How C Dieter Mitternacht

Dieter Mitternacht
February 28, 2011
50 To Fung Shan Road, Shatin, N.T., HONG KONG, S.A.R.
How to read the New Testament?
Hermeneutical principles and concepts
Three main approaches to biblical texts
Reading the Bible as a religious document – here and now
Reading the Bible as a historical document – there and then
Reading the Bible as literature – the text as it is
Three dimensions of language
The syntactical dimension
The semantic dimension
The pragmatic dimension
The interdependence of the three dimensions
Contexts of Interpretation
Understanding and explanation
The objective of interpretation
The circumstances of interpretation
Types of Interpretation
The historical-critical method
Literary methods
Community related approaches
Social science related readings
Society related perspectives
Method syntheses
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
When Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch on the road to Gaza, he
asked him: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch
replied: “How can I, unless someone guides me.” (Acts 8:31) Whereupon Philip explained to the Eunuch the good news about Jesus from
the prophet Isaiah. He knew how to read an OT text in such a way
that it spoke about Jesus Christ. Being a Jew, Philip was aware that
many of his people, especially the biblical scholars, would not agree
with his interpretation. However, he was convinced that he had a divinely sanctioned interpretive key that gave his interpretation an uncontestable validity.
As we approach the subject of “How to read the New Testament” in
terms of hermeneutical principles and methods, we will be considering interpretive keys, perspectives and processes. Our task, however,
is not to identify a divinely sanctioned perspective or method, but rather to analyze how human beings in general and Bible readers in
particular function as they interpret and try to understand a text.
This will help us understand more clearly not so much, what we are
reading, but how we are reading. What are the principles that govern
our minds and hearts as we read of the Bible, consciously and unconsciously?
To begin with we shall consider three main inroads, or approaches,
to the Bible. Then we turn to some general reflections on the three
dimensions of language. A third consideration is how life circumstances, historical, cultural and societal contexts and objectives affect
our interpretations. And fourthly, we shall acquaint ourselves with
some common types of interpretation.
Roughly speaking, we may distinguish three main approaches to the
biblical text: a religious approach, a historical approach and a literary
approach. A look at the history of Bible interpretation shows that
these three approaches or basic perspectives have been in use from
the very beginning of Bible interpretation. You may want to visualize
the three approaches as three lanes of a road with dotted lines be2
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
tween the lanes, since crossovers from one lane to another may and
will occur frequently. Still each lane has particular characteristics.
1.1 Reading the Bible as a religious document – here and now
For many Bible readers, the Bible constitutes the word of God. These
readers perceive the Bible as God’s revelation concerning the divine,
human relations, the world, society and the human self. On this lane
the biblical text is usually seen as a normative instruction that is
more or less directly applicable to the present life of the believer. The
Bible is seen to provide reliable insight and necessary direction concerning live and death, guilt and punishment, God and evil, good and
bad, the path of salvation, predictions regarding the future, etc.
Thus, a reader who approaches the Bible as a religious, or even sacred, document looks for authentic and dependable guidance for his
own life and for the world as a whole. The concern is both theological
and ethical and the expectation is for support and encouragement
regarding past, present and future, God’s will and ultimate judgment.
In sum, this reader will look for the normative and constructive content of the Bible and take its relevance for the here and now for
1.2 Reading the Bible as a historical document – there and then
Focusing on the Bible as an historical document, this reader wants to
understand the historical and contextual diversity to which the biblical texts testify. He wants to understand their function as sources for
historical reconstruction. This reader is interested in the composition
of the biblical text and/or the stages in time of their production. He
wants to learn about historical contexts, such as the author’s intent,
first communication situations, the life circumstances of the first addressees. He may also probe the specific text for general information,
such as the formation of Judaism, the beginnings of Christianity, or
cultural, political and religious environments at the time.
How, for instance, did the disciples of Jesus become worshippers of
Jesus the Christ? What historical circumstances contributed to the
diversity, the similarities and differences, the agreements and con3
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
tradictions between the different writings? What does a text reveal
concerning conflicts and collaboration between an author and his
addressees? What can we learn about the different groups and congregations of the ensuing new religious movement? What seems to
be contingent and what coherent, what is the central and what the
peripheral meaning of a text, what particular circumstances contributed to a particular message?
