Worldview in Biblical Studies

A Missional Method for Constructive Theology (Part 7.3)

Dilthey is also a major worldview protagonist in biblical studies, though for a different reason. Dilthey was the hermeneutical heir of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and together they are the epoch-makers of modern biblical hermeneutics.[1. See, e.g., Anthony C. Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), ch. 8.] But it was Dilthey who brought worldview to the fore as a hermeneutical concern. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s landmark work Truth and Method takes the romanticist hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey to task and, thereby, establishes the essential hermeneutical problem with worldview, including its use in biblical studies. Essentially, Dilthey combined Schleiermacher’s romantic hermeneutics with historical consciousness, which resulted in a conception of all of history as a text to be interpreted through a psychologizing hermeneutic of human “life.”[2. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, rev. 2nd ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Bloomsbury, 2004), 241–43.] While Dilthey’s specific use of worldview is not at issue in this case, his melding of history and hermeneutics to justify the social sciences epistemologically becomes an abiding basis for interpreting historical texts such as the Bible by identifying a “coherence” in the life of the texts’ authors that is not only a matter of their psychological life but is, furthermore, a coherence of significance beyond what they themselves could have articulated. In other words, by reference to the “objective mind” of biblical authors, the historical method becomes a God’s-eye-view of their meaning.[3. Ibid., 231.]

The idea that a text gives access to an author’s worldview (which is related to “authorial intent”) is dubious, therefore, when such interpretation purports, as Schleiermacher put it, “to understand a writer better than he understood himself.”[4. Ibid., 198.] For Gadamer, however, the problem is not that it is impossible to make valid claims about the implications of a text’s historical cultural context. It is, rather, impossible to do so objectively as Dilthey believed the social sciences must, lest their claims cease to be scientifically valid. Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” has been widely influential in biblical hermeneutics as an account of how tradition encounters tradition in interpretation (though naïvely objectivist historical-critical methods still dominate many sectors). But the important observation here is that worldview finds a new lease in Gadamer’s claim that “the linguisticality of understanding is the concretion of historically effected consciousness,”[5. Ibid., 407.] specifically in taking up Wilhelm von Humboldt’s insight that “a language-view is a worldview.”[6. Ibid., 459.] The way this develops is important for missional theology insofar as biblical hermeneutics is a key methodological concern that can be developed in terms of worldview with great sophistication, but the point at present is that Gadamer’s use links worldview to the Sapir-Warf hypothesis of linguistic relativity with its concomitant problems.


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