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.
- 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.
- 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.