Friday, May 11, 2007

Bible parole and Systematic Theology langue

I’m not sure if this is right or useful or interesting? The ideas probably aren’t new but we usually wouldn’t say it quite like this. Not sure there are any real gains! But for what its worth, and in case someone might say something helpful…

I’ve been trying to think about some of the ideas of semiotics (the study of signs, especially words as signs) might be applied to the doctrine of scripture.

One key semiotic concept is a distinction between langue (language as abstract system) and parole (language in use, utterances).

As I suggested here, Christians are claiming that human langue is used to make the inspired parole of scripture.

Some scholars such as George Lindbeck in The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age have been influential in suggesting that we think of doctrine in linguistic terms. Doctrine could be seen as the church’s grammar, its rule for speaking about God.

One might say that the canonical Scriptures properly come to constitute or effect a kind of langue, a normative, finite and bounded system which serves as a controlling doctrinal framework and presents an authoritative world-view which makes other theological speaking possible. The inspired scriptures are canonical parole, particular utterances authoritatively put to use by their first speakers and subsequently normative in all right reading and preaching of the bible. Every possible legitimate use of the bible, taken together, would amount to the abstracted langue which stands behind scripture and is implied by it, the sum of its interpretation and application, its systematic theology and world view. Just as a language system (langue) is not entirely accessible to the speakers of a language but is a conceptual matrix that shapes their speaking, so bible readers are unable to fully state all that the bible means and implies. A perfect and comprehensive systematic theology could never be written. The langue that stands behind scripture exists in the infinite mind of God and makes each individual parole of scripture possible, meaningful and coherent.

Thiselton notes that “Culler compares the double axes of langue and parole with the endless process of interaction between understanding and pre-understanding in the hermeneutical circle.” (New Horizons, p537)

In the relationship between langue and parole there is paradox which is suggestive of the hermeneutical circle or spiral in the formation of doctrine. Langue is made up of parole and determined by and does not exist in the world apart from particular utterances. But langue also pre-exists uses of it and makes parole possible. This is somewhat analogous to the relationship between the biblical text and systematic theology. The human interpreter of scripture inevitably brings to each parole of the bible his doctrinal system, his pre-understanding which seeks to approximate the langue of scripture, but this is also to be re-shaped by the parole of scripture, which alone are ultimately authoritative.

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