Meaning, intention, and application: Speech act theory in the hermeneutics of Francis Watson and Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Blue, Scott A


In the 1960s, two men in different academic fields each produced a work with varying degrees of initial acceptance and influence in the area of biblical hermeneutics. E. D. Hirsch Jr., an English professor at the University of Virginia, stirred the world of literary criticism with the 1967 publication of Validity in Interpretation. Although his stated purpose was to provide a means of validating individual interpretations of literary texts, it is clear that his was an attempt to confront New Criticism by arguing for the necessity of the author’s intention in any interpretive endeavor.1 Hirsch calls the notion that “a text means what its author meant” a “sensible belief.”2 He further claims that when the author is banished from the interpretative process, subjectivity and relativism become prevalent and “no adequate principle [exists] for judging the validity of an interpretation.”3 Again, to remove the author as the determinant of meaning is “to reject the only compelling normative principle that [can] lend validity to an interpretation.”4 He therefore calls for the resurrection of the author’s meaning “on the fact that it is the only kind of interpretation with a determinate object, and thus the only kind that can lay claim to validity in any straightforward and practical sense of the term.”5

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Hirsch’s early work is his insistence upon a sharp distinction between meaning and significance. He claims that the failure to understand the difference between them “has been the source of enormous confusion in hermeneutic theory.”6 Meaning and significance are distinct items in the process of interpretation:

Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of a particular sign sequence; it is what the signs represent. Significance, on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception, or a situation or indeed anything imaginable.7

Meaning and significance, therefore, represent a dichotomy between two distinct concepts, one static, the other dynamic: “Significance always implies a relationship and one constant, unchanging pole of that relationship is what the text means.”8 In interpretation, there is an ethical duty on the interpreter to respect the difference between the two. Hirsch thus argues for a stricter definition of understanding referring to the author’s meaning exclusive of significance:

When we construe the author’s meaning we are not free agents. So long as the meaning of his utterance is our object, we are subservient to his will, because the meaning of his utterance is the meaning he wills to convey. . .Once we have construed his meaning, however, we are quite independent of his will …. We can relate his meaning to anything we want and value it as we please.9

While Hirsch’s work drew immediate response from his adversaries and almost universal acceptance from evangelical interpreters, a lecture series given by philosopher J. L. Austin at Harvard in 1955 took many more years to be incorporated into the hermeneutical discussion. Austin’s lectures were published in 1962 under the title How to Do Things With Words. In what Austin refers to as “a revolution in philosophy,” he challenges the traditional belief that a statement is simply that which describes.10 There are some utterances, on the other hand, which are either nonsensical or intended to do something else quite different than describing. Austin takes an inductive approach in evaluating whether there is a definite demarcation between statements that merely describe (constative utterances) and those meant for action (performative utterances). He concludes that all statements are performative in some sense. They are part of a total speech act.

The most enduring aspect of Austin’s work is his speech act terminology. In particular, speech act theory is built on his discussion of locution, illocution, and perlocution. Austin calls the “act of ‘saying something’ in this full normal sense” the locutionary act.11 The locutionary act consists of the phonetic act, the phatic act, and the rhetic act. The phonetic act is merely the utterance of certain noises, while the phatic act means to utter certain “vocables” or words which belong and conform to a certain vocabulary and grammar. The rhetic act is an act of using those vocables in a more definite sense and reference such as stating what someone else said.12 The illocutionary act builds upon locutions by having specific reasons for the use of speech: “the performance of an act in saying something as opposed to performance of an act of saying something.”13 Illocutions have a certain “force” or use for language, termed the “illocutionary force.” These uses include informing, ordering, and warning. A perlocutionary act goes beyond the illocutionary act based on the speaker’s possible intention or design of eliciting “consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience.”14 These intentions include the acts of persuading, convincing, and deterring.

In recent hermeneutical discussion, both Hirsch and Austin find themselves at the center of an evangelical attempt to rescue the author from the hands of postmodern literary critics. Two proponents of merging Hirsch’s concern for authorial intent and Austin’s speech act theory are Francis Watson and Kevin J. Vanhoozer. While both share a common disdain for the postmodern declaration of the death of the author, they are by no means monolithic in their approaches. There are distinct differences between Watson and Vanhoozer in their overall programs of hermeneutics, their discussions of how speech act theory is used to resurrect the author’s intent, and their views of significance after purporting a strict Hirschian distinction between meaning and significance. The question thus becomes whether Watson and Vanhoozer are allies or competitors within the evangelical camp of hermeneutics. In order to answer this question, this article will seek to accomplish several goals. First, a broad overview will be given of both Watson’s recovery of biblical theology and Vanhoozer’s Trinitarian hermeneutics. Within each appraisal will be a general review of their defense of authorial intent and speech act theory. Second, similarities between the two will be acknowledged and appraised. Third, those aspects which differentiate Watson and Vanhoozer will be noted before turning to a critical issue that both need to address further.


In Text, Church and World, Francis Watson outlines his hermeneutical program of the biblical text, placed within the reading community of the church, which takes into consideration the world at large. “Text, church and world,” Watson claims,

are thus related to one another as three concentric circles. The text, the innermost circle, is located within the church, and the church is located within the outermost circle. There seems to be no reason in principle why biblical interpretation should not be practised within this hermeneutical framework.15

Watson’s discussion of the biblical text implies his bent towards a recovery of biblical theology from its decline in the 1960s. He argues that hermeneutics must concern itself with the final form of the biblical text, because (1) contemporary literary study “has established this approach to function as a workable paradigm for interpretive practice”; (2) the biblical text in its final form has exclusively functioned authoritatively in the synagogue and church; and (3) the canonical form of the biblical text is optimal for theological inquiry.16

With the publication of Text and Truth, Watson clarifies and expands his discussion of the value of a biblical/theological approach to hermeneutics.17 In the chapter, “Literal Sense, Authorial Intention, and Objective Interpretation: In Defense of Some Unfashionable Concepts,” Watson criticizes what he describes as the principal elements in the postmodern paradigm for biblical interpretation: “opposition to the notion of the single, literal sense; the readerly construction of meaning; and the theological relativism entailed in the commitment to pluralism.”18 In defending a literal sense, authorial intent, and objective interpretation, Watson begins with the premise that “writing, like speaking, is a communicative action.”19 If so, then two conclusions naturally follow. First, like speech, writing bears witness to and cannot be understood apart from its origin in human action. Second, writing allows a speech act to be extended in time and space; it “intends a context beyond the range of the human voice.”20 Although one must modify slightly the pattern of speech as a communicative action where it takes the form of a speech act of writing, Watson nevertheless concludes:

