18 September 2006

The Making of Meaningful Things

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 3:14 pm

Let’s propose that creation is the making of meaningful things. There are two ways to go about creating a meaningful thing: either make the thing, or make the meaning.

Say you’re a potter and you make a cup. A cup is a physical thing whose meaning is already defined: it’s a thing for drinking out of. Now say you take a cup, hold it up, and announce, “This is the cup of the new covenant.” You’ve embedded an already-existing thing and assigned a different meaning to it.

Which is the more creative act: the making of new objects, or the making of new meanings?



  1. You are using “meaning” in an absolute sense. I would argue that meaning is relative. So, the question of meaning is not what is the meaning, rather the question of meaning is: meaning for whom?

    The creator may declare a cup to mean something fantastic and amazing, but if a person takes the cup and uses it only for drinking liquid and then tosses it away, then for that person the cup only has a functional meaning, i.e. it is only good for helping him drink water.

    What about a text? This gets even more tricky.

    There is the meaning of the creator – the authorial intent. There is the meaning I take away from it when I read the text. And there is also the text itself.

    Some would argue that the authorial meaning = the meaning of the text. But the meaning of the text sometimes transcends the author (or, at least, I would argue for this position). From the Scriptures there seem to be clear examples where the writer of a text did not realize the full sense of the text.

    Some would argue that there is something like dual discourse. That in Scripture there are actually two authors/creators: God and the person who writes the inspired words. It is interesting to me, though, that Scripture never declares God to be its author. Only that “all Scripture is God-breathed.”

    But, obviously, if God declares the meaning of something, then that’s the meaning that is going to count the most!


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 18 September 2006 @ 9:36 pm

  2. Interesting observation about God as the author. Is there some additional insight into the term as translated “Word of God”, or of the “Lord”, even “placed in their mouth”? Could it be our concept of “author” that needs examined?


    Comment by Ron MacDonald — 19 September 2006 @ 5:52 am

  3. Jonathan — I agree: the same object can have multiple meanings, but a person might miss some or all of those meanings when interacting with that object. So is the meaning in the object, or in the mind of the person? I think this issue played out in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Christ declares that the bread and wine are his body and blood. For high medievalists schooled in Aristotelian realism, substance and meaning were inseparable, so when Christ changed the meaning of the wine he must somehow have also changed its substance. So if you drink the sanctified wine even in ignorance, you’re partaking of the blood. Interesting idea, that.

    Jonathan and Ron — Maybe the Word is analogous to the Eucharist. If God declares the meaning of things in words, do the divinely meaningful words themselves change substance? As the bread becomes the body, so the words become transubstantiated into the Word, an indivisible melding of substance and meaning.

    I personally can accept the idea of text as the “incarnation” of meaning, because written language is an artifact specifically designed for conveying meaning. It’s harder for me to think of text as an incarnation of the writer, though. And a text, once it’s written, becomes a thing like any other thing, capable of being transformed into any number of meanings imposed on it by its readers.

    Please excuse my rambling on like this — it’s exciting actually to have some commenters to interact with!


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 September 2006 @ 9:37 am

  4. the Word of God…

    In the prophetic books we read that God would visit a prophet and give him a message which the prophet would dutifully repeat. Moses was basically a scribe who recorded the Torah as God commanded him – or so it seems that this was the case. In the above examples something like the dictation theory seems most reasonable.

    However, there are other cases in which Scripture seems more accurately described in terms of its human elements. The Gospels, Epistles, poetic works, and wisdom literature might be examples. I’m not saying that there were no divine elements, but maybe the human creativity is the driving force. All the while the Scriptures would still be “God-breathed.”

    So, all that to say that maybe the creative process of Scripture varied according to what God was wanting to accomplish. All things under his sovereignty, but different texts being used in different ways.

    Interesting ideas on the Eucharist as analogous to the Word…that’s definately a fascinating analogy…


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 19 September 2006 @ 2:39 pm

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