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Lyle Brecht 11-Dec-03 EFM Notes: EXEGEIS METHODOLOGY

If you genuinely desire union w/ the unspeakable love of God, then you must be
prepared to have your “religious” world shattered. If you think devotional practices,
theological insights, even charitable actions give you some sort of a purchase on God,
you are still playing games.1

Biblical Interpretation = Hermeneutics (the theory of interpretation)

Process of careful historical, literary, and theological analysis of the text = Exegesis
A close reading of the text in the most complete, systematic fashion to develop the
reasons that speak to us for or against a specific understanding of the text (the
hermeneutical circle: close reading brings understanding which enables us to read the text
for new meaning, etc. – with greater depth of meaning each time around the circle).

Goals for writing exegesis: to achieve a credible and coherent understanding of the text
on its own terms and in its own context and to explain what the text means for you
today.2 You will obviously not produce the definitive interpretation of your passage.
Instead, you should make enough preliminary conclusions to provide a coherent
interpretation that fits the details of the text, including some possible use of this passage
in teaching or preaching. You are not looking for the, one right interpretation. There is no
one right exegesis, but there are many wrong ones! Exegesis is an art in which you will
grow more skilled with practice.

Such intensive study of a biblical passage is itself an act of prayer, done to the glory of
God. The first action in any exegesis is therefore prayer for the Holy Spirit’s presence
and guidance. All other steps follow in this light. “The ultimate aim of exegesis is the
Spiritual – to produce in our lives and the lives of others true spirituality in which God’s
people live in faithful [koinonia (fellowship; communion)] both w/ each other and the
living God, and thus in keeping w/ God’s purpose in the world.”3

Rowan Williams, “The Dark Night,” in A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Boston: Cowley,
1995) 82.
Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001) 8-11.
Gordon D. Fee To What End Exegesis? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) 276.

Elements for Initial Exegesis

1. Survey: "What does the author say?"

Choose a passage (a complete unit of manageable size ~5-25 verses that possesses a
beginning and end of a unit of thought and expression) that you can answer “Is this a text
in which I want to invest a significant amount of my time, energy, and self?”
Begin by reading the text several times in several different translations (good English
translations inc: NRSV, RSV, NAB, NJPS, NIV)4:
• copy text into word processor w/ wide 1” margins, double spaced.
• Prepare two-column phrase-by-phrase chart of text.
• write down first observations and any questions you may have.
• make an initial translation of the text, if you read the original language.
Read the larger context; the chapter or letter or book
Consult one or more resources that deal w/ the book in which the text occurs (intro to
book in study bible, one volume commentary, or Bible dictionary, NOT detailed
commentary) and clarify why this passage was preserved. The Bible is a record of the
response of the community of faith to the action of God in history. What were the issues
that the passage addressed and how did it speak to those issues?
• general historical context.
• basic literary context.
Begin to prepare a bibliography5 of potential research sources from your reading.
Write down in a 2-3 sentence statement your best educated guess about meaning of the
passage, and use this as working thesis.

For the OT, the Hebrew text remains the authority against which all these translations must be checked.
For the NT, the Greek text remains the authority against which these translations must be checked.
Generally, only by reading the text in its original language will the full range of nuanced meanings be
Use bibliography form in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and
Dissertations 6th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

2. Contextual Analysis: “the world behind the text”

Use a Bible dictionary to obtain info on basic historical, social, and cultural contexts.
Create an outline of the whole book the text appears in using Literary and Rhetorical
• Literary: how text fits into the larger contexts of chapter, section of the biblical
book, and book as a whole.
• Rhetorical: place of a passage in the document’s overall strategy of rational,
artistic, and/or emotional influence and persuasion.

