Biblical Interpretation

By Robert Morgan; John Barton | Go to book overview

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Interpretation and Biblical
Interpretation

What is interpretation?

Interpretation is an intermediary task performed by rational human beings to make human communication possible in difficult cases. In interpreting we first understand the human utterance and then elucidate it for ourselves or someone else. Whereas mechanical transmitters pass on messages by relaying sounds or transcribing them into a more permanent form, interpreters often say something quite different in order to get across the meaning of an utterance. Unlike the proverbial horse and mule, or the products of modern technology (artificial intelligence is a borderline case), interpreters have understanding.

The medium of human communication is normally language.

Even where meaning takes non-linguistic forms it calls for articulation in words. Silence is sometimes meaningful, but only where its meaning could in principle be expressed. Non-verbal human expressions or forms of communication such as works of art or music are 'interpreted' because they too bear a meaning or meanings, intended by rational agents and/or discerned by rational receivers.

Borderline cases underline the human and linguistic character of interpretation. If we interpret the whine of a pet dog we are crediting it with more or less rational behaviour as it alerts us to its natural needs. If we speak of computer language and interpret computer data, this is because they represent the language and thought of rational agents.

A different kind of boundary is found in religious discourse.

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