If, as I have argued, the category of the speech act can be extended to include written communications, then current hostility to the concepts of determinate meaning and authorial intention is unjustified. To be understood at all, a series of words must be construed as a communicative action which intends a determinate meaning together with its illocutionary and perlocutionary force.21

What about the vast differences among translations? Does not the mere presence of varying opinions among translations undermine the stability of both verbal meaning and the text? Watson answers these questions negatively. Rather than celebrating the indeterminacy of texts and the disappearance of authorial intention, Watson voices another approach which upholds both. This approach recognizes that translators and interpreters prefer one possibility over another for good reasons, which may not amount to absolute proof, but should not be discounted. Furthermore, diversity in interpretation, according to Watson, “is constituted by the concern for verbal meaning.”22 Rather than conceding that the biblical text is unstable and polyvalent, dissent from an established translation such as the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Authorized Version recognizes that “although all translations are approximations, some approximations capture the single sense of the text more accurately than others, and … progress and improvement are therefore possible.”23 In addition, differences among translators favor the concept of authorial intention:

To construe a series of marks as a series of words is already (in normal circumstances) to assume that these words are combined with the intention of communicating an intelligible meaning; and if the words objectively embody an intention to communicate, then that intention can only be that of the author.24

Watson introduces two important concepts for his program: a revised literal sense and a theological “center” for interpretation. The literal sense moves beyond merely the author’s intent: “The literal sense is the sense intended by the author in so far as this authorial intention is objectively embodied in the words of the text.”25 Watson’s understanding of writing as a communicative action allows intention to go beyond “the expression of a series of words bearing a certain meaning.”26 Here he introduces the concepts of illocutionary and perlocutionary force: the author

intends not only a meaning but also an action, directed towards another, which aims to evoke a response. An adequate interpretation of the literal sense will seek to explain not only what the author is saying but also what he or she is doing.27

Predictably for Watson, the literal sense also includes understanding a text’s position within the biblical canon. The canonical context can serve two functions: “not only to extend the scope of a written communication but also to impose certain restrictions on the communicative intention embodied in it.”28 The canon of Scripture and any interpretation of a biblical text is, however, subject to the “center” of that canon. For Watson, this center is “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the enfleshment and the enactment of the divine Word.”29 His hermeneutical scheme thus functions within the relationship of a biblical text, shaped inclusively by the canon of Scripture, and reflective of the theological center of Jesus as the incarnate Word. Watson asserts:

Christian Scripture is not a random assortment of texts but . . . it has a particular shape, characterized above all by the enclosure of a normative center by the two distinct canonical collections, and … this must affect the literal interpretation of individual scriptural texts of both testaments.30


Watson finds company in his defense of determinate meaning and authorial intention in Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text? Vanhoozer’s attack of postmodern hermeneutics and defense of a realist approach to the interpretation of texts take shape in his Trinitarian hermeneutics. His use of the Trinity is “not merely an illustration of a general intellectual process” but reflects his conviction that

the literary crisis about textual meaning is related to the broader philosophical crisis concerning realism, rationality, and right, and .. this crisis, summed up by the term “postmodern,” is in turn explicitly theological.31

The Trinity, for Vanhoozer, is therefore analogous to the experience of meaningful communication, something which human beings experience, but may not be able to explain. Trinitarian hermeneutics is thus explained:

From a Christian perspective, God is first and foremost a communicative agent, one who relates to humankind through words and the Word. Indeed, God’s very being is a self– communicative act that both constitutes and enacts the covenant of discourse: speaker (Father), Word (Son), and reception (Spirit) are all interrelated. Human communication is a similarly covenantal affair, though we cannot pour ourselves into our communicative acts and ensure their effects as God can through his Word and Spirit.32

In the chapter “Resurrecting the Author: Meaning As Communicative Action,” Vanhoozer explores “the image of the author as citizen of language, with all the rights and responsibilities attaching thereto.”33 Similar to Watson, Vanhoozer finds within the notion of language-as-communicative-act the means of securing both the author and determinate meaning. In developing a deeper understanding of language as a “covenantal medium of interpersonal communication,” he draws upon three philosophical programs: Searle’s speech act theory; Ricouer’s hermeneutics; and Habermas’s social theory. From John R. Searle, Vanhoozer uses speech act theory to recover the necessity of the author’s intent in interpretation, because he or she is a communicative agent.34 While disagreeing with Paul Ricouer in many ways, Vanhoozer nevertheless finds value in Ricouer’s idea of a text being a meaningful action, although divorced from the psychological intent of any author. Vanhoozer, grasping Ricouer’s apparent belief in the intent within a text, turns it into a defense for the author: “If the text is a meaningful action, and if the meaning of an action depends on the intention of its agent, it follows that the meaning of a text as act depends on its author’s intention.”35 From JOrgen Habermas, Vanhoozer gleans the idea that language is a means primarily of coordinating human action. He appropriates Habermas’s injunction for interpreters “not to separate speech acts from the context of their utterance or from their speakers.”36 Drawing from these three philosophers, Vanhoozer defines meaning as “a three-dimensional communicative action, with form and matter (propositional content), energy and trajectory (illocutionary force), and teleology or final purpose (perlocutionary effect).”37 The goal of understanding thus becomes “to grasp what has been done, together with its effects; the possibility of attaining such understanding is the presupposition of communicative action.”38

Vanhoozer considers a text an act, and notes four distinct ways in which meaningful action resembles a speech act. First, “doing” an action relates to the locution; as speaking is fixed by writing, an action is fixed by doing. Second, actions have “propositional content,” someone does something to someone when an action is done. Actions have an objective content. Third, actions have force, a particular stance is taken by an agent towards the object of the action, therefore corresponding to the illocutionary force. Finally, actions have both planned and unexpected effects. These effects correspond to the perlocutions of utterances.39 Vanhoozer concludes that

understanding texts is ultimately a matter of interpreting human action. My point is twofold: (1) If we can interpret actions, then we can interpret texts; (2) we can only interpret actions in light of their agents.40

