Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Exegesis Lost


One of the great benefits of the blog world is the limitless exchange of ideas and perspectives. You only have to spend an hour or so reading two or three thoughtful blogs to get a snapshot of what’s on people’s minds and in their theological craws.

While the interaction can be profitable, too often many of the ensuing “e-debates” are simply histrionics and opinionizing rather than lucid, sound biblical argumentation. Participants seem quick to throw the term “exegesis” around but often respond with little of it. Part of the problem seems to be a failure to understand what exegesis is. Reading around the blogosphere one gets the impression that “doing exegesis” simply means citing a passage or verse that on the surface seems logically to prove one’s point. To complicate matters further, when a view is challenged, a vacuous rebuttal is offered void of any grammatical, contextual, or literary data. Often presented are circular and apriori arguments, dealing more with deductive conclusions than exegetical reasoning. Unfortunately, this is neither good exegesis nor sound proof of anything.

Perhaps a review of the tenets of sound exegesis is in order. Exegesis, by definition, is the special application of the principles governing linguistics and meaning. The discipline of hermeneutics consists of the particular rules for interpreting scripture, and exegesis is the process of applying those rules. As D.A. Carson has aptly noted in his work entitled Exegetical Fallacies, “Exegesis concludes by saying, ‘This passage means such and such’; hermeneutics ends by saying, ‘This interpretive process is constituted by the following techniques and preunderstandings.’” Drawing sound exegetical conclusions is no easy task involving many building blocks from which meaning is derived. The following is a brief annotated outline of applied hermeneutics in the exegetical process:

(1) Identify the literary genre.

The exegete must first understand what type of biblical literature is being studied. From the Old Testament to the New, biblical authors penned the revelation in differing prose. The Bible student must consider how meaning is conveyed differently through history, narrative, prophecy, poetry, epistolary, wisdom, etc. Many interpretive errors today stem from a general failure to grasp the particular kind of material under study.
(2) Identify the pericope.
After a thorough working knowledge of the flow of a passage from one context to the next, the exegete must clearly mark the smallest pericope with which to work. Without this step one runs the risk of missing pivotal transitions of thought intended by the author.
(3) Isolate lexical and syntactical hinges, synthesize, and principlize.
At this point several key disciplines must be carefully implemented: (a) Form a block diagram to distinguish main and subordinate clauses; (b) Isolate and study all parts of speech to determine the precise contextual nuance of words and phrases; (c) Solve text-critical problems with comparative grammatical and contextual evidence; (d) Formulate an exegetical outline of the main propositional principles given by the author, and their implications for the original audience; (e) Weigh conclusions against other thorough exegetical scholarship for fine tuning; (f) Synthesize the work into brief paragraphs, explaining the proposition and rhetorical function (how the proposition is developed) of the author’s arguments; (g) From the implications intended for the original audience, formulate general theological principles from which timeless implications may be drawn. Admittedly, this final step is more than challenging. It requires the exegete to determine if a principle given for an ancient audience has contemporary implications. The diligent student must take care to begin with larger, overarching principles and work toward potentially specific parallels. The literary genre and historical context are great safeguards against extrapolating a contemporary mandate where it was never intended.
(4) Study and clearly establish the theological implications of the text.
Once the text’s meaning and implications has been determined, the exegete must be able to clearly articulate how the passage contributes to a biblical-theological framework. The theological implications of the passage should be cogent and consistent with the whole of scripture.
(5) Develop a clear outline of principles for teaching and preaching.
The exegetical process is now complete and ready for the
application of homiletics.

While there is much more that could be said under each step above, these basic parameters provide the serious Bible student with the tools needed to rightly divide God’s word. My hope is that those around the blogosphere who desire to convince others about the Bible’s meaning will do some exegesis on their methodology and bring to the table more than just opinions. The Word of God deserves our very best efforts.

31 Comments:

Blogger Caleb Kolstad said...

The process you suggest here (often) requires alot of time and exhausting labor. It is no surprise so many people (including pastors) fall short in this regard. Thank you for the reminder of how important exegesis is in formulating (a) biblical theology.

I too am guilty of not always doing my HW before responding via the blogsphere.

Good post!

3:55 PM  
Blogger tomgee said...

Just discovered this blog. It looks really good.

But please turn on the RSS feeds. It makes it much easier for people to follow the blog!

Thanks.

5:54 AM  
Blogger kerux said...

Hello Jerry!
Great to see you entering the blog world!
Greetings from Great White North!
Paul Martin

7:54 AM  
Blogger Gummby said...

