Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Another voice.

As one with graduate degrees in both law and theology, I have observed the similar fashions these disciplines approach texts (and have written extensively on these issues on this blog and elsewhere).

Often, the two fields wrestle with the same interpretive issues, such as "original intent" and "plain meaning" rubrics. Coming from the theological side, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman astutely grasps this overlap between law and theology's interpretation of texts.

In Misquoting Jesus (2005), Dr. Ehrman writes:

"[T]he more I studied, the more I saw that reading a text necessarily involves intepreting a text. I suppose when I started my studies I had a rather unsophisticated view of reading: that the point of reading a text is simply to let the text 'speak for itself,' to uncover the meaning inherent in its words. The reality, I came to see, is that meaning is not inherent and texts do not speak for themselves. If texts could speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a text would agree on what the text says. But interpretations of texts abound, and people in fact do not agree on what the texts mean." (Emphasis in original; p. 216.)

Dr. Ehrman continues:

"[S]urely the texts of the New Testament are not simply collections of words whose meaning is obvious to any reader. Surely the texts have to be interpreted to make sense, rather than simply read as if they can divulge their meanings without the process of interpretation. And this, of course, applies not just to the New Testament documents, but to texts of every kind. What else would there be such radically different understandings of the U.S. Constitution...? (Emphasis supplied; p. 217.)