In the last 2016 issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, Aaron Chalmers has an interesting essay on “the influence of cognitive biases on biblical interpretation” (467–80). Chalmers approaches the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology and focuses on “five key cognitive biases”—namely, “confirmation bias, false consensus effect, in-group bias, functional fixedness, and the illusory truth effect” (467).
For Chalmers, bias is almost exclusively a roadblock to proper biblical interpretation that needs to be overcome. Consequently, the latter part of the essay provides five suggestions for “debiasing” oneself. These are understanding cognitive bias, considering opposite views, pausing for adequate reflection, engaging with other interpreters, and avoiding time pressure for completing interpretive tasks (477–80).
In at least one case that I noted, Chalmers explicitly recognizes the possibility of a positive element within the “functional fixedness” type of bias. If biases are not always detrimental but in some ways enabling for our engagement with the world (including, in some respects, its ability to push back on those biases), it might be interesting to consider whether there might be also positive applications for the other four bias types, how to identify these, and how to understand their relations to more negative applications. That being said, Chalmers’s essay certainly provides a concise, helpful rubric for the kind of awareness biblical interpreters should cultivate to avoid simply being “driven along from behind” to where it might not actually be that helpful to go.If you've found this content helpful, take a couple seconds to subscribe. While you’re at it, think about joining my students and me in our daily Bible readings this term. The readings are short enough to complete in Hebrew or Greek to help keep your languages sharp. Or of course, you’re welcome to follow along in a translation too.
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the content above may be “affiliate links.” I only recommend products or services I genuinely believe will add value to you as a reader. But if you click one of these links and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission from the seller at no additional cost to you. Consequently, I am disclosing this affiliate status in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”