Experience and Interpretation

I read an interesting blog post by Peter Enns that got me thinking. The first three sentences of the post are as follows: “God reveals. The biblical writers interpret God’s revelation. Those interpretations eventually become the Bible.” He goes on to illustrate what this means in terms of Passover laws. I appreciate much of what Enns has to say in his attempts to give normal people (especially from an evangelical background) a way to gain a new understanding and appreciation of scripture. This is not so much a disagreement with his post, but a challenge to the notion that humans and/or language could ever do anything other than provide an interpretive lens of ANY experience or ANY revelation, from God or otherwise. The same dynamic Enns argues for in the Passover laws is part of the process of ALL human experience, interpretation, language, and relationship.

To experience an event necessarily requires that the human mind run that experience through the structures of the brain that have developed over the life of the person. What any experience means to an individual (whether that experience is in the form of language or other apparent external action) is necessarily different from what that experience could possibly mean to any other individual. At the same time, the contingency of individuality means that the experience also cannot be wholly other than what another person would have experienced. Present experience is, therefore, always a dynamic interplay between the community that formed the individual and the uniqueness of that individual’s formation.

To then convert the stored memory of that experience back into words is necessarily to add another layer of interpretive shaping. And to hear/read those words is a at least a third layer of shaping. Interestingly, neuroscience even suggests that every time an individual remembers a past experience, that memory is re-recorded in a slightly different way. It would seem that even speaking what we believe to be accurate necessarily adds a layer of interpretation within our own brain as well.

It is, therefore, useless and atheistic to assume the Bible means anything without the presence and activity of God’s grace that opens our eyes and ears.

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