In This Lesson
Defining "Exegesis" | Preparing the Exegesis | Preparing the Sermon
Let's Review | Exegesis Aids & Resources | Reference Recommendations
The word "exegesis" [pronounced ek-si'jee-sis] is Latin and derives from the Greek exgsis, meaning "to explain", "to interpret". It refers to the "critical explanation" of any text, in this case, Biblical. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance to us today.
Textual exegesis, however, goes beyond simply knowing the words used. Rather, it is an investigation into the history and origins of the text, including the author, the audience, their historical and cultural backgrounds, and the historical and cultural environments in which the text was delivered.
One of the Bible's self claims is that it is "living and powerful..." (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, if we are to understand and explain God's Word to those over whom God has placed us as shepherds, it is critical for us to learn how to "rightly divide the Word of Truth" (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15).
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Preparing the Exegesis
Time Required for Study
The average Sunday sermon is so often either devoid of exegetical insight or sprinkled with exegetical absurdities. So many in the Church today long in vain for "simple preaching from the Bible". Pastors stand in the ideal position to make the connection between the insights of scholarly research and the concerns of practical living.
The total time you should allow to study is somewhat arbitrarily set at about five hours. This is the minimum that a pastor ought normally to be able to give to the research aspect of sermon preparation. If you are new to exegetical preaching, you will need to increase the time allotments substantially.
Sermon exegesis need not be exhaustive. In fact, if approached with the right attitude, it can be quite enlightening and enjoyable. The sermon ought not to wrap scholarship [learning] in a cloak of fervency [intensity]. Let your sermon be exciting; however, as an act of obedience and worship, let it be in every way faithful to God's revelation.
- Allow approximately one hour during the text and translation portion of your sermon exegesis. Read the passage repeatedly, both silently and aloud, even in Hebrew if possible. Be aware of the possibility that you may need to adjust the limits of your passage, since the chapter-and-verse divisions are secondary to the composition of the original, which we know was not divided by chapter-and-verse numbers.
- If you have the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) or the older Kittel Biblia Hebraica (BH3) at your disposal, check for significant textual issues. Look for major variants to see whether any should be adopted, thus altering the received or Masoretic text (MT) as printed in the Hebrew Bible. [For an introduction to MT, refer to "History of the Septuagint".]
- As you read the Biblical text whether your Hebrew is inadequate, dormant, or nonexistent try to create your own translation. However, check yourself by referring whenever necessary to two or more of the respected modern versions.
Avoid using the non-literal paraphrases even though they are called "versions" or "translations" since they will confuse you. These "translations" do not usually represent a direct word-for-word rendering of the original and are thus hard to follow. They are only intended for skimming large blocks of material in order for you to get the main idea, rather than for close, careful study.
A benefit of creating your own translation is that it will help you notice things about the passage that you would not otherwise notice from just reading it. The difference is like what you see while walking down the street as opposed to what you see while driving down it. You will be more alert to the structure of the passage, its vocabulary, its grammatical features, and some aspects of its theology.
- If the passage does contain textual or translational difficulties, your congregation deserves to be informed about them. They can benefit from knowing, not just which option you have chosen in a given place in the passage, but what the various options are and why you have chosen one over the other(s). They can then follow some of your reasoning rather than accepting your conclusions merely "on faith". The best way to prepare this for the sermon is by way of a list of alternatives for both the textual and the translational possibilities.
- In the same manner as you compiled the list of alternatives for both the textual and the translational possibilities, you now start writing a sermon "use" list by recording what you believe might be worth mentioning in your sermon based on the passage. The list should include what you feel your congregation perhaps should or needs to hear and may indeed benefit from knowing.
- There is usually considerable overlap between the literary context and the historical context of an Old Testament (OT) passage. Identify whether some feature is primarily literary or primarily historical. Is it a narrative? Is it a prophetic oracle? Is it one in a group of stories? Try to isolate both the immediate and general background. This is not exhaustive, so you must concentrate on the highlights. In other words, search for the essentials.
- Finally, summarize your findings.
Study the Historical and Cultural Environment/Influence
It's important for you to delve into and understand the historical and cultural backgrounds of the author and the audience as well as the cultural environment at that time. This will assist you in gaining a better understanding of the passage you're studying.
- Describe the literary historical setting by placement and function, authorship, and social setting including economic and political issues, geographical and archaeological setting, and time period. It is important to consider what comes next in the chapter(s) following. Is it something that relates closely to the passage or not? Remember, God's revelation to us is primarily a historical one so we should not neglect chronology [arrangement of events in time].
