Sources of Old Testament Interpretation

According to Collins there are seven methods to interpreting the Bible:  source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, archaeology, new criticism, new historicism, and sociological methods.  All of these are developments that help us understand the Bible in a deeper way.  Source criticism is seen as “the separation of sources especially in the Pentateuch (Collins, page 16).”  It relies on reading the text and gathering ideas from it, but falls short in that it expects the text to relate to modern times.

Form criticism attempts to delve deeper and look at individual stories in the text instead of the text as a whole.  This form is important because it recognizes the importance of location of the author.  It also emphasizes the reason for the work being written.  Was it written to people during a celebration or time of sorrow?  One method that is closely related to the previous two is redaction criticism.  In redaction criticism there is a focus on the way units are combined by the author of the text.  There is a tendency among editors to want to impose their own theological ideas and redaction criticism seeks to limit that.

In recent years Archaeology has been a way to help interpret scripture.  It is important because we get to see material with our eyes instead of trying to imagine it while reading.  It gives insight to how biblical characters lived, their landscape, and traditions.  A problem may arise if a reader is looking for the Bible to be historically accurate as archaeology may show something different.

Those that want to look to the text itself for meaning instead of social, archaeological, and geographical factors will fit in with New criticism.  It was a formal movement that looked at the text alone for meaning.  This form is limited by eliminating the factors that help interpret the text.  A response to this was new historicism.  New historicism focuses on the text while keeping things in context.

Lastly sociological methods are used in interpreting the Bible.  Collins explains that “interpretation is not objective and neutral but serves human interests and is shaped by them (Collins, Page 19).”  The way scripture in interpreted may vary from country to country and in some cases church to church.  Every method has some valuable qualities in interpretation and it is best to have a basic knowledge of all to get various interpretations.


Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004.

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