I’m intrigued by Hector Avalos’ piece on interpretation of the Bible. There are some fine points that he makes, including the point that there is no such thing as a disinterested or anti-hegemonic reader. But I think he is too simplistic here:
The philosophical and ethical problems with reinterpretation are usually never addressed very thoroughly by biblical scholars. Such ethical and philosophical problems can be seen more clearly if we realize that two positions can be identified for those who believe there is even such a thing as authorial intent:
A. Authorial intent is the only one that matters;
B. Authorial intent is not the only one that matters.
If one chooses A, then reinterpretation would be as unethical as reinterpreting my words to mean something other than what I intended, at least insofar as my intentions are clearly expressed by my words. Reinterpretation really becomes a game of “let’s pretend the Bible now says something else.”
If one chooses B, then the only result is chaos and relativism that renders moot and superfluous all research into the ancient socio-historical context and philology of the Bible. Why bother finding out what a text meant if we are allowed to reinterpret it, anyway? Reinterpretation in that sense is really the rejection of an original meaning. As such, we cannot say that any reinterpretation is biblical anymore than my original intentions could be called mine if they were reinterpreted in the future.
The result of “chaos and relativism” does not follow from B at all, but from C, which he didn’t mention:
C. Authorial intent, and contextualised meaning, does not matter at all.
Certainly the New Testament writers seem to assume that the original contextual meaning of the OT Scriptures must now be reconsidered in the light of the Christ event, to which they were dimly bearing witness. In this sense, the “reinterpreted meaning” is more, but not less, than its original contextual meaning.
If in the future someone is able to find deeper or extended significance in something I say, it is true that I may disagree; but this is not a methodological certainty: I may actually be delighted that someone has taken my words further than I was able to see from my vantage point.