- Don't hesitate to bring the time period up to or beyond current times, if legitimate. For example, an OT prophecy about the "kingdom of God" might well include ancient Israel, the current Church, and the future heavenly kingdom. In general, you want to avoid isolating the passage, as if there were no other Scripture or history surrounding it. Doing so is unfair to Scripture and suggests to your congregation that the Bible is a collection of atomistic [divided into separate, disparate elements] fragments not well connected to one another and without much relationship to the passing of time.
Form and Structure
Your congregation deserves to know whether the passage is in prose or poetry or some of both, whether it is a narrative, a speech, a lament, a hymn, a prophecy of woe, an apocalyptic vision [prophecy of devastation or doom], a wisdom saying, etc. You must identify these genres [literary styles] of literature and analyze them lest the meaning behind the text be lost or obscured.
For example, your congregation may be puzzled as to why Jonah, the Nineveh hater, should have wanted to avoid preaching such an obviously negative message of doom (see Jonah 3:4). Unless you explain that the possibility of repentance and therefore forgiveness is implicit in the warning of delayed punishment ("yet forty days"), some members of your congregation may not be clear on this passage.
- Note any grammar that is unusual, ambiguous [having more than one possible meaning, as in "wind" (one a verb and the other a noun and pronounced differently), "chair" (something you sit on or something you do)], or otherwise important. Make a list of the key terms when analyzing the grammatical and lexical [of the words of a language] data. Pare down the list to a manageable size and perform a mini word study.
For example, "You shall have no other gods before me" in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Does "before me" mean:
Allow about an hour to conduct this part of your sermon exegesis. Of course, your familiarity and experience with sermon exegesis determines the amount of time you need for this step.
- "in my presence";
- "earlier than me"; or
- the devotionally "above me in importance".
- Allow approximately an hour to discover the biblical and theological context. Analyze the use and relation to the rest of the Scripture and its use in and relation to theology.
- Are its theological concerns more or less explicit [clearly communicated] or implicit [implied though not directly expressed]?
- Does the passage raise any questions or difficulties about some theological issue or stance that needs an explanation?
- How and why is this passage quoted in other parts of the Bible?
And finally, allow about one hour for the application portion of your exegesis.
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- List the life issues in the passage.
- Clarify the possible nature and area and identify the audience and the categories.
- Does the passage have a dual application as, for example, certain messianic passages do? If so, explain these to your congregation and suggest where their responsibilities lie.
- Be cautious and avoid especially the fallacy of exemplarism [something to be imitated] the idea that because someone in the Bible does it, we can or ought to do it, too. This "monkey-see-monkey-do" sort of approach to applying the Scriptures does a disservice to good pulpit teaching.
- Finally, remember it is not necessary to suggest to your congregation all the possible ways in which a passage might theoretically be applied.
Preparing the Sermon
There are many ways to prepare sermons and to deliver them, as well as many different types of sermons and books about them. Still, we can give some general advice about creating an exegetically-sound sermon.
- First, work from your "sermon use" list discussed above.
- Organize the various notes on your list into categories. See how many fit together. Do some groups seem especially weighty?
For example, does much of the list seem to center on theological terms and themes? If so, perhaps your sermon should be especially theological.
- Does your list contain elements that are part of a story? If so, maybe the sermon can take the form of a story. Generally, the material on the sermon use list should at least suggest what some of the major blocks are for building the sermon, whether or not it suggests a particular format for the sermon. Remember that you will not be able to include everything on the list. A single sermon cannot do everything.
- Organize and incorporate the results of your exegesis into the sermon according to an order that has, as its primary concern, to educate and challenge the congregation. It is the preacher's responsibility to decide what sort of sermon, which elements to include in the sermon, and in what order the sermon can best be conveyed to the listeners.
- Always be sure to differentiate between the speculative [not necessarily based on fact] and the certain. Let your congregation know what exegetical "discoveries" are possible, which are probable, and which are definite.
For example, you may be excited by the possibility that a particular poetic couplet in Hosea seems to be adapted from Amos. However, you would be irresponsible to present this as a, definite since equally plausible cases can be argued that...
- Amos did the borrowing;
- both prophets drew upon a common repertoire of prophetic poetry; or
- they were independently inspired with a similar message, etc.
There may be no harm in alerting your congregation to any or all of these options as long as you identify them as speculative.
