(How to Research the Bible to reveal Truth.)
Biblical Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') is an extensive & critical interpretation of the Bible or Exegesis means "explanation". "To draw the meaning" out of a given text.
Normally the goal of exegesis is to present and defend a translation of a biblical passage. English exegesis strives to compare and contrast scholarly translations in order to determine the most accurate text. The main emphasis of exegetical work is the text. Which words were most likely the original words? Which English words best reflect the meaning of the text? Has the text been changed over time? What are the difficulties in the text?
These are the kinds of questions it seeks to answer...
Select a passage for exegesis.
Usually the paragraph marks in the Hebrew Bible designate periscopes;In poetry a coherent unit of stanzas may be an entire periscope.
The length for a pericope is 5 to 10 verses.
Become acquainted with the various types of exegetical tools such as concordances, biblical and theological dictionaries, commentaries, monographs,internet, and periodicals. Biblical Software will Help Find Needed Resources Quickly.
A. The Limits of the Passage.
Answer these kinds of questions: Is it clear to you that the demarcation is accurate? Do you agree? If not, how did you choose to begin/end where you did? How does the passage open and close? Is it clearly a self-contained unit? How is it related to what comes before/after it?
Who is the traditional author of the
text? Does this match modern understanding of the authorship? What clues are there to the authorship (historical data in the text, theological outlook)? Is the text a composite or a unity? Where was it written?
When did the author live (traditionally and according to contemporary understanding)? How is this timeframe reflected in the text? What are the clues found for dating (reference to Exile, name of kings)?
D. Literary Structure.
What is the structure of the pericope? This can best be ascertained by
outlining the major ideas or events in the text briefly. The outline should be so constructed as to show the inner movement of the text as well as the relationship of ideas, persons, and/or events within it. In what ways does the structure of the pericope inform you understanding of it? Elements of style may also be clues to structure. What rhetorical features (e.g. chiasm, merismus, inclusio, hyperbole) are used to add to the structure?
E. The Contexts.
Textual: How does the periscope function in the context of the book? Is the pericope essentially dependent or independent of the rest of the book? What are the reasons for your conclusion? How does it function with the material before and after?
Historical: What were the historical circumstances which may have influenced your pericope? What was happening at the time it was being written?
Cultural: Does this passage have precursors or parallels in the ancient Near East? If so, how does it fit into this larger context? Were any of the ideas borrowed? Quoted? Modified? How does it reflect its culture: is it liturgical, social, or prophetic? How does it fit in with other surrouding Verses, Chapters, Books and the Bible in Whole?
F. Verse by Verse Analysis.
Stay close to the text. Try to discern what it reveals about itself more than what you think about it. Ask: what does the text mean, not what do I think it means. The kinds of questions to ask are those which deal with the following aspects of the text.
1. Literary Style.
What rhetorical elements are present in the pericope (paronomasia, parallelism, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, etc.)? Do they suggest spontaneity or deliberation in composition? Are they typical of oral or written speech? In poetic passages, does the poetic function of these elements outweigh their cognitive function? In what ways does the presence of these elements affect the text?
2. Form Critical
Analysis & Analyze the text according to its form(s), that is, outline the verses or verse segments according to their formal characteristics (redactional narrative, introductory formula, fable, myth, legal material, oracle, etc.). On the basis of this analysis ask these kinds of questions: Is the text a self-contained unit or a composite? Is the use of sources (oral or written) evident? (When a narrative section contains a poem, for example, it is a composite.) If the text is composite, do the identifiable units within the text may go back to different periods in the tradition process? E.g. are they the actual words of a prophet, an expansion by his followers, an editorial comment?
If the text is a self-contained tradition, the exegete must determine the
setting in which it originally arose. This, too, may go back to.
3. Comparison of Translations.
Compare many Bible translations. Slight variations (different
words having the same meaning [e.g., house/dwelling]) should be ignored. When significant variations occur, explain the differences and state the preferred reading. Check commentaries devoted to the translation in question. Become conversant with the difference between a dynamic and formal translation.
The Oxford Parallel Bible gives four translations in columns and may be a useful (but not necessary) source for comparison. This will help you develop a word study. Translations should be compared for significant words and discussed your research. Note in the verse analysis translational variations, textual problems, special terms (theological or historical) needing clarification (word studies), redactional elements, etc. a prophet, one of his followers, or an editor.
4. Create Sentence Diagrams.
G. Word Study.
A word study is an in-depth analysis of the meaning of a word in your pericope. Consult theological and Bible dictionaries, compare translations, and use critical tools to help you understand the issues raised by a significant word. What is the sphere of meaning for this word? How does this word function in your pericope? How does it compare with other occurrences of the word in the Hebrew Bible?
(Terminological Clarification). List the theological and historical terms in the text which require clarification. Check theological and biblical dictionaries for a good starting point. Check biblical dictionaries and atlases for historical and geographical terms. The precise meaning of theological terms is difficult to discover but important. Consult the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Anchor Bible Dictionary and The Oxford Companion to the Bible (B. M. Metzger and M. D. Coogan, eds. initially for help.
Use a concordance to discover other places in the Hebrew Bible where the specific terms and phrases in question are also used. Does the passage at hand employ the terms in their traditional meaning, or are the nuances given to the meaning of the terms not found elsewhere? Be sure that you have the necessary critical tools readily at hand: concordances written for translation(s) with which you are dealing; modern critical commentaries; biblical and theological dictionaries; monographs relevant to your passage, and periodical article.
III. Settings of the Text
What recognizable literary forms or types are present in the passage under study? What is the usual setting for this linguistic form (e.g.: myth, saga, legend, history, novella, tale, fable, coronation psalm, etc.)? What is the typical content and function of the literary form in question? What are its typical elements? Does the text at hand show any divergence from the usual form? That explanation can be given for these divergences?
Can the literary forms identified (the unit as a whole or subunits within it) be placed within an historical time-frame or situation of Israel? What would such a setting be? (Would it be pre-exilic, exilic, post-exilic? In Israel or Judah?) What world empire is in power at the time? Who is being addressed? What was the meaning and possible significance of what is being said in its historical context? In brief: who, what, where, when, to whom, why, how? How can your historical reconstruction be defended?
I. History of Redaction.
In what ways is the text in question related to the material preceding and following it? Is it apparent that the content of the text has been affected by its context? (An analysis of parallel passages, if any exist, may help you decide.) Has the text been edited? What is the evidence of this editing? What is the historical or theological significance of the redactional treatment of the traditional material? How does it compare to the passage before, book, and the Entire Bible in Context?
This is the more "pragmatic" side of exegetical work. You have just explored a text thoroughly to determine what it reveals about itself. Now it is time to interpret what others have thought and what you think about it.
IV. Theological Interpretation
J. History of Interpretation.
What have scholars (and theologians) said about this text? What is its history of its interpretation? Compare at least two eras (Rabbinic, Patristic, Medieval, Reformation, Enlightenment, Critical, Modern) to see how opinions may have changed over time. (Use Commentaries and Theological Books).
K. Personal Interpretation.
In your own dialogue with the text, what discoveries have you made? How do you read/hear the text? Can you say why you hear it that way? How do you interpret it?
L. Practical Application.
How is this text of use today? If you had to preach from it, what would you say? Why is it considered Holy Scripture?
This is not a sermon, but the groundwork for a sermon or Bible study.
Adapted from R. N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism,
(Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 235-239.
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