Guidelines to Proper Exegesis

Guidelines to Proper Exegesis

Over the last three issues of the Harvester, we have examined how to properly interpret the Bible with articles titled "The Bible: Divine Testimony and Divine Interpretation" (April 2014); "Allowing the Bible to Interpret the Bible" (May 2014); and "Allowing the Bible to Interpret the Bible (Part 2)" (June 2014). This article fittingly concludes this study by showing how the Bible student can mine the "unsearchable riches" that the Holy Spirit has placed within the text of the Bible—the very mind of God revealed!

Five Steps
Remembering that exegesis is bringing out of the text the meaning and application that is already in the text, the following guidelines are given. These are not meant to be an exhaustive list coming from an expert scholar, but are simply practical suggestions that have helped this writer to better allow the Bible to interpret the Bible and thus learn better the mind of God revealed in Scripture.

First, choose a block of Scripture. Many factors may be involved in choosing the text. We may have been given an assignment for a summer series, Gospel meeting, or VBS. Of course, the best text to choose is one about which we are very interested and want to know more.

Second, become as familiar as possible with this text on our own. Those who have had training in the original languages would do well to translate the passage, which is in itself a tremendous learning experience. Those not trained in the original languages can also become familiar with the text by reading it over and over again, perhaps even memorizing it. Look for patterns in the text such as recurring phrases, series of infinitives, or key words. Define key words in the text by using a Bible dictionary, word study, or lexicon. Always remember, though, that context is the overriding factor in determining the meaning of a word. Bible dictionaries and lexicons can be wrong (McCord 460-469).

Third, make an outline of the text according to the understanding gained from familiarizing ourselves with the text. Many times we will discover that the text has naturally outlined itself.

Fourth, consult commentaries, lectureship books, and journal articles. Good sources will give valuable information on people, places, and things. Learning the historical background of a passage will also add insight into the meaning of the text. When we study a text with anopened mind and determination to let it speak for itself, we might be surprised to find that some of the scholarly commentators reached the same conclusions we did!
Concerning commentaries, there are two common misconceptions that can potentially keep us from the best understanding of a passage. Some think that the older a source is, the better it is. This is not always so. Adam Clarke, for example, may have been the premiere commentator in the early 1800s, but much has come to light over the last couple hundred years that helps us to better allow the Bible to interpret the Bible. The meaning of the Biblical text has not changed, but our understanding of it has. Case in point: Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, originally published in the late 1800s, says that agape love was "a purely bibl[ical] and eccl[esiastical] word." However, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, originally published in English in the mid 1900s, says that for agape "an unquestioned example fr[om] a pagan source was lacking for a long time," and then goes on to show that the word was used, though rarely, by non-Christian sources.
Another common misconception is that only brotherhood sources should be used in studying a passage. If we limit our sources to only brotherhood material, we will be deficient in some areas. This is not to say that brotherhood materials are not valuable. They are! However, there are not enough good brotherhood sources to fill the need, though we are doing what we can to improve that. Some writing brethren do not do their own, "primary" studying, but simply repeat what others have written. While it is true that denominational writings often contain false doctrine, it is equally true that we cannot assume that because a source is from a member of the church of Christ, it is free from error. We must learn the word of God and be able to separate truth from error!

Fifth, after consulting commentaries, lectureship books, and journal articles, we may need to revise our outline and/or reword some of our points. If the exegesis will be used for a sermon, this would be the time write the introduction and conclusion. This would also be the time to formulate the main points, as some preachers like, so that they all begin with the same letter or perhaps even rhyme.

One does not have to be a preacher or Bible class teacher to exegete a passage. All will benefit tremendously from doing exegetical studies. In the judgment of this writer, there is nothing more—dare he say—fun and exciting in Bible study than to dive into a passage of Scripture, study each verse word for word, examining the immediate and remote contexts, to later ascend with newly learned treasures of truth from the mind of God! Yes, it takes time and hard work, but the rewards are much more valuable than all of this world's treasures!

Works Cited
McCord, Hugo. "Lexicons Can Be Wrong, Parts I-III." Do You Understand Worship? Brian R. Kenyon, ed. (Lakeland, FL: Florida School of Preaching, 2002) 460-469.


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