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Scripture as Interface. A Hermeneutical Reflection on a Concept based in Media Theory

This paper reflects hermeneutically on the description of "Bible as interface" with surprising insights for a theological understanding of Scripture based on this concept from digital media theory.

Published onNov 10, 2019
Scripture as Interface. A Hermeneutical Reflection on a Concept based in Media Theory
Dr. Frederike van Oorschot | Theologies of the Digital

1: Introduction: Three premises and a position

The relation in this paper between dogmatic and hermeneutical questions about Scripture to the phenomenon of "digitization" is based on three premises.

First, “digitization” not only describes binary data processing or computer based technologies but is also related to a profound media change that affects our understanding of writtenness. In terms of media history, one might compare this change from a “culture of book” to a “digital culture” with the invention of the printing press.1 This implies – and might already serve as a first suggestion for discussion – a concept of "digitality" as both media and cultural change.2

Second, the hermeneutical question about Scripture and its authority is (also) a question about media. It reacts to the “media problem of monotheism” (Nordhofen), i.e. to the necessity of mediating the communication of the un-created God with the created world.3 This notion of mediality is often not explicitly addressed in Christian dogmatic thinking about Scripture, but it is implicitly very powerful: The Christian tradition places special confidence in biblical texts as witnesses of God. Through the Holy Spirit, they reveal the gospel again and again to persons by being read and heard. Therefore, Scripture has a unique authority for the protestant community (sola scriptura) and is described as one of the medium salutis4 in many theological traditions.5

Third, when it comes to Scripture as a medium, the medial form of the Bible – its “mediality” as text, song, image or play – must be taken seriously. Hence the question arises as to where and how medium and message are interrelated.6 The debate - though still very small – about digitization and the Bible reflects an awareness of this change, though with mostly negative connotations:7 Many people suspect an arbitrariness in accessing the sacred texts in the digital, suspecting that this breaks off their canonical validity.8 In contrast, the written form of the biblical text is interpreted as the guarantor of the externality (or alterity) of the biblical texts against their interpreters. Similarly, some are concerned that the texts would be deprived of their fixed form and content (in contrast to oral traditions) by the fluid medial forms.9 One can also read about the historical connection between Protestant tradition and the invention of printing,10 which makes theology a "reading tradition".11 The "emancipation of writing from the book" also leads to new conditions of theological research.12 Throughout, the debate shows a profound struggle for the question of how the fixation of the message conventionally associated with the writtenness of the Bible and its externality to the recipient can be understood under changing medial conditions. The additional question of the subjects and extent of this assumed fixation also enters the debate.

In the following, I do not want to continue this debate on the level of media theory – I am not qualified to do so and Michael Hemenway has worked refreshingly and very constructively on this issue.13 Rather, through relating the medial question (mediality of Scripture) with the hermeneutical question (Scripture as medium), I will first consider how Scripture can be understood as a medium and will then come back to the question of its mediality.14

My starting point is Hemenway’s description of the “bible as interface”, itself located at the interface of media theory and theology. In his study, Hemenway argues: “The connections between the major technological transition from roll to codex in antiquity and the contemporary move toward the internet and mobile technologies as reading platforms encourage us to consider bible as an interface that affords high surface area, collaboration, and anarchy. […] bible as interface is a relationship between a material platform and a user that cannot be reduced to simple consumption of content.“15 The concept of interface – originating in media theory – becomes a dogmatic description referring to the properties of Scripture when he writes: “throughout its rich media history, bible has been an interface”.16 While Hemenway wants to describe rather than dogmatically construct his notion of “Bible as interface”,17 I will try to further it from a dogmatic and hermeneutical point of view.

I will unfold the theological implications of “Bible as interface” in three ways: Firstly related to the understanding of Scripture as medium and its authority, secondly referring to its pneumatological and christological underpinning and thirdly in relation to the “users” of the Bible.

2: Bible as Interface – Scripture as medium and its authority

2.1 Bible as “zone of encounter” – a relational medium

“At its most basic, interface denotes some kind of relationship of interaction between entities.”18 Starting with this definition, Hemenway unfolds his understanding of interface, referring to the cultural scientist Johanna Drucker.

