What in the world is exegesis?
Well, I’m glad you asked! It’s not a word you hear every day, but I promise it’s not as daunting as it sounds.
Oxford Languages Dictionary defines exegesis as the “critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture”. It’s just a fancy word for taking a deep look at Scripture and trying to peel back the layers to see what the Bible is really saying. In exegesis, you’re not going to the Bible with a specific question, necessarily, or looking to support a certain point of view or personal standard. In fact, to successfully conduct an exegetical study, you need to say goodbye to your presuppositions and whatever you may think you know about the passage before you can move forward.
Exegesis is wonderful because you’re just taking what’s right there in front of you and finding what it really means without all the frills and extras that you often find in “Christian” literature promoting more of a me-ology than correct theology. In working through a passage exegetically, we’re laying aside our own perceptions and coming to God’s Word with a blank canvas in our minds.
What does this look like practically?
You may see people arguing about this or that Christian social issue, and both sides have Scripture that they claim supports their view. This happens a lot in churches, and often causes schisms or disharmony in that particular local church body. We’ve heard the jokes about people leaving a church over the colour of the carpet, but underlying the joke is a real and serious problem.
Some of the issues – major and minor – that I have heard argued over a lot include (but aren’t limited to) standards of dress, guidelines for music, whether or not to watch TV, whether or not to smoke, drink alcohol, how important regular church attendance is, women’s and men’s roles in ministry, which Bible version to use, what kind of hymn book to sing out of, whether or not to use a projector screen for services…yikes!
And I can (almost) guarantee you that every person arguing the issue on either side has Scripture that they will tell you backs up what they think is right.
Cults and false religions do the same thing. Many religions create really upright, moral people but they take passages of the Bible and distort them to say what they want to hear. I’ve even heard agnostics and atheists misuse Scripture. Cults also abound and many, many of them misuse things the Bible says to manipulate and control others.
Even in good, theologically sound churches, it happens far too often. It is the easiest thing in the world to adopt a view or a standard because so-and-so said this or that is the “right” way to do something, and we take Scripture out of context to support what we think rather than going to the Bible before defaulting to someone’s opinion.
Haven’t we all been there?
One verse that comes to mind is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me“.
If you actually were to do a study on Philippians 4, you would find that Paul was talking about living the daily Christian life. He was encouraging this church to work in unity as a body, to reconcile disagreements, to rejoice, to pray, to be moderate, not to be anxious, and to think on things that reflect the character of God.
He was showing them the way to walk, to follow the things they had been taught by God’s Word and seen exemplified in Paul. He was telling them how this lifestyle would bring peace and that God would provide for their needs.
In verse 12, Paul is talking about having learned contentment, to be able to have little or much and either way to live a life of generosity toward others, gratitude toward God, and contentment in his circumstances. He follows this up by telling the reader how he was able to do this – because Christ strengthened him to do even these hard things.
The application we can take and apply to other things than learning contentment, but to just take it and tack it onto every goal and endeavour we have like a cheap motto? I do not believe that was the intent of Paul when he penned those words, or the intention of the Spirit when He inspired Paul.
Why does it matter to me?
This is a serious danger of failing to take the Bible for what it actually says, and why it is so crucial to learn to study the Bible exegetically.
Exegesis is not just for seminary students, pastors, or professors.
It is for you and me. It is for the mom studying her Bible amidst the dirty dishes in the sink and months of lost sleep. It is for the university student who’s newly come to Christ and doesn’t know where to start. It is for the person grieving loss and disappointment and hurt with no certainty where to turn. It is for the dad who lays down every night exhausted and burdened by the challenges of leading his family. It is even for the little boy or girl in elementary school who wants to learn more about the Bible.
It is for you if you’re single or married, male or female, in Europe or Asia or Africa or North America or Latin America (or Antarctica!). It is for you if you’re scraping by or have more than you need, if you can barely read or read at a college level. It is for you no matter what language you speak or how you grew up or where you’re headed.
Yes, it is for you. Because God is for you, and because when you needed Him, He said – “Here, take my Son”. He did that so you could get to know Him and you (we) do that through His Word.
Next week we’re going to start on the first stage of exegetical study, but here’s a Scripture for you to consider and to meditate on until then:
“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” – Psalm 119:18