Contradictions in exegesis

A repost from my prior blog:


Despite what we may think naturally, contradictions can instruct us in the exegetical process rather than frustrate us. By contradiction I mean any two pieces of data, insight, interpretation, or the like that do not fit together. The realm can be biblical, theological, textual, or even applicational. No matter the content of the contradiction, it serves to highlight the fact that as the interpreter there is something I have missed. It guides me back to the drawing board, so to speak, to work through my understanding of the text again so that I can figure out where I have gone wrong in the process. There are two basic presuppositions which guide my thinking here, one dealing with me as the interpreter and the other dealing with the text.

Concerning myself as an interpreter, I realize that I am imperfect. I do not understand things as I should, nor do I always have a complete grasp of all the data necessary for proper exegesis. There are bound to be holes in my interpretation that I cannot see. I read from a perspective that may or may not be aligned with that of the text in front of me. And that is the beauty of the exegetical or interpretive contradiction: It points me to where I am deficient. It shows me where I need to apply myself so I can understand better.

Concerning the text, when I approach the Bible I am guided by a general philosophical principle and a specific theological one. Generally, when one reads one should assume that the text is a unified, coherent whole, both in its broad strokes and tiny particulars. In philosophical hermeneutics this is generally called "the anticipation of completeness." We assume that a text is going to speak clearly, without contradiction, until the text shows us differently. If I perceive a contradiction in a text, this practically means that I should examine myself first and not automatically assume that the text is deficient. Specifically, when we read the biblical text, we are guided by the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, which affirm that the Bible is truth and communicates truly in all it affirms. Because contradictions as a rule imply a lack of truth, this again points to me as the interpreter as the weak link in the process, not the text.