Drucker describes an interface as “a zone of encounter, not a window through which we access content”.19 This encounter encloses “the entire system of reader, aesthetic object and interpretation”.20 An interface is therefore a “space that supports interpretative events and acts of meaning production”.21 Because of this, books can be understood as interfaces,22 as Hemenway points out: “a book is an interface that provokes probabilistic production through the reading event“.23

There are astonishing parallels between Hemenway and Drucker’s unterstanding of interfaces and the interpretation of Scripture as the medium of the gospel in traditional dogmatics: Here, too, Scripture takes on the function of an interface. In Scripture, the reader encounters testimonies of the revelation of God, which through the Holy Spirit can become revelation for the reader, opening up the gospel for him or her. The Bible thus serves as an interface between the reader and what the texts attest: God’s relation to humanity.24 Scripture as medium salutis therefore does not imply a certain ontological quality of Scripture, but a “function” or “service” (Indienstnahme).25 This is the reason for its authority, which must prove itself in the constant recognition and actualization of this confidence in the reception of the texts.26

2.2 The Bible as event – a procedural authority

Because of this, one’s encounter with the Bible is of central importance. At this point, Hemenway's description offers another interesting interpretation, by distinguishing between interface as a noun and interface as a verb.27 The verb form of interface – Drucker speaks of "interface as event" – offers a helpful reinterpretation of Scripture’s authority.

Authority understood as a relationship, as described above, can now be stated more precisely as a procedural authority: Scripture’s authority comes to bear if and insofar as it is read - namely, if and insofar as it is read with the confidence that the gospel will be disclosed by reading these particular texts. If the authority of Scripture is imagined in this way, authority as a normative notion cannot be isolated from the actual use and interpretation of Scripture by the persons and communities claiming an authority for Scripture.

The appropriation of Scripture therefore has constitutive significance for the validity and authority of the texts, as Stoellger makes clear in comparison to the Lord's Supper: “Holy Scripture is only to be called holy if it becomes the body of the Spirit. And the Spirit can only meet us in it, as long as it is present as its power to give meaning. It's the same with Scripture as it is with bread and wine. Outside of their concrete use, which faith makes of them, Scripture is just one among many texts. Therefore, we worship the elements of the Lord's Supper as little as we worship the Bible. Without animating use, the Spirit would be as dead as Scripture would be.” 28 Because of this, the actual uses of the Scripture are of great interest for dogmatic reasons.29 This structure of the interface, in turn, is constitutive in the digital design practices described by Hemenway.

3: Dogmatic groundings of interface-theory

3.1 Interface-theory and Pneumatology

Following the proposed relational concept of authority, authority is constituted between reader and text in and around the event of reading and hearing. This understanding is grounded in the doctrine of efficatia: for the believer, the authority of Scripture results from its effectiveness, i.e. that it leads to faith through the Holy Spirit. This efficatia proves itself again and again in the communion of believers through history. Therefore, confidence in the biblical texts always precedes the reading of the individual Christian.30

Here, the description of the Bible as interface touches pneumatology: This understanding of biblical texts as evangelion is always inspired by the Holy Spirit. Theologically, Scripture described as interface is to be specified as a function or service (Indienstnahme) of the Holy Spirit: It serves as an interface used by the Holy Spirit to open up the gospel.31 This event of “interfacing” is productive on both sides: While the Holy Spirit opens up the Gospel, this event needs active participation, especially interpretive work on the receiving end in order to become a communicative event. Always aware, that this is the most unlikely case of “successful” communication.

Therefore, one has to differentiate carefully between possible readings of the Bible: Reading and listening to the biblical texts is not always an experience of the Holy Spirit but might also follow other interests and aims. Although every act of reading is an exploration, not every exploration of Scripture opens up the gospel.32 We can only experience the evangelion individually and in community. As soon as we start to share our witness, our experiences are hidden in our words, culture and communication setting, and communicating our witness is more likely to fail than to succeed. Being touched by the Holy Spirit in reading and understanding the evangelion in Scripture can only be witnessed intersubjectively, but not conclusively justified rationally.33 Interpreting Scripture therefore means being part of a highly pluralistic community of witnesses to something we may agree – or argue about – to call “evangelion”.

