Would you agree to this statement? Your answer will reveal much about your approach to life.
No principle of literary study is more important than that of grasping the overall message of a literary piece as a single work. Though the idea of the whole must arise from an encounter with parts, the entire work controls, connects, and unifies one’s understanding of the parts.
This from James R. Slaughter’s article, “The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter,” p. 73 (pdf file).
I vote yes, but it would be a fascinating thing to see how many people today would worry with such a concern as the overall message of a book of the Bible or of even the Bible itself. I’d imagine that many, if not most, people have unconsciously bought into the reader-centered approach of making from the reading whatever meaning one desires.
The quote above stands squarely in the historical-critical approach to biblical studies. There is a message in each ancient document, and that message, through analysis and reading, may be discerned and perceived by the reader.
Perhaps this is why our world is so neurotic: we read our own meaning in what others say (be they beside us or writing from centuries ago) and engage in the Great Disconnect. Paradoxical, ironic, is it not, that the age in which people are most connected to others is that in which they are most distant, because they don’t get the meaning in other people’s messages.
We make of it what we will, and inevitably get it wrong.
To get it right, discern the author’s intention, his message, his theme, his emphases. Though actual meaning is formed in the mind of the listener or reader, the intention of meaning is invested in the message. In uninspired people, that meaning must often be reshaped, recast, remolded, restated, repackaged. (But even an inspired writer had to deal with his meaning not being understood — or perhaps twisted — at times; see 1 Corinthians 5:9-10.) But we can be assured that the inspired writer got it right the first time around.