How Do We Overcome Our Horizons (Biases)? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Those who take on the task of interpreting the ancient accounts of Jesus’s life are faced with a difficult task.  As we’ve seen from previous posts, the horizon of each individual must be faced and addressed before investigation begins.

But does the horizon of an individual render objective study of history impossible?  Clearly not.  What a historian must do is limit the influence of his horizon on the historical investigation, especially when aspects of his horizon may directly distort his interpretations.

Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, offers six guidelines for historians who are attempting to limit the undue influence of their horizon.  Licona goes into some detail about each of these guidelines, but I will only introduce them and give a brief description of each one from Licona’s book.

1. Method can serve as a means toward achieving greater objectivity. Method encompasses many parts, including the manner in which data are viewed, weighed and contextualized; criteria for testing the adequacy of hypotheses; and the fair consideration of competing hypotheses. Of course, method is not a sure means for avoiding too much subjectivity, but it is helpful. . . . Therefore, attention to method may reduce the amount of control a horizon has on a historians research, but it alone is inadequate.

2.  The historian’s horizon and method should be public. It is certain that at least portions of the historian’s horizon can be public or open to scrutiny. For example, historians who hold to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus most likely have a theistic component to their horizons, and this component may be challenged. Methodological naturalists, who do not allow for the possibility of the supernatural in historical investigation, should likewise have their horizons open to challenge. Moreover, historians should be clear about the methods they employ for achieving results.

3. Peer pressure may also be helpful in minimizing the impact of horizon on the historian’s work. Judges of a sporting event such as gymnastics seem to be able to lay aside or at least minimize their prejudices and national pride when acting in the capacity of a judge. How is this accomplished when national pride and prejudice can be so strong? Perhaps it is the knowledge that a number of other judges with similar strictures are also making judgments and that, if the judgment of a particular judge is far different than those rendered by the other judges, it may reflect a personal bias of a sort. Thus, peer pressure can act as a check on bias and can serve to minimize the effects of horizon.

In part 2 of this series, we will look at the final 3 guidelines for curbing the influence of one’s horizon.