3.2 Interface-theory and Christology

In terms of media theory, one can speak of a two-stage mediation of the Gospel: The incarnation of the Logos in Christ is itself already a medium, the “ultimate medium of the monotheistic God”.34 Scripture does not replace Christ, but witnesses to him (at least in parts). Human knowledge of God is therefore mediated in two ways: It is mediated through Jesus Christ, who in turn is witnessed in Scripture medially.35 According to Stoellger, this is not limited to one specific medium: “The Word became flesh – and again word and sacrament and also image, ritual and ’Lebensform’.”36 Scripture and image, film, sound, music etc. are thus involved in the potential medial diversity of the embodiments of the Word of God.37

This hiddenness of the message itself leads to an inevitable plurality of readings and interpretations of the evangelion – both in the plural witnesses which the different biblical texts offer and in our differing readings of these texts in history and today. Hemenway therefore describes “anarchy” as one affordance of the interface: “Anarchy in interface constantly exceeds attempts by users to grasp and order the whole in a stable manner.”38 One might even say: The evangelion constantly exceeds attempts by believers to grasp and order the whole in a stable manner. Plural medial references and interpretations are therefore not a drawback of Scripture’s authority, but its constitutive characteristic. Therefore one might speak of an “anarchic authority” of Scripture, as will be explained in the next paragraph.

4: The Affordances of the Bible – Perspectives of the “User”

For Hemenway, this constitutive facilitation of plurality is a central implication of the understanding of Bible as interface. He describes it as the affordances of Scripture: “Affordances are the set of real or perceived use possibilities offered by the material design of an interface in relationship to a particular user and context.”39 Applied to the Bible, he wants to “consider bible as an interface that affords high surface area, collaboration, and anarchy”.40

As the affordances take up the perspective of the “users” of the Bible, I want to take up the debate sketched out above about the fixation of the written text as an alterity to its user.

4.1 Interface as high surface area and the written text

Firstly, Hemenway describes the Bible as a “high surface area”: ​​It has many possible points of contact between user and platform. Thereby it can hardly be deterministic due to the many interactive possibilities offered by the structure of the interface.41 Hemenway concludes that “the relationship of the interface always exceeds a user’s ability to master an interface in its entirety”.42

Related to the notion of anarchy – understood in the very sense of the word as “without the reign of an original43 – this understanding might serve as a description of the plurality of the biblical witnesses of the evangelion in the biblical texts themselves: The plurality of the offered interpretations of God and the Gospel in the canonical collection of texts themselves make a reign of an original impossible. The origin lies beyond the texts, which themselves only serve as witnesses for this origin. Not only does the inner-biblical plurality of texts demonstrate a “high surface area”, but the inner-biblical reception and interpretation processes as well as the diversity of dogmatic and historical interpretive patterns show the adequacy of understanding Scripture as a “high surface area”. This implies anarchistic “interferences” to all theological aims to simplify or unify the biblical witnesses to one single message.

Digital media, therefore, do not add anything new to this plurality but only extend the existing plurality of medial and interpretive frames and forms. Scripture is – regardless of its mediation and medial form – a high surface area. The fixation of Scripture by its writtenness must therefore be unveiled as a dogmatic construct.

4.2 Alterity and interface

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the written form of the Bible is often interpreted as the guarantor of the externality (or alterity) of the texts against the interpreter. This understanding arises out of the (reformational) concern not to deliver the biblical text to the arbitrariness of its interpreters, but to find in the biblical texts a hermeneutical “counterpart” to the church’s tradition and doctrine: Scripture should serve constructively and critically as the source and guideline of theological and ecclesiastical reflections. This conviction is grounded in Luther's reflections on the claritas externa of Scripture: The verbum externum, the text of the Bible, is a counterpart to the interpreter and his or her interpretational endeavors.

The relation of this figure to a certain medium – especially to its writtenness – is quite controversial.44 From media theory, it is clear that the externality of Scripture understood as its mediality is difficult to maintain in the digital: Text and readers become interface and users, which are intertwined to one another in different material and virtual constellations. On the contrary, in interactive approaches to biblical texts, the texts will be constantly reconstituted, reconstructed in a collage-like manner, and linked together. Based on insights of reception aesthetics theory, the bias between text and reader is difficult to describe as sharply as necessary – even without changing medial forms: Every reader is part of the process of understanding and therefore is part of the hermeneutic process of generating “texts”. Do digital texts therefore promote arbitrary readings of sacred texts, breaking off their canonical validity, as we heard in the beginning?