Figure 1: Diachronic and synchronic perspectives on historical relations
and circumstances
Historical questions to texts can involve two different time perspectives on historical relations, synchronic and diachronic (see figure 1).
Synchronic means analyzing a text as an agent in a particular time
and situation and as a window to a particular historical and cultural
milieu. A diachronic analysis is interested in a text’s pre-history and
post-history. The text at hand is analyzed as the momentary result of
a process in time.
On this interpretive lane, the reader is less interested in the world of
text and more in the world behind and around the text, the historical
context to which the text refers: the communication situation, the in4
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
tention of the author, events and processes, ethical and theological
assertions, actions and behavior that caused the writing of the text.
This reader may or may not include among his purposes the task of
theological interpretation. Theological interpretation for this reader
is always descriptive, however, rather than normative or constructive.
The meaning of the text belongs within the historical setting of the
The historical reader will also be alert to text genres, either as indicators of pre-stages of a text and as indicators of the effect of a text on
its primary audience.
In sum, this reader looks to the biblical text as a window to the there
and then.
1.3 Reading the Bible as literature – the text as it is
In addition to being a religious and a historical text, the Bible also is a
collection of writings that has been transmitted for centuries not only for its religious and historical value but also for its “literary” qualities. Thus, there have always been those whose main concern was
with compositional structure, metaphorical power, narrative and rhetorical patterns of texts, etc.
One such focus would be Jesus exceptional ability to visualize and
transpose everyday experiences into parables. Then and now, readers
sense a profound effect of his stories on their minds and hearts, and
they want to understand better, what kind of literary techniques are
at work in these stories, what are the artistic characteristics of Jesus’
parables? Similarly, as we read the NT letters we come across passages that seem to blossom with poetic flavor (e.g. 1 Cor 13), and others
that are carefully constructed for rhetorical purposes. Then there are
those texts that display characteristics of philosophical reasoning.
In antiquity, each of these types was constructed according to basic
rules of composition and genre. Understanding the rules will help
our understanding to interpret the meaning of a text. Taking parables
as an example, biblical scholars are generally agreed that the focal
point(s) of a parable is more important than its details. Quite the
contrary is the case as we analyze a theological argumentation. There
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
we pay particular attention to detail and analyze the flow of the argument in all its parts. Again, as we analyze a story, we focus on
structural, narrative elements, while a rhetorical argument may be
construed in such a way, that a thorough analysis may show that the
apparent and emphasized point is, in fact, a secondary concern. As
we consider such variations in texts, we make ourselves alert to the
effects of text genres on readers.
In this interpretive paradigm, the theological concern may be either
descriptive or constructive, or both. The descriptive quest may not be
so much for the original meaning but for meanings in different contexts as the text is transmitted and received in different translations
and interpretations. An area of concern that has become of vital interest for many biblical scholars is the reception of the biblical writings, be it as texts or through other media such as visual arts, religious and secular literature, or through preaching.
For this reader, the texts of the Bible are examples of literary composition and the focus is on the text as it is.
In sum, interpretation of biblical texts can be about recontextualizing the meaning of a text for one’s own life, about reconstructing historical contexts and analyzing the world of the text,
or about processes of reception into other contexts. Recontextualization occurs frequently in the Bible itself, both as the
prophets apply the Torah to their own time, or as New Testament authors use passages from the Hebrew Bible as proof texts concerning
the salvation in Christ.
An area of research that has become of vital interest for many biblical
scholars is the reception of the biblical writings, be it as text or
through media such as visual arts, religious and secular literature, or
through preaching.
We may note that theological interpretation is not a separate lane,
but rather an option for all forms of interpretation of biblical texts.
The difference between theological interpretation on the religious
and the historical lane is that on the latter its purpose is normative
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
and constructive, whereas on the former the purpose is descriptive.
For the religious reader the theological interpretation is an indispensable concern, whereas the historical reader may not be concerned with normative questions at all.
Looking at language as a system of signs, we can identify three dimensions: the syntactical, the semantic and the pragmatic dimension.
 The syntactical dimension concerns the relationship and interrelatedness between signs within a text.
 The semantic dimension deals with the relationship between signs and the reality they signify.
 The pragmatic dimension focuses on how language as a system of signs is used with varying connotations and potential
effects in communication processes.
