Part Two – What is exegesis?
I cannot explain to you what exegesis is without sharing a story from a friend of mine at Gordon Conwell. He did some part-time yard work for a lady and one day before he left he was telling her about a paper he was working on for an exegesis course. She replied by saying, “extra-Jesus! Don’t you have enough Jesus?! Why do you need extra-Jesus?” I do agree with her though, we don’t need extra Jesus, the Jesus we’ve got sustains all things (Hebrews 1:1-4).
Anyway, if you look up the word exegesis you will find it to mean an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. So, with regard to the Bible, exegesis is the analysis of the text in its original form or the process of interpreting a particular text to convey its meaning in our language. Here is a four step process for you…
The FIRST step is defining the context of the word. Context is very important to determining how a word is used in a particular case, and there can be numerous levels of context, but the most important things to determine are the historical and literal context of the passage. Particularly important at the passage level is its genre distinction. Is it poetry, narrative, etc.
The SECOND step in exegesis is to determine the meaning of the words and sentences you are dealing with. For example, consider the following Hebrew word…
Transliterated this is: bireshiyth
This word is a combination of two parts the preposition bet and the word reshiyth. bet which is shown by the first letter (right-side) of the Hebrew word functions a number of ways but mostly as the English word “in.” The second part of the word is reshiyth, which means “beginning” or “chief.” So, this construction means “In the beginning.” If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, you may be asking, where did the “the” come from? Good question, whenever a preposition is affixed to the front of the word (again…right-side), it makes the word it is connected to a definite. So, instead of having, “In a beginning” we have “In the beginning.” You might also ask, “why does one word have multiple English meanings?” Also, a good question…the reason is simple. My Hebrew Lexicon (Holliday) has a little over 10,000 words. The Oxford English Dictionary has 250,000. That’s one Hebrew word to every 25 English words.
To complete this step you continue word by word, analyzing each by the historical and literal context you have determined. Also during this step you take a look at any variant readings of the text. So, our Hebrew and Greek texts are derived from thousands of manuscripts separated by geographical location and time. Astonishingly there are relatively few variants among these texts and many of the variants are trivial, but they can make a difference in understanding the passage.
The THIRD step of this process is to determine the theological implications of the text you are exegeting.
- How does it fit in to the story of God’s redemption of mankind
- How does your interpretation compare to the way the passage has been interpreted by other people throughout history
- What area of theology does the passage speak to
- Bibliology – Source of knowledge about God
- Anthropology -The doctrine of humanity
- Hamartiology – The doctrine of sin
- Christology – The doctrine of the person and work of Christ
- Soteriology – The doctrine of salvation
- Eschatology – The doctrine of the last things
Finally, the FOURTH step of this process is to communicate why the passage matters today. This is called contextualization and I will attempt a bit some of my following posts concerning Judges.