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Examination of how a person’s cultural lens influences understanding of biblical text…

Jan Paron / August 17, 2012

Hermeneutical Spiral

The hermeneutical spiral reflects one aspect of biblical interpretation. A person engages Scripture through three processes: study of textual meaning (divine purpose and author intent) and context (biblical application), along with supernatural and faith-enacted experiences (Osborne, 2006; Bernard, 2005). The reader traverses back and forth down various pathways during the three processes as he or she navigates personal viewpoint or understanding with text, context and experience to acquire a scripturally coherent message. (Note that text, context and experience must align with biblical truth.) Kevin J. Vanhoozer says that “What is in the text is only the potential for meaning. Meaning is actualized not by the author at the point of the text’s conception, but by the reader at the point of the text’s reception” (as noted in Green, 1995). In other words, a person ‘spirals’ upward in from one pathway to the next as one’s understanding increases, but they do not necessarily play out in a linear fashion. Many factors influence understanding, including the Holy Spirit’s revelation and illumination, lived-out faith experiences and cultural perspective. The pathway, by no means, resembles a straight-line, pre-constructed road.

Culture

Culture impacts the hermeneutical spiral process. One’s cultural perspective influences the way a person engages Scripture for culture resides in between the reader and the text. Personal viewpoint draws from culture. Think of culture as a mosaic of external and internal elements, which joined side-by-side, ‘portrait’ an individual. The external elements include what you can see, hear and touch – explicitly learned, connections, objective knowledge, while internal contain beliefs, values, thought patterns and myths – implicitly learned, unconscious, difficulty to change and subjective knowledge (Law, 1993; Weaver, 1998).

(Adapted from Weaver, 1995)

Implications of Culture and the Hermeneutical Spiral

 One does not have to view cultural perspective as detrimental to engaging Scripture through the processes of hermeneutical spiral. Think of culture to identify preunderstanding and suppositions that drive thinking. These are human qualities manifested in those from the biblical narrative, displayed in your own character and in other believers. Time, language and customs differentiate modern society from ancient civilizations. Learn from these differences, but seek meaning behind and within biblical text. Above all, remember that God’s people connect in diversity through the unity found in Christ. We are His chosen, whom He “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:15 ESV). Seek reception of the text. Be thoughtful about culture, but allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through His marvelous Word that lives today.

To Ponder…

What are your cultural preunderstandings and suppositions that influence the hermeneutical spiral as you engage scriptural text?

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Support Resources on Culture (Courtesy of All Nations Leadership Institute)

References

  • Bernard, D. (2005). Understanding God’s Word: An Apostolic approach to interpreting Scripture. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press.
  • Green, J. (1995). Hearing the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  • Kraft, C. (2001). Culture, communication and Christianity. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
  • Law, E. (1993).The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press.
  • Osborne, G. (2006). The hermeneutical spiral: A comprehensive introduction to biblical interpretation. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press.
  • Paron, J. (2011). “Culture: Leading in a diverse church.” All Nations Leadership Institute. Retrieved on August 17, 2012 from http://www.slideshare.net/drjparon/what-is-culture-9449580
  • Pocock, M. & Henriques, J. (2002). Cultural change and your church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
  • Weaver, G (1998). “Understanding and coping with cross-cultural adjustment stress.” Simon & Schuster. retrieved September 26, 2011, from http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/iceberg.htm