2.1 The syntactical dimension
The syntactical dimension focuses on word-types, word-forms, the
linking between words and different sorts of clauses (nominal, verbal), and the connection between sentences through particles and
conjunctions. These intra-textual relations are primarily determined
on grammatical grounds. Often constructions are multivalent and
open to a spectrum of alternative readings. Two frequently occurring
problems that leave more than option are adverbial participles and
For example, in what sense does the genitive ending “-s” in the expression “God’s love” define the relationship between the two words?
Does the genitive (God’s) denote the subject of the expression, i.e.
“God loves....”? Or does it denote God as the object of (human) love?
Consider the following two examples.
God's love (ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ) was revealed among us in this way: God sent
his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)
For God’s love (ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ) is this, that we obey his commandments.
(1 John 5:3)
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
In the first instance, it seems clear that a subjective genitive is intended. In the second verse, the context seems to imply that the genitive (God’s) is the object of the construction and the focus being on
“believers’ love for God”. The text seems to be implying that ‘in as
much as we obey God’s commandments, we love God’. In this context, the genitive construction “God’s love” would seem to denote
“(human) love for God”.
Thus, as we analyze the formal links between words and phrases we
make interpretive choices on the syntactical level.
2.2 The semantic dimension
The semantic dimension of language concerns the reality to which
words or phrases point in different contexts. When someone asks,
“What do you mean by that?” the question concerns the meaning of a
linguistic sign or a series of signs, not necessarily because the signs as
such are difficult to understand, but because there is more than one
possible meanings. The meanings of words such as “chair”, “land”,
“house”, “Peter” are easily determined in most cases. Words that define characteristics, such as “beautiful”, “evil”, “pretty”, or describe actions and circumstances, such as “run”, “rejoice”, and “lying”, may require a fuller understanding of their context before we can determine
their meaning.
Words, such as “and”, “or”, “therefore”, “when”, etc., that define the
relationship between words and phrases, even though their semantic
function is clear, may raise all sorts of meaning concerns, especially
when the content of a passage does not seem to corroborate the apparent syntactical link. Sometimes one has to ask oneself “What is
‘therefore’ there for?” (cf. Rom 2:1).
While the syntactical dimension requires us to discern the grammatical relationship and interrelatedness between signs within a text, the
semantic dimension poses additional questions. Now the questions
involve the context in which the genitive occurs, i.e. the contextual
meaning of the phrase. Consider the following two sayings about “the
kingdom of heaven” (lit. the heavens’ kingdom, ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham
and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (ἡ βαςιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν)
(Matt 8:11).
The kingdom of heaven (ἡ βαςιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν) is like a merchant in
search of fine pearls (Matt 13:45).
Although in both cases the syntactical inference seems to be the
same (subjective genitive), on the semantic level, the literary context
complicates the issue. In the first instance, the phrase “kingdom of
heaven” seems to refer to a place. In the second instance, the same
phrase seems to refer to a mind set or an attitude.
Thus, in addition to the grammatical construction that defines a genitival relationship between two words, we also need to consider the
larger literary context to which the phrase belongs, before we may infer a particular meaning.
2.3 The pragmatic dimension
The pragmatic dimension of language contributes to the interpretation process by drawing our attention to language as a means of interpersonal communication. The analysis of phrases and texts in the
syntactic and semantic dimensions deals with the text as a phenomenon that is independent of a particular situation, and very often
that may be the limit of what is possible to analyze. However, with
texts where the situational context is palpable, the interpretative task
includes inquiries into the specific communication and also taking
into consideration the relationships between the people that communicate with each other. This is particularly relevant for the analysis of Paul’s undisputed letters.
What was the context of communication? What did the sender intend as he was using certain words, phrases and sentence constructions? How did the first recipients understand that which was being
said to them? What was the common ground of understanding between sender and recipient? Were there conflicts that created particular sensitivities that only the initiated were aware of? Were the recipients familiar with the rhetorical patterns of communication that
the sender was using? What was the likelihood of misunderstanding?
Were both sender and recipient(s) familiar with what was presup9
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
posed? What was the sender situation? In what kind of setting was
the letter received? Were the recipients literate, or only able to listen
to what had been written to them?
Examining the grammar of a text and identifying the lexical meanings of words in a dictionary, then, is only part of what it means to
determine what is being communicated. In addition to the syntactical dimension and the semantic dimension, we need to examine, if
possible, the pragmatic dimension, i.e. the communication situation
and the life conditions of sender and recipient.