In defending the notion of authorial intention, Vaanhoozer redefines the idea of the author, against a “Cartesian methodology” of psychological probing into the private subjective consciousness, but through the author as communicative agent: “It is important to recover the author’s thought, but this is best done not by psychological intuition, but by historical inference-by an analysis of the author’s public communicative action.”” Those engaging in the interpretation of texts must therefore search for the “communicative agent implied in and by the text” rather than “the thinking subject or mind behind the text.”42 Vanhoozer takes a blended approach in defending authorial intent, incorporating both linguistic and literary conventions into his theory of communication and intention:

Individual authors cannot determine the meaning of a word by intention alone, no matter how sincere or intense it may be. Indeed, many things that we do with words and with texts would not be possible without linguistic conventions. Language is a rulegoverned behavior: conventional and covenantal.43


Despite distinctions between Watson and Vanhoozer, including their hermeneutical approaches and implementation of speech act theory, both stand together in several important areas. Both engage a common foe in postmodern hermeneutics, attempt to move the hermeneutical discussion beyond the foundation of linguistics, find value in the notion of language as a communicative action, and uphold a dichotomy between meaning and significance. The uniting factor in the similarities noted between them is an attention to the benefits of Austin’s foundational work in the area of speech act philosophy.

A. Recovering Hermeneutics From Postmodernism

Both Watson and Vanhoozer are outspoken critics of postmodernists who abandon the role of authorial intent and gut the text of any determinate meaning. In Watson’s defense of the “unfashionable concepts” of authorial intent, the literal sense, and objective interpretation, he specifically criticizes the main elements in postmodern biblical interpretation. Underlying his attack is his conviction that

a Christian faith concerned to retain its own coherence cannot for a moment accept that the biblical texts (individually and as a whole) lack a single, determinate meaning, that their meanings are created by their readers, or that theological interpretations must see themselves as non-privileged participants in an open-ended, pluralistic conversation.44

To give in to a postmodern hermeneutic insists that there is no distinction between the Bible and any other “classic text.”45 In addition, Watson proposes that postmodern interpreters have ulterior motives for undermining the stability of the biblical text and its author:

A biblical text in which nothing is fixed and in which everything opens up infinite interpretive possibilities would enable the interpreter to subvert and to erode the much resented stabilities, dualities, hierarchies and orthodoxies that are so characteristic of the Christian faith.46

Vanhoozer is similarly dedicated to rescuing hermeneutics from postmodern critics. In an earlier work, he draws a distinction between “Reformation hermeneutics,” with its attention to grammatico-historical interpretation, and “aesthetic theology.” The latter, which influenced postmodern interpretation, “is the idea that the realm of art is autonomous and self-sufficient, not susceptible to non-aesthetic standards, rules, or criteria.”47 Aesthetic theology’s influence is most seen in the postmodernists jettisoning of the author and his intention. Vanhoozer, on the other hand, calls for a return to authorial intent on ethical grounds:

Though we do not own language, I nevertheless think that willful misunderstanding of texts is somehow guilty of doing violence to the author. Purposefully to misinterpret an author seems akin to disrespect, a kind of semantic rape.48

Vanhoozer’s critique of postmodern hermeneutics is again taken up in Is There a Meaning in this Text? where he draws a contrast between an Augustininan theory of “joy” and Derrida’s theory of “play.” This distinction leads Vanhoozer to one of his central theses: “To begin thinking about language and human beings from the perspective of Christian belief is to recognize the centrality and interrelatedness of communication and communion.”49 This conclusion bears on his defense of the author against postmodern critics:

To respect the moral rights of the author is essentially to receive his or her communication, not to revise it. This reception, in turn, is the basis for literary knowledge that can perhaps become the basis for personal knowledge, for communion over space and time.50

B. Moving Beyond Linguistics

In “Speech Acts and God Talk,” James F. Harris explores the implications of Austin’s speech act theory for religious language. Crucial for an analysis of speech act theory is an attempt to move beyond the difficulties associated with relating the meaning of a proposition to something external in reality, what Austin calls the “descriptive fallacy.” Rather, speech act theory “by focusing upon various kinds of utterances in various situations attempts to avoid the descriptive fallacy.”51 Furthermore,

There is no “behind” to speech acts, and hence no inferences to be made from speech acts to some claim concerning some aspect of reality. Rather, we are led to an examination of the speaker’s intention.52

It is my contention that those advocating the use of speech act theory to defend authorial intention and a stable text, including Watson and Vanhoozer, functionally agree with Harris in order to move beyond the difficulties associated with a merely linguistic approach to language and communication.

Vanhoozer points out that postmodern critics initially attacked the authority of the author by first undermining the notion of Platonic realism, that linguistic signs correspond to some reality outside of themselves.53 It is here where the nonrealists such as Jaques Derrida, Stanley Fish, and Richard Rorty make inroads in their quest to banish authorial intention. There is, in their estimation, no corresponding reality outside of linguistic signs. Signs mean something, because we give them meaning. For those confronting postmodernists, two options are thus available: continue the debate over linguistic signs, the author, and meaning or move beyond linguistics by changing the field of debate. Watson and Vanhoozer take the second option by pointing out that postmodern interpreters have overlooked Austin’s distinction between locutions, which deal with signs, and illocutions, which emphasize language as a communicative action.54 Searle, upon whom Watson and Vanhoozer depend, notes this same difference:

All linguistic communication involves linguistic acts. The unit of linguistic communication is not, as has generally been supposed, the symbol, word or sentence, or even the token of the symbol, word or sentence, but rather the production or issuance of the symbol or word or sentence in the performance of the speech act. . . . More precisely, the production or issuance of a sentence token under certain conditions is a speech act, and speech acts … are the basic or minimal units of linguistic communication.55

So Watson’s insistence that “a series of words must be construed as a communicative action which intends a determinate meaning together with its particular illocutionary and perlocutionary force”56 and Vanhoozer’s blended approach, which views communication “as the action that puts a language system into motion at a particular point in time by realizing certain possibilities offered by the code,”57 both move beyond a mere linguistic approach, incorporate the notion that language is a communicative act, and shift the playing field on the issue of authorial intent.

