When I went to Asbury Seminary in the 80's, the signature courses were called "English Bible" and followed a method principally laid down by Robert Traina. There I was privileged to learn the method from David Bauer, a Matthew scholar who studied under Jack Kingsbury at Union in Virginia. I wasn't able to have Traina while I was there, but frankly I think the student has surpassed the master.
On the one hand, Traina's method raised up a couple or three generations of excellent Bible teachers and pastors--whose baptism in "methodical Bible study" I think often made them superior scholars to many if not most card carrying PhD's. (However, I can't say, unfortunately, that this group has left much of a mark in publication).
On the other hand, the bulk of Asbury students I think rather left their required IBS courses (as they are now called) more puzzled at the strange magic they were required to dabble in. I heard of a new Bible professor at Asbury (with PhD in hand) several years ago who found the strange practices of Asbury IBS rather puzzling, a unique language and method seemingly used only on this one island in the sea (at least it's better than discourse analysis or structuralism!).
So I have struggled these years that I've taught exegetical method to present the great benefits of the Traina method without so much lingo or tasks that are so methodical that they come off as an end in themselves with little apparent use in actual ministry or connection to the other activities of interpretation.
What follows is an example of what I've come up with. True, without proper feedback a student is not forced to listen to the text with the rigor or "science" of Traina's method. But a good evaluator can take care of that. The benefit of seeing why you're doing what you're doing, in my opinion, outweighs the "sloppiness" for the vast majority of ministerial students.
When I did "detailed observations" for Bauer and David Thompson at Asbury, I went verse by verse, then clause by clause, then phrase by phrase, then word by word in chart form--in Greek and Hebrew! So you can see that what I'm about to show is very imprecise and "sloppy" by Asbury standards.
I should also mention that I precede this assignment with three hours worth of presentation/group practice on "what to observe" and "questions to ask" of a passage. The key skills we're working at here are 1) the ability to distinguish between what the text says and what it doesn't say and 2) the ability to distinguish between questions we want to ask the text and questions the text wants to answer.
Things to observe include 1) key words and phrases, 2) key grammatical features of individual words, 3) key features of syntax, 4) logical relationships, and 5) miscellaneous features like tone, intertextuality, figurative speech, etc... The key questions to ask include 1) questions of definition, 2) how questions, 3) why questions, and 4) questions about the implications of the original meaning. Those who know Asbury's IBS will see much I've retained here. Students of the "cult initiation" at Trinity, The Hermeneutical Spiral, will also find familiar elements.
The difference from Asbury is in what I have the students do.
1) I have them basically go verse by verse--although depending on how much meaning is packed into the passage they could go as much as two verses at once or even break down a verse into several parts. This is less methodical, but more accessible.
2) They describe the most obvious meanings of the verse, disciplining themselves not to say more than they know for sure and leaving the rest to the third part. They put in italics key observations like logical relationships. Again, this is more conversational and less foreign in format.
A person like me hopefully is further along the road in what is "obvious" and what isn't in the passage. I always felt it was somewhat artificial (and methodically pedantic) to divorce observation from interpretation as sharply as the Traina method does, in the same way that you cannot neatly divide the "world of the text" from the "world behind the text." Technically, there is no world of the text without a world behind the text. Words have no meaning without a context, and a literary context is ultimately a larger set of words still in search of a "historical" context (of which language itself is a part).
Approaching things the way I'm suggesting implies that what we are really doing in the "observation" stage is beginning interpretation with as much as we can gain from our basic knowledge of language. In other words, I'm trying to accomplish what Asbury's "observation" stage meant to accomplish, without assuming its somewhat artificial distinction between observation and interpretation. Observation is interpretive.
3) They follow up obvious observations with questions that require further investigation like word studies or looking into historical background. This is the same as Traina, but it makes sense to a person in the context of an actual passage in front of you rather than the third or fourth column in a chart.
To be sure, it only works well if there is someone there to help clarify what we're talking about here. It is very hard to train a person not to see in passages "obvious meanings" that are in reality none of the sort... including "scholars."
Anyway, here is my version of the assignment my grad class is supposed to turn in tonight. And if you are in the class and have stumbled on my blog... the Lord bids you close your browser at this point :-) In a few weeks they will answer these questions and end up with an interpretation of the passage a little fuller than the explanatory notes I have been doing.
