Socio-Rhetorical Criticism for Leadership

Socio-rhetorical criticism offers a wealth of understanding to the area of biblical leadership and how Christians are called to lead. The approach of socio-rhetorical criticism focuses on “values, convictions, and beliefs” (Robbins, 1996, p. 1) of a given text, which lends it ideally to studying leadership.  With its approach to language exploration, socio-rhetorical criticism draws a correlation between the words used in conjunction with the behaviors exhibited.  (Robbins, 1996, p. 1)

One challenge for biblical interpretation is the number of textures found in scripture.  These textures allow for a deep understanding of meaning intended by the original authors. Unfortunately, the body of Christ is widely divided with different perspectives, understandings, and even applications of the same portions of scripture.  Many of the differences can be attributed to the different perspectives on the textures of the text.  (Watson, 1998, p.71)  This is evident as one observes the different ways factions of the church have approached leadership and leadership structure.  Socio-rhetorical criticism steps away from preconceived ideas of the individual layers of texture and begins with an objective approach to the language used in the text; (Watson, 1998, p. 72) believing this objective approach will yield an “environment for interpretation that provides interpreters with a basic, overall view of life as we know it and language as we use it.” (Robbins, 1996, p. 2)  This provides a virtual reset of interpretation where the beginning point is the language used rather than church tradition and prior interpretation.

From the standpoint of leadership, socio-rhetorical criticism offers the opportunity to revisit passages that speak into leadership with a fresh, objective perspective.  This fresh perspective could be an open door to greater continuity, harmony, and peace among God’s people as they live out his mandate to “go and make disciples”. (Matthew 28:19)


Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: study Bible: English standard version (ESV text ed.). Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles.
Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the texture of texts: a guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International.
Watson, D. F. (1998). Mapping the Textures of New Testament Criticism : A Response to Socio-Rhetorical Criticism. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, (70), 71–77.


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