The Author Was Intentional

November 6, 2017

Everything The River does is anchored in a simple idea: God inspired His Word to be read and understood. By the Spirit, the Biblical authors communicated to their hearers and readers (and to us) in ways that we can understand.

Whether in the “Reading Scripture” class or any of the other core courses or “Intensives,” we fully rest on the idea that the text of Scripture means something. Before we open the book and read a passage, the author (both the human author and the divine Author behind the human author) intended to communicate something. Our goal is not to create meaning or merely “get something out of” some portion of Scripture, but to read in such a way as to learn the intended meaning of the text.

In his little book The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2012), Dale Ralph Davis writes about the intention of the Biblical authors. In explaining the questions he has in mind when he approaches a passage, he writes:

Why? Why did the author include this text? . . . Of course, the skeptic is perfectly free to ask whether we can always be sure we have–or can get at–the writer’s intention. Maybe not, but I find that stubbornly asking this questions opens up more texts for me. What is this doing here? Why on earth would anyone tell this . . . at this point? It is good exercise in itself and, more often than not, yields pay dirt. . . . Now all this concern with the writer’s intention is terribly out of step. I call it “dinosaur hermeneutics.” Reader-response criticism is more the current rage; it only wants to answer, “How does this text affect me?” There is no precise or correct meaning but only the meanings which arise from within the reader. I admit my preoccupation with the writer’s intention is dated. And I really don’t care. It’s hard to get away from the suspicion that someone meant to mean something with a text. Sooner or later folks will recognize that–again.

In normal, day-to-day, communication it will not do to listen to someone or read what they wrote while ignoring or overlooking the communicator’s intention. If genuine communication is to happen, the intention of the one speaking or writing should always take precedent over what I want to hear or how I want to “interpret” what the communicator is saying. To miss the author’s intention will mean that, ultimately, we will miss the message all together.

This idea of the author’s intention appears to be behind what Paul was explaining to Timothy about teachers who distort the Scriptures:

For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,  wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:6–7)

Obviously, those who want to be “teachers of the Law” must be turning to texts. Obviously, making “confident assertions,” these teachers think they know of what they speak. But their understanding of those texts is misguided. They have missed what the texts are really about. They have missed the intention of the texts about which they make their confident assertions.

Good reading must begin with the idea that the author was intentional. As Davis wrote, “It’s hard to get away from the suspicion that someone meant to mean something with a text.” And it is that meaning–the author’s meaning–that should inform all our reading.

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