What is doctrinal bias? How can holding a doctrinal bias affect us when interpreting the scriptures?


Clarify Share Report Asked May 08 2015 Mini Anonymous

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Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
Doctrinal bias occurs when we conduct any Bible Study, translation of text, or analysis of Bible topic through the lens of an opinion already formed. This is not automatically a bad thing; going into a study with a solid understanding of salvation by faith and not works [Gal 2:15-17], for example, can help us study verses like James 2:17. Having a bias does not mean that one necessarily has the wrong facts or conclusion, but rather that reasoning and objectivity might be compromised.

When approaching a new study on a complex or controversial issue, such as on eschatology, baptism, spiritual gifts, Calvinism, the Sabbath, holidays, women in the church, etc., it is good to take stock of any biases one might have going in. A few questions one might ask are:

- What have I learned/been taught about this topic before?
- What are the opinions of the spiritual leaders/mentors in my life? (Pastors, teachers, parents, commentators, etc.) Am I biased towards these?
- Have I been exposed to a neutral evaluation of the topic before?
- Is there anything in my life experience, religious upbringing, culture, or prior study that would pre-dispose me for or against a view? If so, how solid are these supports?

Taking stock of where you stand on the issue before going into the study can help avoid common traps that holding to a doctrinal bias can lead one into. If using other sources besides scripture to aid with the study, one should take care to either use neutral studies [that do not elevate one view above others], or to use a wide variety of Bible-based aids that present different views.

Here are some common pitfalls:

#1 Confirmation bias.

We see what we 'want to see'. Instead of checking our bias against scripture, and studying what the whole of scripture says on a topic, we try to fit scripture into our bias instead. We magnify verses that support our view, then minimize or ignore verses that contradict our view. We search out specific verses to support our view. Confirmation bias leads us to elevate our own views, and can actually get -stronger- in the face of evidence that counters it.

#2 Circular reasoning

Similar to confirmation bias, but in this case we falsely re-interpret a verse to fit our view. We then use the re-defined word or verse as 'proof' that our view is correct. 

#3 Framing bias

We react differently to identical data depending on how something is framed. For example, parents may go to the extremes of being either foolishly permissive, or nonyielding and tough, depending on how they personally frame 'discipline', despite having access to the same scriptures. 

#4 Over-confidence

We can elevate our own opinions, skills, even spiritual gifts, a favorite teacher, favorite teaching or study style, favorite commentator, etc, which can lead to over-confidence in what one is hearing or reading.

#5 The Ambiguity effect

This is a bias towards views that tie things up in a nice package, vs. Leaving ambiguities. That is seen often with hot-topics like eschatology or interpreting prophecy, where people like having concrete answers vs. Wrestling with unknowns. 

#5 Bandwagon Effect

This is tending to 'follow the herd', to believe something because a lot of others do the same. Interestingly, if even one person in a study group voices a challenge to a teaching, the effects of this bias diminish dramatically leading to a more objective evaluation of the topic.

There are many other types of biases that can affect our beliefs and reasoning, but these ones are very likely to affect the teachings and theories we hold to. Bias is a major factor in how people can end up with radically different theories and interpretations out of the same scripture.

[However, as mentioned above, 'biased' is not the same as 'untrue'. In some cases, bias can be a positive. For an example of this, see S. Michael Houdmann's excellent answer under https://ebible.com/questions/2120-why-do-christians-practice-the-indoctrination-of-children].

May 08 2015 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Photo Anthony Clinton Teacher in China
Doctrinal bias is a deadly spiritual disease that hinders the believer seeing the complete truth of sound doctrines of the Bible, if that bias is toward a false teaching. When interpreting the Scriptures one has to be totally honest to the truth as the Holy Spirit reveals it otherwise when confronted with scriptures that contradict the standard pre-learned doctrine one might respond in a number of negative ways to overcome their objections to those conflicting viewpoints. During many discussions and debates in my quest for truth I find that these negative responses are prominent in many Christians. 

One of those negative responses is “avoidance”. They will blast their doctrine loudly and simply avoid the objection. They will not dwell on the opposing view but will simply sweep it under the carpet. Restating past views and interpretations does nothing to resolve the truth issue. One might be reading an opposing view and suddenly they come up to the part that does not approve their doctrine so they blur their vision cloud their mind and go on ignoring vital truth.

The next is “creating a different context”. What I mean is to twist the scriptures in an effort to line them up with pre-learned doctrine. This habit is very easy to expose because the Scriptures are loaded with evidence to support “true context” interpretation. Some create a different context by changing the audience of whom the apostle is addressing. Paul might be talking to New Covenant Christians but because the doctrine does not fit their “pre-learned” doctrine, they might change it to be addressing Old Covenant Jews. This practice is common when interpreting Romans 11, and Hebrews 10,. 

Another response is declaring it not to be in the original text or simply not accepting it as scripture. This is commonly called “cherry picking” the Bible. Recently in discussion with a person about the divinity of Christ I pointed out certain Scriptures in John, Hebrews, and the epistles of John to him and he simply answered, “I don’t accept the Gospel of John, his epistles, and the book of Hebrews as scripture.”

Here is a classic example of Christian’s failure to accept that they may be wrong about a certain doctrine. The Church has historically and up until this present age adhered mostly to the doctrine of “Total Depravity”. This doctrine of total depravity meaning the state of a person being so stained with sin that they can absolutely do nothing pleasing to God and require God to act in every matter to initiate their salvation. They list everybody to be dead in sin and therefore unable to choose Christ by their free will. They refer to Paul’s teaching in Romans 3. Then we must deal with what is taught in Acts 10. One would think that if God was about to show His wonderful Grace opposed to man’s total depravity it would be seen in the first Gentile converts to Christianity. Unfortunately it does nothing to enforce the concept of total depravity at all. We find that the Italian Cornelius, was always seeking God, doing many good deeds, and was very devout and God paraded his good deeds before the world in the scriptures calling them a memorial ascending to heaven. So God is responding to His good deeds and singling him out as a worthy man to show his grace. These words are very hard to hear if you have been adhering to the doctrine of total depravity, yet they are in the Holy Writ. What makes it even more amazing is Peter’s doctrinal declaration in Acts 10:34-35, “Then Peter opened his mouth and said, Truly I see that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted with Him. ” 

Peter is declaring that anyone who works righteousness and fears God will be accepted in to this salvation from any country on earth. In other words, anyone that has the same way of life as this devout man Cornelius will be accepted by God. God did not shame him and tell him his deeds are filthy dirty rags, did He?

May 08 2015 1 response Vote Up Share Report

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