C. Language as a Communicative Act

Underlying Watson and Vanhoozer’s emphasis on language as a communicative act is their dependence upon Searle’s work in the area of speech acts. In his book, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Searle attempts “to provide us with the beginning of a theory of speech acts.”58 In essence, he builds upon the foundation laid by Austin’s How to Do Things With Words, yet moves the discussion forward.59 Searle understands speaking a language as the performance of speech acts. In particular, these acts include “making statements, giving commands, asking questions, making promises, and so on.”60 Crucial for both Vanhoozer and Watson is the idea that speech act theory is a means of rescuing both meaning and its locale in the intent of an author. For Searle, there is no dichotomy between the study of the meaning of a sentence and the study of the performance of speech acts. Meaning is inextricably tied to the illocutionary act: “The speech act or acts performed in the utterance of a sentence are in general a function of the meaning of a sentence.”61 He furthermore concludes, “Properly construed, they are the same study.”62 In addition, Searle indicates meaning is determined irrespective of the perlocutionary act. For Searle, “Saying something and meaning it is a matter of intending to perform an illocutionary act.”63

In Vanhoozer’s criticism of aesthetic theology and its effect on the postmodern hermeneutic of abandoning authorial intention, he claims that its recovery may well rest on the shoulders of Searle’s speech act theory.64 He furthermore finds hope in speech act theory’s attention to the speaker and his act of speaking:

If the text is a speech act, it seems far-fetched to separate an author from his language and literature as it does an agent from his action. The author “belongs” to his text. He is responsible for his illocutionary acts. Author-ity designates the right-indeed, the obligation-of the author to be responsible for his speech act. And if the author is accountable for his speech act, surely the reader is responsible for treating the author in way that he deserves. Willfully to misinterpret a text is akin to attributing an action to the author that he did not commit.65

Vanhoozer continues to rely heavily upon Searle’s speech act theory in specifying language as a communicative action and recovering the author’s intent as crucial in biblical interpretation. He claims that “in light of speech act philosophy, the author returns as a communicative agent.”66 Watson, in asserting that “writing, like speaking, is a communicative action,”67 also exhibits his indebtedness to speech act theory. His program for recovering not only authorial intention, but the literal sense and objective interpretation, is dependent upon the foundational work of Austin and Searle.68 Together, Watson and Vanhoozer produce thoughtful evidence for the value of speech acts in defending a language-as– communicative-act approach to biblical interpretation.

D. Meaning and Significance

The hermeneutics of Watson and Vanhoozer also find common ground in their insistence on a Hirschian distinction between a text’s meaning69 and its significance.70 Evangelical interpreters vary their approaches to the meaning/significance question. Bernard Ramm draws a clear distinction between the two: the primary need of the hearer is to determine the meaning of the Bible, followed by the secondary need “to bridge the gap between our minds and the minds of the Biblical writers.”71 Grant R. Osborne seems mixed in his approach. While he states that the “most important thing . .. is to base the application/contextualization on the intended meaning of the text” and that it “must be the inspired message which is relived rather than our subjective manipulation of the text,”72 he nevertheless claims that “we cannot finally separate exegesis from application, meaning from significance, because they are two aspects of the same hermeneutical act.”73 Vern Poythress takes a blended approach in his God Centered Biblical Interpretation:

Contrary to some popular versions of meaning-application theories, meaning and application coinhere. Each is a perspective of the other, and neither can in the end be understood or even discussed or identified without tacit understanding of the other. God plans and intends that his words should have the effects on readers that they have. This intention includes all the details of all the applications throughout history. The applications are part of God’s intention.74

Watson and Vanhoozer in effect side with Ramm in maintaining a distinction between the concepts of meaning and application, in accordance with their use of speech act theory. Watson, in defending the understandability of biblical texts due to their nature as communicative acts, claims that texts presuppose the knowledge of such linguistic conventions as the use of words in their contexts and the scope of verbs. Meaning, therefore, is “irreducibly verbal” and distinct from “contextual significance.”75 The latter, according to Watson, may change as the context shifts, but the former “is not so ephemeral.”76 Significance becomes dependent on and subordinate to “the single, verbal meaning itself, that is, in its enduring illocutionary and perlocutionary force.”77 Vanhoozer likewise distinguishes meaning from significance. He, agreeing with Hirsch, believes that “the author’s intended meaning should remain the regulative principle for interpretation.”78 Vanhoozer’s appreciation for Hirsch extends to his differentiation between meaning and significance: “With regard to interpretation, the meaning/ significance distinction continues to be both meaningful and highly significant.”79 Vanhoozer, on the other hand, finds within speech act theory the mechanism for maintaining his position. Meaning corresponds with illocution, while significance is best related to perlocution: “Illocutionary intent is thus constitutive of communicative action and of meaning in a way that perlocutionary intent is not.”80

V. Differences Between Watson and Vanhoozer

On the surface, the similarities between Watson and Vanhoozer might lead one to declare prematurely that they are altogether on the same side of the hermeneutical discussion. There are, however, distinct differences between them that must be identified before an evaluation of their approaches is completed. While Watson and Vanhoozer show broad similarities, there are differences in their overall programs of hermeneutics, their discussions of how speech act theory is used to resurrect the author’s intent, and their views of significance after affirming a strict Hirschian distinction between meaning and significance.

A. Biblical Theology vs. Trinitarian Hermeneutics

The most apparent difference between Watson and Vanhoozer is the hermeneutical frameworks within which each operates. The most pressing question becomes whether or not Watson’s biblical theological approach can coexist peaceably with Vanhoozer’s Trinitarian approach. In order to answer this question, it seems best to begin with Watson’s inclusion of text, truth, and world into his hermeneutical paradigm and consider Vanhoozer’s possible response to each component part.

