This quote hits a theme I have harped on for as long as I have been blogging. Sorry if you’re tired of it, but this quote captures and reinforces this most salient point on the power and inescapable reality of tradition and interpretation:
Reading a text is also like having a conversation: the text “speaks” and we respond, or we ask a question for the text to answer. Negotiation must occur between the “horizons” of the text and the reader in regard to what the subject matter of the conversation will be. When the negotiation is successful, a “fusion of horizons” results: there is overlap somehow between what the text addresses and what the reader seeks or applies in an existential situation. Again, the text has its say, while there is also a dimension of understanding that is relative to the later context.
Of course, we do not simply leap from our horizon back over the intervening history and into the author’s horizon or the text’s original context. A text generates a “history of effects” (Wirkungsgeschichte) as it is read in various situations over time and across places. These effects accumulate through language and affect subsequent readings—intentionally or unintentionally, for good or ill. This traditioning process provides our linkage back to the text itself and those elements of its context that are carried along with it through history. Hence, for example, one cannot read Romans 4 on “justification by faith” after Martin Luther apart from his influence. Even if a person has never heard of Luther, his interpretation of Paul has shaped the language of Western culture in such ways that translations and linguistic connotations of the words bear its marks. Even a person who rejects a Lutheran interpretation rejects it rather than avoiding it altogether. (Daniel J. Treier, “Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice,” 130-31)
So when you hear someone say, “I just read the Bible,” I would say: “Okay.” But that does not mean you read it without presuppositions or come to it “naked;” we don’t come to any “interpretive process” in a vaccum. There are theological interpretations woven into the fabric of church-culture, and we pick up these interpretations through various ways — primary of which is by what “denomination” we become associated with when we are “saved” (or maybe born into).
The above reality is not something to shy away from, but recognize it as something rich and good. The only real problem arises when we don’t recognize that we have “interpretive tradition,” and thus subsume scripture with “our” traditions; as if our traditions are self-same with scripture. Now our “traditions” may actually be and capture what scripture is communicating most accurately; but unless we recognize that we do have tradition, scripture will never be allowed to “check” our traditions to see if indeed our traditions capture best what scripture is communicating.