Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Exegetical Process

How do you interpret a biblical text in context?

1. First, you come to it with an appropriate question.
  • That is, an inductive question, not a contemporary one.
  • Questions of sense - "What did this word or phrase mean?"
  • Questions of genre - "What were these words doing?" (assert, promise, command...), 
  • Questions of impact - "What impact were these words intended to have?" "Why were these words written?"
  • Questions of reference - "To what did this sentence refer in the world of author and audience?"
  • Questions of interrelationship - "How did the parts of the argument fit together?"
  • Questions of inner logic - "Were there things driving the train of thought?" (e.g., personality-wise, situation-wise, culturally, historically...)
  • Questions of authorial intention - "Why did the author say this?" 
  • A question of original implication - "What were the implications for them of what the text said?"
2. Next, you gather evidence to build a case toward the answer.
  • Evidence from the book in which the text is located (broader literary context)
  • Evidence from the immediate passage itself (immediate literary context)
  • Evidence from whatever historical or cultural background is known (historical-cultural context)
3. Finally, you create a hypothesis and test it.
  • Test it against the history of interpretation. Have others made this suggestion or countered this suggestion? You should be a little concerned if no one has ever suggested it, unless you are offering it in the light of new historical evidence. What do original meaning commentaries say?
  • Test it against your continued readings of the text over time, remembering that we can get more and more comfortable with iffy propositions over time even if they really haven't become any more likely.
  • Test it against your peers (especially scholarly peers). How do others who are competent biblical interpreters receive your hypothesis?
4. Appropriate the interpretation in your theology and ethics... but this is a different post.

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