Black Augustine

The Purpose of This Work
Augustine was not familiar with hermeneutics as it is explained and known today. Even though he was unfamiliar with theological frameworks and cogent interpretive systems, he yet is recognized as setting the groundwork for evangelical hermeneutics. This work is not an attempt to evaluate or formulate an Augustinian hermeneutic, or a way to interpret the Bible following in the footsteps of Augustine. The term “Augustinian hermeneutics” if stated to describe this work would not resemble a defined and coherent hermeneutic system or even a rounded and methodical approach to biblical interpretation. “Augustinian hermeneutics”, if applied to this work, could be seen as the fusing of an Augustinian view about God, authorial intention and meaning. Hence, the term “Augustinian hermeneutics” would need to be greatly qualified if applied to this work. This work is better viewed as an evaluation of Augustine’s thoughts about God, authorial intention and meaning in relation to one another.

Designed as an assessment of Augustine’s thought, this effort is intended to formulate an understanding of his view of God, authorial intention and meaning. Also, Augustine is brought to the debate table in order that he may answer the beckon and call of present-day evangelicals to fight in the battle against forms of liberal hermeneutics. This series is not primarily a polemic against opposing forces within liberalism as much as a presentation of overwhelming evidence that Augustine’s thought is a large portion of the foundation of evangelical belief regarding God, authorial intention and meaning. This work simultaneously looks back to Augustine and forward to the evolving landscape of predominate interpretation and theology among both liberals and evangelicals.

The Three Steps of the Work-God, Authorial Intention, and Meaning
As the order will proceed, first basic doctrines about God will be evaluated, particularly in relation to Augustine’s understanding of the author and authorial intention and meaning, second his thoughts regarding the “author” and “intention” and third his thoughts on meaning.

Each person has an opinion or belief concerning various doctrines; in fact, whenever one reads the Bible, whether a believer or non-believer, he/she engages in interpretation. Beliefs formed through interpretation both guide and supply one’s overall concept of God, i.e. His traits, identity, and His existence and the creation of all that exists. One’s doctrine of God is the basis of formulation for one’s views on authorial intention and meaning.

Augustine’s understanding of God provided guidance for belief in authorial intention and meaning. But how does one “believe” in authorial intention and meaning? In essence, to believe in authorial intention and meaning is to know and understand that both are valid, stable and definite foundations and receptors for communication. This work will discuss at length what it means to believe in authorial intention and meaning.

In short, how did Augustine link a belief in God to a belief in authorial intention and meaning? He believed God was the transcendent and immanent Lord over time and did act in time through men to produce the Bible (the Word of God) with the result that authorial intention and meaning were and are still now linked in purpose and effect with their Creator and stable in time due to their Creator. This work then necessarily and predictably posits Augustine’s thought against hermeneutic non-realists and liberal theologians, who neither “believe” in authorial intention and meaning as defined above nor link God to authorial intention and meaning.

Must interpretation be based on one’s theological and doctrinal beliefs? The pursuit or trajectory (path) of one’s interpretation is foremost a revealing of the path of one’s doctrine. Is the existence or stability of meaning a theological question? Kevin Vanhoozer in Is There a Meaning in This Text replies in the affirmative, “…because theology has an interpretive dimension and because interpretation has a theological dimension. ‘Is there a meaning in this text?’ is…a thoroughly theological question.” The exegete’s views regarding God directly affect not only their views of the interpretative process in method and theory but more importantly the interpretations and conclusions which are actually developed. So one’s theological outlook affects one’s interpretation in both theory and practice. Stated another way, the exegete’s doctrine of God is interrelated with both one’s view of authorial intention and meaning (and vice versa).

Importantly, the doctrine of God propounds not merely that intention and meaning exist, but that they are fixed and stable because they reflect an immutable, transcendent and immanent Creator. The issue is not merely whether intention and meaning exist. The defining point is the nature and characteristics of God and correspondingly the nature and character of intention and meaning. Hence, to formulate and solidify the nature of intention and meaning, one must evaluate certain aspects of God.

Correlation of Authorial Intention and Meaning
Authorial intention and meaning are interdependent. They may range slightly in definition and framework, but in essence they are of the same lot and purpose. As this work at times places either authorial intention or meaning in the foreground, it should be understood that the correlating element always resides in the background. One may quickly label “meaning” as the more philosophical and broad-reaching element, however “meaning” shrouded in its suppositional and idealistic glory, would not exist without the writer’s intention to communicate.

Regarding differentiation of the two, in evaluating a sentence, “intent” exists in the mind before formulation of the sentence and directs its formation and “meaning” is communicated as a result or effect of the sentence. In other words, intention is the motive and meaning is the goal and the phrase or sentence itself would function as the wedding of both intention and meaning.

In viewing God as the author of creation, His control, authority and presence define creation and thereby designate it as evidencing Divine intention and communicating the meaningfulness of all created things. Could God have created humanity without an image? Could God have created humanity without also providing a purpose for its existence? Consequently, can mankind create anything without intention? God cannot create without intention and meaning, so also mankind cannot create without intention and meaning. Creating that which is meaningless is contra to God’s nature. Therefore, intention and meaning are focal points of the existence and action of God. As God is intricately linked through intention and meaning with His creation, so also is man, His image, linked just as strongly with the entire foundation of communication.

Emphasis of This Work
Vanhoozer writes, “We can formulate this faith in meaning in terms of the ‘interpreter’s credo’: I believe in hermeneutic realism (author), I believe in hermeneutic rationality (text), I believe in hermeneutic responsibility (reader).” Concerning this present work, we are able to combine the interpreter’s credo with Augustine’s view on hermeneutics and apportion his work accordingly. Particular emphasis on elements such as: Augustine’s exegetical methods, doctrinal formulations, his view on the sentence and proposition, hermeneutical rules, etc. can be dealt with separately in an evaluation of Augustine and his rationality of the text (hermeneutical rationality); Augustine on charity, eloquence, wisdom, self-examination, etc. should be handled in an examination of Augustine and reader responsibility (hermeneutic responsibility). The primary emphasis of this work is neither an evaluation of Augustine and the text nor Augustine and the reader but rather an evaluation of Augustine and the author, i.e. Augustine’s understanding of the Supreme Author God and the human author’s intention and meaning.

To be continued...

Co-Founder Michael Mewborn

The Preface