Ideological criticism — What is it?An ideology is, "a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Different cultures have different ideologies about life and culture. Ideological criticism is a type of literary criticism that falls under the heading of rhetorical criticism, which looks at how word choice and phrasing impact audience understanding. Ideological criticism is a visionary sort of criticism in that it aims to identify the big picture ideas within a specific work and also use the context of the work to discern how different groups of people will respond to it. By doing this, it also seeks to dispel any false ideas people may try to attach to a specific work.
The basis of ideological criticism is the assumption that a given people group will understand concepts and word usage in similar ways to each other. While this common understanding may change when crossing cultures, within a specific society, it is relatively safe to assume that most people will respond in a similar way to language and concepts. This premise, when applied to the Bible, can help modern readers understand why biblical writers used certain concepts or ideas within their writing—they were what would make sense to their respective audiences.
Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans are prominent cultures within the Bible and each of these groups had a different ideal of what was the ultimate representation of good. In Hebrew culture, "light" and anything that symbolized it was the ultimate ideal (Psalm 27:1; Acts 13:47; Malachi 4:2), while anything about "darkness" meant the opposite (Psalm 23:4; Proverbs 4:19; Luke 11:34–36; Romans 1:21). This is perhaps most strongly evidenced in this explanation of God's character: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). As far as other people groups, the Greeks idolized the concept of "knowledge," and the Romans viewed "glory" as the ultimate goal.
The apostle Paul, in a deft maneuver, with his word choices showed all three of these people groups how Jesus met each of their respective ideals: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis added).
When we know these historical contexts and ideals, it can help bring alive the meaning and significance of certain words and passages within the Bible; this is what makes ideological criticism useful. Ideological criticism can help us to interpret the Bible accurately by enabling us to know how the biblical writers anticipated their readers would respond.
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