Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis

The New Testament profs at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) have put together a volume in honor of the long-time chair of the department, Dr. Harold Hoehner. This volume will probably serve as a textbook for the third and fourth semester Greek classes at DTS. The first half of the book contains chapters on method, and each is done by a DTS prof. The second half provides examples of exegesis done by scholars who do not teach at DTS. 

The treatments of method in the first half of this volume are thorough, but it seems to me that the book only delivers on half of the subtitle, because this book has the feel of being all science and no art. Part of what gives this impression is even reflected in the title, Interpreting the New Testament Text, rather than Interpreting the TEXT of the New Testament. Here we have a book strong on exegetical formula to be applied text by text, but the emphasis does not fall on developing a strategy for seeing the New Testament as a unified whole. 

That said, a book like this that gives a full explanation of the formula for doing exegesis has its value. The whole process of exegesis is covered here: from what is entailed by the word “exegesis” to text criticism to grammar to diagramming to word studies to validating interpretations to studying backgrounds to genre considerations for reading the Gospels, the Epistles, and Apocalyptic literature. Broader interpretive issues also receive treatment, with a chapter on the use of the OT in the New and a chapter on biblical theology, and the first half of the volume is capped off with a chapter on Application, Ethics, and Preaching. 

I hope that Jay Smith’s chapter on “Sentence Diagramming, Clausal Layouts, and Exegetical Outlining” will find especially wide circulation. As Smith points out, diagramming a text forces us to wrestle with every conceivable exegetical possibility. Diagramming the Greek text of the New Testament is incumbent upon everyone who believes in verbal, plenary inspiration. We must account for every inspired word. O that we might be as rigorous about diagramming as we are vigorous about our insistence on the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. 

Recipes for exegesis such as this volume provides are useful, especially when we run into problems that are difficult to sort through. No one should think for a moment, however, that the recipe must always be followed point by point when reading the Bible or preparing to preach or teach it. Nor should it be thought that following the recipe will automatically lead to the “right answer” as to what the text means. So while the recipe has its place, do not be intimidated by it, and do not wait to do exegesis until you can follow the whole recipe point by point. Trying to follow the recipe point by point might keep you from seeing the obvious meaning of the text in its canonical context.  

So if you’re looking for step by step instruction in technical exegesis of one text, this is the book for you. But I want to say this again: don’t let this way of studying the Bible suck the air out of your reading of Scripture, and don’t let these instructions make you stop reading and studying the Bible until you have time to follow all these procedures.

The Bible is a sharp, two-edged sword. As Wayne Grudem said so emphatically in his ETS presidential address, Unleash it!

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1 Comment

  1. Great post, Jim.

    I remember reading a book on exegesis once for a class I took at a church. I’ll probably take another hermeneutics class soon. I wonder what text we’ll use.

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