Biblical interpretation among Church of England lay people
Biblical interpretation among Church of England laity was assessed by
questionnaire. Eleven churches took part in the final survey: 1800
questionnaires were distributed and 404 returned. Subjects read the healing
story in Mark 9: 14-29 and then responded to questions on the passage,
their attitudes to the bible and healing prayer. Liken scales assessed
attitudes to the bible, morality, religious exclusivity and supernatural
healing. Personality was assessed according to the Myers-Briggs typology
using the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.
Subjects from Evangelical churches had more conservative attitudes than
those in Anglo-catholic or Broad churches. Attitudes were related to
education level and the perceiving personality function, and were clustered
according to level of conservatism and charismatic belief.
Literal interpretation of the passage declined with age. Literal interpretation
of biblical events declined with education level, but not among Evangelicals.
Respondents preferred interpretations that matched their preferred
perceiving or judging personality functions. Those who preferred intuition
and feeling were also most likely to identify with characters in the story.
Perception of horizon separation was related to familiarity with the passage,
and preference for interpretative horizon was related to attitudes, judging
personality function and education level. There was little evidence of strong
community effects on interpretation. Dependence on others for
interpretation was greater among women, negatively correlated with
education level and positively correlated with age and personality
preferences for sensing and feeling.
Findings are discussed in relation to the roles of the individual, the Holy
Spirit and the community in shaping interpretation, and to problems of
evaluating interpretations in the church. Factors external to the text are
important in generating meaning, but are sometimes less valuable in
deciding between interpretations. Church and academy are fundamentally
different worlds of discourse that overlap: the difference needs to be
recognized, accepted and respected.