Friday, November 11, 2011

Texts Don't Just Hold Meaning, They Create Meaning

For awhile now, I have been a person of diminished appetites. Slowly, however, they have been returning. One of the last things to return has been interest in my blog. I've simply been uninterested in writing anything, in creating anything. I've thought about taking it down or starting something new. But mostly I've simply been searching for something worth writing.

So, this might be just for today, but here goes. A modest post, but one I think with big implications. Texts don't just hold meaning, they create it.  And this is especially true for sacred texts. Surely part of what sets a sacred text apart from others is its capacity continually to create meaning.

Texts do hold meanings. 1 Peter, for instance, is a certain text. It is not another one. It has certain words and certain ideas presented in a certain order. It can't mean just anything. But it can create multiple meanings as well. As any author knows, a text also has a relationship with a reader or group of readers, and not just the original readers. It's meanings are not limited to the intention of the author or the circumstances of the first readers. 1 Peter spoke powerfully to me when I was in 7th grade, and it spoke to me in the particularity of my circumstances that were simply not anticipated by the author. 1 Peter created meaning for me. It spoke into my life. It has a living voice.

I'll simply say at this point that I wasn't taught to think about the Bible this way. I was taught to isolate one meaning of the text, to trap it and make it hold still, to make it say only what the author intended for it to say, to curtail its ability to make meaning. And this, I think, was wrong.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back. I've missed you.

Warren Baldwin said...

Mark, I've been wrestling with this issue as well. I was taught to look for the intended meaning of the author, and I emphasize this approach in a class I teach (but I did not design the curriculum). However, I know that certain texts have created meaning for me. I can't explain or justify how a text impressed me in a certain way, or influenced me to think or move in a certain direction, but it happened. How do I present this to class? That's a challenge! I may direct them to this post. Or, if you have the time (which I'm sure you don't), could you write another one expanding on this one a bit more, and even using an example or two?

Mark Love said...


I hope to follow up on this post. Stay tuned.