When coming across a word, a phrase, or a passage in the Bible, our natural tendency as modern disciples is to interrogate a text and then assign meaning to it. If we can pin a piece of text down, it’s like having a part of the puzzle solved in our heads once and for all. The inconvenient idea that a text’s value and usage can change—that its meaning depends on where and how it is placed in a story—troubles us because it thwarts any hope we have of gaining control over the author.
We naturally prefer an assigned, fixed meaning over context, functionality, and syntax because assigned meaning addresses a deep psychological insecurity. Humans desperately want to feel safe and in control. When we assign meaning to something, we become its maker and master. It settles in as part of our creation narrative, and we ascend in glory as the gods of our own illusions. Fast forward to the digital age full of echo chambers and majority illusions. Why not rule in hell if you hold the power to control its meaning?
When we assign meaning, we imagine we are pinning something down in the text when, in fact, we are chasing ghosts of our own making: mental abstractions disconnected from what is written on the page. So when you come across a familiar quote of John the Baptist, you must not ask, what does John mean? The correct question is, how do John’s words function in this gospel at this point in the canon? How were they used in previous books? Based on their usage here, what is the author saying in this gospel, in this situation, at this point in the New Testament?
Richard and Fr. Marc discuss Luke 3:7-9 (Episode 472)
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