Many readers give very little thought to what they are aiming to do when they read a text. Most want to understand the meaning of the text, but very few could tell you what they mean by meaning. And that is a problem for a couple of reasons.
1. Some people define meaning as a reader’s response to what he is reading. Because there can be as many responses as there are readers, this theory implies that there can be as many different meanings of text as there are readers.
2. Some people define meaning as a property of the text without respect to the author who wrote it. This view believes that we can only learn the meaning of a text after we have learned the rules of the game–the norms of the language.
Neither one of these approaches is very helpful at the end of the day. To define meaning, we need to recognize that meaning is not a property of the text independently conceived. Nor is reading a property of the reader’s interaction with the text. Rather, meaning is defined as the message that the author intended to communicate at the time that he wrote.
That basic hermeneutical lesson is the one that John Piper explains so well in the video above. It’s Hermeneutics 101, and I commend it to you.