What Is Textualism?

Textualism can prevent us from inserting our cultural biases into Scripture and making it say what we want it to say. It forces us to analyze the original context and language and the audience to whom the author addressed.

Oct 30, 2020
What Is Textualism?

There are many different ways that people study the Bible. If you have ever heard someone say, “Take the Bible at face value,” or “Read what Scripture says, only, and don’t read into Scripture your cultural biases,” they most likely ascribe to the study of textualism.

Textualism has a heavy basis in reading solely what the words of Scripture say. Textualists have a strong foundation in something known as exegesis, reading what Scripture says, not what we want it to say.

Lee Strobel, once an atheist journalist, now a Christian, used this methodology to test Scripture:

Think of textualism as something similar to the scientific method. We may hypothesize that an experiment will turn out a certain way. But the experiment itself is not dependent on our hypothesis. Whatever the results of the experiment will prove the true answer to our question.

In the same way, textualism doesn’t try to “manipulate” the experiment. It looks at sola Scriptura and goes from there.

Textualism analyzes the original language to also make sure that our modern languages don’t interfere with the interpretation.

In this article, we’ll dive into what Scripture says about textualism, the potential dangers of taking textualism too far, and why we should explore textualism when we study the Bible.

What Does the Bible Say about Textualism?

Obviously, we won’t stumble into any verses that say, “When you study Scripture, make sure to use the method of textualism.” The concept of textualism didn’t exist in Jesus’ culture.

But they took the Word of God very seriously. Anyone who tried to assert something outside of what the Bible said was accused of being blasphemous and heretical.

Let’s see what Scripture says about the dangers of misreading or adding to the Bible based on what we want the Bible to say, instead of what it says:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar (Proverbs 30:5-6).

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

Scripture makes it clear that we should not add or subtract from it. Although the Bible doesn’t have the literal word “textualism” in it, it does seem to value searching for the Truth and nothing but the Truth, so help us, God.

What Are the Dangers of Textualism?

As is the case with any area of study of the Bible, people can take viewpoints to an unnatural extreme.

In the case of textualism, we run into issues when we reach non-literal or symbolic passages. Obviously, a literal goat did not take over the world for a brief period of time, but Alexander the Great, who had symbols of rams and goats associated with him (Daniel 8).

Textualists can run into the problem where they get so invested in the original language of the Bible and the minutiae of the passage, that they forsake the overall context and meaning of what that particular group of verses was trying to say.

Furthermore, sometimes the “simplest explanation is most likely the right one,” doesn’t always work in all passages or concepts of Scripture, as we’ve learned with the Trinity, the incarnation, and the nature of the events in Revelation.

Overall, however, we have compelling reasons to use textualism when we study Scripture. We ought to analyze the original context, the original language, and what Scripture says at face-value says.

Why Should We Care about Textualism?

As Christians, we should explore multiple methods of study to further understand Scripture. But we most certainly should explore textualism, if we have not already.

Textualism prevents us from inserting our cultural biases into Scripture and making it say what we want it to say. It forces us to analyze the original context and language and the audience to whom the author addressed.

It also takes the words of Scripture very seriously, not to add or detract from them.

Photo Credit ©SparrowStock

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.

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