You must also differentiate between the central and the peripheral [related to the key issue, but not of central importance]. The sermon should not give equally high priority to all exegetical issues.
For example, the fact that you may have spent a half-hour trying to understand and explain a particularly tricky historical problem of Israelite-Assyrian chronology does not mean that ten percent of the sermon should therefore be given to an explanation of it. You may well choose not to mention it at all.
- Decide what the congregation needs to know from the passage as opposed to what is needed to prepare your sermon. The way to make this decision is by the passage itself and your own reactions to it. What the passage treats as significant is probably what the sermon should treat as significant.
Whatever you feel is most helpful and important to you personally is probably what your congregation will find most helpful and important to them. If your preaching was faithful to the passage, your congregation should be able to go away form church with the "big idea". The "big idea" should always help them understand God and their relationship to Him, or you did not think through the exegesis and its culmination in application as carefully as you should have.
- Most pastors rely far too heavily on the so-called homiletical [of moral or religious topic] commentaries [those that emphasize suggestions for preaching] and not enough on their own Spirit-led scholarly exegesis. This can be counterproductive, since the homiletical commentaries are, for the most part, exegetically shallow.
In addition, since the commentator has no personal knowledge of you and your congregation, he or she can only provide a general all-purpose observations. The commentator cannot speak to the specific concerns the controversies; the special strengths and weaknesses; the ethnic, familial, social, economic, political, educational, and interpersonal issues that constitute the particular spiritual challenges for you and your congregation. The commentator has no idea how much or how little your congregation knows about a given topic or passage, how much you intend to cover in your sermon, or even the size of the units of the passage you have chosen to preach on.
I recommend that you refer to the homiletical commentaries for supplemental insights they may offer after you have done the basic work yourself.
Finally, always remember that application is the ultimate concern of a sermon. A sermon is a presentation designed to apply the Word of God to the lives of people. Without application, the message is not a sermon; it may be a lecture, a lesson or the like, but it is not a sermon.
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Be sure your sermon is absolutely clear, practicable, and an exegetically based application. This does not mean that most of the time given to the sermon must be spent on the application. The major portion of time, in fact, may be spent on matters that are not strictly applicational, as long as they help you lay the basis for the application. After all, you cannot expect your congregation to accept your suggested application of a passage solely on your own authority. You need to show them how the application is based on a proper understanding of the passage's meaning. They will probably not take the application to heart unless it is clear to them.
Likewise, you must not merely explain to them what it says while avoiding what it demands. The Bible is not an end in itself. It is a means to the end of loving God with one's whole heart and loving one's neighbor as oneself. That is what the Law and the prophets are all about.
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- Allow about one hour to research the text and translations.
- Check for significant textual issues, make your own translation, compile a list of alternatives, and start a sermon list.
- Allow approximately one hour to research the literary-historical context, both the immediate and general background. Remember to only search for the essentials. You must describe the literary-historical setting, and examine the foreground of the passage.
- Allow about one half hour to researching the passage's form and structure [literary style(s)], identifying the genre and form, investigating the life setting of forms where appropriate, look for structural patterns, and isolate unique features and evaluate their significance.
- Allow another 50 minutes or so on to researching the passage's language and lexical data by noting any words that is are unusual, ambiguous, or otherwise important.
- Make a list of the key terms, and then pare down the list to a manageable size and do a mini word study.
- Next, allow another 50 minutes of so on to research the biblical and theological context of the passage(s). Analyze the passage(s) elsewhere in Scripture and its/their relation to the rest of the Scriptures and its use and relation to theology.
- Finally, allow approximately one hour to develop your application:
- List the life issues in the passage.
- Clarify the possible nature and area of application.
- Identify the audience and categories of application.
- Establish the time focus and limits of the application.
Exegesis Aids and Resources
Unless you have access to the BHS or BH3, or a copy of the Septuagint and/or Masoretic texts, your exegesis study will be dependent upon good word-for-word translations of the original text. If that's the case, we recommend you compare several different translations to gain a better understanding of the original text.
In these cases, you might also wish to refer to a few standard commentaries such as Albert Barnes' Notes on the New Testament (NT), John Darby, Geneva Study Bible, John Gill, Jamieson-Faussett-Brown, B.W. Johnson, John Lightfoot, John Wesley not for your exegetical study, per sé, but for any information on cultural or historic influence. You may access these commentaries online at biblestudytools.com/commentaries or biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries.