2.4 Example Gal 3:1
For instance, consider Paul’s words to the Gentile Christ-believers in
Galatia (Gal 3:1): “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” On
the syntactical level the sentence does not pose any difficulties. On
the semantic level we may and find out in a dictionary that “has bewitched” (ἐβάσκανεν) can have a range of connotations, including
casting the evil eye.
On the pragmatic level we ask additional questions: How did these
words come across to the addressees? What did they actually hear?
How did the relationship between sender and addressees affect the
exchange? Did the addressees hear a blatant accusation, a concerned
question of a teacher, a fatherly exaggeration, or even an ironic rhetorical question? Were they offended and outraged, humiliated and
convicted, or simply smiling at Paul’s exaggeration, well aware that
he had a tendency towards hyperbolic expression?
From the sender perspective we may ask: what did Paul wish to gain
from shaming the Christ-believers in the Galatian churches as fools
and stupid barbarians? Did he want to confront the addressees, shake
them up, even taking the risk losing their friendship? Or did he expect them to recognize the rhetorical flavor, the irony of the expression? Or did he, in fact, feel compelled to react appropriately to what
he considered to be an evil spell that had been cast on the Galatians?
These are the kind of questions that belong to the pragmatic dimension of language.
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
2.5 The interdependence of the three dimensions
We can conclude that the three dimensions of language are interdependent, as illustrated in figure 2. We use grammars and dictionaries
to establish the limits and the range of alternatives of syntactical relations and meanings that words and phrases may have. Then, we
consider the literary genre and context of the passage and compare it
with the general cultural and historical environment. Finally, we examine the particular communication situation, the life conditions of
sender and recipient, the interrelation between the two, and the
range of possible communicative intents and reception.
Figure 2: The three dimensions of language
The pragmatic dimension
The semantic dimension
The syntactic dimension
As we analyze texts that are 2000 years old, we need to accept that
some of our questions cannot be answered. Some information may
be lacking, texts that have an intricate composition history cannot be
pinned down to a single setting or an original context. Thus, we may
have to accept that a historical interpretation remains incomplete.
Sometimes we may only be able to analyze the text as part of a broad
cultural, religious and political setting of the time.
Nevertheless, asking the above questions will stimulate a vital interaction between text and interpreter. Even failure to find answers can
be a significant aspect of an interpretation process. If nothing else, it
will make us aware of the limitations and the subjectivity of every interpretation.
Text interpretation involves two main components: text and interpretation. As we looked at the dimensions of language our focus was
on the complexity of issues posed by the text during the interpreta11
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
tion process. We shall now briefly consider the context of interpretation, that is, how any interpreter is also part of an interpretation
process (see figure 3).
Figure 3: The reading process
Prior knowledge and
3.1 Understanding and explanation
In his philosophical hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer grounds
understanding in the linguistically mediated happening of tradition.
Gadamer is influenced by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, who
asserts that “the world” is not something outside of man, something
man is in control of. Instead, human existence is first and foremost a
“Being in the World”.
Human beings are human beings because they belong together with
other human beings and with the world they live in. The world is not
an object, not something “out there”, not a counterpart of the human
subject to be analyzed rationally. Nor can the world be condensed into mental, ideal (timeless) images (contra Edmund Husserl). Rather
human existence is always in dialogue with and in the world. Human
knowledge always builds on pre-knowledge (Vor-Wissen), i.e. knowledge that is larger than, and precedes, individual knowledge and existence.
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
Understanding can thus never be tied to one single subject. Instead,
the individual exists by continually constituting or defining itself, by
discovering and realizing the new possibilities of existence. “I” is never completely identical with “Self”. Instead being “I” is “being there”
(ein Dasein), it is a matter of constantly being formed and transformed in and through history and time.
Gadamer extends Heidegger’s reflections on “Being in the World” to
include the fact that man identifies himself and communicates
through language. All understanding, therefore, is imbedded in language processes. But language is there before the individual uses it,
so that “then” and “now” are always interwoven.
Understanding, thus, implies that horizons blend into each other. On
the one hand texts communicate historical experiences, on the other
hand, the reader brings expectations and questions to the text. Language is social, i.e. something that an individual uses as a member of
a community of users. The individual is not in complete control of its
language, since it has received its means of communication from its
language community. Thus, language always means more than the
intention of the individual who uses it to express its intention.
