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What Do We Bring to the Context?

One particular context that is overlooked with regard to hermeneutics is the context of the reader. Authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays remind us that, “We bring a lot of preconceived notions and influences with us to the text when we read. Thus we need to discuss and evaluate these ‘pre-text’ influences, lest they mislead us in our search for the meaning of the text.”[1]

Some of these pre-text influences might include having a preunderstanding of a passage that reflects an already formulated theological agenda.[2] For example, we might have a view of election in line with Calvinist or Arminian teaching and then go to the text in order to find supportive verses. This is to be avoided at all costs. We also have to be sensitive to cultural influences that we bring to the text. For example, when we reflect on the story of Jonah being swallowed by the fish, we probably don’t think of a man “squashed up inside the tight stomach of a whale,”[3] rather we think of someone sitting inside a huge, cavernous room with a little bit of water at the bottom. This is likely because we grew up watching “Pinocchio,” says Duvall and Hays. Cultural influences, whether it be family, language, customs, movies, literature, etc., can often lead to a misreading of Scripture if we do not take care to acknowledge and identify them.

The goal is not to strive to be entirely neutral with regard to reading and interpreting Scripture, as that would be unrealistic. We do, after all, have certain foundational beliefs about the Bible that we should not disregard simply for the sake of exercise. Rather, we should seek to interpret the text in a manner that strives to prevent our preunderstanding and cultural influences from obscuring the intended meaning in God’s word.

Check back next week for Chapter 8: The Literary Context.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 137.

[2] Ibid, 139.

[3] Ibid, 141.