Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making an exegetical argument...

I actually have the workings of a post, "Exegesis in Bullet Points" that I might post sometime, but today I made this single PowerPoint slide on the nature of exegetical argument. For those who know me, this does not preclude other approaches to the biblical text. I only mean to say that this is the surest method if your goal is what the text really meant.

In exegesis:
1. Conclusions need to be based on evidence:
  • from clues in the text itself (literary evidence)
    The text has the upper hand in the hermeneutical circle. No matter what nice parallels there might be in the background literature, no matter what is written in the rest of the NT, no matter what your denomination wants you to say or your particular Christian subculture, if you are doing real exegesis, the text casts the only deciding vote for what it meant.
  • the most likely conclusion, not wishful thinking
    In exegesis, we are not looking for a possible meaning that fits with my preconceived notions. We are looking for the most likely meaning in context. We're looking for the probable meaning of the text, not a possible meaning that works out better for me.
2. Proposed meaning generally has to fit within meanings that were actually in the range of meanings from the time of writing. (historical context)
  • I am open to the possibility that God implanted hidden meanings in the text such that no one had a clue what a text meant until centuries later. However, this is usually pre-modern thinking. Virtually all, if not all of the biblical texts had a demonstrable meaning to their first audiences. If you think the text is about attack helicopters, you're either a prophet or a bad exegete. 
3. The text has the final say:
  • over supposed background information
    Scholars are especially bad at parallelomania. They know some parallel in Josephus, Artapanus, or Quintillian. But the text itself casts the final vote in exegesis.
  • over my theology and pre-understandings
    It can be hazardous to your health to learn exegesis. Sometimes the text just didn't mean what my group wants it to mean. The polyvalence of the text actually may allow us to continue to believe things that are "extra" beyond what the text actually meant. I put most theological exegesis in this category. But if your goal is to listen to the text, then your theology is irrelevant. It meant what it meant, whether it is convenient to me and my group or not.

1 comment:

thecommonlanguage said...

My school, too, speaks of allowing the text to speak for itself. We are taught to present exegesis papers as an argument (or at least one side of an argument). For instance, after we present the text, we then present Thesis A, then Thesis B, then the scriptural theme we will be highlighting through the study of that particular text.

Thesis A presents the proposed intention of the human author at the time the text was written (spoken) –what was the idea that wanted to be conveyed by the human, and what was the purpose in presenting it at that time?

Thesis B presents the proposed intention of the Divine author for having that human express those words at that time.

Theme is meant to help reveal how thesis A and B fit into the whole of the scripture, which is a later part of the paper.

The whole of the paper should support one’s argument, and support it clearly, that way others can study it and balance it on the scale of Truth. Some papers have been weighed on the balance of Truth and are found to support orthodoxy, some are weighed and found to be mostly truthful, and some are weighed and found lacking.

Then we move on, or try again.