So Jerry, what are the implications here for someone who can't (or doesn't) do all of the things you outline? Does it mean you won't call it exegesis (which I would agree with), or does it mean they can't state anything definitively about what the Bible says?

I agree with much of what you say, particularly about the e-debates (this last one on Phil's blog has left me worn out, too).

I hope that what I've shared has solid Biblical grounding, but I would never deem to call it exegesis. That said, I'm not trying to preach a sermon here, I'm just trying to apply Biblical principles as best I know how. Should I just drop out and let the "exegetes" do it? Or is there some place for those of us who haven't been to seminary to still say what the Bible says?

9:44 AM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Great post, Jerry!

I think the mire which people fall into from here is a protracted discussion about hermeneutics, which often mitigates the forcefulness of an exegetical argument - especially when the discussion collapses from special hermeneutics (the definition which you offered) into general hermeneutics (the study of meaning which governs linguistics and the nature of interpretation itself).

How do you think someone can avoid the Scylla of naive hermeneutical avoidance and the Charybdis of skepticism in exegetical debates?

9:46 AM  
Blogger Paul Lamey said...

tomgee,

Thanks, I've had some problems with RSS but it should be syndicating at this point. I am not very tech savvy so let me know if you still have trouble with it.

10:44 AM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

Dear Jerry:

Welcome to the blogosphere my friend... (you too Chris!). Great to see you guys involved in this wonderful medium to proclaim God's truth and gospel.

I enjoyed your post very much.

You said in your conclusion: My hope is that those around the blogosphere who desire to convince others about the Bible’s meaning will do some exegesis on their methodology and bring to the table more than just opinions. The Word of God deserves our very best efforts.

I fully agree. But the nature of the blogosphere by ANY author or contributor is opinion sharing rather than truth proclamation - though we hope that even within the opinion journalistic views expressed that we all will have solid biblical and theological foundation and precedent. Even our mutual friend, Phil Johnson, who is an excellent Bible teacher and one of my favorite preachers today, makes no bones that his blog is not designed to be a Bible study--but in reality is a journaling of different views and opinions on varied subjects.

One final thought, you didn't emphasize one key element in your material - that once careful examination of any text is done exegetically, historically, grammatically, etc. then that man must preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Unfortunately, as you know, most graduates from ANY seminary just can't preach. They're not gifted to do so and are average at best as pulpiteers. Seminary can't gift a man how to preach or for that matter to shepherd. Seminaries produce students, only the Lord can produce a pastor. The hard reality is that a lot of guys in their first few years of pastoral ministry at the end of the day are listening to their favorite MacArthur. Piper, Sproul teaching tapes on the passage they are studying to preach and then re-teach it on Sunday morning as if they wrote it to begin with. I've seen it too many times first hand.

The other misconception in ministry is that the sum of pastoral duty is primarily distilled to "pulpit time and personal study" rather than being faithful under-shepherds among the sheep in discipleship and servant leadership. It is one reason that I love and respect you; for you are truly invested in the people that the Lord has given you to serve as well as being a good preacher.

I appreciate you Jerry....
Keep on and keep posting.

Grace and peace,
Steve
Col. 1:9-14

10:51 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Matt –
Good questions---
Fortunately today, there are so many user-friendly exegetical tools available that virtually anyone diligent and willing to set aside the time can learn to carefully solve textual problems. After all, what is seminary except a place of concentrated learning. My post addresses the tendency to argue one’s case with only a few logical deductions while calling it exegesis. The disciplined student of scripture will not merely accept consistent theological arguments, but rather will test them by every dimension of applied hermeneutics so that they prove to be exegetical arguments. You mention “trying to apply biblical principles as best [you] know how.” On that point we are co-laborers! But if you and I were to satisfy ourselves with our present skill level we would suffer a crop of bad habits (because it’s easier), and fall into unnecessary errors. All of us hope and trust that our reasoning has “solid biblical grounding”, it’s just that many who belly-up to the conversation never soundly demonstrate a clear path from exegesis to solid ground. Incidentally, I’ve read many of your comments over at Pyro and have appreciated your avoidance of the trend.

Let me be clear, making biblical assertions, teaching truth, arguing theological points, using persuasive speech, requires homework…a lot of it! Being an average congregant doesn’t excuse us from the hard work that brings understanding. I enjoy the discussions, but would like to see less empty pontificating and more text-critical evaluations.

