Value of Socio-Rhetorical Criticism

Biblical interpretation can be challenging for any interpreter for a variety of reasons, but one of the most compelling reasons is that the scriptures read today were written for an ancient people during an ancient time and the gap from that time to a contemporary time creates opportunity for misinterpretation. (Duvall, 2012, p. 99) To minimize this opportunity for misinterpretation, and ultimately poor application, many tools are available to the interpreter.  Socio-rhetorical criticism is one such tool that can provide “responsible and contextually sound reading” (Hoehl, 2008, p. 8) that guides the interpreter, particularly through the many layers present within a given text.  Socio-rhetorical criticism is particularly effective when navigating through the differences in values, convictions, and beliefs between the ancient times and the contemporary interpreter.  (Robbins, 1996, p. 1)

Socio-rhetorical criticism does have limitations, and it is important for an interpreter to understand the proper use of socio-rhetorical criticism.  The main purpose is to “build an environment for interpretation” (Robbins, 1996, p. 2), but not interpretation itself.  To solely use socio-rhetorical criticism for interpretation would leave the interpreter with “highly limited insight.” (Robbins, 1996, p. 2)

For instance, one method of inner-texture analysis, narrational texture and pattern, reveals in Mark 15:1-15 a clearer understanding of Pilate. The interpreter realizes all five times Pilate speaks; it is in question form (Robbins, 1996, p.15).  His questions and responses reveal Pilate as “an intermediary who simply asks for information and acts on the basis of that information.” (Robbins, 1996, p. 15) This creates a clearer context for the interpreter to understand Pilate and his role in Christ’s declaration as King of the Jews (Mark 15:9).  This layer of understanding prepares the mind of the interpreter to see more clearly the details to better interpret the intended meaning intended and application.

Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: study Bible: English standard version (ESV text ed.). Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles.
Duvall, J. S., Hays, J. D., & Strauss, K. J. V. and M. L. (2012). Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (3 edition.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Hoehl, S. (2008). Empowered by Jesus: A Research Proposal for an Exploration of Jesus’ Empowerment Approach in John 21:1-25. The Journal Of Applied Christian Leadership, 2(2), 5–17.
Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the texture of texts: a guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International.

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