How to Read an Interpretation: Interpretive Strategies and the Maintenance of Authority

Craig Martin


It is not unusual for scholars to find that different religious communities interpret the same religious text in radically different and sometimes contradictory ways. What are we, as scholars, to make of all these variant interpretations? We could, of course, limit the goal of our scholarship and teaching to merely recording or cataloguing the variant interpretations. However, I suggest that our work as scholars and instructors is not complete if we stop there – we need to go beyond this to show that interpretations are strategic and to enquire what social agendas specific interpretive strategies may advance. In addition, I show that certain modes of interpretation are questionable either insofar as they are misleading in some way, or insofar as they reinforce the unquestioned authority of the text under consideration. If we sensitize ourselves and our students to the possible social effects of different strategies of interpretation, we will be able more easily to make visible those negotiations of social power that typically operate invisibly.


interpretation; communities; authority

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391