Watson begins his biblical theological approach with an unmistakable desire to focus interpretation of a biblical text on the notion that it resides within a larger canon of Scripture. He is predictably unimpressed with historical criticism’s attempt to distance an individual text from its final form. Hermeneutics must therefore take this final form into consideration when determining the meaning of a biblical text. Vanhoozer is not beyond using the concept of a canon within his program of Trinitarian hermeneutics. The issue arises from his approach to the question of sensus plenior: is it possible for the meaning of a text to go beyond the intent of its author? Vanhoozer takes into consideration the canon as a communicative act: “If God is taken to be the divine author, in other words, then it is the canon as a whole that becomes the communicative act that needs to be described.”81 Texts such as Isaiah 53 must be viewed in light of a dual authorship; on the human level, Isaiah writes with the supervening hand of God as the divine author. Vanhoozer thus finds room within his hermeneutical program for the notion that a broader canon does influence the interpretation and use of a given text. It remains to be seen whether he would agree with Watson’s broader use of the final form of the biblical text, but initially it does not apparently pose a catastrophic threat to their coexistence.

What about Watson’s insistence that the church as a community of faith is the central claimant of the biblical text? “The primary reading community within which the biblical text is located,” claims Watson, “is the Christian church.”82 How might Vanhoozer respond? Initially, one must recognize that Vanhoozer’s work addresses hermeneutics in general rather than Watson’s more exclusive treatment of the biblical text. But Vanhoozer might not be so quick to rule out Watson’s approach, because he views hermeneutics as a theological endeavor. He speculates that the reason philosophers, literary critics, and biblical exegetes have such difficulty with the question of whether meaning exists in texts is because “behind this hermeneutical question lurks philosophical and theological issues that are all too often overlooked.”83 Vanhoozer, though, states that the issue of determinate meaning is “a thoroughly theological question.”84 Why? Because “beliefs that have to do with God, the world, and ourselves are implicit in the views interpreters take on the nature of the author, text, and reader.”85 Is Watson justified in his exclusive characterization of the church as the primary interpreter of Scripture? While Vanhoozer does not answer the question directly, he might nevertheless find value in Watson’s concern for the church, as a theological community, to take seriously its role as interpreter of the biblical text.

The final component of Watson’s biblical theological approach concerns the role of the world in interpretation. Watson does assert that the church is the primary reading community of the biblical text but vigorously states:

The biblical story refuses to permit its own enclosure and confinement within the walls of the church, but requires the community of faith to look outwards into the conflict-ridden sociopolitical sphere in which it is of course already located and implicated. It is crucially important to emphasize not only the hermeneutical significance of the Christian community as the primary location of the biblical texts, but also the world as the primary location of the Christian community.86

Watson thus views the world as a participant in the interpretive process, having the power to shape and reject biblical meaning. Vanhoozer takes a more restrictive approach to the role of the world in hermeneutics in discussing the responsibilities of the reader. Unlike postmodern critics, Vanhoozer states that the reader should respect the author’s meaning in a text, not create his or her own. His ethical approach

is one that acknowledges the right of the text to have its own say first. Such an approach begins by inquiring about the illocutionary aspect of texts. We judge a communicative act primarily on the basis of its intrinsic aim and interest, by the work it does or fails to do.87

This does not mean, however, that Vanhoozer disagrees completely with Watson that the world places restrictions on interpretation. Vanhoozer acknowledges that “we must be willing to part company with texts that we conclude are potentially harmful.”88 The difference lies in the fact that Watson views the world’s role within interpretation, while Vanhoozer discusses it in relation to its obedience to an author’s intended meaning.

B. Speech Act Theory and Authorial Intent

Both Watson and Vanhoozer are proponents of speech act theory and its implications for hermeneutics. They differ, however, in the scope of their treatment of speech acts and its role in defining authorial intent. Watson, in Text and Truth, uses speech act theory in two ways: to establish writing as a communicative action and to define the intent of an author. Watson states:

Like speech, writing bears within it an essential reference to its origin in human action, and without this it cannot be understood. Writing is a technology that makes possible the extension of a particular speech-act in time and space; or, rather, writing is that speech-act . . which intends a context beyond the range of the human voice. It is a communicative action in the sense that it is an action directed, in the first instance, not towards some aspect of the non-human environment but towards other humans.89

As to the authorial intent, Watson’s use of speech act theory allows him to move the literal sense beyond “the expression of a series of words bearing a certain meaning” to an intended communicative action that focuses on determinate meaning as “the vehicle of illocutionary and perlocutionary force.”90

Vanhoozer likewise finds in speech act theory a means for discussing writing as a communicative action and a reformulated discussion of authorial intent. But he moves beyond Austin and Searle’s tripartite distinction between locution, illocution, and perlocution. To these three, Vanhoozer adds the “interlocution.” Consistent with his conviction that language is both a medium of communication and communion, the interloctionary dimension “highlights the essential nature of the covenant of discourse, namely, that it is a means of personal communication and communion.”91 The interlocutionary function of language expresses the characteristic of humans as “covenantal agents.” Human beings have stories that depend on how we exercise our communicative rights and assume our communicative responsibilities.92

The issues of authorial intention and speech act theory highlight a crucial distinction between Watson and Vanhoozer. Though both reject a mere psychological description of authorial intent, they differ with regards to whether intention is restricted to illocutions or incorporates perlocutionary elements as well. Watson asserts that the intention of the author cannot be limited to verbal meaning or its illocutionary force. Rather “authorial intention is to be seen as primarily embodied in the words the author wrote -in their verbal meaning together with their illocutionary and perlocutionary force.”93 This, in turn, allows Watson to view the future of writing as openended, including the loss of control by its author:

It is integral to written communicative actions that their effect may be indefinitely extended in space and in time, and that the scope of this effect is largely beyond the control of the author. If the relative permanence of the written communicative action subjects it to the contingencies of an open future, then that is what is intended in the act of writing itself.94

Vanhoozer disagrees. He limits authorial intention to the illocutionary act irrespective of any perlocutionary effect. The intention of the author “is not a matter of what the author wanted to do, nor of what the author believed might happen as a consequence, but rather of what the author was doing and actually did. The link between intentions and illocutions (what one does in saying) remains firm.”95 Perlocutionary “consequences” thus “fall outside the purview of intended action.”96 In perhaps the clearest distinction between Watson and Vanhoozer, Vanhoozer rejects any notion that authorial intent includes perlocutionary effects. Rather, “to understand an author is to understand what he or she was doing, his or her illocutionary act.”97

C. Meaning and Significance Distinguished

Watson and Vanhoozer both seek to maintain a Hirschian distinction between meaning and significance. Watson argues that meaning should take priority over any cultural significance which might be found in a text, that any such significance is to be found in and subordinate to the single, determinate meaning in the text itself. Similarly, Vanhoozer still finds value in following Hirsch’s wellknown dichotomy between the author’s meaning and how this constant, unchanging aspect of interpretation differs from the reader’s relation of it to anything else. But the difference that exists between how Watson and Vanhoozer define meaning, their variance concerning the inclusion of perlocutionary effects within the author’s intention, and Watson’s greater attention to the world’s role in interpretation causes one to question just how strongly the distinction between meaning and significance is maintained. It is my contention that Watson’s approach reflects Hirsch’s later ideas about meaning and significance, while Vanhoozer wishes to maintain Hirsch’s clearer distinction voiced in Validity in Interpretation.