Following my interpretation means saying “no” to that question. But that does not intend to deny the notion of the alterity of Scripture. Its alterity consists of other reasons. The alterity of Scripture vis-à-vis its interpreter cannot be defended in media theory, neither analogue nor digital. This paper’s theological reflection has shown that its alterity is based only in the alterity and externality of the one to whom Scripture witnesses. Scripture’s alterity is part of the pneumatological understanding of Scripture. Therefore, it is part of the experience of “spiritual reading” and can only be witnessed intersubjectively.45

4.3 Interfaces allowing collaboration and anarchy

Based on this pneumatological understanding, the two other affordances of Scripture, Hemenway suggests, are of constitutive relevance for the understanding of Scripture as interface: collaboration and anarchy. Both are closely linked to one another: Bible as interface affords “collaboration”, offering “possibilities for both participation in constructing the space of interface and chances for user interaction”.46 Thereby it enables a relation of anarchy and proximity (Lévinas), “without the reign of an original”.47

Therefore, collaboration in reading and reflecting biblical texts is as important for theological reasons – as described related to Christology – as for medial reasons (at least in digital contexts). Following a relational understanding of authority, the interpretation of biblical texts in community is of central importance. Reading, hearing and interpreting in koinonia is at the heart of the understanding of Scripture and its authority sketched out above. Clivaz therefore asks: “Are the different Protestant churches willing to understand the sola scriptura as lectura that happens in koinonia?”48

The meaning of common reading (and hearing and seeing) is especially evident in digital contexts.49 Hemenway concludes: “At its best, bible has and always will afford this kind of anarchy through the constraints and possibilities of its materiality in interface. Even if this anarchy looks more troubling and threatening to those who value the stability of the texts of bible, the continuity throughout history of this affordance of anarchy in the acts of material media translation can offer us a way to engage emerging bible interfaces from a place of familiarity and value, not anxiety.”50

5: Medial changes and the Holy Scripture – conclusions and open questions

Overlapping media theory and theology, Hemenway's thesis of Bible as interface offers an innovative perspective on the hermeneutics of Scripture. It implicates – at least in my understanding – a close relation to reception-oriented hermeneutics, interpreting them in terms of media theory.51

My hermeneutical reinterpretation shows that the dogmatic reflections on Scripture as a medium are much more fluid than the debates on the mediality of Scripture suggest. The characteristics attributed to the writtenness of the Bible - it’s alterity, the fixation of its content, and the embodiments of the gospel – are not challenged by digital media, but have to be reinterpreted regarding all medial forms.

To open the discussion, I want to conclude with two questions.

Firstly, the question that arises out of media theory is whether we can speak of a “digital media change” related to the medialities of Scripture. It seems that the written culture remains in current digital and web-based accesses to the Bible: these are predominantly text-based interfaces.52

In my view, we are not challenged by media change as much as by media pluralism. This is a very old challenge – theology has been preoccupied with the relationship between writing and image throughout its history, ever since the Old Testament ban on images.53

Furthermore, the relation between orality and literacy has a long tradition in Christianity – so strong that the emerging connections in digital technologies can be interpreted as a return to the antique complementary understanding.54

To take this plurality seriously is indeed a challenge for the “culture of books” in current theology.55 To consider the relation of writing and image – expanded in digital accesses to the Bible in films, plays, visualizations, sound, music etc. – is therefore the actual, but in the end not new, task in the field of digitization and scriptural hermeneutics.56

Looking at this broad spectrum, I want to ask secondly: To what extent – if any – are the constructs of the fixation and alterity of Scripture theologically relevant? In other words: Do we need limits of interpretation – despite all sympathy for anarchic, discursive and collaboration models of interpretation?57 In this regard, Dalferth stresses the duty of exegesis to emphasize the alien character of the biblical texts as the diversity of contemporary media blurs the lines between traditional content and fiction, text and interpretation.58 Do we need to think about limits of interpretation – either related to the text or to the koinonia – when thinking about the affordances of Bible as interface?

