Exegesis

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Exegesis is a critical exposition, commentary or interpretation of ancient texts, especially religious books such as the Bible or Qur'an. The opposite of an exegetical reading of Scripture is eisegesis and instead of reading out what the text plainly presents it reads into the text what the reader is influenced by.

The terms exegesis and interpretation are generally used interchangeably but there does remain variation. Exegesis and hermeneutic are considered academic in nature bringing with them methodology and theory respectively for reading ancient literature. The word interpretation should not be used in place of exegesis, firstly because interpretation is usually assumed in lay conversation as anything other than an honest representation of the originally intended meaning. Secondly, exegesis is a method to interpretation, while interpretation itself is the articulated end-point of the exegetical method of hermeneutics. Thus interpretation presented often assumes more simplistic and modern language and phraseology than what the text itself actually says. A professional exegete or learned student of Scripture differs exegesis from only interpretation because exegesis demands awareness of diverse criticisms and authorial contexts before the outcome of those studies, or what is interpretation, can even be approached. This background information of the text is brought forth by careful study through a set of rules and criteria, or methodology, to inform the reading.[1]

Contents

Methodology

There are major lines of criticism to follow or contexts that (historical, literary, theological) that allow fruitful reading and study of the Bible. The criticisms are interdisciplinary and should cross-pollinate data when pursued within the exegetical method guided by a sound hermeneutic.

Historical

Main Article: History

When approaching the Bible as historical narrative exegesis reveals the Old Testament as substantively accurate regarding the history of Israel and even the greater ANE. A supernatural design for the origin of life and the universe being created in six-days is also explicitly clear when based in a plain contextual reading of Scripture. The historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is also best explained by supernatural cause, as natural mechanisms fail to maintain adequate plausibility and explanatory power within a critical historical method. Modern scholarship sees the Gospels as ancient biography more often than not, not myth or legend as critics most of the time assume.[2] Other NT books touch upon the very early history and doctrines of the developing Christian church.

When reading the Bible historically the reader becomes aware of his own contemporary setting as opposed to the socio-historical contexts of the author of the text being read. Essentially adopting what is called the horizon of the author, realized through exegesis of the writings staying shy of an introverted eisegesis. What ends up as a result of this type of specific reading is an intimate relationship of author and reader, as well as history and the reader.

Literary

There are different literary criticisms used to facilitate exegesis and in their total form are considered biblical criticisms.

Philological criticism studies the writing style and grammar, where many critics develop a misleading eisegesis from. It arises usually from not applying the necessary spectrum of the criticism when they disregard different types of grammatical structures (such as literary figures of speech) that still intend to convey truth. Literary criticism tries to conclude original authorship and intended audience. There is also redaction criticism of author narrative structure and whether it assumes formal theology. Inevitably influencing systematic theology if the exegetical influence is allowed to flow to and from the other lines of criticism. And finally form criticism presupposing the Bible was written after the culmination of oral culture coalescing with writing.[3][4] Israelite reverence for their songs and stories, proverbs and folktales that precede their written culture is in center view when approaching form criticism.

Literal and figurative modes of writing

Focused exegesis cannot deny that figures of speech (type of grammatical structure) are used, what is denied is that forms of speech are unrecognizable, isolated without context or inherently cover-up and disqualify any truth intended as many critics unreasonably assume. Authors of the biblical canon used literal and figurative language to convey intended truth. Figures of speech attempt to do so, in what is called the modern mode of historical narrative. Recognizing where the traditional mode (base level literalism) of the historical narrative literary genre differs from a modern mode of writing is essentially what taking the Bible literal means. This distinction however is usually lost in public discussion upon biblical scriptures in general, but in a literary framework the Bible can be taken literal when deemed appropriate. This base level understanding either stands alone or more layers build on top when context determines. The modern mode of historical narrative such as biblical types, parables, formal metaphors, prophecy, poetry and idioms is all differentiated from what is categorized as written by a traditional mode of historical narrative.[5] The either or of literal or figurative grammatical structures are the traditional or modern modes of writing within the historical narrative literary genre. An exorcise of philological criticism used extensively to pinpoint types and layers of not only grammatical structures, but also what truth was intended by the grammatical structure realized.

