualified, personally and communally situated, and culturally embedded. This is especially true for Scripture, God's Word for all image-bearers, and for its interpretation. [Richard Gaffin, "The Redemptive-Historical Response," in Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell, eds., Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012), 186]

In this book on the topic of hermeneutics, Richard Gaffin focuses on what I think is the crux of the issue with regards to the new hermeneutical theories. The question concerns the nature of language. Is language from God, or from Man? Is it from above, or from below? If language comes from God (not that it is God), then it must be adequate for the task of communication. The fallen nature of humanity does not destroy all language and all reasoning, but twist its usage and perception.

It is because language is a created thing from God, therefore communication is possible between men, and between God and men. We are not looking to read the minds of others, but rather each block of communication convey, in a fallible manner, the form (poetry, prose) and substance (propositions) that the author intends to communicate to the recipient. There might be missteps each step of the process (Author to Communication block to Recipient), but missteps do not imply that the process always fails or that it is geared towards failure.

Therefore, "contextualization" in the sense of translating meaning dynamically with little regard for the actual terms used, in the process of "cultural contextualization," is in error. Translation is always translation towards understanding of concepts, not towards making them familiar (like what the Insider Movement does). The new hermeneutical methods, far from achieving clarity, have created chaos and confusion, as various "interpretations" of Winnie the Pooh have shown.

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