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Theological Term of the Week 

mirror reading
Reading a biblical epistle with the assumption that most of what is written by the author reflects a particular problem within the church receiving the letter; the practice of reading statements or assertions in a biblical epistle and attempting to identify the circumstances that elicited the (supposed) response given by the author.

  • From Tom Schreiner in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, on the context of 1 Timothy

    As most commentators agree, a mirror reading of 1 Timothy suggests that in this epistle the apostle Paul confronts some kind of exclusivism heresy. Perhaps Paul’s opponents relied on geneologies to limit salvation to only a certain group of people, excluding from God’s saving purposes those who were notoriously sinful or those from so-called inferior backgrounds (1:4; cf Titus 3:9). Paul writes to remind Timothy and the church that God’s grace is surprising: his grace reaches down and rescues all kinds of sinners, even people like Paul who seem to be beyond his saving grace.1

  • From Douglas Moo in 2 Peter, Jude from the NIV Application Commentary (quoted from here):
    [T]he tendency among some scholars is to build elaborate theories on the basis of slim and uncertain evidence. Then, despite little—or even conflicting—data, they use these theories as a basis to interpret and apply a biblical text. Some recent interpreters call this process “mirror-reading.” The mirror is the specific background theory; and when a text is reflected in the mirror of a specific background theory, that theory decisively shapes the text.
    Perhaps the best example of this process is the spate of recent interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:11–15, the passage in which Paul tells Timothy that he does not want women “to teach or to have authority over a man.” Many of these interpretations assume—rightly—that we must interpret Paul’s prohibition in its first-century context. But they then go on to suggest specific background scenarios that usually have little basis in the text of 1 Timothy and sometimes, indeed, little basis in what we know of the first-century world. Yet scholars following this line of “mirror-reading” conclude that Paul’s advice is not directly relevant for the church today because of one of these theoretical background scenarios.

Learn more:

  1. Andy Naselli: Mirror Reading

Related terms:

Filed under Scripture

1Schreiner uses this mirror reading of 1 Timothy as evidence that the universalistic texts like 1 Timothy 2:6 ([Christ] “gave himself as a ransom for all”) refer to every person without distinction.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

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