What follows is my response to the kind and helpful comments from the last post. It got a little long, so I thought this would be better...
I think what I'm trying to draw out in the paragraph I've posted is that attempts to interpret a text that begin and end with the question, "What did the author mean to say?" are insufficient. To a degree, the text says what it says, and what it means is what I make up - even if I'm using the best methods of historical criticism and or being very pious and looking for a "plain meaning" in order discern authorial intent.
My point is that either way, the dominant hermeneutic is a reconstruction of Paul. Taking a cue from Adam, I mean that what really happens (instead of his more straightforward and optimistic formula), Author A authors Text X about situation Z and his audience discern significance Y. Historical criticism must try to reconstruct sitation Z (since Author A isn't interested in rehashing what both he and the audience knew) as well as any changes made to Text X, and from reconstruction of Z try to figure out the significance Y that the first hearers attributed to the text, and while we're at it, try to figure out what kind of fellow Author A really was. Through careful reading and reconstruction of all these things, the historical critic hopes to say that in it's original context, Text X had significance Y, and "whatever you guys think you can do with that, it's your business!" We must also remember that the critic assumes it's possible to nail this stuff down. I don't think it is.
(I think Rob's point is well made, that there can be a difference between the historical meaning of the text and the intent of the author - we can't always "get there from here"! Rob, am I reading you correctly? Or perhaps the better question is, reading you as you intended... :0)
The fundamentalist or Protestant reader, as Peregrinator points out, assumes and immediacy between the ancient and contemporary readings of the text. That reader assumes that a "plain reading" of the text will surrender its significance, and along with it both the intent of the author and the interpretation of the original hearers.
And then they will, as Adam suggests, "author A's meaning X can be legitimately said to have significance Y with respect to some contemporary situation Z just in case it is reasonable to assume that, given X, A would adopt Y if he were to confront Z." Because to them, it is always "reasonable to assume." When those steps are taken, Christian teaching and the reading of the present community is being determined by a reconstruction of the author.
Therefore, both the methodologically agnostic historical critical reader and the dedicate Protestant create (more or less) careful reconstructions of the author and then trust them when reading and interpreting the text - and often don't appreciate it when the model is questioned.
And this is all only in terms of the apparent theology of the biblical writers - it's about what those writers apparently thought was theologically true based upon our readings of the text. It's not like we can talk to them. What about what is theologically true, never mind what Paul or Luke or Matthew might have said about any of it? The historical critic will be adamant that it's none of his business (as Asher always says, theology is crap!), while the fundamentalist will say that only things (he's been taught to believe) that are laid down in the text can be theologically true.
James, this might sufficiently clarify my point, but come back at me if it doesn't.
This is why I think that canonical criticism has some important things to say: in a nutshell, that the Bible means what the Church says it means. Since we don't have direct access to what "God" says it means, our options seem to be to say that the Bible
- meant what the historical critic says it meant
- means what the lone religious intepreter says it means, more or less based on his or her reconstruction of Paul (or whomever)
- means what the Church says it means.
I'm not doing justice to the position, but I think I'd like your input from this point. To me it means that I don't have to do foolproof deductive and historical work to figure out what the biblical texts once and for all, "objectively" mean (because I don't think that's possible anyway), but rather, with the rest of the Church, try to listen faithfully to God speaking to the Church through the text and cooperate with his ordering of our life for the salvation of ourselves and the whole world.