Is historical, grammatical exegesis (HGE) a culturally-justified practice that is only valid so long as the prevailing ethos considers it to be appropriate? As I was reading Gundry’s massive commentary on Mark this morning I ran across this statement in regard to 12:26.
Modern exegetes would brand the transfer of Exod 3:6 from past to future as highhanded violation of the originally intended meaning. But in first century Palestinian Judaism … an argument’s consisting of grammatical historical exegesis would have lacked cogency, just as in another two thousand years different techniques of interpretation (psychological, sociological, economic, rhetorical, and structural posing possibilities that grow out of the present, to say nothing of unpredictable possibilities) may cause grammatical historical exegesis to lose its cogency. What counted then was ingenuity at playing with words by such means as transferring them to new frames of reference where they could be made to say new things, as indeed at the popular level may still count for more than does grammatical historical exegesis.
Robert Gundry, Mark (Eerdmans, 1993), 704.
I find this an indefensible argument for it would destroy any semblance of communicating meaning. Though the term HGE is certainly of relatively modern provenance, and some of the sorts of questions that we ask may be new (or at least framed differently), it is, in essence what people have always done in attempting to determine the meaning of a text in any discipline (law, business, history, and religion) if they assume that the text was intended to communicate meaning. Yes, there have always been those who prefer to “play” with texts, to deconstruct them or to use them in mystical or magical ways, but those are not attempts at determining meaning; they are efforts at creating meaning. As such they have no validity in saying what a text meant, only what the same string of words can be made to mean in a different setting. That meaning is the player’s meaning, however, not that of the text. Of course those enamored with a postmodern view of texts would not agree with me. Though that is their prerogative, they have no right to attribute their meaning to the text. I prefer that when a bank teller reads my account statement that he/she understands it the way its author intended–and as I intend to read it! I do not want them creating artistic, playful games with my money! Just because a text is “religious” does not exempt it from normal reading and interpretation. All that to say that I do not find Gundry’s view of HGE persuasive. Though exegesis may not always be “in favor” with the culture at large, that does not render it invalid.
(Now I will acknowledge that the last clause of the statement I quoted is probably true! Popular practice, however, does not justify/warrant the practice.)