Exegetical Bible Study Methods
Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
This curriculum is designed to teach you how to study the Bible with the tools a good pastor would learn to use in a top level seminary.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is a collection of books in various literature forms, written over a 1500 year period to people 2000 years ago; it speaks to history, and it speaks to our inner soul. To get the most out of our reading and teaching, we must learn to use the tools needed to dig out these precious prospects. This is called the science and art of Exegetical Method.
What is Exegetical, exegesis, xo…what? Exegesis or the Deductive Approach to Bible study simply means “to lead out” or “draw out,” extracting objectively, in a systematic study, what a text is actually saying to its original intended readers in their language, culture, and setting before we can discover what it means. In practice with the Bible, it is finding the true meaning of the passages of Scripture from word meanings and context. It is a tool and a discipline which enables us to get more out of what we read, so we can see a text in its background and then gain a better grasp of it by knowing the intended meaning, rather than just what we want it to mean. As a tool, it is an examiner and a detective that interviews a passage in a comprehensive, extensive, and serious manner. This enables a better understanding of the Bible that helps draw out more of the meaning for our personal understanding and spiritual growth. In this way, we can better internalize a passage for our personal conviction and explain it better to others, too. In other words, I want to know Him and His Word, what He is saying to me.
The Exegetical method or exegesis does not mean going to a passage with a presupposition, idea, or agenda and looking for it, although sometimes in preparing a topical study, one may do this. However, it is always, always best to go to the passage to look for what it actually says and not what we want to find. We never want to try to get from the passage what is not there, and then think we have found something. This is what the cults and false teachers do!
Why should I bother with this? Because, we can gain so much more from His Word, precepts, and call if we just desire to take the time to learn more of His Word. No serious Bible student wants to be naïve or wants things boiled down to only the basic, simple, non-convicting bullet point; we want meat and depth that can be applied to life and taught to others as God has called. Exegetical Bible study is learning how to systematically analyze and apply the Bible for all its worth with our best efforts. You can be a person who is skilled in learning His Word, something that must be done before engaging in teaching people the Word. If we do not know how to dig out the meaning and then apply it to our own lives, how can we ask others to do it for their lives?
There is also a counteraction by some who cry “foul” to Exegetical study, saying it liberalizes God’s precepts or neuters the Spirit. But, it is my intent to show you that this is not the case. Those who are critical to the Bible use these tools, too. The knife that cuts a hand or stabs a person also carves a work of art or helps us eat our dinner. A tool is as good or as bad as the intent of the person who uses it.
The Exegetical Process
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:10
It is of the utmost importance that we are honest and humble in our encounters with God’s Holy Word! The Bible is to inform us in order to allow the work of the Spirit to bend us and conform us to God’s will and standards. We do not dare seek to bend His precepts to fit our ideas or agendas.
To be honest careful students of His Word, we must be willing to dig and do the research in order to perceive what the text says before we say to others what it says! It is not about what we think it says; it is about what it really does say! We do not want to be the objects of discussion from 2 Peter (false teachers); rather, we want to honor and glorify our Lord. To read, study, and then teach what the Bible honestly says is so much more impacting and effectual than anything we can make up or assume!
These are three crucial areas or rules of exegesis that we have to know before we can interpret correctly:
· We must be aware of our nature, as we are filled with sin and desires that do not mach up to His Word.
· We must be aware of the nature of Scripture and the Divine Author’s intent.
· The Bible was written by the words of people through their cultures, languages, times, and histories, while at the same time all divinely inspired.
Thus, when we are aware of this “tension” between the Bible’s language, history, literature, and our perceptions and limited understanding, then we can be careful interpreters so that we are focused on Christ and His Word and not ourselves or our ideas.
Step 1: Select and Identify your Passage!
(This step can be incorporated in the “Inductive Bible Study Method” in the first steps of preparation)
For Bible Study and preaching, it is always best to stick to two to six verses unless it is a narrative passage, such as Genesis or Chronicles. Make sure you are using a good translation and not a paraphrase.
· Start by browsing the whole book to see the whole picture of what is going on.
· Then carefully read the chapter of your passage, then, reread it very carefully and slowly in a good translation.
· Keep in mind the inductive question, “what does this passage say?”
· Remember to be in a state of prayer and humbleness before the Father!
Step 2: Explore the General Meaning of the Passage
(This step can be incorporated into the first steps of the inductive method on “What does it say”)
Your objective is to seek the broad-spectrum meaning, the overarching structure of your passage, and clarify it. Thus you observe the structure to see what is going on and report it. In this way, you can understand it then you can communicate that understanding to your people.
· The primary goal of interpretation is to find the “plain meaning” of the Bible so it can be used in your life, church, and community!
