Interpretive Bias

Everyone brings bias to the task of interpreting Scripture. The only way to mitigate that bias is to recognize it, identify it, and seek to interpret it while conscious of it and set it aside. Cultural, theological, and spiritual biases are three areas worth consideration. I hope to help increase self-awareness in these areas and, thereby, greater faithfulness to Scripture.

Cultural Bias

We are all conditioned within the cultural environment in which we live. That conditioning gives us certain predispositions and presuppositions that differ from those born two hundred years ago or two thousand years ago. It may also give us different perspectives than those twelve thousand miles away. Bridging the gap between today’s and the author’s cultural context requires hard work.

We must dig out the original audience, the historical background, and the cultural backdrop of a text to understand the author’s intended meaning apart from our bias. That labor helps us first identify the heart of the author’s writing before we assign meaning and seek modern application.

Theological Bias

Approaching the text with one’s theological framework is another form of eisegesis. Baptists will read Baptistic theology into the text, Presbyterians will read Presbyterian theology into the text, and Lutherans will read Lutheran theology into the text. You can insert your denominational background and find the same implicit bias.

As a child, I was a Free Will Baptist but became a Southern Baptist as my thoughts shifted on key doctrinal issues. My Southern Baptist days were in the Reformed-leaning wing of that camp. They led me to visit and mull over Presbyterian theology for quite some time until I visited a Lutheran church and continued to consider Lutheran theology. My Baptist seminary training still makes it difficult to accept some of the differing theological views in Presbyterian and Lutheran confessions. Still, I had to recognize that and try to set it aside to let Scripture be the driving force in forming my convictions.

Many will be planted in a particular tradition and embrace the doctrinal and theological distinctions with that territory. That’s not necessarily bad, but I would encourage everyone to open themselves up enough to be persuaded by Scripture of views that differ from their denomination. It’s the only way to truly let your conscience be guided by Scripture instead of letting your theological paradigm guide the Scripture.

Spiritual Bias

Spiritual bias is hostility toward God and an inability to understand spiritual things apart from the Spirit.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:13-14

Even redeemed minds need the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to divide the word of truth rightly. The Psalms offer prayers to that effect (Psalm 25:5; Psalm 119:12,18, 68). Jesus had to open the disciples’ minds to understand prophecies and his words to them (Luke 24:44-45). Believers still wrestle with the noetic effects of the fall. We must embrace our dependency upon Christ and the Spirit to rightly comprehend Scripture.

Many don’t concede to their bias and are content to operate from presuppositions. Understanding and applying Scripture by acknowledging your bias first will not necessarily lead you to agree with my theological conclusions. Still, I hope it leads you to what your conscience believes Scripture teaches.

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Chris Dunn
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