Reader-Response Criticism

The recognition that readers of a biblical text come to it with a variety of experience and assumptions which affect their appreciation of the narratives. (Cf. the Swedish proverb: ‘Spectators also create’—at the theatre.) Biblical scholars, especially in America, have argued that in addition to the rigorous examination of the text to discuss the theological ideas in the writings and the accuracy of the history and the identity of the authors, the part played by the readers of the books is also important; for, as with a sermon, the words are lifeless until the person reading or hearing begins to ask questions. What are the hidden assumptions behind the description of some incident? Why in the NT is there so little personal information e.g. about Jesus, or Peter? Much has to be supplied by the reader to evoke a response (John 20:31), though the response of a modern reader may be one of scepticism or contempt, quite different from that expected from the ‘implied reader’ whom the author had in mind. For example, throughout the OT the writers celebrate the victory of the Exodus [[➝ Exodus, the]], and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians. But a modern reader (a Palestinian, perhaps) would be more likely to identify himself with the helpless, drowning soldiers of Pharaoh, while a Western feminist reader would deplore the assumed masculine hegemony in OT and NT. She would bring new insights to the text which she approaches with her own integrity and assumptions which she will not abandon.
That a Levite could allow his concubine to be appallingly abused in order to fulfil obligations of hospitality to a man (Judg. 19:24) has been regarded as barbaric and primitive, but a feminist reader also repudiates, and persuades others to repudiate, the shocking complacency of the masculine narrator.
The situations of readers of the gospels and of their communities has influenced the narratives. Matt.'s additions to Mark reflect the life and experiences of his community. The behaviour of the Twelve as they oscillate between faith and unbelief and obedience and failure is just what Christians knew in Matt.'s Church, and they received encouragement from the story. Like the women at the tomb (Matt. 28:8–10) they knew both fear and joy; like the Eleven on the mountain of Galilee (Matt. 28:17) they have known both faith and doubt. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) has been applied in different ways by modern readers: e.g. by Anabaptists and sectarians, and by mainstream Christians deeply involved in contemporary society.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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