Hello blog family. I am asking you all to pray fervently for Ellen’s mom, Ann Springer, she is in the hospital on a respirator due to some very serious health problems. Please pray that she will pull through this with no brain damage and have a full recovery. I will keep you all informed as I can.
Monthly Archives: June 2007
The key to good exegesis and more intelligent reading of the Bible is to learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions. There are two basic kinds of questions to ask of every Bible passage: Those that relate to context and those that relate to content.
The Questions of Context are covered in two major areas. The Historical and Literary Contexts.
The Historical Context
1) What is the time and culture of the author and his readers–that is, geographical, topographical, and political factors that are relevant to the author’s setting.
2) What is the occasion of the book, letter, psalm, and other forms of genre.
It just makes all the difference in the world to know the personal background of Amos, Hosea, or Isaiah. It makes a difference to understand that a denarious (penny) was worth a days wage.
The more important questions of context has to do with occasion and purpose of the book or what the situation was with the author when he wrote. Most of these answers can be found in the book itself. We just need to read with our eyes open.
Some good tools to use are: Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries (from various writers), Bible maps, etc.
The Literary Context
Words only have meaning in sentences, and for the most part biblical sentences only have meaning in relation to the preceding and succeeding sentences.
The most important literary contextual question we ever ask is, “What’s the point?” What is he saying and why is he saying it right here? Having made that point, what is he trying to say next, and why?
It is necessary in order to do this to use a translation that recognizes poetry and paragraphs. That’s the way we think. Rarely do people use the King James Version in the cirlces I study with, but the KJV is an example of a Bible translation that does not recognize paragraphs. When we read it it can become confusing because we treat each verse as a separate complete thought. Doing this can really harm the understanding of the passage.
The Question of Content
Content has to do with the meaning of words, the grammatical relationships in sentences, and the choice of the original text where the manuscripts have variant readings.
This has to do with questions of meaning that one ordinarily asks of the biblical text.
An example from Fee and Stuart’s book follows: When Paul says, (2 Corinthians 5:16 NASB) “Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” What does “according to the flesh” mean? It makes a difference in the text to know that it means “in a worldly way” rather than “when Jesus was walking on the earth.” Most of the time, we need outside help in determining these answers. That’s when we need to use the proper tools.
Having tools for any job, one wants the best tools available in order to do the best job. No less is true for good exegesis. Fee and Stuart list the following as essential tools: Bible Dictionary, Bible Handbook, A Good Translation (more than one), Good Commentaries. They list commentaries last because they need to be the last resort in Bible study. Commentaries, when used too often are a crutch that depends upon someone else’s exegesis, presuppositions and background. It’s hard enough getting through my baggage, much less the baggage of others.
Today was wonderful. Just a quick blog to let you know that the team went 4 and 0 today makeing our game score 6 wins and 1 loss. The team that beat our eyes out were moved up to the large varsity division. Apparently they were killing everybody in the Small varsity division. That makes me feel a little better about the whole thing.
Anyway, we are due to play in the final day with a bye in the first round. I just hope that we can score a win in the tournament. I will let you know the outcome. Then it’s back to the Interpretation Series.
For those who do not know it, we are in Tuscaloosa on the campus of the Alabama Crimson Tide playing in a team camp for our B-team and varsity teams this weekend. Ellen and I came down with Brandon to watch him play. Pray for us as we are away from the girls.
We had a great beginning to our basketball team’s camp yesterday. We began the day with two wins. The first was ugly, but nevertheless a win. The second was better. We played a team that won the state two years ago and beat them. The third game, however, was uuuuuggllyyyyy!!!! We played a team that beat us 74 to 26. They pressed us full court until the score was 71 to 26–low class on top of good.
I asked their coach after the game why would a team press like that with that kind of lead. He told me that he was playing his younger players (yeah right) and that they needed to learn to be aggressive and how to press. It looked like a college team against a freshman high school team. There is no need ever, in my opinion, to degrade a team in the context in which we are playing. This is a team camp, not a state championship. The games mean absolutely nothing in the scheme of things except to learn and try and get better. Our team learned what it felt like to be degraded. I hope that I never see us do that to another team. Our coach was very disappointed in the opposing coach’s demeanor and sportsmanship. I was proud of our coach for not just coming unglued on the guy.
I hope today is a good day for our boys. They need a pick-me-up day.
Growing up I was always taught that one could not choose “the church of their choice.” That was “denominational” terminology and we could not be a part of that.
Well, I live in an area where cafeteria style religion is rampant. Rather than stay with one family, people leave their family whom they’ve “supposedly” committed their lives to. The problem with “commitment” in the Shoals area is that it means commitment “as long as my needs are being met.” As soon as a church “advertises” a new bell or whistle that “meets needs,” church hoppers are off and running.
I wonder what they are looking for really. Is it a stronger walk with Jesus? I seriously doubt it. Jesus promoted loving one another–not jumping and running every time I get my feelings hurt or my needs change.
I’m sorry, but that kind of religion is just that RELIGION and I don’t think God is very pleased with it.
Excuse me for venting today. I will get back to the Interpretation series next blog, Lord willing.
I have found in general people to be reluctant to learn new things about Bible study. Most of us do not have (or take) the time to do deep study of biblical texts. Therefore, when I bring up in a Bible class setting words like “exegesis” and “hermeneutics” people tend to shy away from learning. So in the next couple of blogs I’m asking that you not do that. To many who read this blog, this will be elementary stuff, but I want to put it here for those who want to learn more about deeper Bible study.