- A good translation not only renders the words of the original into their best English equivalents, it also reflects the style, the spirit, and even the impact of the original wherever possible. Your familiarity with the passage in the original, and with the audience for whom you write or preach, allows you to choose your words to maximize the accuracy of the translation. Remember that accuracy does not require strict literalism. The words of different languages do not correspond to one another on a one-for-one basis. It is the concepts that must correspond. Your translation should leave the same impression with you when you read it, as does the original.
- If you have access to the BH3 and/or BHS texts and/or the Septuagint or MT, you do not have to know Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. You can still work profitably with the original languages by using a fast and versatile basic computer-based translation aid, the two most powerful being AcCordance and Bible Works. Computer-based concordances are much faster and much more powerful than print concordances.
- Theological dictionaries, such as Baker's Evangelical, Easton's, Hitchcock's Bible Names, Smith's, etc., provide you with the results of concept studies. However, the writers must limit themselves to the broad, general usage of words and cannot usually focus on individual passages. Nevertheless, they are invaluable as time-saving, informative exegetical resources. I recommend that you exercise due diligence and caution when using these theological dictionaries, and don't blindly accept the conclusions of any article. Follow with a critical eye the arguments and evidence contained in the article(s). You can access these at biblestudytools.com/dictionaries or biblegateway.com/resources/dictionaries.
- Very often, OT exegetes [person skilled in exegesis] neglect the NT data on the grounds that these represent later interpretations, muddying the exegetical waters. Unless you would go so far as to reject NT inspiration and authority, however, you are bound in the final analysis to relate the OT passage to any NT uses or classification of it. A general introduction to the principles involved can be found in The NT Development of OT Themes by F. F. Bruce.
Notes about the BH3/BHS or the MT/Septuagint (LXX)1
If you have access to either the BH3 or BHS and/or to copies of the MT or LXX texts, the following notes may be of interest and assistance to you.
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- There is no single authoritative version of the OT text in existence. The Hebrew text printed in both the older BH3 and the current standard BHS, is merely an edited arrangement of the Leningrad Codex, a manuscript from the early eleventh century A.D., one manuscript among many from ancient and medieval times. We can still say that certain copies and versions are generally considered less reliable than others are.
- The alternative readings, called "variants", are themselves only a selection of the possible different readings from a great variety of ancient manuscripts of the OT in various languages, each of which was considered both authoritative and standard by some community of faith at some time in the past.
- The choice to print one particular eleventh-century manuscript because of its good state of preservation and early date is not wrong, but is misleading. If a slightly earlier medieval manuscript had been in the same good state of preservation, it would have been chosen for printing, even though its readings might be have been different at many hundreds of places throughout the OT. In other words, the variants given in the footnotes of BH3 and BHS, along with many other variants not mentioned by the rather selective editors of those editions, should be accorded fair consideration along with the Leningrad Codex.
- There are many differences between the various versions and many obvious corruptions within a given manuscript tradition such as ungrammatical, illogical, or unintelligible wordings. Moreover, they are hidden corruptions those which subsequent copyists reworked into wordings that seem on their surface faultless, but are shown to be unoriginal when the full information from a variety of versions is compared and analyzed.
- You may be tempted to not make any decisions at all about the text and only work from your BHS Hebrew Bible, but in doing so you just have made thousands of decisions automatically. You would have elsewhere in the OT chosen the MT readings of the Leningrad Codex, some of which are best, but some of which are the very worst. You would have then committed yourself to trying to interpret garbled and incoherent sentences and verses easily clarifiable by reference to the other versions. You would also have insulted, not only the intelligence of the original human author, but the Holy Spirit's inspiration of the text. This happens when you accept uncritically the MT and are not willing to expend the necessary labor to look them up and evaluate them.
- The Masorah is the medieval Jewish repository [facility where things can be deposited for safekeeping] of text notes on the Hebrew Bible. Most of these Masorah notes are statistical. A typical note, for example, might say how many times a given word occurs in the masculine plural in Ezekiel and therefore not terribly useful in modern times when computer concordances can generate the same data even more quickly and with even more data.
- In addition to the MT one manuscript of which is printed in edited form as the basis of the BHS and older BH3 there are five other main ancient versions of the OT in four languages. Listed in descending order of importance they are: The Greek OT called the "Septuagint (LXX)", the Qumran scrolls better known as the "Dead Sea Scrolls", the Syriac OT called the "Peshitta", the Aramaic OT called the "Targum", and the Latin OT called the "Vulgate"2. The languages are Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin.
