Leveson – a case study analogy of biblical hermeneutics

On the afternoon of Thursday the 29th of November, Lord Justice Leveson published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. You may read, if you are brave enough, the whole report here. There are by now also a myriad of other blogs and articles available for your perusal which discuss and dissect it. I shall leave it to you to find them, rather than linking to any here.

Lord Justice Leveson gave a press conference to outline his conclusions and proposals. At the end of this, he stated that he would not be speaking further about the report, saying that it would “speak for itself.” I was watching on the BBC and immediately after the press conference they had guest after guest giving their interpretation of the report. What do the recommendations mean, how are they to be implemented, etc.? After this came a debate in the House of Commons where leaders of all 3 main parties gave their verdict on the report’s findings. These in turn were then debated on Question Time later that evening.

Given that the report is around 2,000 pages long and was only made available to MPs 25 hours before it went public, a complete and detailed review was not feasible. Even so, the debate quickly honed in on a few crucial paragraphs and differences on how to interpret them. Much has been made over terminology such as “statutory regulation” “underpinning” “self-regulation” etc. The conclusion that Leveson came to could not be described as simplistic and does require a careful reading in order to fully grasp what he had in mind. As he had made himself unavailable for further query then we must rely on his written words in order to understand his thoughts.

I could not help but think of similarities with biblical hermeneutics. The authors who penned the books of the bible aren’t available for us to interrogate them. All we have are their works, handed down to us, translated multiple times and subject to scrutiny by the scholar the layperson alike. It can be very easy for us to get hung up on certain passages, something I know I tend to do all too often, at the expense of seeing the bigger picture. We can write books, blogs and comments arguing over the meaning of words, but how much closer does it get to us the truth? How do we understand them in today’s world, how were they understood by Mediterranean readers of the 1st century and what the author intended by them?

As I write this, I am continuing my look at some of the modern writers who identify themselves with the New Perspective on Paul. The works of Paul that we have preserved doesn’t come close to matching the volume that Leveson and his team put together. Even in the whole body of Paul’s writings, only a small number of passages are in dispute, being cited by both adherents to and opponents of the New Perspective interpretation.

How we read and understand the bible can never be done from a “neutral” perspective. The more I mature, the more I see how my surroundings (culture, education, church, friends, etc.) colour my view on the world. This is not a wholly bad thing, but it should prompt us to reconsider how we understand things. I was challenged recently when a friend (who blogs here) asked me whether I believed God’s love was unconditional. My assumption, influenced heavily by those factors named above, has been to say “yes” but upon reflection I realise that this is “received” rather than learnt or understood. I will need to do my own investigation sometime, though I always have dozens of ideas milling around inside my head, each of which needs to be dealt with in due time.

  • Do you find yourself getting distracted from the big picture by focusing on the minutiae?
  • How do you try to minimise your own prejudices when reading the bible?
  • Do you disagree? Is it possible to read and understand the bible from a “biblical perspective”?

2 responses to “Leveson – a case study analogy of biblical hermeneutics

  1. Did you see this from Rich’s talk on Saturday – think you would have enjoyed it: http://storify.com/drbexl/bigbible-saturday-session-with-rich-wyld

    • I saw some mention of hermeneutics on the twitter stream, but didn’t read in too much detail. I’ve tried storify, but unfortunately it’s never made that much sense to me.