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Markus Bockmuehl and Effective History

2012/12/10

Can we fully understand the meaning of a text without understanding how it has been received throughout history? Markus Bockmuehl[1] says we cannot:

a foundation document means cannot be determined without reference to its original intention; but nor can we discover what it means now without attention to what it has meant in the meantime. Whether we like it or not, we stand inescapably in the shadow of those who have gone before us (59).”

He argues that we should look at the effective history of a text (Wirkungsgeschichte) throughout the church and this will give a clearer picture on how modern readers should interpret the text. Without examining this then we can not fully understand the meaning of the text. So what is Wirkungsgeschichte? He gives us three basic polarities against other hermeneutical avenues to give us a picture (61–63):

Hermeneutics is a broad river with many competing ideologies that continues down taking different turns as history unfolds. By looking at these different turns throughout history we can gain a richer understanding of a text today. Wirkungsgeschichte is not the only way to interpret a text but is just another tool in the interpreters toolbox.


  1. Markus N A. Bockmuehl, A Commentator’s Approach to the Effective History’ of Philippians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 60 (D 1995): 57–88.  ↩