Exegetical Methods

24 Sep

The term “exegetical” means to pull out the original meaning from a text. Given that, exegetical methods are techniques that help one properly pull out the text’s meaning in its original context. These methods include grammatical analysis, textual variance, redaction criticism and historical analysis. The aim of indoctrinating one in these methods is that it helps illuminate understanding of the text.

This summer I took an exegetical methods class and most of the time it felt like intellectual boot camp. I spent hours each week doing tedious technical assignments that taught me these various methods so that at the end of the quarter I could combine the methods for comprehensive analysis. Many times I questioned why I was exerting the time and energy to pour over differences in the synoptic gospels in Greek and dissecting passages of Paul. But as I questioned my efforts, an interesting awareness floated to the surface like clotted cream that was in addition to my increased understanding of scripture.

It appeared exegetical methods was teaching me some techniques for my own writing. As I examined how each Gospel writer chose to shape events of Jesus’ ministry to communicate a specific theological viewpoint to a particular audience, I began to think about my own redaction process when I write. As I currently write a book myself, I have excess chronicles and data which I can only use if it serves to communicate my main points and to assist my audience in the understanding of them. Although creative, it is a highly technical and tedious process to write a book that requires the same discipline as the scholar. It also requires an enormous amount of patience. Like the weekly assignments I did for exegetical methods, each chapter I work on is its own “homework” assignment. Often, the material feels fragmented and inaccurate yet I have to trust that I will eventually be able to string all the components together to create a document that is accurate and true to the context of my ideas and vision.

I remember once reading that Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and decided to audit classes instead. He stumbled into a calligraphy class where he was exposed to fonts that he later incorporated into Apple software. It is so interesting how things that seem random and not connected to one aspect of our lives are in actuality deeply interconnected.

Is learning to study scripture ever a waste of time in terms of our spiritual development? No. Nonetheless, this summer I questioned my time spent in exegetical methods and whether it was interfering with my “writing” time. Who would have thought that exegetical methods would actually be expediting the writing of my book? All things do indeed work for our good…

Now if only Hebrew will do the same…

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