‘As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach’.

Spencer D Gear

Foolish Reply


By Spencer D Gear

Can you imagine anyone with such a naïve approach to Scripture as stated in the title of this article? Well, I met one in an online Christian forum. He responded to one of my exegetical explanations of 1 John 2:29. He wrote:

Many thanks for the clarification [exegesis of 1 John 2:29]… but, to be honest, it’s all so obvious that no one should need to understand the ins and outs of the Greek to see the truth.
God never intended for anything to be that deep anyway!
Salvation is mostly for the poor, needy, desperate, hungry and thirsty soul who is below average in everything (and hence hurting) … and I suppose Scriptural proof will be required for this as well.
God intended that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit inside, would suffice very nicely indeed.
For those who have not been brainwashed with false doctrine, that is.
As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach.
Try it, everyone, you might like it.

My response was: ‘Not one of us comes to Scripture with a ‘totally bias-free approach’. All of us have our presuppositions that we bring to the text. For some of us, those presuppositions are challenged with the provision of extra evidence from the biblical text that we might not have seen before and then we change our view’.[2]

How do you think that a person who supposes he does not have bias-free presuppositions would respond when challenged about this? This is how he came back, even though it was very brief: ‘Please enlighten me with one of my so-called suppositions. Like, there is a God? Oh, wow … thanks’.[3]

What is a presupposition?

A presupposition is a phenomenon by which speakers or writers mark linguistically the information that is ‘taken for granted, rather than being part of the main propositional content of a speech act. Expressions and constructions carrying presuppositions are called “presupposition triggers”, forming a large class including definites[4] and factive verbs’[5] (Beaver & Geurts 2011).

Anthony Thiselton considered that the term presupposition ‘conveys the impression of rooted beliefs and doctrines which are not only cognitive and conceptual, but which also can only be changed and revised with pain, or at least with difficulty. Neither element is necessarily involved in [using the term] “horizon”’ (Thiselton 1992:45; emphasis in original). He prefers the term ‘horizon’, explaining that ‘every reader brings a horizon of expectation to the text. This is a mind-set, or system of references, which characterizes the reader’s finite viewpoint amidst his or her situatedness in time and history’. He emphasised that ‘patterns of habituation in the reader’s attitudes, experiences, reading-practices, and life, define and strengthen his or her horizon of expectation’. His perspective is that it is easier to change a horizon because a text ‘can surprise, contradict, or even reverse such a horizon of expectation’ (Thiselton 1992:34).

The Christian-based linguistics organisation, SIL International, defines a presupposition as ‘background belief, relating to an utterance’ that (1) must be known by both the speaker and addressee to be considered appropriate in a given context; (2) will be a necessary assumption for an utterance, whether the form is an assertion, denial or question; and (3) it generally can ‘be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance’ (SIL International 2004).

Presuppositions uncovered

I decided that the best way to do this was to take quotes from this person’s posts in this Christian Forums’ thread and try to expose his presuppositions. Here is what I discovered:[6]

I have taken the following numbers (identified as #) from your posts to uncover some of your presuppositions which you think that you do not have.

clip_image002_thumb#1, ‘May I suggest this for securing your eternal life?[7]
Presupposition: It is possible to secure a person’s eternal life.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘The Christian is responsible for maintaining his imputed righteousness! …
“… whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:35)
Presupposition: Imputed righteousness can be maintained by Christians through works of righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘Too many people just cannot handle the powerful threats contained in the warnings![9]
Presupposition: There are threats against salvation contained in the warning passages.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘Dunno, maybe this is the most important part of practicing righteousness: the sincere repentance of sin.’[10]
Presupposition: The uncertainty of sincere repentance of sin needed as the most important part of practising righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#3: ‘FYI, the grace boy messed up again … he meant to say … you have abandoned trusting in Jesus’ righteousness’.[11]
Presupposition: To obtain righteousness, one must trust in Jesus’ righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#9: ‘IMO, your idea of most people being someone’s employee/slave is incorrect’.[12]
Presupposition: In the first century, most people were not someone’s employee/slave.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘no one should need to understand the ins and outs of the Greek to see the truth’.[13]
Presupposition: To understand an English translation of the Greek NT, one does not need to understand the grammar of Greek to understand the truth of what is written. A translated language gives the truth and it is not necessary for anyone to know the original language.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘God never intended for anything to be that deep anyway!’[14]
Presupposition: God never intended for the NT to provide deep knowledge and understanding for anyone.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘Salvation is mostly for the poor, needy, desperate, hungry and thirsty soul who is below average in everything (and hence hurting)’.[15]
Presupposition: Salvation is mostly necessary and provided for the poor.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘and I suppose Scriptural proof will be required for this as well’.[16]
Presupposition: Others may require Scriptural proof for a statement, but I don’t believe it is necessary.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘God intended that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit inside, would suffice very nicely indeed. For those who have not been brainwashed with false doctrine, that is’.[17]
Presuppositions: All that is needed to obtain Christian doctrine is the English Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s internal ministry. Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s ministry will be no good for those brainwashed by false doctrine. It is possible for a person to be brainwashed by false doctrine.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach. Try it, everyone, you might like it’.[18]
Presupposition: It is possible to go to the Scriptures with no presuppositions – a bias-free approach’.

clip_image002_thumb#14: ‘Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the verbs connected with the most important aspects of salvation, e.g. believe, in the continual sense?’[19]
Presuppositions: If I’m uncertain about the original languages behind the NT, I ask someone else about the meaning of the English language. There are some more and some less important aspects about salvation.

clip_image002_thumb#14: ‘A favorite example of mine … We are sanctified (set apart) one time, as in positional sanctification, and we are being sanctified (continually), as in progressive sanctification’.[20]
Presupposition: I have favourite examples of how there are differences in the uses of language in the NT in dimensions of salvation and this includes positional sanctification and progressive salvation.

clip_image002_thumb#19: ‘Please enlighten me with one of my so-called suppositions. Like, there is a God? Oh, wow … thanks’.[21]
Presupposition: When it comes to the Bible, I do not have presuppositions but OzSpen thinks I have. I can be cynical about the charge that I have suppositions because it is false – deserving a ‘wow’ and ‘thanks’ response.

