Quote: N.T. Wright on Words and their Meaning

“First, the meaning of a word (following Wittgenstein) I take to be its use in a context, or an implicit context; that is, its use of potential use in a sentence or potential sentence. If I say ‘book’, the meaning of this is in doubt until I form a sentence: ‘I am going to book the tickets’; ‘The book is on the desk’; ‘The criminal was brought to book.’ Even where a word is clearly univocal, we can never rule out possible metaphorical meanings, and in any case we only know the univocal meaning through experience of sentences in which it has become plain. Second, the meaning of a sentence is its place in a story or implicit story. ‘The book is on my desk’, spoken by my assistant, carries a different meaning (a) in an implicit story in which I have been searching my shelves in vain for a particular book, and (b) in an implicit story in which I had intended to hide the book before the next person enters the room. ‘Jesus was crucified’ carries different meanings in the story told by the centurion as he reported back to Pilate, in the story told by the disciples to one another the same evening, and in the story told by Paul in his mission preaching. Third, the meaning of a story is its place in a worldview. (This assumes, no doubt, several intermediate stages, in which lesser stories acquire meaning within larger ones, and so on.) As we have seen frequently, stories relate in a variety of ways to worldviews: the articulate them, legitimate them, support them, modify them, challenge them, subvert them, and even perhaps destroy them. The same story can have different meaning in relation to different worldviews.”

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 115-116.

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