Recent hermeneutical discussion has asked whether or not Hirsch has abandoned his earlier explanation of authorial intention, meaning, and significance. Dale Leschert does not think so. Rather, in his opinion, Hirsch has beneficially expanded his definition to include situations which Validity in Interpretation did not address. Leschert discusses Hirsch’s broadened definition in Aims of Interpretations98 as a necessary step in order to allow him to

gain a hearing with his former critics who either regarded his earlier distinction between authorial meaning and significance as artificial or countered with a metaphysical position of dogmatic historicism that the reconstruction of authorial intention is impossible.99

He particularly notes the flexibility of Hirsch’s definition to deal with the distinction between meaning and significance in all interpretation, even where the interpreter ignores or misconstrues the author’s meaning. The earlier definition was dependent upon authorial intent as a means of determining significance. Here,

Nonauthorial meanings may quite possibly be designated as “meanings” in the broad sense. They can maintain the necessary, stable self-identity for the interpreter, who may very well be trapped inside the hermeneutical circle, while at the same time allowing in changes in significance.100

Leschert concludes that Hirsch’s “hermeneutical developments” are “perfectly consistent with his former theory. In fact, they actually strengthen it by dealing with situations that his earlier book did not address.”101

Hirsch himself explicitly revises his previous distinction between meaning and significance in two articles. In “Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted,” although he claims still to hold his previous analysis of a difference between meaning as a “self– identical schema whose boundaries are determined by an original speech event” and significance as a “relationship drawn between that self-identical meaning and something, anything, else,” he states it needs elaboration.102 There are instances where an author specifically intends for his speech event to be open-ended, not fixed within its original context. Speaking is such a future-directed intention, because “the present of the listener will come after the present of the speaker.”103 The result is a domain of fixity and one of variability. Purpose is that which is fixed, but the future fulfillments are that which is variable.104 The result is an amending of his previous distinction between meaning and significance by rejecting his

earlier claim that future applications of meaning, each being different, must belong to the domain of significance. That was wrong, because different applications do not necessarily lie outside the boundaries of meaning.105

Hirsch further provides a qualified and deepened proposal of his arguments expressed in his earlier work in “Transhistorical Intentions and the Persistence of Allegory.” Maintaining a broad sense of authorial intention, he argues for an allegorical element in determining meaning. Allegory, or the ability to find “meanings that neither the original author nor the original audience would have directly construed,” is an implicit feature “in the interpretation of all writings that are intended to apply across time – the kinds of writings, that is, that are found in literature, law, and religion.”106 Hirsch prefers an Augustinian “third way,” which takes into consideration unforeseen contemporary meanings controlled by the principle of authorial intention.107 His openness to allegorical interpretation is, however, not a blank-sheet for relativism: “An allegory is wrong if it is untrue to the spirit of the original intent. Interpretation must always go beyond the writer’s letter, but never beyond the writer’s spirit.”108

Thiselton argues that Hirsch’s theories need to be updated in light of “the complexity of the issues formulated in post-Gadamarian theory.”109 This update, Thiselton asserts, should include discussion of the author’s intention in light of theories which view texts as communicative acts.110 The difference between Watson’s and Vanhoozer’s discussion of significance and its distinction from meaning, in my opinion, is the difference between Watson answering Thiselton’s challenge and Vanhoozer preferring to maintain a more concrete dichotomy between the two concepts. Watson more inclusively defines authorial intent in terms of verbal meaning, along with its illocutionary and perlocutionary effects; notes that this intent opens the door for unforeseen consequences which are outside of the author’s control; and allows the world, including postmodern critics and feminist theologians, to shape biblical interpretation. If one favors Hirsch’s extended description of meaning including, in certain circumstances, effects which the author could not have anticipated, he or she would find no fault in Watson’s approach to the meaning/significance question. Obviously, Vanhoozer takes a stricter approach. By rejecting any perlocutionary effect within the realm of meaning, he conscientiously rejects Hirsch’s later discussions regarding meaning and significance. After acknowledging Hirsch’s modifications, Vanhoozer states that Hirsch’s allegories

are neither new acts nor unintended effects, but rather applications of the originally intended meaning. I would be happier to speak of meaning in terms of the author’s intended meaning and of significance in terms of the author’s extended meaning.111


While both Watson and Vanhoozer incorporate speech act theory into their hermeneutical programs, they disregard one important area in their discussions. Neither writer adequately demonstrates how speech act theory can be practically included in the process of interpretation. Watson does analyze texts within his biblical theological approach, but does not explicitly show any difference that speech act theory makes in his interpretations. Vanhoozer lays a literalist hermeneutical foundation for interpretation, but, again, fails to demonstrate how speech act principles are to be practiced within that framework. This is not to say that speech act theory has no practical implications.112 Yet, if Watson and Vanhoozer view language as a communicative act so highly, each should in some way move beyond its theoretical moorings to its application in the hermeneutical process.

I return to the beginning question of whether Watson and Vanhoozer should be considered allies or competitors within the field of hermeneutics. I have demonstrated that the similarities of their hermeneutical programs are evident. They stand together against a postmodernist systematic program that considers the author irrelevant and determinate meaning a myth. They move the hermeneutical discussion of authorial intent beyond a linguistic approach, in my opinion, in order to change the field of debate with postmodern literary critics and their “descriptive fallacy.” Both Watson and Vanhoozer include as foundational the notion that writing, like speaking, is a communicative act which cannot be divorced from its origin in the intent of the author. Finally, they assert that there is indeed a distinction between a text’s meaning and its significance. These similarities make clear that Watson and Vanhoozer are not on opposite sides of the hermeneutical divide.

