There is a theory of interpretation which says that the reader brings the meaning to the text, not the reverse. There have been poetry and prose writers who subscribed to that theory, and the theory has been debated in biblical circles too.
The obvious problem this produces is that there is no way to arrive at a text’s meaning using that theory. One person’s meaning is as valid as another’s.
One of the important tools in understanding a text’s meaning is the definition of words. Cotterell and Turner write about this in their book, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation, page 42. They write, “…there remains in verbal communication and an objective element to which appeal must always be made…..the utterance ‘Send for John Smith’ cannot be readily interpreted to mean “I had bacon for breakfast on Christmas Day”.
This little lesson about words and meaning also applies to theology and even general discussion about how one lives out the Christian life. Either we can trust what words and concepts mean or we are left to confusion and disarray.
In the next post we will take an actual concept and show how definition and context gives concrete meaning to it. By so doing we will show how the interpreter cannot define words according to whim or convenience. “Church” is a good word to demonstrate this.