How to Think about the Body’s Hermeneutic Role

The fact of the body’s influence on reading isn’t an excuse either for inattention toward ourselves or for criticism of others.1 Instead, it’s a basis for further inquiry and improvement. If you want to become a better reader, it makes sense to consider how your body reads best.

There are more and less supportive ways to read. And when you choose a less supportive way to read or when the way you’re reading becomes less supportive, your reading will inevitably become less attentive. And as your reading becomes less attentive, the more likely you are to offer more problematic interpretations from that reading.

Understanding as the Point

So, the question of the reading body is inevitably hermeneutical. And it is no less hermeneutical because its outcomes are less direct and immediate. Diffuse and indirect as the outcomes are, they are still there—not least because they so frequently lie unexamined.

In addition, as the reading body is more or less well adapted to its task, that task becomes less or more onerous. In a less ideal situation, twenty pages of relatively easy prose can feel like comparatively heavy work. By contrast, working through a heavy tome of more difficult text can be quite enjoyable in the proper circumstances.

The Reading Body’s Two-fold Relevance

So, the relevance of the reading body to biblical scholarship is two-fold:

  1. Outwardly, attention to the reading body is more likely to produce more attentive interpretations.
  2. Inwardly, it contributes to simple enjoyment of biblical scholarship as play.

As always, rigorous biblical scholarship remains hard work. It is “hard” in the sense that it challenges each biblical scholar’s abilities. But such challenge is far from requiring that the discipline lack enjoyment. And in fact, the challenge of it all is part of what creates the fun, what animates the discipline with the exuberance of play.2


Given these observations, the reading body is clearly pertinent to the craft of biblical scholarship. Consequently, it’s worth carefully considering some ways you might become a better reader by giving attention to your own reading body.—And that’s a topic I’ll discuss a bit more next week.

  1. Header image provided by Marjhon Obsioma

  2. On this theme, see Greg McKeown, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (New York: Currency, 2021), 3–52. 

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