The Reader-Response Method

The most significant hermeneutical paradigm shift in the 20th century involved the repositioning of the interpreter to the center of the interpretive process. According to this approach—commonly known as the Reader-Respond Method—the meaning of Scripture emerges as a product of the interaction between the modern-day reader and the ancient biblical text. In this way, there can be many different legitimate meanings of a given passage, for each new interpreter brings his own presuppositions, experiences, and interpretative framework to the Scriptures. This results in a unique interpretation/meaning for every reader. As Robert Stein observes, because subjectivity is to be welcomed and embraced rather than avoided, the biblical text ends up functioning like an inkblot into which the interpreter reads his own individual meaning. Put simply, this is the scholarly version of “What does this verse mean to you?”

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on May 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Great summary!

  2. Posted by Mike Jarvis on May 30, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I don’t think people understand how significant this paradigm shift has become. It’s even become the presupposition some pastor’s have concerning the purpose of biblical preaching. In fact, It reminds me of something Rick Warren said in his interview with John Piper (

    [Warren] I see Sunday morning sometimes like an emergency room. Somebody’s coming in and he’s bleeding to death. His wife has left him, his kids are on drugs, he’s lost his thing. And I’m going, okay. I got to first get the Word to him that relates to him at that point and then he goes, “Wow, that helped. What else do you got in that book.

    [Piper] Okay.

    [Warren] But let me just say this, I do think that God doesn’t care how you deal with the text as long as you get to the text” (83:40ff).

  3. Posted by Paul Eastlack on May 30, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Matt, Why couldn’t you have posted that a few years ago before I spend quite a bit (embarrassed to say how much), on “Thiselton on Hermeneutics”?

    Mike, I hear you. Frankly I am disappointed by the interview.

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