Raj –
Both the rock and the whirlpool are no match for the safety of time-tested exegesis. Modern linguistics will continue to muddy the objective waters, anti-intellectualism will drift on a sea of its own brand of subjectivism…but those committed to a meaning inherent in the inspired text, intended by God and communicated deliberately, rationally, and normally through human instruments will find safe passage.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Steve –
Thanks for your comments and encouragement. On the issue of the nature of “blogging”, you contradicted yourself…

You said, “Great to see you guys involved in this wonderful medium to proclaim God’s truth and gospel.”

Then later you said, “…the nature of the blogosphere by any author or contributor is opinion sharing rather than truth proclamation

I think I know what you meant, but I want to clarify that most of the blogs I read spend 99 to 100% of the time proclaiming, discussing, indeed, ardently defending their views of the Bible! The issue is not whether blogs are editorials or Bible studies...blogs are whatever we make them and so far a great deal of the theological fur that flies is in the mill of propositional truth. A simple “journaling of different views and opinions on varied subjects” would not use the term exegesis so freely, nor stray into textual waters without being prepared to tread them.

Also, in step 5 I did in fact say that preaching should be the product.

Thanks Steve

11:59 AM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:30 PM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

Jerry:

Thanks for your response...

The "nature" of the blogosphere is one of opinions being tossed around ad nauseam; even in the evangelical world, as you know, usually absent of sound doctrinal and biblical support. BUT, the blogosphere is a tremendous tool for proclaiming the truth of God's Word. There's really no contradiction in those statements...

That is why I mentioned in the second half of my sentence you referred to: "-though we hope that even within the opinion journalistic views expressed that we all will have solid biblical and theological foundation and precedent." Which coincides with your statement of: "the blogs I read spend 99 to 100% of the time proclaiming, discussing, indeed, ardently defending their views of the Bible!" And more accurately, defending their views biblically.

You gave a tremendous outline for sermon prep, preaching, and for contending for the truth that is a great reminder of the essentials for "giving the sense of it..."

Hopefully in all our blogs as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we strive to be biblical, doctrinal and theological in what is being discussed, proclaimed and championed. I know that I invest many hours at COT and A1M to try and meet that standard.

Very few blogentators (and really, I can't personally think of any) go into the kind of detail that you described in your post in developing their articles or arguments for the blog.

Can you direct me to some that you think blog according to the outline you so wonderfully gave?

Thanks again for your thoughts brother...

Grace and peace to you,
Steve
2 Tim. 2:15

8:31 PM  
Blogger Jason E. Robertson said...

Jerry, you wrote, "Drawing sound exegetical conclusions is no easy task involving many building blocks from which meaning is derived." No easy task indeed, but don't we love it!!

9:24 PM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Oh Yeah!

6:07 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Steve -
Please don't miss my intent. I know that blog posts cannot document all the exegetical work behind a viewpoint just as a sermon cannot include every lexical and syntactical finding. However, when biblical views are being defended, mere deductive arguments have no inherent authority. I must be able to clearly demonstrate a cogent path from proposition back to the exegetical basis from which it derives. If that requires more detail upon being challenged, then supply it. Too often, good challenges are met with a quoted verse or philosophical/logical deduction without that clear path. Some "blog-entators" do this well and others just annoy. It is my conclusion (opinion) that many who "loudly" join the theological fray simply do not bring anything text-critical to the table when challenged. I'm not asking for every post to become an exegetical digest, only that when challenged they would answer with more than restated assertions and provide a clearer relationship between their conclusions and the precise steps they took to draw them. Perhaps we would find out who is doing their homework in the text and who just likes to be in the game.

Along these lines, for as much time as we invest here, we could all profit more by learning to be more thorough, forcing ourselves to articulate a consistent hermeneutic rather than just developing erudition in a vacuum.

Jerry

7:24 AM  
Blogger Chris Pixley said...

Steve-

I won't presume to speak for Jerry, but the sense I get from his comments is that the steps he outlined need of necessity form the basis of our blog-based proclamations. That being the case, defense of our proclamations must at some point appeal to textual evidence as support for their veracity. That is, if we are contending that our theology is derived from the inerrant Word of God, which I think we all agree on.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

I include myself in the previous admonition most of all.

Blogs that I respect for this?

Tim Challies
Phil Johnson
Nate Busenitz
Jason Robertson
Steve Hayes
James White
Dan Phillips
Michael Haykin
Frank Turk
Jonathan Moorhead
Paul Lamey
Marc Heinrich
Josh Mack
Doug Wilson
The guys at Reformation Theology
And many others...

