The What & How of Exegesis – Wrap Up

I hope that over the last few weeks, you’ve been encouraged to try to give exegetical study a try for yourself. Or at least that you see it isn’t just for pastors and preachers. Anyone can dig into God’s Word who wants to and learn more about what God has to say, and exegetical study is just one more way to do that. So today, we’re going to wrap up the process with the final two steps – word studies and application.

I’ve done a previous how-to article on word studies (click here for that article) so we won’t go through that again. Let’s just jump right into learning to discern the meaning and application of what we’re studying.

Meaning and Application

This is can be a very dangerous step in exegetical study. It is so easy to get all turned around here if you haven’t been careful to leave off your presumptive glasses as you’ve been studying your passage.

How many times have you read or heard someone talking about what they’ve learned in their Bible and what they’ve drawn from the passage sounds a little…off? We’ve probably all been on the receiving end of someone’s inaccurate interpretation and we’ve probably even been the one sharing those inaccurate interpretations a time or two. It can be so easy to read ourselves and our situations into the Bible, because as self-focused human beings, that’s our default.

We want to know, “What does God have to say to me?” We are geared to read “me” into everything, including our Bibles.

However, when we look at meaning and application of a particular passage to come to an interpretation, we want to focus on the intent of the author, not how we internally feel we want to respond to what’s written.

Here are five questions to help with that:

  1. What did the text mean to the original audience?
  2. What are the differences between the original audience and me/us?
  3. What is the overarching theological principle of the passage?
  4. How does this principle fit with the rest of Scripture? Is it contradictory or in agreement with what God has said elsewhere in His Word?
    If it is contradictory, there needs to be further study and reevaluation; Scripture never contradicts itself.
  5. How should Christians live this principle out in daily life?

Let’s Expand

The first question you can help to answer by going back and reading over the notes you made on context. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the original recipient(s). What would it have meant to them? Consider their culture, education, vocation, social status, etc. Consider their faith and dispensation – were they Jewish or Gentile? Were they under the Law or under Grace? Context always impacts meaning and application.

The second question should be pretty easy. Look for all the ways that you are different from that original recipient, from the tiny details to what’s glaringly obvious. You might find that you’re even more different than you would have thought before you began the study. It’s amazing how these differences colour our perception of the meaning and application when we’re studying the Bible.

That third question might be a little more difficult, but it’s crucial to our understanding of how those words written thousands of years ago still bear significance in our lives today. Theology is the study of God, so a theological principle will always point back to the character of God, Who He is. For example, in my sample study of 1 Timothy 6:17-19, the overarching theological principle (I believe) is that God is the giver and sustainer of all things, and our trust must be in Him, in His character, not just what he gives to us. The principle speaks to the gracious benevolence of God, Who sends rain and sunshine to all (Matthew 5:44-45) and Who specifically promises faithful provision to His people (Psalm 23). 

For the fourth question, you will want to go back through your Bible and look to see where else this principle was demonstrated. For mine, I can go back and look at all the times that God provided for a person, community, or nation and how that looked. I can look at all the commands God has given regarding what He gives us and what His expectations are for that provision. This will show me if I have understood my passage correctly and if the theological principle fits or not. So crucial for understanding the meaning and seeing the application God has for us!

Finally, for question number five, you’re looking for how this applies to your life and the lives of Christians in the world today. What are the practical ways that this principle can be exercised in daily life and are you (am I) fulfilling those necessary things? If not, it’s time for repentance and realignment with God’s Word so that our lives match up with what we profess to believe. It’s not just head knowledge. Understanding the meaning will lead to application which must lead to action.

Word of Warning

We aren’t looking for different levels meaning in the text. We are looking at the Bible as a literal book that was written by a literal God Who has a purpose for every word. Getting sucked into typological codes, numerology, allegory, spiritualizing – this is dangerous and should be avoided. Study God’s Word for what it is, and allow God to apply it to your life to accomplish what is needed.

“If common sense makes plain sense, seek no other sense.” (Unknown)

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