We also need to think about the concrete materialities of the interfaces used – themselves expressions of the interface-character of the Bible.59

Here, at the very end, we face a question which Hemenway does not pose explicitly but I want to: If the Bible can be described as interface not only for reasons of media change but also for theological reasons, are digital tools not only appropriate but maybe the most appropriate medial forms for “the message”? Or in Hemenway’s words if “bible at its best is an interface that enables relationships with users that cannot be reduced to simple consumption of its contents”60, how can “bible at its best” be theologically interpreted in digital and analogue medial forms?


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Bei, H. (1980). Autorität IV (Systematisch-theologische Aspekte). TRE V (1980): 40–51.

Clivaz, C. (2017). Die Bibel im digitalen Zeitalter: Multimodale Schriften in Gemeinschaften. ZNT 39/40 (2017): 35–57.

CODEC (2019): Digital Millenials and the Bible. Accessed 10/30/2019.

Dalferth, I. U. (2018). Wirkendes Wort: Bibel, Schrift und Evangelium im Leben der Kirche und im Denken der Theologie. Leipzig: EVA.

Danz, C. (2010). Einführung in die evangelische Dogmatik, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Drucker, J. (2009). Entity to Event: From Literal, Mechanistic Materiality to Probabilistic Materiality. Parallax 15, no. 4 (2009): 7–17.

Drucker, J. (2011). Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory. Culture Machine 12, no. 0 (2011): 1–20.

Friedrich, B. / H. Reichel / T. Renkert (2019). Citizen Theology: Eine Exploration zwischen Digitalisierung und theologischer Epistemologie. In J. Bedford-Strohm / F. Höhne / J. Zeyher-Quattlender, eds., Digitaler Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf politische Partizipation im Wandel, Kommunikations- und Medienethik, Vol 10, 175–191. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Hartlieb, E. (2007). »Die einige Regel und Richtschnur…«. Ist das protestantische Schriftprinzip an sein Ende gekommen? In G. Baumann / E. Hartlieb, eds., Fundament des Glaubens oder Kulturdenkmal? Vom Umgang mit der Bibel heute, 59–88. Leipzig: EVA.

Hemenway, M. P. (2017). Bible as Interface. Theses and Dissertations. 1372. DOI: Accessed 10/30/2019.

Institut für Theologie und Ethik, ed. (2016). Sola lectura? Aktuelle Herausforderungen des Lesens aus protestantischer Sicht. Studie im Auftrag der Schweizerischen Evangelischen Kirche. Bern: Stämpfli.

Joest, W. / J. von Lüpke (2010). Dogmatik I: Die Wirklichkeit Gottes, 5th ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Korsch, D. (2016). Antworten auf Grundfragen christlichen Glauben. Dogmatik als integrative Disziplin, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Körtner, U. H. J. (2008). Exegese, Tod und Leben: Zur Hermeneutik des Todes und der Auferstehung biblischer Texte. In: U. H. J. Körtner, Hermeneutische Theologie: Zugänge zur Interpretation des christlichen Glaubens und seiner Lebenspraxis, 121–141. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Körtner, U. H. J. (2001). Theologie des Wortes Gottes: Positionen – Probleme – Perspektiven. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Leonhardt, R. (2009). Grundinformation Dogmatik. Ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch für das Studium der Theologie, 4th ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Maikranz, E. / K. Zeller (2020). Schrift, Rezipierende und Rezeptionsgemeinschaften. In F. van Oorschot / F.-E. Focken, Eds., Schriftbindung evangelischer Theologie. Leipzig: EVA. [in print]

Paul M. (2018). Sie über sich: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zur Autorität der Schrift in ökumenischer Perspektive. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto.

Phillips, P. (2018). The pixelated text: Reading the Bible within digital culture. Theology 121.6, 403–412.

Phillips, P. / R. S. Briggs (2012). The Bible as Augmented Reality. Beginning a Conversation. Theology and Ministry 1, 1-10.

Rakow, K. (2017). The Bible in the Digital Age: Negotiating the Limits of ›Bibleness‹ of Different Bible Media. In M. Opas / A. Haapalainen, eds., Christianity and the Limits of Materiality, 101–121, London: Bloomsbury.

Schlink, E. (2004). Ökumenische Dogmatik, Vol. 2 Schriften zu Ökumene und Bekenntnis, 3rd. ed., Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Schneider-Flume, G. (2008). Grundkurs Dogmatik: Nachdenken über Gottes Geschichte. 2nd ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Siker, J. (2017). Liquid Scripture. The Bibel in a digital World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Stoellger, P. (2011). »Wo geht’s lang?« Orientierung durch Bilder und die neue Krise des Schriftprinzips. In Kunst und Kirche 1 (2011), 15–21.

