What Distinguishes a “Paradigmatic Reader’s Point of View” from other Critical Readings?

Posted: December 6, 2011 in General

1. What is “Paradigmatic Reader’s Point of View” (PRPV)?

While original readers or historical readers are considered as those who lived “once upon a time” and disappeared from the scene, first time readers are those read the scriptures for the first time. This definition is crucial when we decide the stature of paradigmatic readers. Paradigmatic readers are those in constant touch with the scripture(s). They read, re-read and in-depth-read due to the fact that they value the scripture(s) as prima factors for the development of their faith and understanding. Here, reader of the text plays neither the role of an original reader nor the role of a first time reader, but his/her involvement is as a “paradigmatic reader”. In the process of text-reader interaction, a paradigmatic reader has to take up some of the important procedural concerns into serious consideration: (1) the historical context of the text; (2) the text in its final/canonical form; (3) the paradigmatic reading activity; and (4) the “live”/contemporary context of the reader. While the canonical document(s) is/are considered as the ‘starting point’ of interpretation, historical context, the paradigmatic reading activity and the contemporary context are to be analyzed in a relational way. Historical context of a text is brought into focus only when the scripture(s) invite(s), and, hence, historical analyses of the text are secondary to the final canonical products themselves.

Stibbe is of the opinion that, “paradigmatic readers are… people who proceed from a carnal to a spiritual reading [1], from a superficial to an in-depth appreciation…. Paradigmatic readers… are ones who do not resist the narrator. They are ones who agree to read the story from above not from below (in other words, with faith and understanding)”[2]. Paradigmatic reading is a faith-constrained reading of the scripture(s) by way of literary appreciations, historical interrogations, theological perplexities, moral exclamations and hermeneutical challenges. A paradigmatic reader’s point of view develops as a result of perpetual interactions between her/himself and the scripture(s). In doing this, the text is the motivating factor for the reader in order to reflect upon the socio-religious and politico-cultural realities of the “live” context.

2. How is “Paradigmatic Reader’s Point of View” Distinctive?

(a) Historical Critical Methods (HCM): HCM are crucial as they invite the readers toward a time and a space ‘behind’ the text. While “Source Criticism” (SC) focuses on the hypothetical documents the evangelists would have incorporated into their final canonical products, “Form Criticism” (FC) invites the reader’s attention toward the Gospel communities and oral development of the pericopes. “Redaction Criticism” (RC) further captures the acumen of the readers toward the editorial seams and Sitz-im-Leben Jesu/Sitz-im-Leben Kirche/Sitz-im-Leben of the evangelists (as Willi Marxsen suggests). In all these approaches, readers’ attention is drifted away from the final canonical products to the historical backgrounds of the first century (AD). While SC invites reader’s attention toward the conjectured sources those the evangelists would have incorporated (like Ur-Markus, Q, M, L, Mark, Antiochene traditions, Itinerary Sources, Sign Source, Glory Source, Discourse Source, and others), FC informs the reader about the individual pericopes and their developments among the Gospel communities. RC captures the attention of readers toward the redactors/editors and their individual theologies. The major drawback a reader notices in all these readings is “author”/“community”/“context”-centeredness over against text-centeredness. In other words, instead of discussing about “what the text has to say” these critical tools focus on “how the text came into being”.

(b) Literary Critical/New Literary Critical Methods (LC/NLCM): LC/NLCMs are mostly text-centered interpretations. LC/NLCM begin and end within the textual/literary framework and, sometimes or almost always, reduce or weigh down the text to the level of a “museum product”. E. V. McKnight states that, “Literary Criticism… is concerned with literary conventions and the significance of such conventions for meaning”. He further says, “Theological and historical pre-understandings of Christians will influence their use of literary criticism. Literary criticism and appreciation also impinge on theological and historical considerations”[3]. Some of the major tenets of LC are study of narratives, deconstruction methodologies, and quest of genre, form and structure, plot development, narrative world and rhetoric, characterization and dynamism of authors and narrators. The favoured terms of NLCM are “irony, paradox, imagery, metaphor, and symbol”[4]. LC/NLCM’s aesthetic-focus on the act of literary communication, style, beauty and artistic means invite a reader’s attention toward careful reading strategies and procedures. The major drawback of LC/NLCM is its confinement within the text sans “live” contextual application. It mostly remains as a “way of reading for the sake of reading”.