Since I don't have time to read much more than these on occasion, I'm sure I've missed many others that are excellent!

Jerry

7:37 AM  
Blogger Chris Pixley said...

Jerry,

oops...looks like you beat me to the punch!

7:44 AM  
Blogger Paul Lamey said...

In answer to Steve's question, I would ditto the blogs Jerry listed except mine which never has anything important to say. However I would like to say that the most under appreciated blog on the web is Josh Mack's. He is consistently all that Jerry pointed to in his article. When I read Josh's various posts, I am always amazed at the humility and refined clarity that he brings to the table. There is a lot of hot air in blogdom and yet Josh provides a constant cool breeze of expositional gold.

8:24 AM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Jerry,

Just for clarification's sake, what is "modern linguistics"? Is it defined by a time period or an ideology? I know you're not advocating patristic allegorism (are you?) . . .

Do you think there's such thing as naive hermeneutical avoidance?

Just wondering.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Modern linguistics, as I refer to it, is the contemporary study of language and intuitive communication patterns as applied to hermeneutics and meaning. The overemphasis on synchronic, to the exclusion of meaningful diachronic, research and assumptions about preunderstanding have, in my estimation, seriously threatened the search for objective meaning in the exegetical task.

As far as “hermeneutical avoidance” goes, I would need you to unload the term “naïve” in this reference so I don’t misunderstand you.

9:23 AM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Sorry - I mean naive in the sense of "uncritical". That is, the insufficient recognition of cultural norms, culturally conditioned philosophical assumptions, conventional lignustic practices, presupposed moral judgments, theological smuggling into the text, and the adoption of alien categories in interpretation. In other words, the oppositte of skepticism. Are there strategies for avoiding this sort of naivetee (which often masquerades as confidence in objectivity), and how would you recommend doing this without falling into the postmodern morass?

As for linguistics goes, do you reject the James Barr's criticism of the Biblical Theology Movement? I'm also wondering what counts as "contemporary" - does E.D. Hirsch qualify?

11:45 AM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Raj –
Thanks for clarifying. I do believe that insufficient study occurs (I’m guilty of it!). But you seem to associate being naïve with reluctance to give “recognition” to the areas you mention, each which carries its own set of assumptions. Must I be familiar with (even accept the tenets of) conventional linguistic practices in order to shed the label “naïve”? Do I have to acknowledge a set of “culturally conditioned philosophical assumptions” before my confidence in objectivity is more than a masquerade? Seeing your list of neglected disciplines reminded me of the Moises Silva’s comments on preunderstanding (Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction To Lexical Symantics, pg.148). He asserts,
“I take it as a valid assumption that the interpreter approaches any text with a multitude of experiences (“filed away” with some degree of coherence) that inform his or her understanding of that text. I further assume that it is impossible for the interpreter to evaluate the text without the point of reference provided by those presuppositions. But I believe just as strongly that the interpreter may transcend, though not eliminate, that point of reference. This can be done by not assuming that we can set aside our presuppositions in the interest of objectivity, but rather by a conscious use of them. The moment we look at a text we contextualize it, but a self-awareness of that fact opens up the possibility of modifying our point of reference in the light of contradictory data.”

Here, Silva is not only declaring it impossible to prevent personal experiences from entering one’s understanding of a text (ever!), but also that objectivity, being unreachable, is to be proactively supplanted with a conscious embracing of assumed biases in order to "transcend" them. What? "Transcend" biases that are "impossible" to eliminate? He claims that such “self-awareness” is the key to “modifying our point of reference in the light of contradictory data.” What “contradictory data”? How can any data be objectively contradictory to my presuppositions since all data I unearth are injected with my biases?
So Raj, it seems you posture similarly. I’m all for a thorough understanding of the language, culture, history, and ethos of the literature under scrutiny, but if I must admit that knowing anything objective is virtually impossible before I’m considered a “critical” student of scripture, then our paths must diverge.

Admittedly, far too much being passed off as “good textual work” is probably all hood and no motor…but my study of linguistics and hermeneutics has convinced me that a great deal of contemporary scholarship is full of arrogant assumptions running roughshod over sacred intentions.
If I've assumed too much about your views...it's only my unavoidable preunderstanding (truly kidding!!!).

Aiming for God’s meaning,

Jerry

2:38 PM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:11 PM  
Blogger SJ Camp said...

Chris said I won't presume to speak for Jerry, but the sense I get from his comments is that the steps he outlined need of necessity form the basis of our blog-based proclamations. That being the case, defense of our proclamations must at some point appeal to textual evidence as support for their veracity. That is, if we are contending that our theology is derived from the inerrant Word of God, which I think we all agree on.

