Committed to Authorial Intent? Remember Authorial Intent!

Many who read this blog would be committed to the notion of authorial intent.  That is, the meaning of the text is pursued in line with authorial intent.  It doesn’t mean what it could not have meant.  It doesn’t mean what the author didn’t intend to convey.

Yet while many hold to a strong conservative hermeneutic (perhaps a historic0-grammatical or some kind of christocentric variation), it seems that authorial intent often goes missing.  How so?  Well, the meaning as intended by the author is pursued and preached.  Yet the intended effect, the intended outcome, the goal of the author is often lost.

As you study a text you need to look at the context (historical and written), and at the content (what’s in the passage), and also at the intent.  This means being sensitive to stated and implicit intended outcomes in the original recipients.  It means being sensitive to the tone and attitude of the writer.  Was the writer being encouraging, or rebuking, or concerned, etc.?  Sensitivity to content and to intent is necessary if we are to really honour a text and understand it well.

Where do some preachers seem to miss this?

1. When the tone of the message bears no resemblance to the tone of the text. Maybe this is a different audience in need of a different tone, but a deliberate decision to change the tone is not the same as squeezing all texts into your shepherding mood, or your angry mood, or your bible thumping mood, or your “self-appointed prophetic voice” mood or whatever.

2. When the intended outcome of the message bears no resemblance to the intended outcome of the text. Again, it is possible to shift from what the author intended.  Yet too often the preacher has never considered the original to that extent, but rather has pursued a message from a text, rather than really wrestling with the message of the text.

Authorial intent is about more than simply affirming that my doctrine is in line with the Apostle Paul’s.  It is about growing in sensitivity to the text I am reading so that I am better able to re-present it to others when I preach.

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2 thoughts on “Committed to Authorial Intent? Remember Authorial Intent!

  1. Thank you Peter for assisting us to understand more clearly how it is possible to affirm authorial intent as a principle and yet somehow miss conveying that intent from the pulpit.

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