Interpretation in Law and Biblical Studies

Stephen C. Carlson over at Hypostesis has an interesting post about the relationship between conservative judicial philosophy, al la Justice Scalia and Judge Bork, and "Fundamentalist Christian biblical interpretation." Carlson thinks that "There is much in common between between Biblical interpretation and judicial interpretation, and I think that both fields will benefit greatly if the best insights in one field are applied to the other."

I have read Scalia's A Matter of Interpretation and Bork's The Tempting of America, as well as many opinions and articles by both. I have also had the pleasure of meeting them both on different occasions. While I respect their judicial philosophies and would be considered a "literalist" by some when it comes to biblical interpretation, I think a note of caution is in order. As I said in a comment on Carlson's site, the ultimate concern of conservative judicial philosophy and conservative biblican interpretation are very different:

It seems that the goal of judicial interpretation of laws is legitimacy. Which interpretation is legitimate, in that it restricts the rights of individuals or enhances the power of the government. On the other hand, the goal of biblical interpretation itself seems to be a more debatable proposition. Are we just trying to know what the author meant for his audience to understand? That seems the obvious historical question. But many Christians, literalists or not, may also look for meanings unanticipated by the (human) author and his immediate audience, though intended by the (Holy Spirit) author and a later audience given understanding. Further, the goal of biblical interpretation for the Christian is accuracy -- to learn what God has revealed because what God has revealed is true and just and right. Whereas, Bork and Scalia would not claim that their approach to judicial interpretation necessarily delivers what is true and just and right. It just delivers what is legitimate.

Still, I would not deny that certain tools or approaches might not be relevant to both pursuits. Carlson provides a link to a law review article that apparently discusses the topic to an extent. He also indicates he may pursue the matter more in the future. I look forward to reading both (once I can find the time).


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