Torah as Interpreted Torah

In an essay entitled “Paul and James on the Law in the Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Martin Abegg incisively observes that

The interpretation of the law, which had been revealed by God, is the focus of the phrase “works of the law” [at Qumran]. . . . No doubt the emphasis is on Torah in its entirety (see 1QS 8.1–2) but “obeying the law” was in accordance with the correct interpretation, that which had been revealed by God. . . . [T]he phrase does not simply mean “works of the law as God has commanded,” but rather “works of the law that God has commanded and revealed fully only to us” (72–73; italics original).

Thus, at least to a great degree, Torah functions not so much as it is in itself but as it is interpreted by the Qumran community. For this preeminently defining element, opposing interpretations were not credible (e.g., CD 1:13–2:1; 4Q266 f2i:21–f2ii:2). Consequently, entering and remaining in the community necessarily implied returning and adhering to Torah, where Torah was understood according to the proper conception of Torah that the community believed itself to have (e.g., CD 15:12–13; 1QS 5:8–10, 20–22; 4Q271 f4ii:3).


In this post:

Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls
John Collins and Craig Evans

The Nature of Scientific Revolutions

When they happen, scientific revolutions occur suddenly by a process that may not be completely quantifiable, a fact that partially accounts for the controversy and opposition often experienced in the historical period surrounding a given revolution (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 89–90, 151–52, 159; cf. Barber 97–113; Poythress 461). Although certain criteria exist, based on the broader scientific community’s shared paradigm, by which a scientific community can evaluate a candidate paradigm (Achinstein 413; Kuhn, Essential Tension 321–22), these criteria’s applications and their relative weights are insufficiently discreet to facilitate paradigm choice by simple proof alone (Kuhn, Essential Tension 320, 329; cf. Carson 89–90; Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 94, 152, 160–87; Kuhn, Since Structure 208–15). Thus, one might best describe paradigm change as a kind of “conversion” (Kuhn, Essential Tension 338; cf. Poythress 473), and different conversions may have different magnitudes. Indeed, even a conversion to the same paradigm may have different magnitudes for different, scientific sub-communities (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 49–51, 92).

Seen according to the new paradigm, the old one appears mistaken (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 115; cf. Thiselton 712), for the community’s new paradigm directs the community to interpret observations differently than it had done before (Hung 8–9, 63; Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 206). Thus, in very close parallel to the classic gestalt switch, scientists who resolve a crisis by changing their paradigmatic allegiances come to view the same data from a different perspective and have, therefore, a different explanatory context for that data (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 84–85). In this way, the scientists who experience this switch reconceptualize their fields, objects of inquiry, and validation standards so radically that, for them, the hermeneutical world that they inhabit after the paradigm shift fundamentally differs from the one that they had previously inhabited (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 102–103, 109, 111–12, 118, 128–29; see also Grandy).1


1 For an extended study of one historical example of this process, see Kuhn, Copernican Revolution; for several additional, but briefer, examples, see Kuhn, Since Structure 13–32.

In this post:

Science Rules
Peter Achinstein
Bernard Barber
D. A. Carson
D. A. Carson
Thomas Nickles
Thomas Nickles
Beyond Kuhn
Edwin Hung
Copernican Revolution
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Moisés Silva
Moisés Silva
Thiselton on Hermeneutics
Anthony Thiselton

Crisis Resolution and Scientific Revolution

Three routes exist for crisis resolution within a normal scientific community. First, the community may forestall the crisis by proposing an adjustment to the received paradigm, provided that this adjustment is plausible enough to decrease the severity of the paradigm’s perceived inadequacies. Second, the community may, after repeated failures to explain the crisis-inducing problem(s) satisfactorily, defer this problem(s) indefinitely to future, scientific research. In both these cases, the crisis finds its resolution, however tenuously, in fresh reaffirmation of the received paradigm (Kuhn 84–85).

Yet, most radically, the community may adopt a third response in which they allow the crisis to create “extraordinary science,” which exhibits “a willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent [with the received paradigm], [and the] recourse to philosophy and . . . debate over fundamentals” (Kuhn 91). Extraordinary science’s openness to abandon old paradigms provides an occasion for “scientific revolutions,” or major changes in these reigning paradigms (Kuhn 34, 90). Still, beyond the simple occasions for revolutions that extraordinary science provides, for revolutions to occur, viable alternatives must exist for whatever paradigm may potentially be rejected. For, only in these alternative paradigms are extraordinary science’s occasions for revolution met with positive invitations to changes of paradigmatic allegiance (Kuhn 76–77; cf. Carson 88).