An incorrect literal meaning is usually achieved by isolating figures of speech and unreasonably assuming that there is no truth intended. To adopt either extreme and say that no portion or all of the Bible is to be taken literal is inappropriate. However cherry-picking verses and not considering immediate and overall context as critics often do enforces irrational views of the biblical text. Alleged contradictions then arise making the Bible seem inconsistent and inaccurate. Attempts are made sometimes to determine the true nature of a verse through a correct exegesis, however critics then will often use those correct means to then show manufactured inconsistency elsewhere by eisegesis.[6][7]

Textual Criticism

Main Article: Textual Criticism

Textual criticism is the attempt to piece together surviving fragments of copies of manuscripts, in order to represent accurately the original manuscript or what is called the autograph.[8][9]

Translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek creates variance not only from construction of the text from original languages of extant manuscripts, but also from different types of English translations. Some are strictly literal renderings from the original languages word for word while others maintain a popular tone giving paraphrasing a substantial role. For instance, the New International Version (NIV) or King James Version (KJV) differ not only between each other but the word choice and by extension definitions derived will also differ sometimes from the more literal New American Standard (NASB).[10][11] Continuous lack of interaction with original languages can devolve from appropriate exegesis into common eisegesis very suddenly. It is vital to consistently include the original language context of word definitions into the exegesis of the English biblical text. This awareness and scrutiny is a tool of the critical reader sitting not at the periphery but active at the forefront allowing juxtaposition of the words and definitions of both translated and original languages that makeup the verse or verses in question. Highlighting linguistic differences of original and translated during exegesis can open up incredible depth of study and insight into the Bible. Unaware critics often take advantage of the incongruity between competing English translations to show internal contradiction of the biblical text, often not realizing a proper exegesis that would dictate the superiority of interpretations derived by original languages. An interpretive method lacking linguistic or grammatical consideration immediately commits eisegesis, reading into the text without historical methods.

Theological

Main Article: Theology

Theology in the proper sense is the study of the divine and characteristics or attributes which constitute the divine. Being derived from the Greek theologia (θεολογία), theos (θεός) or god and logos (λόγος) meaning essentially reasoning.[12] Augustine of Hippo, a Christian, defined the Latin equivalent of theologia in this regard; "For I have not in this work undertaken to refute all the vain opinions of the philosophers, but only such as pertain to theology, which Greek word we understand to mean an account or explanation of the divine nature".[13] Christian theology or what can be termed biblical theology concerns itself with building theological models articulated within the process of exegesis. When biblical theology begins incorporating many different scriptures to form a contextual coherence of a particular doctrinal model of theology it is called systematic theology. Theological doctrines are articulated by systematic theology which in turn is founded by a critical exegesis. The interplay of exegesis and biblical theology is complex and mutual, each illuminating the other.

Jewish exegesis

Pardes, Jewish exegesis involves four modes of reading the Old Testament literature. Pardes covers the extended meaning, following a rule that it should never contradict the so-called base meaning.

  1. Pesha refers to a plain or simple meaning.
  2. Remez goes beyond the literal meaning bringing out deep allegory, what are essentially figures of speech. Which grammatical structure is determined upon context.
  3. Derash A mode of Jewish exegesis dividing into Midrashic homiletics.
  4. Sod refers to the mystical or secret and hidden meaning.[14]

Midrash

Literature that expounds on the classic Jewish Scriptural interpretation methods and the challenges it presents.

Early creationist exegesis

The principle of giving credibility to contemporaries or who are assumed to be the generation or generations historically closer to the subject help attain a more consistent reading that was originally meant. The young age view was held by the early church as well as early Jewish religious leaders. Some individuals take issue with the views espoused by early church fathers and Jews because it is alleged that their idea and understanding of critical scientific thinking was primitive.[15][16]

References

  1. THE CHALLENGE OF CANONICAL CRITICISM TO BACKGROUND STUDIES By Randy W. Nelson. Journal of Biblical Studies. 6/1 (June 2006) 10-34.
  2. Richard Bauckham Lectures – What Sort of History are the Gospels? Richard Bauckham on the Gospels as (Reliable) Historical Biography
  3. EXEGESIS, n. Columbian cyclopedia, Volume 11. Published by Garretson, Cox & Company, 1897
  4. "exegesis". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. pg. 649
  5. Narrative History By Wikipedia
  6. Biblical Literalism By Steve Falkenberg, professor of religious psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. 2002
  7. A RESPONSE TO G. AICHELLE, P. MISCALL AND R. WALSH, “AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: HISTORICAL-CRITICAL AND THE POSTMODERN INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BIBLE” JOHN VAN SETERS. Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. VOLUME 9, ARTICLE 26
  8. "textual criticism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 26 July 2010 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/textual_criticism>
  9. M-A-P-S: To Guide You Through Biblical Reliability by Hank Hanegraaff
  10. Bible version debate By Wikipedia
  11. New American Standard Bible - Readable, Trusted, Literal, & Timeless By The Lockman Foundation
  12. Charles H.H. Scobie, “New Directions in Biblical Theology,” Themelios 17.2 (January/February 1992): 4-8.
  13. City of God Book VIII. Chapter 1.— That the Question of Natural Theology is to Be Discussed with Those Philosophers Who Sought a More Excellent Wisdom. [1]
  14. Pardes By Wikipedia
  15. The Early Church & the Age of the Earth by Robert I. Bradshaw. 1998
  16. Genesis - Chapter 1 (Parsha Bereishit) Genesis chapter 1 with Rashi commentary

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