Especially as a text “moves” from one cultural or historical setting to
another, meanings and understandings may arise that the author and
his or her contemporary addressees had not been able “to even
dream of”.
History, thus, is a living dialogue of the present with both the past
and the future, and the hermeneutical objective is to describe, at
times even to unravel, that which makes possible or hinders communication between human beings.
The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur develops Gadamer’s hermeneutical insights by pondering the relationship between understanding and explanation. His special concern is with ideological, political,
economical and religious agendas as aspects of communication, both
in the text and in the reader. Ricoeur thus enhances our understand13
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
ing of the process of interpretation by introducing a focus on attentiveness and alertness to hidden agendas and underlying convictions
at both ends. His hermeneutical program has often been labeled as “a
hermeneutics of suspicion”.
In his practical instructions Ricoeur advices the interpreter to be
aware of how he or she reads what. To this end Ricoeur distinguishes
a bipolar dynamic of
 congenial AND suspicious reading
 attentive listening AND critical distance.
Ricoeur also emphasizes that interpretations never reach a final
stage. Instead, the process of interpretation moves from immediate
understanding to explanatory analysis in order to attain to an indepth understanding. But the movement is not circular as though no
advance were possible, but rather spiral. An interpretation may reach
an apparent equilibrium as it is received and shared by a particular
community. But every reception will have to be received again, and
so the process moves on, since the meaning of a text can never be separated from its reception history.
However, Ricoeur’s conclusion is not that “anything goes” as though
any interpretation were equally valid as any other. Instead, if an interpretation reaches equilibrium in a community of adherers, the reliability and reasonableness of one interpretation as opposed to other
competing interpretations is usually transparent on account of:
 Largest amount of factual evidence
 Congruence between different aspects and details in a text
 An agreement on specific criteria of interpretation
3.2 The objective of interpretation
For the sake of transparency we may consider the interpretation
process in terms of interpretation constituents. Thus, the objective of
interpretation can be visualized in the following formula:
I interprets T through M as O for R
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
The constituents of the formula interrelate as follows: an interpreter
(I) interprets a text (T) by means of a method (M), with an output in
mind (O) for a target group or a recipient (R). Each of the constituents affects the interpretation process.
The output (O) may be an historical reconstruction, a theological
reasoning, a devotional meditation, a sermon, an academic paper for
a course in literature, a translation into another language, etc.
The recipients (R) have an effect on the interpreter’s anticipation and
approach to the task. For example, if the recipients for a talk on the
Sermon on the Mount are a group of children in a Primary School,
the anticipated output will differ from an anticipated output for a UN
Peace Corps that prepares for an intervention in a war zone. Both
form and content are affected. The recipients trigger meanings of the
An analytically controlled interpretation will usually apply a method
(M) of interpretation in order to make the interpretation process
transparent and ascertain a proper procedure. Below we shall present
a historical-literary method of interpretation.
3.3 The circumstances of interpretation
Just as the objective of interpretation can be defined with certain
constituents, so do the circumstances of interpretation. This time,
the focus of attention is not so much on purposes or objectives, as it
is on preconditions, i.e. the conscious and subconscious presuppositions of the interpreter.
The interpreter belongs to and is conditioned by a cultural, religious,
social and political context that has formed his focuses and perspectives. The interplay of the constituents of contextual preconditioning
affects concerns and interests and the attribution of meaning to the
phenomenon (text) that is being analyzed (cf. figure 4.).
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
Figure 4: The circumstances of interpretation. An interpreter (I) has an understanding (U) of a text (T) from a particular perspective (P) and from within a
particular context (C).
Having focused thus far on the hermeneutical aspect of interpretation, we shall now proceed to methods, approaches and perspectives
by looking very briefly at some types of interpretation.
4.1 The historical-critical method
The historical critical method can be divided into text criticism, literary criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism. Traditionally,
the focus of this method is on historical reconstruction rather than
on interpreting the meaning of a text. The primary interest is in the
pre-history of the text and the processes of composition. Thus, the
method has a strong focus on diachronic issues. In recent decades,
the method has been further developed to include synchronic issues,
such as the coincidence of a text with a communication situation and
how that affects the meaning of a text.
4.2 Literary methods
Literary methods have to be distinguished from literary criticism.
Whereas literary criticism is interested in the pre-history of the final
text and focuses on the history of written (literary!) sources (for instance, the Synoptic problem), literary methods focus on functions of
the final text as a means of communication. Prominent among the
literary methods are rhetorical analyses and narrative analyses.
