Martin begins chapter 2 arguing for a reader-response approach to Scripture interpretation. Martin repeatedly says that this approach is "common sense," that it is "empirically" the way things are, and that it is accepted by almost all people except a few holdout theologians. This reader interpreted these statements intertextually with the works of Shakespeare: methinks he doth protest too much.
To argue his case Martin gives several examples in which readers created meaning other than the original intention of the author: the famous Stanley Fish poem of author names, Culler’s nonsense sentence, misspoken Spanish in which the speaker meant one thing and the hearer understood another, the placement of a STOP sign in a museum (giving it a different meaning than it has on the road), and a class assignment to read a phone book as poetry.
But do these examples really demonstrate that readers (as opposed to authors or texts) create meaning? The first two examples merely demonstrate that when a professor gives misleading clues about words stripped of context, divergent understandings can be reached. They seem to say little about normal communication (see Carson, Gagging of God, 114f.). The third statement is an example of miscommunication because the speaker did not know how to ask a question in the correct Spanish idiom. Nonetheless, even in the example, the hearer was after a moment’s reflection able to comprehend the speaker’s intention, and the speaker received the answer to the question he asked. The fourth example merely demonstrates, as Martin intended, that people need to be socialized into a common understanding of symbols. But this does not necessitate an embrace of reader-response theory. Most simply it is a way of saying that people need to learn vocabulary and grammar if they are to read a language. This example also shows the importance of context. The final example shows how existing texts can be creatively reused. Many lines from Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible show up in a myriad of contexts, many far removed from the original contexts in which those lines appeared. There is no problem with this unless people try to import these foreign contexts back into Shakespeare or the Bible. In other words, turning the phone book into poetry may be a fine exercise, but if those engaged in this exercise fail to understand that the phone book was created to help people find others’ phone numbers and addresses, there is something wrong.
Martin is aware of objections to his approach. He focuses on the objection that if reader-response theory is correct, then people can make texts mean anything. The result of this is social chaos. Imagine if everyone read the STOP sign as he pleased. Martin replies that this is not the case because people are socialized into how to read. Thus those in a shared community of readers know how to interpret texts together. Thus drivers are socialized to know to stop their vehicles at a STOP sign. Nonetheless, Martin insists that the reader is always the one who gives meaning to the text. The reason so many readers give the same texts the same meaning is due to their common socialization on how to read that text. He intimates that to say that texts have meaning is to say "words [as "marks on the page"] magically or metaphysically have their meaning within themselves" (17).
But those who argue for authorial intention and textual meaning don’t claim that words magically or metaphysically contain meaning. They are happy to view words as signs. Nor does Martin’s talk about socialization undercut a historical-grammatical approach to reading. It simply means that to understand an author a reader must be socialized to read the text according to the norms of the author. In other words, interpreters of Shakespeare are concerned to understand if a meaning of a word has changed between his time and ours. They are concerned to know the various kind of genres in which drama was performed in the 17th century. In other words, one could say that the historical approach to interpretation means that readers should be socialized into the world of the author to understand him. If so, this makes sense of all the empirical, common sense observations made by Martin. It also relieves him of a problem with one of his examples. When he ordered breakfast in Spanish, he expected to receive breakfast. The waiter wasn’t satisfied with his misreading of Martin’s mis-spoken Spanish. Instead he tried to make sense of the authorial intention. Because the waiter did not share Martin’s approach to making sense of texts, Martin received breakfast.