- In general, the BHS textual notes are superior to those of BH3, but neither exhaustive nor always definitive. They tend to be partial, selective, and occasionally even misleading, so must be used with proper caution. In other words, they are a good starting point, but may not provide all the information you need to analyze the state of the text fully.
- The Hebrew University project, begun in 1965, will eventually produce a massive, multi-volume critical edition of the Hebrew OT. This uses the Aleppo Codex, which dates to about 900-925 A.D. Unfortunately, the Aleppo Codex is incomplete, lacking almost the entire Pentateuch, as well as some or all of Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, and Ezra. The project, of course, will cover these gaps by using the Leningrad Codex and other ancient MSS as necessary.
- A new edition of the Hebrew Bible is under way with the expectation that it will replace BHS. This new edition is called Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BH5 BHS was essentially "BH4"), and it is based on the same excellent manuscript as that of its predecessors, the Leningrad Codex of 1008 A.D. The big change with the Quinta will be the notes and commentary "apparatus" that will distinguish text issues that are based on "external evidence" other versions from issues based on "internal evidence (in the MT tradition itself) and will address questions of the MT's literary development over time.
- For most purposes of exegesis, the Masora itself is paid little attention by scholars because its truly significant observations are already incorporated into the notes in BH3 and BHS or can be duplicated by quick reference to a concordance. It is quite common to ignore the Masora in doing exegesis. You will be in good company to do so. Remember that the Masora is the medieval Jewish repository of text notes on the Hebrew Bible. Most of the notes are statistical and therefore, not terribly useful in modern times when computer concordances can generate the same data.
I have taken the liberty to list the recommended books by exegetical category, name of the author, and the book. This will allow you, in the final analysis, to research these aids and improve on your exegetical skills. The works selected below were chosen based on their simplicity of learning and familiarity of the author(s) according to my preference.
If the whole concept of textual criticism is new to you, a good place to get a brief overview of the issues is Emmanuel Tov, "Textual Criticism (OT)" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, pp. 393-412 (Doubleday, 1992).
To begin to learn the method, however, the clearest, most step-by-step introduction to OT textual criticism is found in the following textbook: Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Baker Book House, 1994).
Critical Text Editions
Fortunately, all the ancient versions have been translated into English and if carefully used, these English translations can give a fairly accurate sense of whether the given ancient version supports or differs from the MT. Much insight on text issues can be found in the major "critical detailed scholarly" commentaries that pay special attention to textual criticism, such as the Anchor Bible, Hermeneia, the Word Biblical Commentary, and the old but very useful International Critical Commentary.
Two major multi-volume critical editions of the LXX now exist. Each series is incomplete, but the two together largely complement each other so that almost the entire OT is covered: Alan E. Brooke, Norman Mclean, and Henry St. J. Thackeray, The Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge University Press, 1906-1940).
A critical edition of the text is gradually under way, and now covers quite a few portions of the OT: The Old Testament in Syriac, ed. By the Peshitta Institute of Leiden (Brill Academic, 1972).
There are inexpensive editions of the Vulgate available. Two common ones are Alberto Colunga, Laurentio Turrado (eds), Biblia Vulgata (Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1953; 1965), and Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam versionem, 4th ed. (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969, 1994)
Essential to your library is the BHS as a Hebrew Bible. The latest aid to using the BHS is Reinhard Wonneberger, Understanding BHS: A Manual for the Users of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 2nd ed. (Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 1990).
Just as the BHS has now almost completely replaced the use of the older BH3, a new edition of the Hebrew Bible is under way with the expectation that it will replace BHS. This new edition is called Biblia Hebraica Quinta ("BH5" because the "BHS" was essentially "BH4"), and it is based on the same excellent manuscript as that of its predecessors, the Leningrad Codex of 1008 A.D. The big change will be its apparatus (notes and commentaries). The real improvement is the textual commentary, which will explain how textual choices were made. The first fascicle to appear so far covers only the book of Ruth, but its current value is its introduction to the whole project.
Two books on Bible translation remain valuable. Both should be read in their entirety, rather than referred to only for specific information: Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation (E.J.Brill, 1974). The second is John Beekman and John Callow, Translating the Word of God (Zondervan publishing House, 1974).
