Friday, December 28, 2012

On Harbingers, Harbors, and Hermeneutics

Recently I was curious about the word, harbinger. So I dug a bit into the etymology of the word. Interesting – it hails from an old French word herbergier which had the idea of “providing lodging for.” Further back it has roots in an old Saxon word, heriberga, which means “shelter for an army,” and even further back its origin is in a Germanic base meaning “fortified place.” The word is related to harbor, and was used to denote a person who went ahead to find lodging and a safe place for an army or a nobleman. This harbinger person was not only the finder of a safe place of lodging for his “employer,” but also a kind of herald as to the entourage that was coming.
That all got me to thinking – and yes (having studied enough Hebrew and Greek to be dangerous) I’m aware of the hazards of just going with the etymology of a word. But the truth is we all interpret things (books, texts, movies, cartoons, language, experiences, relationships, events, indeed all things) from our own “place of lodging, safe shelter, harbor, fortified place.” That place is the harbinger of how we do hermeneutics. It’s the “world” we live in ­– our cultural, overarching story.


  1. Hey Mike - When you get to thinking, that gets others to think as well. So, I got to thinking as I was reading your thinking...It all brought to mind a few verses toward the latter part of Hebrews 6. There where it talks about Jesus as the "Anchor of the soul", the One who enters the "Presence behind the veil", the "forerunner" who has entered for us. He is the Anchor as well as the One who sets the anchor of our souls within the harbinger (that safe haven)beyond the veil. What a wonderful narrative for hope and security as we still toss & turn out here vulnerable to all that asails. So then all the more, as you have indicated, should we find that safe shelter of an overarching story in the One who is the METANARRATIVE. Or as Hebrews states earlier (4:11), "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest,".

  2. Interesting, isn't it? We think that if we speak the same language, then we surely must have the same conceptual image in our heads when we use the same words. Not so, though. Take "grassroots" and how people interpret this. Grassroots- nonprofessionals, unintelligent people, people without a sound reason, or those that have been marginalized......and yet, by definition,it is those within a group or organization but not in the authority structure of same group. So you can be grassroots and professional, grassroots and a bit eccentric, grassroots and a leader, etc. but it is a good example of a word that is utilized and it conjures all kinds of images in the minds of the hearers, all based on experiences and how they compile their thoughts into meaning!