Stoellger, P. (2016). Vom dreifaltigen Sinn der Verkörperung – im Blick auf die Medienkörper des Geistes. In G. Etzelmüller / A. Weissenrieder, eds., Verkörperung als Paradigma theologischer Anthropologie (TBT 172), 289–316. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter.

Van Oorschot, F. / F.-E. Focken. Eds. (2020). Schriftbindung evangelischer Theologie. Leipzig: EVA. [in print]

Van Oorschot, F. (2016). Die Krise des Schriftprinzips als Krise der theologischen Enzyklopädie. EvTh 5.76 (2016): 386–400.

Van Oorschot, F. (2020). Global – Lokal- Digital. Digitale Räume als Öffentlichkeiten der Theologie. In U. H. J. Körtner / R. Anselm / C. Albrecht, eds., Konzepte und Räume Öffentlicher Theologie: Wissenschaft – Kirche – Diakonie (Öffentliche Theologie 39), 233–250. Leipzig: EVA [in print].

Van Oorschot, F. (2019). Iudex, norma et regula? Zur Schrifthermeneutik öffentlicher Theologie. Ethik und Gesellschaft 1 (2019): 1–30. DOI: . Accessed 10/30/2019.

Zeller, K. / C. Breu / R. J. Meyer zu Hörste-Bührer / F. van Oorschot (2020). Autorität der Schrift und Rezeptionsprozesse. In F. van Oorschot /F.-E. Focken, eds., Schriftbindung evangelischer Theologie. Leipzig: EVA. [in print]

Frederike van Oorschot:
#digitaleTheologie: Zugänge zur Bibel im digitalen 21. Jahrhundert

Etwas aktualisiert (und vielleicht etwas zugänglicher formuliert) habe ich meine Überlegungen hier

Kate Ott:

The discussion about this on Saturday was fascinating and perhaps speaks back to the issue of tradition or traditionalist interpretation affecting outputs. Liberative outputs might be as likely given the anarchistic interferences.

Michael Hemenway:

Great question Frederike. Let’s discuss more! I think work like Matthew Kirschenbaum’s in books like _Mechanisms_ might highlight the ‘writtenness’ and page likeness of many digital technologies.

Frederike van Oorschot:

Thanks for this reference!

Michael Hemenway:

Yes! But can we push even further back up the chain of revelation here? Is it only the witnesses that exhibit anarchy?

Michael Hemenway:

I love it. Anarchic athority!

Michael Hemenway:

So, in a sense, could we say the authority of scripture is an event, not an entity or property?

Michael Hemenway:

Ha ha. I should have kept reading :)

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Michael Hemenway:

Very interesting that some people link alterity with the written form. I would love to hear more about this.

Michael Hemenway:

Would you say that other traditions, (Judaism, Islam) have had a more explicit articulation of the mediality of their sacred traditions and the authority they demand than Christian traditions have?

Frederike van Oorschot:

I would say, it is often more explizit elaborated, yes.

Michael Hemenway:

I like your use of writtenness here as connected to our cultural notions of self and knowledge and such. It nicely highlights the materiality at work in our relationship with information.

Frederike van Oorschot:

Thank you. I would appreciate to discuss with you of digital writtenness related to your notion of materiality.

Hanna Reichel:

That is a convincing way of framing the lack of original: through the ineffability of what is “behind” the texts.

However, some might say that there actually is no “behind” the texts (which can either go into more ineffability or into fundamentalist reductions of the text).

What about those who maintain that if there is an act of revelation/communication going on through scripture, then there HAS to be a RIGHT interpretation of it - and if humans are incapable of discerning it, then at least we would assess different interpretations as attempts at approximations of “the original message”?

Hanna Reichel:

I presume that the thesis of a “lack of an original” might disconcert theologians. I think it is an important insight though

Michael Hemenway:

Ha! I have had many heated debates with theologians, biblical scholars, and translation studies scholars about this notion of anarchy. I would love to continue those discussions with this group. I have so much to learn. Coming from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, I believe this notion of anarchy to be deeply theological.