There are, however, noted differences in their approaches that prevent any consideration that they are complete allies. The most apparent indicator of their differences is that they advocate two distinct hermeneutical programs. On the surface, Watson’s emphasis on biblical theology and Vanhoozer’s Trinitarian hermeneutics seem somewhat compatible, but there are crucial differences. Likewise, although both use speech act theory to recover the author’s intent and the determinacy of meaning, Vanhoozer’s is a more expanded treatment, including adding the interlocutionary aspect of language as a communicative act. Furthermore, Watson includes perlocutionary effects within the purview of authorial intention, while Vanhoozer is steadfast in claiming that the author’s meaning is found in the illocutionary act alone. Finally, although each attempts to maintain a Hirschian distinction between meaning and significance, Watson is more open to Hirsch’s expansion of his earlier discussion of their distinction. It seems best, therefore, to consider Watson and Vanhoozer “friendly competitors” on the playing field of hermeneutics. United against their opposition, they nevertheless differ in their methodologies.

‘Georgia Warnke points out that while Hirsch does argue against the anti– intentionalism of New Criticism, he agrees with their attack of an overlypsychological conception of the author’s intent: “In equating textual meaning with an author’s intention, Hirsch does not follow Schleiermacher in identifying that meaning with the mental acts and experiences that occurred in the author’s mind at the time the text was written. He rather appeals to the phenomenological concept of ‘intentionality’ to formulate a notion of ‘verbal meaning’ that is the self-identical object of various mental acts. Verbal meaning, in other words, is the meaning the author intends through certain mental acts, not those acts themselves” (Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition, and Reason [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987], 43-44).

2E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1967), 1.

3Ibid., 3. 4Ibid., 5.

51bid., 27. ‘Ibid., 8.

‘Ibid. (author’s emphasis). Hirsch concedes as “self-evidently true” the notion that one cannot know for certain the author’s intended meaning. The aim of interpretation is “to reach a consensus on the basis of what is known, that correct understanding has probably been achieved. The issue is not whether certainty is accessible to the interpreter, but whether the author’s intended meaning is accessible to him. Is correct understanding possible?” (Validity in Interpretation, 17) (author’s emphasis).

Ibid., 8. 9Ibid., 142.

lo. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words (2d ed.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 3.

“Ibid., 94. ‘2Ibid., 95.

“Ibid., 99-100 (author’s emphasis). 14Ibid., 101.

15Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Hermeneutics in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 11.

16Ibid., 16-17.

17Watson defines biblical theology as “an interdisciplinary approach to biblical interpretation which seeks to dismantle the barriers that at present separate biblical scholarship from Christian theology. Biblical theology is a theological, hermeneutical and exegetical discipline, and its hermeneutical and exegetical dimensions are placed at the disposal of its overriding theological concern” (Francis Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], vii).

Ibid., 98. 191bid. 20Ibid.

21 Ibid., 103.

1bid., 112 (author’s emphasis). 231bid.

24Ibid., 112-13. To disregard authorial intention, Watson claims, has serious consequences. Doing so “would be to refuse to strive for intelligibility and to allow the text to fall into a relative or complete opacity and thus to lose the communicative function without which it is nothing” (Text and Truth, 113).

2Ibid., 115. 26Ibid.

27Ibid., 116 (authors emphasis).

2.lbid., 119. 2Ibid., 121. 30bid., 122.

31Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998),456.


3sIbid., 202.

‘Vanhoozer claims, “Thanks to speech act philosophy, the author has begun to recover his or her voice” (Is There a Meaning in This Text? 214).

3Ibid., 216-17. 3Ibid., 217. 37Ibid., 218. 381bid.

39Ibid., 221. 40Ibid.

411bid., 230 (author’s emphasis). 42*id., 232.

43Ibid., 244.

“Watson, Text and Truth, 97.

4Watson does not deny certain parallels between classic texts and Scripture, but notes one crucial point where any parallels break down: “Christian Scripture bears witness, in many and various ways, to the decisive series of events in which God is held to have uniquely disclosed himself, and to the pattern of life shaped in response to that self-disclosure” (Text and Truth, 97-98).

461bid., 111.

47Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “A Lamp in the Labyrinth: The Hermeneutics of ‘Aesthetic’ Theology,” Tj 8 (1987): 26.

48Ibid., 53. Nigel Watson similarly defends authorial intention on ethical grounds. Drawing from the notion that the more personal a text is, the more attention should be given to authorial intent, Watson examines the NT books, noting that the Epistles, Gospels, and even Revelation are examples of personal texts which should be afforded a heightened focus on authorial intent. Therefore, “the obligation to respect authorial intention becomes inescapable” (“Authorial Intention: Suspect Concept for Biblical Scholars?” ABR 35 [1987]: 10).

49Vanboozer, Is There a Meaning in this Text? 202 5(bid.

stJames F. Harris, “Speech Acts and God Talk,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 3 (1980):168.

Ibid., 169.

53Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 43-78.

s*Ibid., 209.

55John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969),16 (emphasis added).

56Watson, Text and Truth, 103.

57Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 229. 58Searle, Speech Acts, 131.

59Anthony C. Thiselton claims that Searle “moved well beyond Austin in developing a wider, more rigorous, and more systematic framework of languagetheory which addresses a broader range of issues” (New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading [London: Marshall Pickering, 1992], 293). Thiselton has written extensively on the implications and applications of speech act theory in hermeneutics. See also The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980); “Communicative Action and Promise in Interdisciplinary, Biblical, and Theological Hermeneutics,” in The Promise of Hermeneutics, by Roger Lundin, Anthony C. Thiselton, and Clarence Walkout (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 133-239; “Christology in Luke, Speech-Act Theory and the Problem of Dualism in Christology after Kant,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ (ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 453-72.

6Searle, Speech Acts, 16. 61Ibid., 18.


63 rbi(1., 44.

Why? Vanhoozer asserts that language use falls under the domain of ethics; Searle’s work dismantles the “shining barrier” between ordinary and poetic language so prized by Romanticism; Searle is able to stand toe-to-toe with philosophers such as Derrida; and his work revises intentionality, making room once again for the author (“A Lamp in the Labyrinth,” 54). Elsewhere, Vanhoozer asserts that speech act theory offers a means of doing “justice to the ‘ordinariness’ of the biblical texts” (“The Semantics of Biblical Literature: Truth and Scripture’s Diverse Literary Forms,” in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon fed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 86).