Good words brother and I am in complete agreement with you. This is what I personally strive for as well and what continues to drive my concern that this is not occurring in the blogosphere as it should be... You and I have discussed this before. Thank you Chris.

Jerry,
I want to reiterate with you my friend that we are on the same page on this issue. It is one of my main concerns in the blogosphere that there isn't enough excellent biblical foundation laid and developed in most articles. However, your list surprises me in that you think this is really occurring on those blogs.

I read at least 50 blogs a day plus numerous news blogs as well to stay informed. Amongst all my personal study and other duties, it is very time consuming--but a worthy investment of time. I do enjoy the blogs you listed and read most of them daily, but again, very few of them rarely make the biblical or textual argument in their posting that you suggest (and that I agree with) should be taking place.

BUT, I believe two that you listed really are concerned that their articles are built upon the Word of God: Paul Lamey seems to invest significant time into his posting and does take a great deal of care to drive home his points biblically--I appreciate that and him greatly. Also, James White is exceptional when it comes to biblical content and driving the issues through the lens of Scripture.

However, all the others you mentioned, while I personally enjoy and benefit from them, the textual/biblical foundation in their posting is more rare more commonplace. (Do you actually read them all everyday?)

This is a shared burden my friend and I do appreciate you greatly.
Campi
2 Cor. 4:5-7

7:12 PM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, Jerry. I think I actually agree with Silva, but I was just clarifying my original question ("How do you think someone can avoid the Scylla of naive hermeneutical avoidance and the Charybdis of skepticism in exegetical debates?"). Are you saying that you don't think there exists an opposite pole from skepticism? In that case, I guess there isn't an answer to the question, since it's false dichotomy. If there is an opposite extreme to be avoided any advice on how one practically deals with his preunderstandings?

You can ignore the rest of this comment to answer the above question if you were asking rhetorical questions, but assuming they were real questions:

"Must I be familiar with (even accept the tenets of) conventional linguistic practices in order to shed the label “naïve”?" I think being an English speaking, American, Republican, Reformed Baptist male (for example) would affect one's reading of Scripture just as it affects a person's interactions with other people. I think this helps to account (though obviously it doesn't entirely account) for the why my exegesis/interpretations (and my "hermeneutical principles, for that matter) differ from Augustine, Justin Martyr, John Wesley and Rex Reed. I would say that an Arminian's theology affects their interpretation of Hebrews 6, even if they believed in historical-grammatical interpretation and which "principles" they gave priority in making an exegetical decision.

"Do I have to acknowledge a set of “culturally conditioned philosophical assumptions” before my confidence in objectivity is more than a masquerade? I wouldn't say that people who don't acknowledge their cultural conditioning are masquerading, just as I wouldn't say that the average layman in my church who doesn't use the historical-grammatical method is masquerading. But I do think that certain notions that were common-sensical to church fathers in a particular era, or to Medieval churchman, are far from common sense (Hellenism, Nominalism, scholasticism - it's commonly recognized, even in our church history class at TMS, that all these philosophies affected their hermeneutics and their exegesis). I would think that this applies to me too, and not just Christians in ages past.

What? "Transcend" biases that are "impossible" to eliminate? He claims that such “self-awareness” is the key to “modifying our point of reference in the light of contradictory data.” What “contradictory data”? How can any data be objectively contradictory to my presuppositions since all data I unearth are injected with my biases? I think Silva is talking about the fact that, within our human limitations, one individual can never grasp the whole without bias, but he can grasp parts of the whole in a way that is faithful to the whole. That's, I think, what he means by "transcending bias". Where I am situated, in all my human-ness, I can see one side of the mountain with clarity - but I will not be able to see the whole. The fact that the church is made of many, with various gifts, native cultures, languages, etc. can help to get a clearer view of other sides of the mountain that I can't see. Some will also offer interpretations that are just plain wrong, and aren't anchored in the text at all. In each case, though, the text reforms our interpretations, and this becomes a lifelong process, and interpreting and understanding becomes a necessarily corporate task. I think Silva is talking about a "through a mirror dimly" sort of knowledge.

I recently read an article by John Frame that touches on some of the above.

Anyway, don't let any of that prevent you from answering the original question!

8:51 PM  
Blogger Jerry Wragg said...

