One of the great benefits of the blog world is the limitless exchange of ideas and perspectives. You only have to spend an hour or so reading two or three thoughtful blogs to get a snapshot of what’s on people’s minds and in their theological craws.
While the interaction can be profitable, too often many of the ensuing “e-debates” are simply histrionics and opinionizing rather than lucid, sound biblical argumentation. Participants seem quick to throw the term “exegesis” around but often respond with little of it. Part of the problem seems to be a failure to understand what exegesis is. Reading around the blogosphere one gets the impression that “doing exegesis” simply means citing a passage or verse that on the surface seems logically to prove one’s point. To complicate matters further, when a view is challenged, a vacuous rebuttal is offered void of any grammatical, contextual, or literary data. Often presented are circular and apriori arguments, dealing more with deductive conclusions than exegetical reasoning. Unfortunately, this is neither good exegesis nor sound proof of anything.
Perhaps a review of the tenets of sound exegesis is in order. Exegesis, by definition, is the special application of the principles governing linguistics and meaning. The discipline of hermeneutics consists of the particular rules for interpreting scripture, and exegesis is the process of applying those rules. As D.A. Carson has aptly noted in his work entitled Exegetical Fallacies, “Exegesis concludes by saying, ‘This passage means such and such’; hermeneutics ends by saying, ‘This interpretive process is constituted by the following techniques and preunderstandings.’” Drawing sound exegetical conclusions is no easy task involving many building blocks from which meaning is derived. The following is a brief annotated outline of applied hermeneutics in the exegetical process:
(1) Identify the literary genre.
The exegete must first understand what type of biblical literature is being studied. From the Old Testament to the New, biblical authors penned the revelation in differing prose. The Bible student must consider how meaning is conveyed differently through history, narrative, prophecy, poetry, epistolary, wisdom, etc. Many interpretive errors today stem from a general failure to grasp the particular kind of material under study.
(2) Identify the pericope.
After a thorough working knowledge of the flow of a passage from one context to the next, the exegete must clearly mark the smallest pericope with which to work. Without this step one runs the risk of missing pivotal transitions of thought intended by the author.
(3) Isolate lexical and syntactical hinges, synthesize, and principlize.
At this point several key disciplines must be carefully implemented: (a) Form a block diagram to distinguish main and subordinate clauses; (b) Isolate and study all parts of speech to determine the precise contextual nuance of words and phrases; (c) Solve text-critical problems with comparative grammatical and contextual evidence; (d) Formulate an exegetical outline of the main propositional principles given by the author, and their implications for the original audience; (e) Weigh conclusions against other thorough exegetical scholarship for fine tuning; (f) Synthesize the work into brief paragraphs, explaining the proposition and rhetorical function (how the proposition is developed) of the author’s arguments; (g) From the implications intended for the original audience, formulate general theological principles from which timeless implications may be drawn. Admittedly, this final step is more than challenging. It requires the exegete to determine if a principle given for an ancient audience has contemporary implications. The diligent student must take care to begin with larger, overarching principles and work toward potentially specific parallels. The literary genre and historical context are great safeguards against extrapolating a contemporary mandate where it was never intended.
(4) Study and clearly establish the theological implications of the text.
Once the text’s meaning and implications has been determined, the exegete must be able to clearly articulate how the passage contributes to a biblical-theological framework. The theological implications of the passage should be cogent and consistent with the whole of scripture.
(5) Develop a clear outline of principles for teaching and preaching.
The exegetical process is now complete and ready for the
application of homiletics.
While there is much more that could be said under each step above, these basic parameters provide the serious Bible student with the tools needed to rightly divide God’s word. My hope is that those around the blogosphere who desire to convince others about the Bible’s meaning will do some exegesis on their methodology and bring to the table more than just opinions. The Word of God deserves our very best efforts.