65Vanhoozer, “A Lamp in the Labyrinth,” 55. 66Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 244.

67Watson, Text and Truth, 98. 6Ibid., 124 n. 2.

6Jeffrey Stout suggests that meaning, as a term, should be jettisoned in favor of a less troublesome word. He takes a pragmatic approach in asserting that due to the “considerable verbal disagreement,” it is “better to avoid the term, or at least be wary of it, here above all” (“What is the Meaning of a Text?” New Literary History 14 [1982]: 11). S. E. Fowl takes up Jeffrey Stout’s position, claiming that “meaning” should be eliminated and replaced with “other terms that will both suit our interpretive interests and be precise enough to put a stop to futile discussions.” Fowl proposes that Stout’s position be adopted by those in biblical studies, addressing disputes not in terms of “meaning” but “interpretive interests.” These interests might include the author’s intentions, “a text’s contextual connections to the material or gender-based means of its production,” or a reading which synthesizes all or most of these interests into a “macro-reading” (“The Ethics of Interpretation or What’s Left Over After the Elimination of Meaning,” in The Bible in Three Dimensions: Essays in Celebration of Forty Years of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield [ed. David J. A. Clines, Stephen E. Fowl, and Stanley E. Porter; Sheffield: JSOT, 1990], 381-83).

7*Sandra M. Schneiders, indicative of postmodernist interpreters, follows Gadamer and Ricouer in blurring the line between meaning and significance. Schneiders speaks from a Roman Catholic perspective in arguing that an exegetical method which seeks the author’s intended meaning before finding its application for contemporary readers does not go far enough in discovering meaning for the present day. She favors a “hermeneutical method,” which views interpretation as including the task of seeking contemporary application in order to discover meaning (“From Exegesis to Hermeneutics: The Problem of the Contemporary Meaning of Scripture,” Hor 8 Spring 1981]: 23-39).

7 Bernard Ramm., Protestant Biblical Interpretation (3d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 24. See also David S. Dockery, “Study and Interpretation of the Bible,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation (ed. David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Matthews, and Robert Sloan; Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994); Brian A. Shealy, “Redrawing the Line Between Hermeneutics and Application,” MSJ 8 (Spring 1997): 83-105.

72Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1991), 344.

731bid., 318.

74Vern Poythress, God Centered Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), 76.

,Watson, Text and Truth, 104 (author’s emphasis).

‘Ibid. 77bid., 106.

78Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 260. 79Ibid.

8OIbid., 261. 8’Ibid., 265.

82Watson, Text, Church and World, 3. 83Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 29. 8Ibid. (author’s emphasis).

85Ibid., 455.

86Watson, Text, Church and World, 11.

87Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 375. 88bid., 377.

“Watson, Text and Truth, 98. %Ibid., 115.

9*Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 219. 921bid.

93Watson, Text and Truth, 118 (emphasis added). 9Ibid.

9-‘*Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 251 (author’s emphasis).


97Ibid., 252.

98E. D. Hirsch Jr., The Aims of Interpretation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976), 79-80.

`Dale Leschert, “A Change of Meaning, Not a Change of Mind: The Clarification of a Suspected Defection in the Hermeneutical Theory of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,” JETS 35 June 1992):184-85.

100 Ibid., 185.

101 Ibid., 187.

102 E. D. Hirsch Jr., “Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted,” Critical Inquiry 11 (1984):204.

103 Ibid., 206.

1mHirsch draws upon the relationship between extension and concept. An extension of a concept is “all the individual instances- past, present, and future – that are subsumed under the concept” (“Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted,” 207).

10lbid., 210. Certain applications may therefore belong to a text’s meaning rather than its significance. Hirsch thus moves closer to Gadamer’s view of meaning and application. He states, “I am now very much in agreement with Gadamer’s idea that application can be part of meaning” (ibid., 212). He does, however, disagree with Gadamer’s belief that meaning is different in every interpretation. While Gadamer believes that application necessitates a difference in meaning, Hirsch holds that meaning possibly remains the same with varying applications. Application thus splits significance and meaning. Rather than meaning remaining stringently fixed, as his earlier work supports, Hirsch now holds “that meaning can tolerate a small revision in mental content and remain the same-but not a big revision” (ibid., 221). What is the criterion for this distinction? “We normally decide that two contents are close enough to represent the same meaning when we are able to subsume both contents under the same sort of speech-intention that we deem to have been probable in the historical circumstances” (ibid.).

106E. D. Hirsch, “Transhistorical Intentions and the Persistence of Allegory,” New Literary History 25 (1994): 552.

Hirsch introduces two groups for whom allegory is not needed: the originalists and the anti-originalists. The former “wish to bind interpretation to the explicit (and implicit) content of the original meaning,” while the latter “wish to dispense with authorial intent altogether” (“Transhistorical Intentions,” 555).

1MIbid., 558. However, those refusing the necessity of using allegory as a tool for interpreting “transoccasional writings” risk “turning our written inheritance into a dead letter” (ibid., 562). Similarly, those refraining from any constraint on allegory, “or its fraternal twin anti-intentionalism,” risk “turning a literary work or the Constitution into a’blank piece of paper” (ibid., 562).

109 Thiselton, New Horizons, 13.

110 Ibid.

II Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 262.

112See for instance Eugene Botha, “The Potential of Speech Act Theory for New Testament Exegesis: Some Basic Concepts,” HvTSt 47 (June 1991): 277-93; id., “Speech Act Theory and New Testament Exegesis,” HvTSt 47 (June 1991): 294-303; T. Michael McNulty, “Pauline Preaching: A Speech-Act Analysis,” Worship 53 (May 1979): 207-14; Dietmar Neufeld, Reconceiving Texts as Speech Acts: An Analysis of I John (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994); Richard A. Yong, “A Classification of Conditional Sentences Based on Speech Act Theory,” Grace Theological journal 10 (Spring 1989): 29-49.


*Scott A. Blue is Pastor of The Crossroads Fellowship in Laurinburg, North Carolina and Visiting Professor of Religion at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Copyright Trinity International University Fall 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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