I have not attended seminary (which is probably obvious to some of you). I have not taken any class on either exegesis or hermeneutics. I don’t read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic or Latin; at times I barely speak English. However, I do try to read the Bible as objectively and honestly as I can, and according to generally accepted principles of exegesis and hermeneutics. So, I thought this would be a good time to explain how I try to read and understand the Bible.
Exegesis is, for those who don’t know, is a Greek word meaning “to draw the meaning out of.” Strictly speaking, it refers to drawing the meaning out of a text, based solely on the text itself. However, often the word more broadly to mean the use of all available information to draw the meaning out of a text. It sometimes is used interchangeably with hermeneutics, which refers to the philosophy of methods of interpretation and exegesis.
On the flip side we have eisegesis, which means to put meaning into the text. This is not necessarily invalid; however honest scholarship would demand the identification of “hunches” about meaning, apart from exegetical opinions. (Unfortunately, eisegesis seems to have become the preferred study method for some preachers, often to the exclusion of exegesis.)
Gordon Fee says that exegesis “… answers the question, ‘What did the biblical author mean?’ It has to do both with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend his original readers to understand?” (New Testament Exegesis, p 27.)
Now, of course, to go any further, you have to agree that it’s important to determine what the author intend his original readers to understand. Some, relying, for example, totally on the Holy Spirit’s revelation, may not care, believing that God will simply reveal to us what He wants us to get out of the passage. I am by no means discounting the importance of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, which I also hope for; however, I also believe that we have been given “all things pertaining to life and Godliness,” which includes the ability to think and reason. Some Eastern religions would tell you to turn off your mind and simply feel; Christianity involves the mind whille constantly reminding us that there is something beyond our intellect.
It seems fairly obvious to me that a 1st Century Jew would have a completely different grid than a 21st Century American of European descent, and that even should we come up with a perfect Greek to English translation, we’d walk away with different understandings of the same passage. Therefore, taking some effort to look beyond a simple rendering of an English translation makes sense if we are really wanting to understand what is being said. (I do not assume that the Holy Spirit will do all of that for us; if it were so, I doubt there would be so many different denominations.)
Now, adding to the problem, we all have our own internal “noise” which clouds our picture of what is being said. This noise is not necessarily a bad thing; it consists of our worldview, our presuppositions, our understanding of the way things are. This forms from what we are taught, and changes as we learn. As we read the Bible, we understand it based upon what we already believe. We can’t even read John 3:16 without understanding it based on what we already understand.
So, as much as possible, I try to recognize my own “noise” and filter that out; it’s not always easy, or even possible, to do. But, I try to the best of my abilities to read and to understand (with the Holy Spirit’s help) with someone else’s eyes. In doing so, I am finding that my grid has and is changing.
And, I always consider the remote possibility that I still could be wrong …