What is the structuralist view of literary criticism, and how has structural literary theory influenced modern approaches to Biblical interpretation?

  • This question seems to be asking about structuralism first and hermeneutics second, which is exactly backwards. Perhaps if you started by explaining structuralism you would have a better chance of getting some answers. Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 16:07

1 Answer 1


This is a huge topic. I'll mention a couple things that I'm aware of.

Bruce Benson writes

Simply put, structuralism is the view that meaning in language and culture is based upon internal relations within the linguistic or cultural system as a whole, rather than something outside the system that is substantial.

(Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible, "Structuralism", Vanhoozer Ed.)

One thing that has come about because of structuralism is the concept of narrative exegesis. The idea is that stories in the Bible (e.g. the Gospels) have a certain structure to them. They contain things like a plot, a protagonist etc. There are differing theories as to what the structures are but that they exist at all come from structuralism. That is to say there is more going on the the Bible than a mere historical report of events.

Another thing that structuralism led to is Post-Structuralsim (as the name implies). Post structuralism emphasizes the cultural side of language. That is to say, each culture constructs their language to work in a certain way. It also provides the meaning to words. Words are not static entities which always have a specific meaning. Rather the meanings of words and texts are determined by the culture that uses them.

Think about the words "gay" and "mouse." The former previously meant happy now it refers to homosexuality. The latter refers to a small rodent (and still does) but I think many people would first think of a computer device when they initially hear the word. Over the past 50 years the chief meaning of these two words have changed considerably in western English parlance. Not because the words changed but because our culture has shifted and now attributes a different meaning to these words

To make along story short. Post-structuralism has challenged the view that there are absolutes that can be drawn from scripture that apply in the same way to every culture and time. The reason for this is that the scriptures as they were written were embedded in a particular cultural and linguistic structure. In order to extract the meaning one must translate from the one culture to our current culture and there is much disagreement on how to do this properly.

  • 1
    Thank you for pulling together an answer to this question that's been unanswered for a very long time! Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 16:46
  • Words may take on a different context. However, the fact that words can take on different context doesn't mean the text changes. Certainly, if one were exposed to only one context of a word then one's interpretation of the text will be confused. Yet, one's confusion doesn't change the text. It simply means one needs more exposure. It doesn't mean the scriptural narrative is subjective and open to any interpretation.
    – Thomas
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 18:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.