Saturday, September 3, 2016

What exegesis is NOT. . .

On another forum there was this comment made:  Exegesis is seeking to get into the mind of the original author and the meaning he originally meant.  It matters not who said it.  It is perhaps the typical way that those who view the Scriptures as pretty much just like another book view the exegetical task.  It may even sound attractive -- after all, who would not want to get into the mind of a St. Paul or St. Peter or an Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel?  But as interesting as this might sound, it is not exegesis.  It is some kind of channeling idea that produces no good fruit and undermines the very character of the book we call the Word of God.

This is exactly what happens when exegesis is taken outside the faithful and placed into the hands of the skeptic or academic whose purposes and goals have little to do with the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  The concern here is not the the meaning of Scripture -- which Jesus says is to testify of Him -- but the pursuit of an illusive and impossible goal.  Namely, to separate Scripture from the God of the Scriptures and to presume that the words are merely the words of man (although they might contain some words of God -- especially when they speak of morality, the goal of justice, and spiritual enlightenment of the individual.

Over the course of time much of Bible study has devolved into "what do you think it means" or "how does this make you feel."  Even printed studies published by church publishing houses waste the student's time by focusing not on the Word that endures forever but simply what you think, feel, or guess about the text.  While this is a problem in the parish, it is an even bigger problem when it is taught to the pastors who will teach the folks in their parish.  It suggests that the meaning of the text is largely unknowable, that it does not matter, and that the best guess of the scholar is slightly more important than the best guess of the folks in the pew.

The Church does not need pastors speculating about what God meant or what He said.  The people in the pew deserve better.  They deserve a pastor who can tell them what the Word of the Lord says and point them to the Christ who is both key and subject of the Word -- the words about the Word made flesh!

At some point in time we lost track of the idea that the written Word and incarnate Word speak the same thing and that Christ is both author and content of that written Word.  I cannot tell you how much damage has been done to the faith of people by the promotion of this idea that Scripture means something different than what it says, that the Christ of God is largely unknowable from the Scriptures, and that the Word of God is mostly human words, speculation, about the unknowable God.

One of the worst outcomes of this mess is that our people are no longer sure that they know what the true doctrine is.  Church membership is thus separated from what is confessed and taught and left to the realm of speculative ideas which have the same relative value (except when they are in service to a progressive social agenda when they suddenly become authoritative!).  Reduced to mere preference or opinion, the Church is powerless to call out error and impotent in the face of heresy and apostasy.  That is where most mainline denominations are at today.  You do not need to believe in much of a God to belong and the primary requirement is that you refuse to label any doctrine any more that speculation and every truth equally correct and equally error.  It is wonder that liberal Christianity is bleeding off members.  Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.  What that means today is that we have done such a good job teaching our children that doctrine is a best guess, that everyone's guess is equally valid and authoritative, and that the Bible is one source but not the norm of what is believed, taught, and confessed that they have trouble believing in anyone or anything.


Ted Badje said...

Yet how many LCMS congregations have had Beth Moore Bible studies where it is 'How do you feel about this text'? It is good that men like Matthew Harrison have turned the tide a bit in our Synod. There is still work to be done.

David Gray said...

There is a big difference between "what does the text make me feel" and "what did the text mean to its original audience." Neglect of the second question is what made abuse of the Book of Revelation so common. And it is entirely compatible, indeed a part of, trying to understand interpretation in light of the catholic tradition.

John Flanagan said...

It is true that every viewpoint is not "equally valid." In the realm of scripture, we do need to consider the linguistic accuracy and the context of a verse, who is speaking, and to whom the statement or verse is directed. A Christian who loves the Lord and the word of God often struggles to comprehend the meaning and application of a verse. Many of us just want to get it right, to understand it correctly. It is not easy at times, because our levels of education and understanding differ, our cultural environment, our time in history. Words also can change over a period of history. The problem of continuous reinterpretations by theologians and "updating" versions of the Bible further adds to confusion. It seems no matter which version of the Bible one uses for study....someone else criticizes the interpretation. I personally use the NKJV, and of course, somebody will usually say I am not reading the most linguistically accurate version of the Bible. I suppose we shall always be discussing this issue until the Lord returns.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@John: your points are well taken, and for such and other reasons I continue to use the KJV. Its English is sublime and easily understood by those wiling to take some time and learn its vocabulary; funny how we can go to colleges or trade schools where we learn technical specialized vocabulary, but seem to choke on the same KJV used by 19th C uneducated Black slaves (later freedmen) and Welsh colliers. Maybe we're educated beyond our intelligence and maturity?