Hans-Georg Gadamer uses Horizons of Understanding as a model for communication, and the concept of fusion of horizons is sometimes put forth as a way of explaining how one can approach a "text", but these phrases are rather abstract.

What do these terms mean, and how can they be applied to a Christian reading (and trying to understand) the Bible?


2 Answers 2


[Conversation] is a process of two people understanding each other. Thus it is a characteristic of every true conversation that each opens himself to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he understands not a particular individual, but what he says. The thing that has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise of his opinion, so that they can agree with each other on a subject.
Gadamer 1979:347

In a conversation, Gadamer argues, we have what is called a "horizon of understanding". That is 'the range of vision that includes everything that can be see from a particular vantage point' (ibid: 143) When we attempt to understand what someone is saying, we often times have to put ourselves "in their shoes" so to speak. We have to gather an understanding of what they are going through and their "horizons" so that we can understand why they say something.

This same concept also applies to understanding the Bible.

When we try to understand specific biblical passages, it's often helpful (or even necessary) to try to understand the culture that the passages were written in. We have to try to understand the "horizons" of both the authors and the culture of the time to better understand how the original text was meant.

A (probably poor) example of this is understanding specific aspects of the crucifixion. For example, Why was the sign "King of the Jews" hung above Jesus' head? If we take a look at the culture at the time, we see that crucifixions were common methods for the Romans to kill criminals. They hung the reason for their crucifixion above their heads to let others know what crimes to avoid.


Without the cultural understanding of the times that the Bible was written, there would be a lot of things that we would fail to understand. Fully researching the culture helps us to gain the "horizon of understanding" of the authors and events of the Bible so that we can better understand the Bible itself.

  • So, then, if my horizon and (say) Paul's horizon are separated by a couple thousand years, a language, culture, etc., are we hopelessly prone to misunderstanding each other? Or are you saying that by working to grasp the culture, I am moving toward Paul's horizon and thus I can understand his letters from his perspective.
    – Ray
    Oct 5, 2011 at 12:51
  • +1 by the way :) For concretizing for my analytical brain
    – Ray
    Oct 5, 2011 at 12:51
  • 1
    Our horizons are hopelessly distant, in my opinion. However, we can move towards understanding him better by understanding the culture that he lived in. I believe that there will always be a bit of a gap, but I also think that with enough research and empathy, we can get closer.
    – Richard
    Oct 5, 2011 at 13:09
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    Also, I just realized how important (critical, even) this concept is towards even beginning to grasp Revelations!
    – Richard
    Oct 5, 2011 at 14:56
  • @Ray Postmodern hermeneutics have a tendency to overemphasize the hopelessness of understanding one another. This is particularly true of texts in which the Holy Spirit actively works.
    – Kazark
    May 12, 2012 at 18:24

In the court room, the jury cannot deliberate until the defense rests. The one tasked with communicating the defense is the judge if adequate information has been given for the jury to deliberate.

In polite conversation, one repeats back what he thinks he has heard, giving the speaker an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding, before the hearer contradicts the claims.

These roles are played by someone holding an alternate view than the one being considered. They speak as a proxy for the author, not by representing the author's actual horizon, but by stretching yours so that it might intersect the author's.

Nothing is learned when when all the voices say the same thing.

This is too long as a comment and not sufficient for an answer, so I guess it is a suggestion to add some of it to the application portion of your answer if you like it. Then delete this one.

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