Over the last couple days I’ve profiled the topics of Dr. Bill Arnold (panbabylonianism) and Dr. Archie Wright (Satan in Second Temple literature and the NT). Today the focus is Dr. John Hilber, whose session is entitled, “Since When Is Literal Interpretation ‘Normal’?—Reconsidering a Popular Assumption.”
At one point in early planning for our inaugural conference I entertained the idea of making the entire conference relate thematically to this topic. Let’s face it. This is the default assumption about how to read the Bible that so many people are taught. In the most extreme form it leads to truly goofy Bible interpretation. More often, (to be blunt, and I’ve been doing a good bit of that lately), the notion that “if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense” is an excuse to stop thinking (or a tool for discouraging thinking) about the biblical text. Biblical writers didn’t think this way. This is especially true when you see how New Testament writers thought about certain passages in the Old Testament.
As Dr. Hilber will point out, the problem is more fundamental than that. The “plain sense” takes no account (and even sidesteps or obscures) of the kind of metaphorical thinking we engage in every day of our lives when we encounter print or speech. Thinking beyond a “plain sense” (and what is that, anyway?) is part and parcel of communication. In fact, it’s vital to understanding all sorts of nuances intended in communication. When we read or hear a word we have an intuitive sense that the most literal meaning often isn’t what’s in view. We process all that unconsciously, but we are taught not to do so when we read Scripture. It’s downright unnatural and cuts off what biblical writers were angling for in many respects. This session will encourage people to become better readers of Scripture and explain why the “plain sense” approach impedes reading Scripture accurately in many instances.