What is “Exegesis?”

Last week a customer asked me what “exegesis” was. It’s a good question. I was looking through The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology (Eerdmans) and I liked his definition.

“Exegesis refers to the process of interpreting and expounding a text, usually a biblical text. It is distinguished from hermeneutics, which raises wider multidisciplinary issues about the nature, theory, and practice of interpretation. Usually exegesis involves (i) textual criticism, or establishing a valid text from among a multiplicity of ancient manuscripts; (ii) lexical research into the meaning of the words of text in question; (iii) grammar and syntax, which are used in the construction of sentences; (iv) an examination of historical context, which often also demands historical reconstruction; (v) an assessment of literary genre and its function; (vi) the exposition and often also the practical application of the text; and (vii) the appropriation of the text, which some would see as part of (vi).”

“Traditionally, much of the time taken on exegesis in university departments of theology and religion, and especially in seminaries or schools devoted to training for ministry, rests on the belief that all these stages remain necessary for the understanding of revelation and for preaching and teaching. But today the task of detailed exegesis is sometimes crowded out because more fashionable areas put intense pressure on the syllabus. Exegesis presupposes careful translation; but some universities and seminaries devoted less time to the learning of Hebrew and Greek than they did formerly. In the history of the church, Origen is regarded as a systematic exegete as well as a theologian, and Chrysostom’s commentaries are often still used. Luther was a professor of biblical studies, and Calvin is often regarded as the first ‘modern’ exegete, especially in his numerous commentaries.” (pp. 316-17)

Thiselton companion

 

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