Discovering more objective ways to identify presuppositions

Who am I?


How can one be as objective as possible in uncovering a writer’s or speaker’s presuppositions? The tendency is for presuppositions to be unspoken, even though they involve values that direct a person’s life. An excellent model for identifying presuppositions in an objective manner can be found in David Beaver and Burt Geurts article, ‘Presuppositions’ in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Beaver & Geurts 2011).[22]

Examples of ‘triggers’ of this model for identifying presuppositions are here stated. Lexical dimension have been agreed by philosophers and linguists as examples of some of these presupposition triggers. They include: Factives, aspectual verbs, temporal clauses that begin with conjunctions such as before, after or since, manner adverbs, sortally restricted predicates of various categories, cleft sentences, quantifiers, definite descriptions, names, and intonation. Please refer to the Beaver & Geurts (2011) article online for examples of these triggers.

While I have prepared explanations and examples of these kinds of presuppositions, they cannot be shared here as the dissertation is in process.


It is an exaggerated claim, without foundation, that ‘as for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach’.[23] Everyone has a world and life view and in that view there are values that are accepted as true, without demonstration. These are part of an understanding of the nature of presuppositions.

In closing, Michael Lockridge’s comments are appropriate in summarising the nature of presuppositions and how they impact on everyone’s world and life view. He wrote:

Presuppositions are the foundation of any world view, and editing them is frightening and often difficult. Conflict between any individual’s world view and the new and expanded reality they might come to experience can be traumatic and even catastrophic. A defensive response is natural, and getting past such a response requires an act of the will. It is a matter of choosing presuppositions from which to operate….

In order to interact with our world, it is necessary to believe certain things. Some fundamental beliefs need not be formally structured or even articulated. Other living things interact with the world around them, exhibiting the “belief” that those things experienced in the world are real and significant. Again, not necessarily articulated….

Humans have a capacity to think about and articulate their choices. This capacity seems to vary considerably from human to human, but they do have this capacity and act on it to varying degrees. Temperament can be a factor in defining presuppositions, and experiences can define and redefine presuppositions for many humans. It is a necessarily complex process in a relatively complex creature (Lockridge 2010).

My own presuppositions are articulated in articles on my homepage, Truth Challenge. Some of my personal, primary presuppositions are:

  • The Lord God Almighty, creator of the heavens and earth, exists.
  • God is the one and only true God who is one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • He has revealed himself in the Christian Scriptures, the Bible.
  • The Christian Scriptures are inerrant in the original manuscripts.
  • To understand Scripture and nature, God has given human beings logical, reasoning abilities, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  • Scriptures are interpreted through a historical-cultural-grammatical understanding of the culture of the time and knowledge of the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek.
  • Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement provided salvation for all who will repent and believe in Christ alone. Eternal salvation is provided only through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Works consulted:

Beaver, D I & Geurts, B 2011. Presupposition, in Zalta, E N (ed) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (online), Summer. Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/presupposition/ (Accessed 22 September 2013).

Lockridge, M 2010.[24] Presuppositions, in Philosophy on purpose (blog online), 8 March. Available at: http://philosophyonpurpose.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/presuppositions.html (Accessed 22 September 2013).

SIL International 2004. What is a presupposition? (online). Available at: http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAPresupposition.htm (Accessed 22 September 2013).

Thiselton, A C 1992. New horizons in hermeneutics: The theory and practice of transforming biblical reading. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] Extraordinary#10, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘May I suggest this for security your eternal life’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775405/ (Accessed 22 September 2013, emphasis added).

[2] OzSpen#12, ibid.

[3] Extraordinary#19, ibid.

[4] The term ‘definites’ is meant to convey the placing of limits or boundaries on anything. A definite is the antithesis of being imprecise or vague.

[5] A factive verb affirms the truth of the following statement or clause. An example is, ‘I know that Crossan’s view on the use of redaction by New Testament authors is correct’. ‘Know’ is the factive verb. However, sometimes a comparative meaning can be expressed with, ‘This is Crossan’s view….’, or some other sentence, where ‘is’ functions as the factive.

[6] OzSpen#26, ibid.

[7] Extraordinary#1, ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Extraordinary#3, ibid.

[12] Extraordinary#9, ibid.

[13] Extraordinary#10, ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Extraordinary#14, ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Extraordinary#19, ibid.

[22] This model is being used by the author of this article in writing his PhD dissertation in New Testament with a major university.

[23] Extraordinary #10, op cit.

[24] At the time of writing this article, Michael Lockridge, stated, ‘I am currently 59 years old. At present I am a retired correctional officer with 20 years of service’ and he lived in Medford, Oregon, USA (Lockridge 2010).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.