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Learning to read

"... seek and you will find..." Matthew 7.7

It is a feature of literary criticism that readers find more and different meanings in what is written than the author often intended. Does this matter? Not according to William Golding, who wrote 'Lord of the Flies'. He maintained that authors have no enduring monopoly over what they write. Once published, it is up to readers and critics to discern and interpret whatever meaning and inspiration they may find in the text.

Can we apply a similar approach to the Bible? I can hear the gasps of horror and dismay! If "exegesis" is the technical term for the respectable task of interpreting a text according to what we can discover about the author's original intention, then "eis-egesis" is the equivalent term for the trap we often fall into, when we read into a text what we hope to find there, regardless of the author's original intention. But what if it is impossible to determine what that original intention was? Or when two sincere interpreters arrive at difference conclusions?

The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge studied every book of the Bible and wrote up his insights in 'Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit' (first published in 1840). He concluded that the Bible's significance lies in its ability bring objective truth to bear on our subjective experiences. That is to say, that the Bible is not a weapon or a bridle for confronting or controlling others but a light to illuminate our own journey through life.



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