Vanhoozer getting at the heart of interpreting and rightly understanding the Bible:
‘What it means’ is ultimately not a matter of theory only but of practice, not a matter of sheer knowledge but of wisdom. How do we know which interpretation best grasps the significance of the text? How can we evaluate various judgments as to what the text means in today’s context? I suggest that we may find a criterion in the demonstration of wisdom, in the right use of literary knowledge. Those whose minds and visions have been shaped by the biblical story and by the other types of communicative action will develop a Christian habitus—a way of life that forms habits of the head, habits of the heart, and habits of the hand. To read with understanding is to develop a Christian worldview, a spiritual orientation, and a loving way of life. The Spirit’s power is demonstrated in wisdom. Those who rightly apply “what it meant” attest the efficacy of the Word. We can go further. I propose the following four criteria for discerning the Spirit’s “ministry of the Word” among contemporary readers. We should prefer those interpretations of the Bible’s significance that demonstrate
- faithfulness: interpretations that extend the meaning of the text into new situations
- fruitfulness: interpretations that enliven the reader and show forth the Spirit’s fruits
- forcefulness: interpretations that edify the community, resolve problems, foster unity
- fittingness: interpretations that embody the righteousness of God and contextualize Christ.
Here Vanhoozer collapses “meaning” and “application” into seemingly one category. Meaning is not something abstract that we can just do our research and come up with a single timeless meaning of the text but rather meaning and application are wrapped into one. Meaning is not truly understood until it takes root in the believers life.
This seems similar to Augustine’s view, which he says “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.” – On Christian Teaching
Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Landmarks in Christian Scholarship) (p. 431). Zondervan.