This week I answer a question raised after last week's talk. The question was this: Can you explain your methodology for solving parables? I can.
The 7 Layers of Interpretation
Years ago I realized that most professionals in the area of the Bible have an ad-hoc strategy for interpreting the Bible. After I started working on Bible Time, which was much more rigorous than preaching, I had a dream. In the dream I was told how to organize the problem of interpreting the text.
I was told there are 7 layers to the text. The lower 3 layers deal with composing the story. They are: 1) letters, 2) words and 3) sentences.
From this point you have a readable text and for each of these 3 base layers there are unique tools for dealing with that layer. Of course when I had the dream I had no idea how much the letter layer drove the higher layers. That came much later.
3 more layers sit above these. 4) Idiom, 5) Symbol and 6) Prophetic. The combination of words into short idiomatic phrases is perhaps the least used layer. The Symbol layer is where stories can be read as symbolic. The prophetic layer is where stories transform into other domains.
Essentially all English translations disrespect these layers. Especially the boundary between layer 3 and 4. Much of our cleanup of BRB phrasing is aimed at restoring this boundary.
The highest layer, is 7) Application. Here the text itself mostly rests. The reader must apply the text to real world situations. If you will, the text takes a Sabbath.
We use this model for sorting out specific textual problems all the time. Everything we do around here sorts into 1 of those 7 fundamental and unavoidable layers.
Solving Parables is a Layer 6 problem, where some rule explains a transformation from some base subject into some other subject.
For more than the 20+ years I've been at this, I've used an informal Parable Table technique based mostly on a technique I learned in a digital circuit design class.
Instead of logic states, these tables use ideas from both a subject domain, usually some story in scripture, and a target domain, usually some real-life situation.
There are certain analytical problems and repair techniques which the tool exposes which I explain in this week's talk.
Once you become good at this technique, especially if you know the Bible well, you can use it in real time when listening to someone talk about something from Scripture. You can then readily spot problems in sermons.
Of course if you allow for it to be messed up, the same technique can be used to spot problems within the text of the Bible itself.
The preaching problems that are so common are likely a reflection of the fundamental problems of tampering in the Bible itself. They are also why so much of the public has abandoned Bible based institutions, especially outside of the Bible Belt.
Watch the talk linked above to understand more.