Observing the Train of Thought of Philippians 3:7-16 in Detail
Translation: 7 But whatever was to my gain, I have considered these things loss because of the Christ. 8 But indeed I am also considering all things to be loss because of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus, because of whom I have reckoned them loss and I consider them dung in order that I may gain Christ 9 and might be found in him, not having my own righteousness on the basis of the Law but the one through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith, 10 to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, 11 if somehow also I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.
12 Not that I have already received or I have already been perfected, but I am pursuing if I might also take hold of that for which I was also taken hold of by Christ. 13 Brothers, I am not reckoning myself to have taken hold, but one thing: forgetting the things behind and reaching out to the things ahead, 14 I am pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, as many of you as are perfect, let us think this. And if you are thinking something differently, God will also reveal this to you. 16 Only to the point we have attained, let us walk in the same.
[obviously it would be preferable to do this in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic]
At 3:2, Paul began a section with instruction to "beware of the dogs" ... "look out for the mutilators." Then he suggests that "we," he and the audience, are the "circumcision." Those he calls the "circumcision" serve by the Spirit of God and boast in Christ rather than being confident "in flesh" (3:3).
He then lists a number of things that he could be confident about "in the flesh," at least at one time. He tells of his Jewish lineage and of how he at least used to describe himself--blameless as far as the righteousness in the Law, a persecutor of the church. The verses we are looking at begin right after this list.
Verse by Verse Observation
3:7 Whatever was to my advantage, these things I have considered a loss because of the Christ.
Paul sets up a contrast between things that he might have considered a benefit or an advantage at one time and how he now considers them in the light of the Christ. He puts it the Christ, which seems slightly different from simply mentioning his name.
Questions: What does the word “loss” mean? How was the previous list to Paul’s advantage? How does his current point of view contrast with his previous one? Why does he now consider such things “loss”? Is there any significance to referring to Jesus as the Christ?
3:8 But indeed I even consider all things to be loss because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of whom I have written off all things as loss...
Paul now generalizes the scope of what he considers loss, although there could be an element of hyperbole involved. He considers “all things” loss in the light of knowing Christ. The reason or explanation for why he now has this point of view is the contrast between knowledge of Christ and everything else. He affirms Jesus as his Lord, the cause of him writing off all other things as loss.
Questions: What is the knowledge of Christ Jesus? Is there any significance in the order “Christ Jesus”? What does it mean to consider Jesus “Lord”? How is knowledge of Christ Jesus “superior” to all other things? Why does Paul consider all other things loss? Why does Paul consider Jesus Lord? Why has Paul “written off” all other things as loss? How does his life and thought now demonstrate this perspective? Why does Paul generalize from things of advantage to him as a Jew to things of advantage to him in general?
3:9 ...and I consider [all things] dung in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness on the basis of Law but the righteousness through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith.
The tone of the contrast climaxes as Paul not only considers all things loss but in fact considers them “dung.” The purpose behind having such a perspective is to gain Christ. Perhaps then he further explains what “gaining Christ” entails in what follows.
To gain Christ apparently means having righteousness, but righteousness of a particular sort. It is a righteousness “through faith of Jesus Christ,” perhaps the cause or means of getting that righteousness. The line that follows either explains or supplements what this means. It is a righteousness “from God,” that has God as its source, and is caused or is “on the basis of faith.”
Paul contrasts this kind of righteousness or path to righteousness with “my own righteousness,” which he further describes as being “on the basis of Law.” Presumably “his own righteousness” has something to do with the list he gave earlier in the chapter.
Questions: What is “dung”? Why does Paul heighten the tone here? How does considering all things loss facilitate “gaining Christ”? What is “righteousness”? How does righteousness “on the basis of Law” contrast with “through the faith of Christ”? What is “faith of Christ”? What is “Law”? Are the phrases that follow in the verse explanatory or supplementary to the faith of Christ? What is “my own righteousness” and how does it relate to what Paul has said earlier in the chapter?
3:10-11 ... in order to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if somehow I will attain to the resurrection from the dead.