Hanna Reichel:

absolutely convincing

Hanna Reichel:

again information theory might supply the important insight here that communication is actually more unlikely to happen than not

Hanna Reichel:

it is not just putting a content into a box and shipping it on.

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Hanna Reichel:

Is it though? Maybe something we could learn from communication theory is actually the productivity of “both sides” of the communicative event. Without active participation, especially interpretive work on the receiving end there is no communication. In order to see the Spirit at work here, the human being cannot be deprived of agency!

Frederike van Oorschot:

Good point. My describtion might be one-sided and misleading here. I will think about it further…

Hanna Reichel:

Yes! That is a very convincing observation! -

We need more practical turn in dogmatics! -> taking into account the way practices are theology-productive, rather than just “applications”

Michael Hemenway:


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Hanna Reichel:

reference to Shannon?

Michael Hemenway:

Ah, excellent question. Unfortunately, my thinking here was not nearly as sophisticated as yours, Hanna. I know far too little of Shannon’s work, but you make me wonder what we might learn from bringing Shannon’s concept of entropy to the notion of interface?

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Hanna Reichel:

I love how you “frame” your own contribution with Hemenway’s work on both sides of you: Both on the “theory” and on the “practical” side :)

Hanna Reichel:

Against that, interesting arguments from the intertextuality of the canon might actually see a more “fluid”, “hyperlink”-structure as quite fitting for the canon we have inherited

Michael Hemenway:

Perhaps I am missing how to use mentions in this comment area?

Frederike, does “Deprived” already indicate a predisposition toward a theological commitment to bible as ‘book’?

Hanna, I love this point about the constitutive hyper(inter)textuality of the Christian scriptural tradition. Even in a codex materiality, very early on, we see Eusebian canons and such, highlighting the non-linearity of the tradition.

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Hanna Reichel:

very interesting!

This is in some ways the same problem, but opposite direction, as in my paper. There it is about: how can (knowledge of) “the world” enter into (the mind of) God; here it is: how can (knowledge of) God enter the world!

We should have added a session on revelation and communication technology!

Frederike van Oorschot:

I would love to bring this up at any point!

Gotlind Ulshoefer:

yes, and I think the important point here is: what does “fixation of the message” mean, i.e., also, who fixes it and what is the extent of the fixation.

Florian Höhne:

How can we ask this important question, if we cannot separate message and form (as i would emphasize)? How can we ask this question without falling back into a merely instrumental understanding of media technology (s. Hanna’s paper)?

Michael Hemenway:

Great question, Florian. I look forward to discussing more.

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Florian Höhne:

I understand this thesis, but i would like to hear more about why you think it is not new.

Florian Höhne:

Also from the standpoint of practice-theory: that makes a lot of sense. Again my question from above: Does the procedural understand make praktical experience of the individual the decisive authority?

Florian Höhne:


Michael Hemenway:

I hope we can talk about this bit some more. I wonder if written text ever actually afforded the alterity/externality hoped for? It was other because I couldn’t change its material form?

this could be very helpful for me to better articulate what i value about interface, because for me, interface only exists if alterity can not be reduced to consumption. So insofar as digital bible/user interfaces reduce alterity, i would argue that these cease to be interface and become simply tools for consumption.

Florian Höhne:


Florian Höhne:

It seems to me a little like the decisive authority in procedural authority is the authority of the (spirit-induced) experience. Is that right? And if so: What kind of experience to you have in mind: Is this an individual experience? Or a collective experience as the “we” in your sentence indicates? Can exeperience be “wrong”? How does one criticise an experience discoursively? I would like to discuss those questions further! :)

Michael Hemenway:

Pardon my lack of experience (ha) with theological language here, but what work is this idea of “We can only experience” the gospel doing theologically? What do we gain by having revelation NOT be inter subjective, while witness is?

Or perhaps I entirely misunderstood this part?

Florian Höhne:

That sounds very interesting and plausibel. I’d like to discuss this furhter. Just to be sure: This is meant normatively, not purely descriptively? This is they way scripture should have authority. Not: This is the way it has an authority in a ways that could be observed sociologically. Right?

Frederike van Oorschot:

I would say: This is the way I can imagine authority of Scripture to be in a normative sense. But it cannot ne isolated from the actual empirical use of Scripture. That means, the use of Scripture influences the normative status. Is this plausible to you?