Over the years it has been my experience that I think I understand a biblical text only to realize after obtaining new data that I was either very mistaken or partial in my understanding. This is a process documented by Grant Osbourne in the Hermeneutical Spiral and as I understand was something addressed by philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Gadamer. We have a “horizon” of language, culture, and time from which the author writes and the “horizon” of language, culture, and time from which we read. Often the task of hermeneutics is described as trying to bring these horizons together over time in a cycle of presuppositions to new data to new presuppositions and so forth.
When I want to know more about the Book of Genesis, or the Epistle to the Romans, or the Book of Revelation it would seem that one of the first tasks would be to find a good commentary. Anyone who has done this knows there are dozens upon hundreds of commentaries available. Where two authors may agree on one or two parts of a given text it does not seem possible for the entire text to ever be understood the same by any two people. This has been somewhat problematic for me.
It is not troublesome because I expect the opposite. It is troublesome because I wonder if the whole project of commentary writing is as valuable as we make it to be. If there are hundred people reading one text and it results in ninety-eight opinions what is the purpose of you formulating your own ideas? Do you see this as a worthwhile endeavor and if so, why? Or do you think there is another approach to the biblical text–for scholarship and the church–that would be more profitable?
I think commentary and journal article reading is worthwhile but mostly because I want to formulate my own opinions and be prepared for discussion and dialog on a given text. Is there more to it that this? What do you think?