It is terribly easy to take things out of context – but it seems moreso with written text. While written text seems like it should be more objective, it’s not really. The text is there, on the page – but that’s about the only objective thing about it. It must be read – which involves a host of things that shape how one interprets the text (presuppositions, linguistics, context of the reader, etc, etc). It is sometimes astounding to me that anything can be communicated at all with language, written or spoken.
Main thought: delve into the concept of God speaking.
Speech is communication by means of words and verbal expression. The nature of language, as I have argued before, is fuzzy and prone to subjectivism.
Written word vs. verbal word. Written lacks tone, appears more ‘objective’. It’s there, in black and white. Verbal has tone, which often changes the meaning of words. Consider:
‘Good job!’ (normal tone)
‘Good job!’ (sarcastic tone)
The exact same words, only slightly different tones of voice, change the meaning entirely – the meaning is reversed. Written words seem to bring context with them in a different, more static way – to use them in a context which they were not originally used in would be to rob them of their original meaning. Written word is frozen in its context, and can only have its original meaning if used in that context. Distortions of text, out-of-context readings, etc. Written text is not dialogic – one cannot ask the book questions it does not answer.
In the great monotheistic traditions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, scriptures have a special place of importance. This is because their scriptures are all believed to be, in one form or another, the written word of God, God’s communication and revelation to mankind in which His will is disclosed. I will be focusing on the notion of revelation, speech and communication in the Christian tradition.
Perhaps a broad question is the best way to begin: why is Scripture so important in the Christian tradition? From here, there’s a few other questions that can be asked: what does it mean to say that God has spoken? That God has disclosed His will in Scripture? How do we understand Scripture? How can we understand Scripture? On a more theological level: how do we interpret Scripture? What role does Scripture play in the Christian life? How does Jesus impact how we read Scripture? How do we come to terms with the idea of God communicating through words, given how tricky language can be?
There are all these questions and many, many more that need to be asked. In the coming few posts I’ll attempt to round out a few tentative answers to these questions and any more that pop up.
The more I think about it, the more I see a harmony between language as both acquired by community/context (Wittgenstein) and as a more innate idea – so far, I see no reason the two cannot coexist peacefully. It is quite clear that language is a public and communal kind of thing, but it also seems clear that there is an innate ability in us to grasp the mechanics of language. Interpretation plays a role here as well – every word requires interpretation. I suppose people would interpret according to their contexts and values – how else could one interpret anything?
So the meaning of language seems to me to be almost wholly based community and interpretation, while the more mechanical side of language seems based on an innate understanding of the workings of grammar.
But are words given their value and meaning through interpretation, if every word requires interpretation?