One more disclaimer–this is touching the hem of the garment when it comes to doing serious Bible study, but to the average reader of the Bible, this is priceless information. Again, I want to plug Fee and Stuart’s book, How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth for this information and for changing my life in the world of understanding the scripture. This is nearly a word for word excerpt from their book.
The First Task: Exegesis
The first task of the interpreter is exegesis. Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. This task is historical. It is the attempt to hear the Word as the original hearers heard it–to find out what was the original intent of the words of the Bible. Never forget this: The scriptures can not mean today what it cold not have meant to the original readers. In other words, we must find that original meaning before we can pretend to understand what the text means to us.
Many think this to be where the “experts” come into play. They believe that one has to be an expert or depend upon them for good exegesis. This is not true. There are times when we want to consult the “experts.” But it is not necessary to be one.
In fact, everyone is an exegete of sorts. The real question is, “Are we a good one?” How many times have you heard someone say, “What Jesus meant was…” or “Back in those days, they used to…?” Those are exegetical expressions. They are often used to explain the difference between “them” and “us” and why we don’t, for example, still greet one another with a “holy kiss.” We hand-shake.
Though these exegetical ideas are not expressed as such, we practice them all of the time in a common sense sort of way. There is a problem with much of this exegesis. 1) Such exegesis is too often too selective. 2) Often the sources are not expert at all.
Too often we only apply deep Bible study (exegesis) to passages difficult to understand or a text that is a problem between the biblical text and modern culture. We must apply the same good study principles to every text.
Too often poor exegesis is done because we read into the text something God did not say because of our foreign ideas. For example, we might hear someone say that we shouldn’t attend a certain conference because of a speaker who they think teaches false doctrine might be there. They might say, “The Bible says, ‘avoid every appearance of evil,’ therefore, I’m not going.” Doing this kind of thing does not treat the scriptures with integrity at all. That text has nothing to do with evil speakers at conferences. It is talking about when prophecies, which when tested, are found to be not of the Spirit.
To avoid such nonsense, we need to begin with every text and learn what it meant back then and there.
When doing good exegesis, one needs to learn to listen to the right sources. Choosing the wrong sources can lead to interpretations which are false.
An example of using poor sources is the interpretation of some concerning the “eye of the needle” passage in Matthew 19:23. At the conclusion of the story of the rich young man, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
It is often said that there was a gate in Jerusalem known as the “Needle’s Eye,” which camels could go through only by kneeling, and with great difficulty. The point of this “interpretation” is that a camel could in fact go through the “Needle’s Eye.” The trouble with this “exegesis” is that is simply is not true. There never was such a gate in Jerusalem. The truth is, it is impossible for a camel to go through a needle’s eye and the interpretation of the passage is that it is impossible for a man who trusts in riches to enter the Kingdom. It takes a miracle for a rich person to be saved, therefore the text continues that “all things are possible with God.”
More to come later….
The second reason, according to Fee and Stuart, we must interpret the Bible is the two-fold nature of scripture. They make the argument that we must look at scripture inthe same way we see Jesus as He walked on this earth–both human and divine. It is God’s word, but spoken by humans in a particular time in history.
God chose to speak the Bible through human words in history, therefore is has historical particularity; each document is conditioned by language, time, and culture in which it was originally written (and in some cases by the oral history it had before it was written down). Interpretation of the Bible is demanded by the “tension” between ETERNAL RELEVANCE and HISTORICAL PARTICULARITY.
Some teach that the Bible is merely a human book and is only about people in history. These people only see Bible study as historical. To them, there is no spiritual significance or eternality to the scriptures.
Some only believe in the eternal relevance of the scriptures. These people see the Bible as a collection of propositions to be believed and commands to be obeyed. (Although there is a great deal of picking and choosing what is command and what is not.)
They see Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman must not women’s clothing” NIV as a literal command for women not to wear pants or shorts. They seldom see anything else in the text like not planting two kinds of seeds in a vineyard (v.9) and making tassels for the corners of their cloaks (v. 12)
The fact that the Bible has a human side is an encouragement but it is our challenge and the reason we need to interpret.
Two things about that. 1)In speaking through real persons in a variety of circumstance, over 1500 years of time, God’s word was expressed and conditioned by the culture of those times and circumstances. (God’s word to us was first of all His word to them.)
It came through events and culture that they could understand. When we read passages about women’s clothing or tassels on the cloaks, we must know the reasons He said that to them.
There are two levels of interpreting then, A) Hearing what they heard then and there. B) Hearing the same word in the here and now.
2)We must also understand that God chose to communicate in every form of written communication possible: narrative history, genealogies, chronicles, laws of all kinds, poetry of all kinds, proverbs, prophetic oracles, riddles, drams, biographical sketches, parables, letters, sermons, and apocalypses.
To interpret the “then and there” of biblical texts, one must not only know some general rules that apply to all the words of the Bible, but one needs to learn the special rules that apply to each of these literary forms (genre).
And the way God communicates His word to us in the “here and now” will often differ from one form to another. We must ask lots of the “right” questions. How does a Psalm, which is expressed toward God function as His word to us? How do Psalms differ from laws? How do laws which are meant to function in cultural situations that no longer exist have any application to today? How do those laws differ from “moral laws” which are always valid in all circumstances? These questions are forced upon us because of this dual nature of the Bible.