· What is it? Who is the author? What is the intent, the language, the genre….
· What does the passage say? What does the general overview of the passage really say?
· Good exegesis means we write down what God is actually saying not what we want Him to say.
Step 3: Explore the Specific Meaning of the Passage
(This step can be incorporated into the middle steps on the inductive method on “What does it mean?”)
In this step, our idea is to explore more of, “What is it?” Who is the author? What is the intent, the language, the genre, etc…. Thus, the task is to isolate and then inspect and analyze specific words and phrases to better determine what is going on in the passage. What are the concepts being presented?
· How is the passage arranged and set up?
· What is the sentence structure? The sequence of thought? What is the subordination (how things are supported) and logic, and how are they presented?
· What are the contexts and/or background?
· Good exegesis means we are to seek what God is saying, and not what we want Him to say. We are to dig out His principles—not read in ours!
Step 4: Explore the Context
(This step can also be incorporated in the middle steps of the inductive method on “What does it mean?”)
This is where you examine how the passage relates to the surrounding passages, the book and chapter.
There are two main areas of “context” we always need to be aware of and ask the text, “What are the historical, and what are the literary settings?” (That is the content of what is going on in the text.) What is going on preceding and after our text? What are the type(s) of literature, and the various cultural factors? What was going on in that time in history? What is the point? The train of thought?
1. The Historical Context: This is about the time period and culture of the people who God used to write it and the people they are writing too.
2. The Literary Context: This is the type of literature genres that refer to the meaning of the words; the Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives—both the meaning of the word(s) itself as well as what they mean in their context of sentence structure and surrounding passages.
3. What is the Genre Context? How does the literary type or wording in the passage effect the interpretation? In English, we have story, comedy, tragedy, novel, lyric poem, and epic to name a few. In the Greek and Hebrew, we have narrative, law, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, parable, epistle, and even romance. This is very important, as this helps us interpret the meaning of the text and whether it is literal or figurative.
The Basic Genres:
· History or Narrative: There are stories and the epics and include Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jonah, and Acts.
· Law: These are the instructions and precepts of God given to us through Moses, such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
· Wisdom: These are the literature of maxims and sayings such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.
· Poetry: These are the prose and rhymes such as Psalms, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations.
· Prophecy: These include both major and minor prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
· Apocalyptic: These are combinations of narrative and prose written in vivid imagery and poetic phrases that are intended to exaggerate for a purpose such as Daniel and most of Revelation.
· Parable: These are the sayings of Jesus that are narrative and instructional, contained in the Gospels.
· Epistle: These are the letters written to a specific audience that are practical for us today such as Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, Peter, John, and the first three chapters of Revelation.
· Romance: These are narrative, written also as love stories, such as Ruth and Song of Solomon.
· Then, ask how the type of genre (type of literature) shows you the significance and implication of the general overview?
· How does the type of genre contribute to possible meanings of specific words and then the point of the passage?
Step 5: Explore the Contents
(This step can also be incorporated into the middle steps of the inductive method on “What does it mean?”)
In this step, you will want to carefully examine all the parts of the passage, define the key words, and compare the passage to other similar ones. You have done the overview; now it is time for the specifics. This is where you can incorporate Inductive reasoning and questions to pull out more information, acting like a detective to see what is going on in the text and determining its impact.
· Good exegesis means we look to what the passage actually means, not what we want it to mean.
· What are the different topics that are involved and how do they relate? Such as, how does topic “x” support topic “y;” how are they interrelated, illuminated, supported, what are the conclusions, and so forth?
· This is where the word studies come in. Look up key words in lexicons (see our Bible Aids channel), and Bible dictionaries to discover their meaning. One word from the Greek can have several sentences of meaning and give you more insights and precepts into a verse. This is why translating a Bible is so daunting, doing it word for word (literally), meaning to meaning (dynamic), or somewhere in between. Then, incorporate to the context and genre for more developed and logical understanding and thought.
· Now, write out in your own words, and in a meaningful and fruitful way, what the main words mean.
Step 6: Put it all Together (Click on this link for more in-depth information on this step.)
(This step can be incorporated into the final steps of the inductive method on “How does it apply? and “Charting”).
This is where you reconstruct your work for the intended purpose for Christ’s glory. Now, go back to your paraphrase and add what you missed; and, if needed, subtract what you got wrong or rework what needs to be clarified, and start to polish it up.
You can have an exegetical paper, sermon, or Bible study that looks like this: Your paraphrase is about a paragraph or two that explains the general meaning of the passage in a way that you and your audience can clearly understand.
· Smooth it out; add further explanations, questions, and illustrations, depending on how you will use it.
