Piper: Can the Divine Author Say More than the Human Author?

One of the topics John Piper discusses in Reading the Bible Supernaturally is meaning.  He stresses how important it is to reach for the intended meaning of any given Bible passage.  Specifically, what did the human author intend to say?  Of course, Piper insists that God speaks through these human authors and their words in Scripture.  But that raises the question:  does it ever happen in Scripture that there is more to a human author’s words than he might have been aware of when he wrote them?  Listen to Piper:

So, can the human author intend things of which he is not conscious at the moment?  The answer is yes.  I know this sounds contradictory, since I have defined meaning as what the author intends to communicate.  And now I am saying he can intend something he is not conscious of.  What does that mean?

It really is not that strange.  You do this every time you use the little abbreviation etc.  Or when you say, “and so forth.”  Suppose you say, “Any green vegetable that you can buy at the grocery store is good for you, including lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, etc.”  At that moment, those are the only green vegetables that come to your mind.  You are not conscious of any others at the moment you speak.  But the term etc. is designed to carry your intention beyond what you are conscious of.

Etc., in your sentence, can’t mean just anything.  You have given it boundaries.  You said, “Any green vegetable,” and you said, “that you can buy at the grocery store.”  These two traits limit the meaning of etc.  So if someone said, “Do you mean — that is, do you intend — to include asparagus?” you would say, “Yes.”  You meant asparagus even though you were not conscious of asparagus.  Another way of saying this is to point out that necessary implications of our conscious meaning are included in our meaning, even if we are not conscious of all of them.  (pp.318-319)

Piper follows this up with examples.  The first is the prophecy of Caiaphas in John 11:49-52.  Piper writes:

Caiaphas’s immediate intention was to communicate that it would be better that Jesus be killed than that the Jewish nation be wiped out by the Romans.  God communicated to John that God had a different intention with the same words, namely, that Christ’s death would indeed, by a substitution, save his people, but that salvation would be greater, both in depth and scope. (p.320)

The other example is from Col. 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Notes Piper:

God sees every single one of the billions of acts included in “everything” and intends for us to do each of them in the name of Jesus.  Paul, however, cannot see the specific implications of the word everything for every Christian who ever lives.  Therefore, God, in this sense, always intends a fuller, more specific, meaning than the human authors.  (p.321)

Well-said!

Reading the Bible Supernaturally is available for free on-line here.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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