(c) Liberationist Readings (LR): Liberationist readers begin their theological/interpretative initiatives from the contemporary contextual realities. “Context” is the most important element in liberationist articulations and from there a reader looks unto the text. Liberationists in Latin-America, India and elsewhere (including Biblical scholars) are attuned to those subjective (and even biased) procedures and interpretations. While “text” is reckoned secondary to the “context”, readers are prone to “read into the text” from their own emotional punches and situational cravings. This fosters a kind of “self-centeredness” rather than “text-centeredness”. Reading is mostly taking place on the basis of reader’s “needs” not mostly on the basis of faith-constrains. One of the most important dangers of LR is its methodology of “choosing reader-friendly texts” and “appropriation of scriptural terms, statements and pericopes for contextual purposes” (for example, Book of Exodus in the Old Testament and Gospel of Luke, especially Nazareth Manifesto, in the New Testament). This is usually done without considering the larger framework of the scriptures. Reading texts “out of context” and “application of the context into the text” (rather than “application of the text into the context”) make it sometimes a form of reading closer to “allegorization”.

(d) Reader-Response Criticism (RRC): As in the case of LR, in RRC the starting point is “reader” not the “text”. McKinght says, “Reader-response criticism views literature in terms of readers and their values, attitudes and responses”[5]. Baldick defines RRC as “a general term for those kinds of modern criticism and literary theory that focus on the responses of the readers to literary works, rather than on the works themselves considered as self-contained entities”[6]. In RRC, reader has all the freedom to conjecture in his/her own way. Its methodology is mostly eisegetical than exegetical.

3. Recapitulation

Now, “How can we look into the text from a ‘Paradigmatic Reader’s Point of View'”? In paradigmatic reader’s point of view, the text is the starting point of theological articulations, but meaning transcends from the textual horizons to reader’s “live” context. In another sense, text is performative and its meaning permeates to the societal levels for effective transformation. It advocates a text-to-context sequence by way of an exegesis-to-hermeneutics development. In the process of this reader-scripture dialoguing, HCM, LC/NLCM, LR and RRC are not abnegated; rather, they are considered only when the text requires and also within the textual purview. “Paradigmatic reader’s point of view” develops as the end result of the activity of “constant reading” and that further reflects in the reader’s societal interactions and praxes. The following points are important with regard to PRPV: (1) ‘text’ is the starting point and a reader reads the scriptures from their own historical context; (2) ‘reader’ is a ‘dynamic’/’active’ person who acts both as an “authentic interpreter” and a “relevant interpreter” to his/her own “live” context; and (3) ‘contemporary context’ is the platform for the paradigmatic reader for scriptural application. Paradigmatic reading methodology emphasizes that “reading the scripture(s) is necessary for relevant action”. In this activity, scripture is reckoned as authoritative, and reader and his/her context exist only in relation to the text.


[1] F. Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, ch. 1.

[2] M. W. G. Stibbe, John, Readings: A New Biblical Commentary. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993, 16.

[3] E. V. McKnight, “Literary Criticism”, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992, 473.

[4] C. Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, 150.

[5] McKnight, “Literary Criticism”, DJG, 476. McKnight further says that, “The nature and role of the reader varies in the different forms of reader-response criticism, but in all forms there is a movement away from the view of interpretation as the determination by an autonomous reader of the meaning of an autonomous text”.

[6] Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, 184. Baldick further says, “It is not a single agreed theory so much as a shared concern with a set of problems involving the extent and nature of readers’ contribution to the meanings of literary works, approached from various positions including those of structuralism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and hermeneutics”.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

  1. […] Photo Credits: New Testament Scholarship Worldwide […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s