Repost: Texts Don’t Just Hold Meaning, They Create Meaning

I wrote this four months ago on my former blog, along with a few others on Scripture. I want to add to these in the next few weeks.

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.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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3 Responses to Repost: Texts Don’t Just Hold Meaning, They Create Meaning

  1. Susan Mitchell says:

    Agreed. God speaks into and “Beyond the sacred page.” I shifted to this more reasonable view of the text when I took a couple of courses in Literary Criticism in pursuit of my English degrees. It just made so much more sense to me to realize that the God, the author, the artifact (text), and the reader all bring something to the activity of extracting meaning. Since God’s purposes are not static, and since the reader (we would hope) is not static, the meaning that is created does — and should! — change over time.

    • Susan Mitchell says:

      Oops, I meant to label this kind of hermeneutic as “Reader Response Criticism” in case anyone wants to read more about it. Wolfgang Iser is one of my favorite writers about this.

  2. Mark says:

    Thanks, Susan. Well said.

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