Socio-Rhetorical Criticism As Objective

“All scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), but understanding the message of God in scripture is not always easy. Unfortunately, there is too large a gap between the original writing and the contemporary audience currently reading it for a casual approach to be sufficient. (Duvall, 2012, p. 22) Hank Voss (2013) wrote, “Theological exegesis is not a light matter, it is a dangerous thing to hear the voice of God.” (p. 140) This danger Voss writes of is twofold: the disciples were obedient to the voice of God and it proved costly to them, but it appears to be even more costly for those who fail to discern God’s voice from the voice of others. (Voss, 2013, p. 140)

The question then becomes, what tools are necessary for individuals to have in order to properly discern the message of the original author for the original audience? According to F.F. Bruce, using grammatical-historical exegesis by itself seems to be an inadequate strategy and requires something more, such as theological exegesis. (Voss, 2013, p.141) A newer tool being used for biblical exegesis is socio-rhetorical criticism, introduced by Vernon Robbins. Robbins’s approach is to look deeply at the words of scripture without being bogged down by interpretation. By doing this, it removes the preconceived interpretation of scripture an individual has and allows the interpreter to look solely at the words. (Watson, 1998, p. 71) By doing this, it creates an environment for interpretation (Robbins, 1996, p. 2) that is objectively neutral.

The non-negotiable tools for exegesis are often subject to the individual, and unfortunately, there are not many completely objective and neutral tools that aren’t influenced by church tradition or subjective history. Robbins’s socio-rhetorical criticism may be one that should be used by all exegetes seeking to hear God speak through the scriptures.


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.

Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the texture of texts: a guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International.

Voss, H. (2013). From “Grammatical-historical Exegesis” to “Theological Exegesis”: Five Essential Practices. Evangelical Review of Theology, 37(2), 140–152.

Watson, D. F. (1998). Mapping the Textures of New Testament Criticism : A Response to Socio-Rhetorical Criticism. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, (70), 71–77.

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