In this post:

D. A. Carson
D. A. Carson
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn

The Power of Private Presuppositions

Presuppositions that remain unacknowledged at least to oneself can still exercise strong influence. Indeed,

[a] person who believes he is free of prejudices, relying on the objectivity of his procedures and denying that he is himself conditioned by historical circumstances, experiences the power of the prejudices that unconsciously dominate him as a vis a tergo. A person who does not admit that he is dominated by prejudices will fail to see what manifests itself by their light [because it will not be foregrounded from them] (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2006, 354 and Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2013, 369).

We sometimes see this dynamic at work when we cannot see any other possible resolution for a given problem or interpretation for a given data set than the one that we prefer. “This must be that,” we think, for, “How could it be otherwise?” A close cousin to this kind of logic is an argument that, of the possible interpretations, only one is any good, and the other is bad. Or, only one is good, and all the others are equally or effectively just as bad as each other.

Of course, some interpretations do explain the relevant data more comprehensively and more coherently than competing interpretations, but evaluating these other interpretations, as it were, from inside the horizons from which they come is a valuable skill to cultivate. For, this skill can help minimize the tendency to adopt less coherent or comprehensive interpretations simply because of things that we do not realize that we think—and that we have not, therefore, evaluated to determine their own legitimacy. Moreover, in a rhetorical context, considering the same information from another standpoint can help refine and strengthen one’s own positions as well as suggest more effective ways of communicating these positions to others.

Tradition and Method

Despite the preeminence sometimes assigned to method in hermeneutics,

[i]n seeking to understand tradition[,] historical consciousness must not rely on the critical method with which it approaches its sources, as if this preserved it from mixing in its own judgments and prejudices. It must, in fact, think within its own historicity. To be situated within a tradition does not limit the freedom of knowledge but makes it possible (Gadamer 354).

For, in this way, one allows the substantially dialogical nature of the hermeneutical experience to have its fullest expression.


In this post:

Hans Georg Gadamer
Hans Georg Gadamer

Subjective or Sympathetic Interpretation?

The later is arguably a better practice than the former:

We can set aside Schleiermacher’s ideas on subjective interpretation. When we try to understand a text, we do not try to transpose ourselves into the author’s mind [in die seelische Verfassung des Authors] but, if one wants to use this terminology, we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views [in die Perspective, unter der der andere seine Meinung gewonnen hat]. But this simply means that we try to understand how what he is saying could be right. If we want to understand, we will try to make his arguments even stronger (Gadamer, Truth and Method (2006) 292; Gadamer, Truth and Method (2013) 303; italics added; Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode 297).

Of course, in addition to its direct relevance to interpreting the New Testament, this suggestion to seek to understand “how what [another person] is saying could be right” and even to understand how these arguments could become more plausible is good advice for interpreting all kinds of human communication, perhaps especially communication from those with whom one disagrees. Specifically, such understanding helps prevent premature critiques, and it enables critiques that are made to be made much more carefully.

Normal Science and the Role of Crises

Normal scientific endeavor can suggest beneficial refinements to a given paradigm, but because the paradigm defines normal science itself, the paradigm’s essential components stand beyond normal science’s refining the influence (Kuhn 46–47, 66, 73, 128–29). In other words, although normal science may suggest refinements of the reigning paradigm that account for the observed difficulties, these refinements, by definition, can only be ad hoc accretions rather than systemic revisions (Kuhn 68–71, 75, 78, 86–87; cf. Hung 78–79).

To provoke a change in a paradigm under which normal science operates, a crisis that demonstrates a “pronounced failure” of the previously accepted paradigm is required (Kuhn 67, 74–75, 77, 92, 97–98; cf. Thiselton 711). A crisis usually follows persistent failure to resolve sufficiently problematic difficulties that a current paradigm raises on that paradigm’s own terms (Kuhn 67–68; cf. Ricoeur 271). Alternatively, when a body of ad hoc problem solutions becomes too substantial to ignore, a crisis still occurs, and this crisis may symptomatically produce several different articulations of the current paradigm that struggle to salvage the paradigm in the context of the necessary body of qualifications (Kuhn 70–71, 83–84).

