A major pursuit of biblical studies, especially since the dawn of the Enlightenment, has been to discover the one, intended, objective meaning of the various biblical texts. Over the last several hundred years, a plethora of methodological paradigms, biblical language and reference tools, historical studies, sociological analyses, comparative linguistic investigations, and anthropological and cultural examinations have all been published through many outlets by a host of people for the purpose of finding THE meaning the biblical authors wished to convey to their respective audiences. Although the results of all these works have positively contributed to our knowledge of scripture in profound ways, the problem is this: none can claim that they have actually discovered this one objective meaning. This is not to say, however, that there are not better understandings of scripture which point more adequately to the originally intended meaning, but simply that the best anyone can do is interpret scripture. The consequence of interpretation, though, is the relativity of meaning. In other words, there are several interpretations of scripture which can validly point to the intended meaning of the biblical authors and texts. One purpose of this article, then, will be to explore why it is not possible to find the one intended meaning of scripture, by defining some key concepts (e.g. tradition and presupposition) in the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, who is one of the most influential names in the history of philosophical hermeneutics of the twentieth century, as interpreted by Merold Westphal.
Some scriptural interpreters, especially evangelicals, are frightened by the idea that biblical meaning is relative because such a pluralistic approach can lead quickly to the demise of biblical infallibility and authority. A second major purpose of this article will be to help ease such fear by offering a biblically grounded theological justification for the interpretative plurality of scripture by looking at the relativity of meaning through the lens of the doctrine of the Trinity. This justification will suggest that the more we rely upon the Holy Spirit and act out our faith in God through Jesus Christ in and outside of the church, the better our interpretation of scripture will become.