Culturally-Bound Text & Interpretation

I am slowing working through John Walton’s Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief. In the first chapter, he addresses the relationship between interpretation and authority.


“A cognitive environment [worldview, cosmology] encompasses how people think about the world, including the place of the gods and the role of humanity. Anathea Portier-Young appropriately observes that ‘cosmology demarcates inside from outside, center from periphery, normal from aberrant. Its logic legitimates claims about truth and morality.’ Theology assumes such a cognitive environment. Consequently, if we are to understand the theology of the Old Testament [and the New Testament], we must not neglect its cognitive environment [which is what I believe most Christians do]. The only alternative is to impose our own Western or Christian cognitive environment on the Old Testament. If we do this, we are no longer describing Old Testament theology; we are describing our own theology. As a result, we will likely miss the intention of the Old Testament author entirely. And we misunderstand the Old Testament author, WE LOSE TOUCH WITH THE AUTHORITY OF THE TEXT.” (pg. 16, brackets, italics, and caps mine)


In a nutshell, whether we like it or not, the Bible is culturally bound by the “cognitive environment” or worldview of the peoples to whom the authors were writing. The authors did not have 21st century Christians in mind when they penned the text. So, unless we read with that firmly in mind and not ask the Bible to answer questions it is not ready to give (i.e. treating the Bible as a science textbook), we strip our interpretation of any authority whatsoever.

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