Raj -
If you agree with Silva then you haven’t dealt with his contradiction either. He doesn’t really solve anything with his embrace-your-biases-as-the-path-to-modifying-your-biases-in-light-of-new-data concept (it should be obvious that once inescapable biases are conceded, then all “new data” is infected with the same). The question isn’t whether one’s background may “affect” one’s reading of scripture, but rather can the original meaning of a text of scripture ever be concluded beyond doubt using a set of governing principles designed to capture the intended meaning of a human author in the context for which it was spoken or written? The above question suggests three paths to prevent my “English, American, Republican, Reformed Baptist, Maleness” (if in fact I am all of these) from leaking in:
(1) THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF A TEXT OF SCRIPTURE – I do believe that scripture has an original meaning not to be toyed with by redefining “meaning” to include reader-response or preunderstanding. Why am I committed to this? Because if the actual intended meaning of a spoken or written word in any language and culture can be diametrically altered by the recipient, human communication is reduced from a meaningful exchange of measurable patterns (words & sentences associated with definable, repeatable concepts) to mere scrabble---words and concepts without parameters, ours for the manipulating at the expense of another’s intended use. In fact, those who deny objective access to an ancient author’s meaning are left with some dilemmas indeed. How did Augustine, Justin Martyr, and John Wesley come to the same dogmatic conclusion regarding Christ’s deity? After all, a 4th century African professor of rhetoric, a 2nd century Samarian from pagan roots, and an 18th century English Methodist couldn’t possibly approach Colossians 1&2 without being grossly affected by their respective biases. For that matter, how can you be sure the gospel you preach to your children isn’t irremediably tainted with all things Sharad?

By the way, it’s easy to throw in a grammatically and contextually ambiguous passage like Hebrews 6, but neither our Savior nor His gospel depends on an Arminian or Calvinistic reading of it. To be sure, systematic theology can become monolithic, calling the exegetical shots over grammar and context, but some still believe (as I do---how archaic and naïve of me) that this is not a foregone inevitability.

(2) INTENDED MEANING BEYOND DOUBT – As far as objectivity is concerned, many biblical propositions (e.g. depravity, inspiration, Christ’s deity, the resurrection, Sola Gratia) are beyond any legitimate core textual, historical, and cultural question. Those who reject the above are considered (by scripture and interpreters of it) “outside the circle of orthodoxy”. Peripheral implications surrounding primary doctrines, and any secondary and tertiary doctrines have been researched and strongly debated for centuries. However, disagreement doesn’t necessitate the abandonment of objectivity as the goal. I disagree with Silva, Cotterell, Saussere, et.al. who supplant objectivity with the “conscious use” of biases because that’s simply not the way any human being (including them) truly interacts. We live in propositions by which we set our course, and we expect others to “take us at our word” objectively. To concede objectivity (as a goal) in the truest sense would be to forfeit all rights to be understood as I intend (and be authoritative I might add). Yet, any of these modern linguists would have us read their assertions in the most objective sense. In other words, they postulate a different set of rules for biblical authors than those they expect us to use in determining their meaning. But someone may interject, “Ah…yes…but we can ask modern speakers and writers what they meant which we cannot do with ancient authors”. The point is moot, because the alleged preunderstanding is said to originate with the reader/recipient, so that no matter what modern authors may communicate in order to clarify their intended meaning (an attempt at objectivity), inevitably we will always taint such clarification with a host of subjective biases making objectivity unreachable. Simply stated, if I bring preunderstanding to an ancient text, then I bring the same to all modern texts and their ensuing attempts at clarity. The conclusion: Modern linguists can never expect me to clearly understand what their writings mean in any objective sense, nor should they make propositions to be believed by others, for they cannot possibly know the endless number of positive and negative effects resulting from my biased reading of their meaning.
(3) GOVERNING PRINCIPLES DESIGINED TO CAPTURE INTENDED MEANING – You mention the affects of certain “notions” upon the hermeneutics of our forebears. I don’t deny that I’m dogged by my own set of notions and “isms”. But being dogged by them and submitting to them are not the same. You may say that’s a bit like trying to identify what is intrinsic and invisible, but if I immerse myself into the language, culture, and history of another place and time (i.e. the Bible) I can step outside of what is intrinsic to me and objectively see the difference (Missionaries do it all the time). Isn’t this how we learn to understand people, history, cultures unlike our own, and even our own family members? Haven’t others ever asked you to “put yourself in their shoes”? This is simply an attempt to divest you of your “biases” so that you might objectively see things from their vantage point. Even if, as you claim, Silva’s “transcending bias” comments refer to clarity in part rather than in whole, he has still admitted to objectivity, albeit “in part”. In the interest of agreeing for the moment, let’s say you’re right about what he means. He cannot claim as he does, therefore, that objectivity is unreachable at any level. He may want to make the “part” that he knows for certain very small, but if it can be known for certain then it can be known objectively. Now the only issue is whether the “part” that I know objectively has primary theological implications for the believer. The principles we use to understand an ancient world may be refined over time, and we may discover that some were tainted by “our world”, but a steadfast determination to identify and shed contemporary vestiges is most safely accomplished by a thorough expertise in biblical literature and its cultural context rather than embracing assumed biases on the front end that will skew such expertise.