3. Formal Analysis: “the world within the text”

Form – consider the literary genre of the book and the literary form of the passage.
• If Prose: is it historical narrative; symbolic narrative; short story or tale; parable;
miracle story; speech; part of a letter.
• If speech or part of a letter: is the passage an argument; definition; moral
instruction; apology (self defense)?
• If poetry: hymn (praise, instruction, confession, or lament) or Poetry (verse or
Structure – create your own outline of the passage; the text’s main divisions and
subdivisions (Form Criticism). Common structural patterns:
• Repetition of a key word, phrase or grammatical feature can be a clue of not only
structure but central concern of that text. Pattern is A[A]
• Contrast or antithesis. Pattern is A [-A]
• Parallelism – the expression of similar, related, or contrasting things set in parallel
ways. Pattern is A//A’ or ABA’ or ABB’A’ (chiasmus)
• Concentric or ring composition: ABCDEE’D’C’B’A’
• If expository or argumentative writing: intro (exordium); narration of relevant
events (narratio); thesis; arguments (probatio); refutation of counterarguments
(refutatio); recapitulation and appeal (peroration).

• If narrative: introduction (setting/occasion); rising action (development/conflict);
climax; falling action; denouement (closure/resolution).
Movement – consider how the text flows from beginning to end. Common patterns are:
• description – identification to details; Lev. 25:1-7
• exposition – sequence of ideas or emotions; Isaiah 1:2-20
• repetition – Deut 27:11-26
• logic – if or since…then: Rom 6
• catalogue – list: Gal. 5:19-23
• comparison/contrast – Heb. 9:1-14

4. Detailed Analysis: Verse by Verse Discussion

Use the two-column chart prepared earlier.

Find key actors and actions (subjects, verbs, etc.) qualifying phrases, other key words and
images, etc.
Pay special attention to function words (because, for, although, when, if, etc.)
Look for allusions to other texts, especially Scripture, and for evidence of other sources
and how they are used.

5. Synthesis; Formulate main point of the text

6. Reflection: Make observations about contemporary significance of

the text from your perspective (see NIB for model): “the world in front
of the text”
What is the text's relevancy for yourself and others? For instance, what point in our lives
does this text intersect? What problem, religious or secular, familiar to us does this text
address? At what point does it challenge our normal way of understanding ourselves and
our world? How does the intention of the text illumine the way we should view God?
fellow human beings? ourselves? What does it say of God's intention for the way human
life is to be shaped?

Research – Expansion & Refinement

Prepare a bibliography.
• Use note cards, making sure info is complete.
• Length of bibliography ~1 bibliographical item/page.
Take careful notes: take notes in your own words:
• Use commentaries before articles. Include commentaries from different points of
view (conservation, evangelical, existential) as well as different methods and
flavors of exegesis: social-science; feminist; socioeconomic, etc.
• Look for information, insights, and interpretations that escaped your initial
• Look to challenge, clarify, and correct your work.
• Look for alternative interpretations of important issues and document them.
• Put direct quotes in quotation marks.

Consolidation: Expansion & Refinement Continued

Combine your initial exegesis w/ the corrections, confirmations, new data and evidence,
etc. from the notes you have taken during the Research stage.
Write down your own conclusions and claims about the context, form/structure/
movement, main aspects (including debated points) of the detailed analysis, and
Enumerate your theological discoveries. What has the text conveyed that you find of
theological significance? What specific point or points does this specific text want to
make? Be concise and specific; a formulation that would fit any Christian text does not
capture the contribution of your specific text. In the study of OT passages, let the text
stand on its own in your interpretation before viewing it through the lens of the NT.
Develop and record a thesis statement about the main point(s) and function of the
Develop an outline of your paper that follows the main steps in the exegetical process.


All papers shall be double-spaced with one inch side-margins in a 12-point font. Sources
must be used cited w/ proper footnote and bibliographical forms (Turabian).
Start w/ the contexts, then form/structure/movement. Do detailed analysis and synthesis
next, and the introduction to the paper last (unless you are to include a section of personal
reflection and engagement, which may be written last).
If 15 pages (4,000 wds. double spaced, 1” margins): survey/intro (1p.); historical &
literary contexts (2-3pp.); formal analysis (1-2pp.); detailed analysis (8-10pp.); synthesis
(1p.); reflection (0-3pp.).
It is helpful to include a brief phrase outline that indicates the basic content of each of the
parts that the exegete discerns in the text’s movement.
Note: refinement and expansion of the exegesis from RESEARCH is not a separate
section of the paper, only a stage in the process.
Discuss and evaluate the most important alternative interpretations of the most important
issues. Constantly and consistently state and defend your informed interpretation of the
Document – in parentheses, endnotes, or footnotes – information, insights, and
interpretation discovered in your research.
Follow the form for papers outlined in the standards guide you are using.
Reread, edit, rewrite, reread, edit rewrite until your writing in clear and concise.
In writing the paper ask yourself the following questions:
• Do I understand the text or texts I intend to discuss?
• Are my notes clear and complete, allowing me to describe and respond to key
features in the text(s)?
• Does my opening paragraph lead to a specific and precisely formulated thesis that
anticipates the main points of the argument of the essay?
• Do my topic sentences reflect a logical development of that thesis?
• Are there smooth transitions between paragraphs and sentences?
• Do paragraphs cohere, usually around a single idea?
• Is the meaning of each sentence clear, and are the structures of sentences varied?

