John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The hermeneutic comma

The Rev. Avery Dulles, a Jesuit priest and son of the arch-Presbyterian John Foster Dulles, once spoke at a church that had one of those trendy velvet banners on display, proclaiming:

God is other people.

Taking a marker, Father Dulles altered the banner to read thus:

God is other, people.**

If you cannot simultaneously hold both views, you have no business in theology.

*Swell headline for search engine optimization, don’t you think?

For the benefit of those of you who were out sick during theology class, hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation of texts. Originally applied to Scripture, it has more recently been adopted in the rarefied atmosphere of academic literary criticism in an attempt to increase the dignity of the enterprise.

**I had this story from a member of the clergy, so its veracity cannot be established.