I tried to answer both your original question and your responses to mine.

Hoping you'll reach for an objective reading of my words,
Jerry

6:19 AM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Neither John Frame nor I am arguing for skepticism, Jerry - I'm asking if there's something you would recommend in the process of exegeting a text that would serve to enlighten us as to ideas we're smuggling into the text rather than drawing out of it. How do you go about "taking off your shoes" before putting yourself in the author's shoes?

12:47 PM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

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2:17 PM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Jerry, just wanted you to know that today I started a series of posts on the topic of objectivity in interpretation. I share your desire for the Bible's authority and your allergy for relativism, but obviously I'm not completely convinced by the solutions you've offered. For that reason it'd be great to have your input on my next several posts! I don't know how quickly I'll be churning them out, but hopefully the next post will be up in a few days or so.

2:20 PM  
Blogger metalepsis said...

Hi Jerry and Sharad, hope you don’t mind me checking in…

Jerry (hope all is well),

In an honest effort to not be a belligerent fool, and with no auspicious agenda in converting anyone, I am curious as too what you mean by ‘preunderstanding’. In reading other efforts of evangelicals to deal with the notion of ‘preunderstanding’, I am often perplexed as to their appropriation of the term. In some publications it is used as if it is the first step in some new hermeneutical method, which to me makes little to no sense. Could you, for my sake, expand upon what you take this notion, of ‘preunderstanding’ to be, and do you feel that it affects you?

Jerry I commend you on your drive to unearth God’s meaning, but what happens if one follows the first four of your exegetical outline and comes up with completely different results, in an equal drive to understand God’s meaning.

Let me try to flesh this out for you using Romans as a text.

(1) Identify the literary genre.
We would agree that this is an epistle, but how far do we go with this, do we limit it to biblical epistles, or do we compare it with ‘secular’ epistles of the first century? What of Paul’s rhetoric, do we limit our comparison to the written rhetoric, or since Paul’s letters were ‘probably’ read out loud, do we compare it to the rhetoric of oration. In Paul’s exordium, in which he is trying to win the sympathies of his audience, can Paul, as is often the case in the exordium, embellish? Is Paul allowed to exaggerate, which by our modern standards might seem a bit underhanded, if it is the cultural norm, and accepted as normative in the first century culture? Do we stop here, or do we go further, trying to understand the instances were Paul indeed parallels other literary conventions (as in the stereotypical moors expressed in Romans 1.18-32).

(2) Identify the pericope.
Since we are starting with the beginning of Romans, how do we determine the smallest pericope, what determines the length, is it a sentence (which we know can be very long in Greek), or do we look for a verbal construction. Do we go by thematic unit, and who determines the theme, or do we go by grammatical markers? This could make a difference when we get to verse 3 as to whether it originated from Paul, or if he is using an early bit of ‘kergma’. Is this a possibility, can Paul quote early Christian tradition apart from the scriptures, and what if we say that Paul does this to establish a strong ethos with his audience? Can this merely have a rhetorical function? Or must everything Paul says be timeless? But for sake of brevity I will limit the example to 1.1-2.


(3) Isolate lexical and syntactical hinges, synthesize, and principlize.
I will admit I do not have the foggiest idea what these three steps entail, so I will jump to the lettered examples, assuming that is where these are fleshed out.

(a) Form a block diagram to distinguish main and subordinate clauses;

This is hard to do on a blog entry so let’s just assume that I did this step. I offer a translation here.