• Are general or abstract observations supported with concrete examples?
• Have I carefully proof-read and revised for grammatical, spelling, and
typographical errors?
• Have footnotes and quotations been double-checked for accuracy and proper
• Has proper footnote and bibliographical form been followed?

Reflection Guidelines – Moral Theology6

1. Serious exegesis is a basic requirement. Texts used in an ethical or theological

argument should be understood as fully as possible in their diachronic and
synchronic context. NT texts must be read w/ careful attention to their OT
subtexts as theological categories and images of the NT are pervasively drawn
from the OT.
2. Listen to the full range of canonical witnesses. The full canon is the necessary
context of intelligibility for the NT’s treatment of any ethical topic.
3. Acknowledge substantive tensions w/in the canon.
4. Keep synthesis step in balance by use of three focal images: community, cross,
and new creation.
a. The church is a countercultural community of discipleship, and this
community is the primary addressee of God’s will for humanity. The
primary sphere of moral concern is not the character of the individual but
the corporate obedience of the church.7
b. Jesus’ death on the cross is the paradigm for faithfulness to God in this
world. Our actions are therefore to be judged not by their calculable
efficacy in producing results but their correspondence to Jesus’ example.
The community as a whole is called to follow in the way of Jesus’
suffering – w/ a call to those who posses power and privilege to surrender
it for the sake of the weak.
c. The church embodies the power of the resurrection of a not-yet-redeemed
world. Within the hope-filled interval between Jesus’ resurrection and

From Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996) 310.
“The ekklesia is a community called into being by God’s grace; as such, it belongs to God, and it is called
to obey God’s will as set forth through apostolic teaching and example, not to decide its own self-interest
based on democratic processes” (Hays, 274).

parousia, the NT writers work out their understandings of God’s will for
the community.8
5. Grant NT texts authority in mode w/ which they speak (i.e. rule, principle,
paradigm, symbolic world) where all four modes are valid and necessary. Claims
about the authority of the text must respect not only its content but also its form;
the interpreter should not turn narratives into law or rules into principles.
a. We should guard against falling into the habit of reading the text in one
mode only (i.e. if we read the NT text and find only laws, we are reading
with hermeneutical distortion).
b. We must be wary of attempts to use one mode of appeal to Scripture to
override the witness of the NT in another mode.9
6. The NT is fundamentally the story of God’s redemptive action. Thus,
paradigmatic mode has theological primacy and narrative texts are fundamental
resources for normative ethics and theological insight.
7. Extra-Biblical sources are not independent, counterbalancing sources for authority
but stand in a hermeneutical relation to the NT text. The bible’s perspective is
privileged, not ours (e.g. wisdom from tradition, reason, and experience).
8. It is impossible to distinguish “timeless truth” from “culturally conditioned
elements” in the NT.
9. Whenever we appeal to the authority of the NT, we are necessarily engaged in an
integrative act of imagination and metaphor-making as theological discourse.
10. Right reading of the NT occurs only where the Word is embodied. Any attempt to
hear and receive the Word of God in isolation – even the Word of God in Holy
Scripture – there is no real hearing and receiving the Word of God; for the Word
of God is not spoken to individuals but to the Church of God and to individuals
only in the Church. Those who hear and receive it do so in this community. They
would not hear and receive it if they tried to withdraw from this community.10

Hays, 196-198.
Hays, 294.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1/2nd ed., 588 in Hays, 310-311.