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….