Paul, a slave of Jesus the Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the good news of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

(b) Isolate and study all parts of speech to determine the precise contextual nuance of words and phrases;

Here is where, in my opinion, we get into a whole host of indeterminacies, for example, is the word ‘slave’ here a marker to the shame and honor culture of the ancient Mediterranean, is it a marker that places Paul in the vocation of the prophets, or does it just mean being a servant; or any combination of the three, or is this not allowed. Can a word have only ‘one’ syntactical meaning, how do we decide when nothing recommends one over the other? The same can be said for the word ‘Christ’ does this mean messiah as I have translated it, or does it just signify Jesus’ last name so to speak. Or if we jump to the term ‘good news’ is this a reference to the restoration that is written of in Isaiah 40-55, or is it the rather introspective message of the forgiveness of sins, or is it a subversive reference to the political gospel of the Roman Imperial order. Or is it all three, again can a term have more than one nuance? I could go on, but again for brevity…


(c) Solve text-critical problems with comparative grammatical and contextual evidence;

I don’t have an apparatus with me so for argument sake lets assume NA 27 has gotten it right. What comparative grammatical evidence counts, is it the LXX, the extant first century texts (secular), only the NT scriptures, or only the Pauline Epistles? As far as contextual evidence good arguments could be constructed to argue for any or all of the above indeterminacies.

(d) Formulate an exegetical outline of the main propositional principles given by the author, and their implications for the original audience;

Who is the original audience of Romans, are they Jews, Gentiles, or Both. Are they believers, if so why does Paul present the good news to them if they already believe it, and if so does this change the implications for our use of Romans? Can the audience read, are they literate? Is Paul trying to set up a support base for a mission to Spain? Is this Paul’s systematic theology? Or is this an occasional letter that deals with a problem within the church? Even if we can determine the audience, is it possible that the Paul failed in communicating his message to them, is this a possibility, or not?

(e) Weigh conclusions against other thorough exegetical scholarship for fine tuning;

Can we only use scholars who are evangelical, or can we use any thoroughly exegetical source, do we pick these based upon our theological convictions, and thus in doing so are we not simply re-affirming our own prejudices in a hermeneutic circle of sorts.

(f) Synthesize the work into brief paragraphs, explaining the proposition and rhetorical function (how the proposition is developed) of the author’s arguments;

Again this will be determined by the choices that we choose above.

(g) From the implications intended for the original audience, formulate general theological principles from which timeless implications may be drawn.

Again for brevity I will combine this with step four.


(4) Study and clearly establish the theological implications of the text.
Once the text’s meaning and implications has been determined, the exegete must be able to clearly articulate how the passage contributes to a biblical-theological framework. The theological implications of the passage should be cogent and consistent with the whole of scripture.

Here is ‘an’ interpretation of these verses and possible theological implications of the text: Paul starts off with an extended exordium where in 1.1-2, he declares that he is an apostle who is a slave of Jesus the Messiah, and is called, set apart even, like the prophets of old, to declare the good news, which is the same political and apocalyptic message that Isaiah spoke of, the vindication of YHWH as the incomparable God. Paul uses slave terminology, not only to claim affinity to the prophets of old, but also to give a hint to the very matrix of the cross, that it takes the cultural shame and honor codes of the ancient Mediterranean and turns them on their ear. The cross the ultimate Roman symbol of domination and shame, has been inverted and has become a symbol, to the followers of this Christ, of a different reality, apart from the status quo, a reality that fosters an apocalyptic imagination, much like the example found in the Servant Songs. As such it is a message that is an affront to the ‘good news’ of the Roman Imperial order and the ideology that was bent on domination, an example of ‘fighting words’ so to speak. This speaks to the fact that the Roman Imperial order was in fact just as idolatrous as the Egyptian gods (ex 15), and the Babylonian gods (Is 40-55), before them, and the people of the true God have been summoned to live life differently, under the lordship of, and by the example of, Jesus the Messiah… But alas I am getting beyond these first verses.

This lengthy example is meant simply to highlight the fact that the said constraints meant to foster good exegesis can be co-opted, and are thus not a simple formula for producing ‘objective’ interpretations. I have in good faith meant to adhere to Jerry’s rules (I think I have, but perhaps I have not), and this is not meant as a slam of everything Jerry holds dear. I respect Jerry highly, as you know he is a rare and true gem.



Jerry I don’t expect you to counter every point, as I know you are a very capable exegete, but I am curious as to where you think I went wrong in the process, to come up with such a presumably different interpretation?

Again I want to emphasis that while I don’t agree with your concerns, concerning the Raja, I appreciate your candor in argument, and I write this, rather long example, in hopes of gleaning the reasons why you are as concerned as you are.

Cheers,

8:43 PM  
Blogger TheBlueRaja said...

Bryan,

This is officially dead, I guess?

Three blog posts and one long, elaborate comment later I guess there's not much to say?

4:39 PM  

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