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
Rhetorical analyses make use of principles and insights from classical
and new rhetorical research in order to specify the effect of texts on
readers. Often, the focus of rhetorical analyses will be on the “first”
communication situation. As such rhetorical analyses comprise a
natural continuation of the latest developments in historical critical
Narrative analyses focus on the literary worlds of texts, especially the
worlds of stories. From these textual worlds, readers can construct
implied authors and implied readers and analyze the interrelations
between them. Narrative analyses also take a special interest in spacial and temporal patterns, in story plots and a story’s point of view.
Throughout the analytical process this reader will try to identify with
the implied reader and thus experience the message and meaning of
the text.
4.3 Community related approaches
Community related approaches to biblical interpretation view the
biblical texts from within the confines of a religious tradition. The
canonical approach takes its point of departure in the assumption
that the Bible should be read as a unified whole, i.e. with the presupposition of the Christian canon as it was established in the 4th century CE. The Bible is not perceived as a diverse collection of texts
from different time periods and with a variety of contexts and theologies, but as one tradition that is to be interpreted according to the
criteria established throughout the history of the church.
The Jewish approach perceives the interpretation of the Bible as part
of an interpretation process that includes among its sources the Septuagint, targums and many other non-canonical Jewish texts. The
approach is of great value for Biblical exegetes, especially in terms of
historical and theological exegesis.
The reception-historical approach focuses on the post-history of the
biblical texts, i.e. their reception in society and their importance for
academic, ecclesiastical, artistic, literary, political, ideological expressions and identities.
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
4.4 Social science related readings
Social science related readings integrate biblical interpretation with
the results and methods from other fields of social-scientific research. Sociological readings contribute to our understanding of the
emergence of institutions, the function of authority, relationships between sect and church, the symbolic universe of a text, etc.
Cultural anthropological and social anthropological readings investigate characteristics of groups of people, focus on particular mentalities and social milieus in the Mediterranean basin, honor and shame
cultures, perceptions of holy and profane, rites, taboos, magic, etc.
Psychological readings use theories from the wide field of psychological analyses in order to systematize, understand and explain religious
behavior and experience. Texts are viewed not only as products of
historical, social and literary processes, but as products of psychic
processes in which the nature and habits of the psyche are at work.
Theories from social psychology, for instance, contribute to our understanding of conflict or cognitive dissonance management among
the first Christians.
4.5 Society related perspectives
Society related perspectives merge the interpretative task with a political dimension. As such these perspectives can be combined with
methods outlined above.
Liberation theological perspectives assert God’s salving activity to be
present in particular peoples’ history. God is the God of the poor, always on the side of the oppressed and opposing injustice. Therefore,
biblical interpretation cannot be silent or neutral concerning these
issues, but has to be actively involved in liberating action.
Postcolonial perspectives take issue with the claim to objectivity and
the general applicability of the Western tradition of Bible interpretation, as it was often used as a means to preserve and validate colonial
oppression. Instead postcolonial Bible interpreters argue for the right
of the silenced and often marginalized people to find their own voices. They refuse to accept the dominant reading and use their exegeti18
Dieter Mitternacht, How to read the NT (work in progress!)
cal skills to expose the interrelation between apparent biblical
preaching and imperial smugness and arrogance.
Feminist perspectives focus on gender and power as categories of interpretation for the analysis of biblical texts. In the early stages the
main objective was to draw attention to roles and functions of women in the Bible. During the last decades, the interest shifted towards
androcentric and patriarchal characteristics in the Bible. As texts always purport particular interests, these interests also need to be exposed in the Bible.
4.6 Method syntheses
For many decades the historical-critical method with its subdivisions
was claimed to be “the” true method that encompasses the complete
exegetical task. After some decades of method-pluralism and segmentation, new efforts have been made to produce an integrated or
universal method. Vernon K Robbins, who labels his synthetic method Socio-rhetorical criticism, describes texts as textures of communication with an inner texture, an intertexture, a social and cultural
texture and ideological texture and a sacred texture. Kari Syreeni, in a
similar vein, suggests a three world model that distinguishes between
three levels of interpretation: the text world, the symbolic world and
the concrete world. In this model text oriented methods that focus on
the distinction between text and reality are combined with sociological perspectives that focus on the difference between ideology and