Therefore, difficulties with a given paradigm by themselves do not necessarily induce a crisis; rather, to induce a crisis these difficulties must be perceived as assaulting the paradigm’s essential components or as having too great a practical significance to ignore (Kuhn 81–82; cf. Hung 16–18).1 Although a new paradigm may be foreshadowed in normal scientific work performed under an old paradigm, this foreshadowing may well be ignored in the absence of a crisis that provides scientists with sufficient motivation to reject the old system and adopt a new one (Kuhn 75, 86).


1 Kuhn also suggests that additional, normal scientific research may aggravate previously small problems until they become too problematic to resolve, but this manner in which difficulties with a paradigm may cause a crisis appears to have its crisis-causing effect because it constitutes a subset of one of these other two categories (Kuhn 81).

In this post:

Beyond Kuhn
Edwin Hung
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Paul Ricoeur
Paul Ricoeur
Thiselton on Hermeneutics
Anthony Thiselton

The Commonality of Communication

In an introductory essay for his edited volume Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context, Phillip Esler observes that

All human groups, however diverse, are capable of communicating with one another. Merely to entertain the possibility of one culture seeking to understand or even translate another presupposes the necessary foundations in human nature and human sociality which transcend ethnographic particularity (Esler 6).

Consequently, despite all of the task’s attendant dangers, there is this good reason, among others, to be hermeneutically hopeful when approaching the New Testament or other ancient pieces of literature, for “[t]ime is no[t] primarily a gulf to be bridged because it separates; it is actually the supportive ground of the course of events in which the present is rooted” (Gadamer 297).


In this post:

Modelling Early Christianity
Philip Esler
Hans Georg Gadamer
Hans Georg Gadamer

Normal Science and Rules

While normal science does not necessarily require a full set of rules to function (Kuhn 44), normal scientific investigation can continue without rules “only so long as the relevant scientific community accepts without question the particular problem-solutions already achieved. Rules . . . therefore become important and the characteristic unconcern about them . . . vanish[es] whenever paradigms or models are felt to be insecure” (Kuhn 47). Debates about rules frequently occur in the pre-paradigm period, but they also typically recur when reigning paradigms come under attack from suggested inadequacies and proposed changes (Kuhn 47–48). When a paradigm reigns unchallenged, however, the scientific community that it constitutes need not attempt to rationalize the paradigm (Kuhn 49). Moreover, any apparent difficulties with the paradigm that cannot be resolved are typically held to result from the inadequacy of the research conducted rather than the inadequacy of the paradigm that suggests the difficulties (Kuhn 80).


In this post:

Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn

Paradigms and Rules

Assuming a paradigm’s community desires consistency, their general paradigm will dictate specific rules for the community’s research (i.e., means for investigation and standards for evaluation; Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 43, 48, 94; cf. Achinstein 413; Thiselton 711). Yet, these rules do not themselves provide coherence to a given tradition of normal science (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 44). Rather, these rules are interpretations of an antecedent paradigm that causes a given, normal-scientific tradition to cohere (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 43–44, 46).1

Yet, Kuhn elsewhere argues that “[e]xplicit rules, when they exist, are usually common to a very broad scientific group, but paradigms need not be” (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 49; italics added), which might seem to suggest a different derivational order than the one just mentioned. Still, Kuhn makes the assertion just quoted explicitly to support his contention that paradigms logically precede rules (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 49). The rules common to broad, scientific groups, therefore, appear to be rules dictated by the more general “macro-paradigm” to which “science” and “scientists” hold, although these categories themselves contain substantial variegation. For instance, as currently practiced, “modern science” generally presupposes as valuable things like “accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, fruitfulness, explanatory power, and plausibility” (Achinstein 413; cf. Kuhn, Essential Tension 321–22). Consequently, when Kuhn speaks of rules that characterize a broader group than do paradigms, he apparently intends to designate slightly different referents for these key terms than he does at other points in his argument. That is, the more globally acknowledged rules derive from the broader scientific community’s shared (macro-)paradigm, which Kuhn leaves in silent opposition to the narrower paradigms, which he explicitly mentions, and which characterize individual, normal-scientific communities.


1 Upon receiving numerous critiques about apparent imprecision in his use of the term “paradigm,” Kuhn subsequently clarifies the concept’s nuances in precisely this fashion. No one, exhaustive paradigm exists. Rather, the scientific community as a whole shares a certain paradigm with a minimal set of characteristics, and various scientific sub-communities hold paradigms that contain additional characteristics and that compete with the paradigms of other groups (Kuhn, Essential Tension 294).

In this post:

Science Rules
Peter Achinstein
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thiselton on Hermeneutics
Anthony Thiselton