What is Objectivity and Why is it Important for Bible Study?
By Thomas Howe Ph.D.
(author of Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation $2.99)
What is objectivity when it comes to studying the Bible? Objectivity in Bible study means that it is possible to know what the text of the Bible actually means; to have a correct interpretation of the Bible. Among Bible scholars today, objectivity is thought to be a kind of neutrality, or an approach to the text and to reality that is not determined by our own perspectives. According to these scholars, this kind of objectivity must be rejected as a naïve approach that ignores the interpreter’s own perspective.
Bible study involves interpretation, and interpretation involves everything that we think and everything we are. What we are and what we think, what we believe, our point of view, what we think is true and false, what is important to us, what we think about our world, our training, dispositions, opinions—all these factors come together to form our personal world view. Our personal world view determines how we will interpret the world. It is like having a set of glasses through which we look at and interpret our world. Since no two world views are exactly alike, and since our world view determines the way we look at the world, it is not possible, they say, to have an objective understanding the Bible. This is not a belief held only by those outside the Christian church. This is a belief that is held by almost all Evangelical scholars.
There are two significant implications for Bible study that follow directly from these beliefs about objectivity. First, objectivity is a kind of neutrality, and no one can be neutral without taking off one’s glasses/world view. However, it is our world view that makes understanding possible. Without your world view, you cannot understand or know anything. When you take off your glasses, you can’t see. So then, no one can study the Bible without looking through his own glasses/world view. But, it is this very world view that unavoidably influences your interpretation. So, every interpretation will necessarily be a product, to some degree, of your own world view, and this fact militates against the degree of certainty about having arrived at the correct interpretation.
The second implication that follows is that, with the rejection of objectivity, there would seem to be no grounds upon which to decide whose interpretation is the correct interpretation. If every interpretation is the product of your own worldview, then there can be no correct interpretation.
James Smart identified how the rejection of objectivity makes it impossible to know what God said in His Word: “The danger inherent in this development was that theological interpretations of Scripture would be its meaning for this or that theologian. Thus, theological exposition, instead of penetrating to the one word of God in Scripture that brings all Christians into fellowship with one another, would give each segment of the Christian community the license to read its own theological convictions out of the text of Scripture.” Once we reject the possibility of objectivity, we have lost the very Word of God.
Does this mean that it is impossible to know what God said? In fact, objectivity is possible even though each person has his or her own worldview…
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