Exegesis is not only a word that people rarely use; it is a course that is falling on hard times in many seminary programs. Once taken as a given for pastors and teachers of the Word, the interpretation and exposition of the NT rooted in a firsthand encounter with the original Greek has become rare in a world where languages can be translated by a computer and where high-quality English translations abound. Such realities raise questions like why exegete and why produce a textbook on NT exegesis. The answer is simple. We exegete the Scripture because working with a text firsthand is the best way to get to know it. That does not mean the interpreter is not interested in the study others bring to the text. A good exegete is not an interpreter functioning alone on the island of his or her own thoughts. A good exegete, as we hope to show, engages others
who study the text. A solid exegete has developed the science and art of assessing how the text is being handled, not just what it says. A competent exegete can explain the interpretive choices that have been made, as well as the options from which the choice emerged. All of this requires interaction with the Greek text and with the discussion that text has generated from others. An exegete is able to have a conversation with the Bible where the very wording, structure, and presentation of the Bible directs the dialogue. The exegete can see and develop nuances that otherwise get lost in the move from Greek to the student’s native language. To use a modern metaphor, exegesis is a high-definition form of reading and studying the Bible. The detailed pixels give color and depth to the message that the Bible contains. So a textbook on exegesis is a form of high-tech Bible study, where options and nuances are weighed and appreciated. What emerges is one of the most fundamental skills for a teacher of Scripture, the ability to understand the Word and sort out the various views people affirm about its meaning.
In addition, exegesis takes more than simply “just doing it.” There are basic steps in doing exegesis. The more conscious one is of method, the more likely one will avoid the pitfalls that can come when one simply just does it. Often the most difficult aspect of interpreting is working carefully through the steps and articulating the rationale for why taking those steps is important to reading and interpreting, especially when it is a second language that is being studied.
This textbook is rooted in almost thirty years of teaching exegetical method at Dallas Theological Seminary, a post-graduate school of theology that has established a reputation for preparing students to study the Bible in the original languages. All the writers in the first section on exegetical method have taught the course on exegesis, many of them for over twenty years. The topics have been “field tested” in the classroom for that period and reflect a genuine team effort where the syllabus was shared as were lecture materials. Working hard on how to articulate this process to beginning students and trying to do it with clarity have been among the key goals of the class. The value of these team roots means that this text is not the reflection of a single person’s strengths or weaknesses (or hobby horses). Each topic was hammered out through departmental interaction and input. We believe the team character of the input has strengthened the results. The chapters reflect the work of the entire team, evidencing a cooperation in ministry and method that has made us all better for the effort.
Taking the chapters in Part One in isolation, however, obscures the kind of interconnected relationship these procedures have when one actually does exegesis. Some measure of artificial separation of the units here is required when teaching an introduction to exegesis, but these units coalesce more tightly as one gains experience with the method. As with learning any skill, practice brings improvement when accompanied by a desire to grow. This textbook is a little like participating in spring training. The basics are gone through in detail, step by step. Which steps and how much detail to apply becomes clear as one gains experience and begins to sense what a particular text requires. Thus, while exegesis is a science—that is, a skill to be learned—there also is an art to it. The art involves gaining a feel or possessing an instinct for what needs to be done with a particular text, that is, what procedures best fit that passage and what questions need to be answered. In the game that is exegesis, one does not follow the same pattern all the time, but draws on the basic skills worked on in spring training that are necessary to get to the goal, namely, a better understanding of the text’s message.
This text is designed to facilitate that process through carefully presented introductory essays on key elements of exegetical method in Part One, as well as through examples gathered from exegetes around the world in Part Two. The samples in Part Two give vivid illustrations of key elements of method or in some cases combinations of those elements. One can survey the brief summaries included with the chapters in Part Two to see which procedures are being illustrated in that essay in development of ideas presented in Part One.
We are all students. Students gather to learn. Just as we have taught each other and myriads of students working side by side to encourage each other in serious study of God’s Word, so it is our hope and prayer that other equally motivated students will be introduced to the fascinating world of exegesis through the introduction this textbook provides. So open your Greek texts, and let’s begin. May we see God’s face and message as we interact with the inspired Word of God in Greek.