· Make sure you do not go by your experience; rather, seek His experience. Be an humble learner of His Word and an humble teacher too! Pride has no place either in the pulpit or in the Kingdom of God!
Hermeneutical Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Prepare Your Lesson:
· How can you best take what the Bible is saying and bring it to the people you are teaching?
· Your goal is to write and/or teach so your audience can understand and apply His precepts to help them learn about and then lead transformed lives. In prayer, ask God how you can do this and do it better.
· Ask what the implications are and how you can understand and communicate them.
· What do you want your audience to understand?
· What can I do to make God’s Word real in the lives of the people in my care? What will be my church’s response? How will I handle people’s negative opinions and objections to growing and learning, and do so in kindness and love?
· Good exegesis means that the precepts we have dug out are to be applied and not set aside.
· To grow in Christ, we need to be equipped by His precepts and be ready for His service. (2 Tim. 3:15-16)
· Remember, the Word of God’s purpose is to transform us into the image of God—to model His character! And then, we can show and tell others.
· Pray and ask God how to implement His truth in you before you ask others to do so.
· The Word of God should lead us to model the character of Christ, and to form us in the image of God. How should we carry out these changes and then communicate to others how to do so?
You Can Do it!
The Bible is not a difficult book to interpret (Some passages and books like Revelation present some challenges because the genre, word meanings, and phrases are not what we are used to and may have meant something entirely different to the original readers than they do in the English today), yet many gifted scholars over the centuries have taken very different views of various passages. This has caused divisions and conflicts that were needless and without purpose that, ironically, only served to give glory to the devil‘s ways while distracting us from its main purpose of allowing us the opportunity to know about God, learn His precepts, and then to apply them to our daily lives. To escalate the conflicts between scholars and interpretive approaches, many current sensationalists like to reinterpret the Bible as they see fit and suit it to their erroneous agendas and their corrupt whims. Thus, they lead people off course, far away from the treasures and wisdom they could have had!
I do not take my venture into God’s Word lightly. In fact, having studied His Book intensely for over 25 years, all my degrees, readings, research, and experience has not prepared me for the exegetical quest. I am a sinner with my own fallibility coming before His Wondrous Holy Word. To think otherwise would be significantly arrogant. I approach His Word as a learner and as an humble student, and I suggest you do so too. Our intention at Into Thy Word is to stimulate your thinking and provide you with an honest and open look into God’s Word from an exegetical and inductive perspective. We seek to honor the science and art of careful biblical interpretation and analysis. We have discovered that through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God has given us something that is very important and clear for us to understand today.
I challenge you to be a faithful, honest student of His Word, whether you are still in high school, in seminary, or have decades of pastoral experience behind you as well as advanced degrees, to come to His text without preconceived, theological agendas or personal viewpoints. Rather, research carefully; do word studies (look for original meaning), conduct searches, and use sound reason and logic. In addition, do not forget the historical examination as well as context and comparisons with other passages in the Bible. This may sound like too much or seem overwhelming, but you can do it. You may discover that what you thought you knew fails to compare to what you can further know that will enhance your teaching too. God indeed has a deeper purpose for you to observe, build, dig out, manage, and apply His Word into your daily lives and thus, serve your churches better!
Make the commitment to be a good exegete to His Word. Do not assume; rather, come to the text without your theological bias even if it is a good one. If your theological bias is good, then what you discover will back it up, help you understand it better, or show you how you need to modify or change for the better. Do not just state the usual perspectives in your teachings, seek the trends of the day, or try to argue your view without careful evaluation of the facts. And, never, ever twist Scripture to fit your ideas or just go by your theological education or lack thereof or even your denominational agendas. This is what false teachers and cultists do! Rather, challenge your thinking by seeking Christ and His facts and honestly examining what God’s inerrant Word says, in context and in truth, through the Spirit.
My other intention is to challenge my, and perhaps your thinking, too, concerning biblical thinking and theories, and to seek sound reason and Scripture—not myths, traditions, or popular theorems. However, I want to state up front that whatever theory or theological framework to which you or I subscribe is not as important as our love for the Lord and our desire for His Truth and authentic, spiritual growth. These are the things that are truly and eternally important! Arguing over conjecture or spurious, elusive doctrine does not bring glory to Christ; it only proves Satan!
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Founder and Director of Into Thy Word Ministries, a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of several books including Into Thy Word, A Field Guide to Healthy Relationships and Net-Work. He is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (M.Div.) and holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology from London (Ph.D). He has garnered over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a Church Growth Consultant.
© 1985, 1989, 1998, 2006 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org
|Taken from: Exegetical Bible Study Methods|