The purpose behind having this perspective or perhaps of gaining Christ and presumably of gaining this righteousness is “to know him,” which might actually be what “gaining Christ” is. Another purpose—or perhaps a different way of saying the same thing—is to be resurrected. The “fellowship of his sufferings” could be a purpose for Paul’s attitudes, or it could be something Paul wants to know as a “cause” of resurrection.
The fact that Paul goes on to say that being conformed to his death links somehow with attaining resurrection supports the idea that fellowshipping in Christ’s sufferings is in some way a “cause” of his resurrection. Paul thus sets up a comparison between his sufferings and Christ’s sufferings, and perhaps links his resurrection with Christ’s.
He speaks of his resurrection in conditional terms, as if conformity to Christ’s death by way of suffering could qualify him in some way for resurrection.
Questions: What is resurrection? What is the “fellowship of his sufferings”? What does it mean to be conformed to his death? What are the conditions of resurrection in Paul’s mind? How might suffering “cause” resurrection? Is righteousness a condition of knowing Christ or the same as knowing Christ? Is knowing Christ something distinct from knowing the power of his resurrection? Why does Paul want to know the power of resurrection or to know Christ?
3:12 Not that I have already received [this] or have already been perfected, but I am pursuing [it] if also I might take hold of that for which I was taken hold of by Christ.
Paul says he has not received something that he has just been talking about and seems to equate that something with “being perfected.” He contrasts his current state with some aspect of what he has just been discussing. But his “lack” causes him to pursue it with the purpose of “taking hold” of it. And then he reveals that the purpose behind Christ taking hold of him was so that he could take hold of “it.”
Questions: What is he referring to? What in the previous discussion has he not yet received? Knowing Christ? Righteousness? Resurrection? Why has he not yet received it? What does he mean by being perfected? Receiving one of these things? How might he receive such things or be perfected? How does he go about pursuing it? Why does he want to lay hold of it? What does it mean for Christ to lay hold of him? What is the connection between Christ laying hold of him and him laying hold of “it”?
3:13 Brothers, I do not reckon myself to have taken hold [of it], but one thing: forgetting the things behind and reaching out to the things ahead, in accordance with the goal I am pursuing for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul repeats that he has not already laid hold of whatever he is talking about. In contrast, he is reaching out to “the things head,” presumably in the future. This goal provides a focus for his way forward. The things ahead contrast with the things behind, presumably things he has mentioned earlier as potentially having been to his advantage but that he is now considering “loss” and “dung.”
The prize he mentions is perhaps the goal or closely related to the goal he has had in mind throughout. This prize is “the upward calling,” which would connect most closely to resurrection as that which he is reaching out toward and that he has not yet already received. This upward calling comes from God and it comes “in Christ Jesus.”
Questions: Is resurrection what he has not already received and what associates with being perfected? Why has he not yet taken hold of it? How will he take hold of it? What is the precise nature of the contrast between what is behind and what is ahead? Why is God rather than Christ the one calling? How is one called “in Christ”?
3:15 Therefore, let as many of us as are perfect think this way, and if you are thinking something differently, God also will reveal this to you.
The “therefore” implies that what follows is the logical consequence of what Paul has said before, and it is a general inference Paul draws from the particulars that have come before. As many as are “perfect” should have the same perspective that Paul has just set out as his own. Paul thus compares his perspective to what others who are “perfect” like him should have.
The word “perfect” is the adjective form of the verb in 3:12, but obviously contrasts with what Paul meant there. Paul also indicates that God will cause a person to know where their perspective contrasts with what it should be.
Questions: How does what Paul has said logically lead to this general conclusion? What does the word “perfect” mean here and how does it contrast with what the word meant in 3:12? In what way does Paul consider himself perfect? Why is God interested in revealing to the Philippians any area in which they are thinking differently? How will God reveal the difference? Why does Paul compare the audience with himself?
3:16 However, to the point we have reached, let us walk in the same.
Paul now brings out an element of contrast with what he has said thus far. Thus far he has highlighted what he has not yet received or attained. But he and the Philippians have reached a certain point toward that goal. As a result, he urges the Philippians not to move backward from their current point but to maintain it in their conduct.
Questions: What point have they already reached? What does it mean to “walk in the same?” What is the difference between where they are and their goal? How do the do contrast? Why should they “walk in the same”? What would be the consequences of not continuing at the point they have reached?