Even if your knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and other languages has deteriorated (or was never adequate), you can still work profitably with the original languages by using several English-oriented texts. The fastest and most versatile basic translation aids come in the form of computer software, the two most powerful being AcCordance and Bible Works. They provide instant lexical and grammatical data for any word; they can assemble various contexts where a given word is used throughout the rest of Scripture, so that you can examine for yourself the range of its usages. They also can instantly provide a complete list of translated contexts in any of the modern translations whose modules you have purchased, so that you can readily examine how various modern translations have dealt with your word or wording in various parts of their translations. However, these computer software aids do not automatically render useless the printed book references. A book can show judiciously selected combinations of contexts that may prove more helpful to you in some instances than the automatic complete screen formats generated by the computer-based concordances. For the Hebrew OT, the publication by Jay P. Green (ed.), Interlinear Bible: Hebrew, Greek, English (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1997) is useful for skimming though larger passages.
No interlinear is available for the LXX, but a convenient side-by-side Greek and English publication does exist: The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament with an English Translation (Samuel Bagster & Sons, n.d; repr. Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).
A translation of the Syriac Peshitta into English can be found with George M. Lamsa, The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (A.J. Holman Co., 1957).
The Latin Vulgate is also translated into English: Ronald Knox, The Old Testament: Newly Translated from the Vulgate Latin, 2 vols. (Sheed & Ward, 1950).
General Chronology, Archaeology, Maps, Geographies, and Atlases
A convenient, short treatment of chronological issues specifically involving Israel can be found with Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Hendrickson, 1998).
The two excellent multi-volume dictionaries of archaeology are Eric M. Meyers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 5 Vols. (Oxford University Press, 1996) and Ephraim Stern (ed.), New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 vols. (Israel Exploration Society and Carta; and Simon and Schuster, 1993).
For a collection of maps, illustrations, and generally reliable commentary, consult Gaalyahu Cornfeld, Archaeology of the Bible: Book by Book; David Noel Freedman, consulting ed. (Harper & Row, 1976).
The newest geography of the Bible is one of the best: Leslie J. Hoppe, A guide to the Lands of the Bible (Michael Glazier, 1999).
Historical and Tradition Criticism
A corrective to the kind of unchecked skepticism that has characterized some OT historical studies in the name of objectivity is Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient, and Old Testament (Intervarsity Fellowship, Tyndale Press, 1966).
The study of the history of oral traditions as they functioned to preserve the literature and especially the history of ancient Israel before formalization in writing is called "tradition criticism". A useful overview is found in Douglas A. Knight, "Tradition History" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6, pp. 633-38 (Doubleday, 1992).
If you need to refresh your knowledge of Hebrew using a basic grammar, Gary D. Pratico and Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew (Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), will provide a valuable resource.
Coverage of Targumic Aramaic is found in Marcus David, A Manual of Babylonian Jewish Aramaic (University Press America, 1981).
If you do exegesis of passages of poetry, especially the Psalms or Job, you may find in the secondary literature frequent reference to two languages, Ugaritic and Phoenician, which are very similar to Hebrew. Even if you have not studied these languages, you may be able to understand something of relevance and helpfulness on specific points by consulting Stanislav Segert, Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language: With Selected Texts and Glossary (University of California press, 1985).
Theological Dictionaries and Biblical Context
Theological dictionaries provide the reader with the results of careful word/concept studies; however, caution must be taken to read with a critical eye because a given writer's view can be biased. An invaluable tool is G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vols. 1-10, through 'zb (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974-1999). In progress is a full set not yet complete.
The Thompson Chain Reference Bible (Kirkbride Bible Co., 1998) KJV Harper Study Bible (HarperCollins, 1991) NRSV
Old Testament Theologies, Christian Theologies, and Journals
Recommended additions to your library are Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggermann, and David L. Peterson, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Abingdon Press, 1999).
Another resource is F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969).
For Christian Theology, refer to Charles W. Carter (gen. ed.), A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology, 2 vols. (Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).
If you make it a habit to read and pay attention to the following journals, you will be rewarded by exposure to a steady flow of high-level exegetical content and variation. Read the "Catholic Biblical Quarterly", "Expository Times", and "The Westminster Theological Journal".
Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries, and Application (Hermeneutics3)
Be sure to evaluate each volume on its own merit when reading commentaries. Especially useful is D.A. Carson, et al. (eds), The New Bible commentary: Twenty-first-Century Edition (Intervarsity Press, 1994).
Of significant importance to me are the commentaries produced by Chuck Smith from the Calvary Chapel Movement and Stanley M. Horton, from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
The most comprehensive Bible dictionary is the ABD: David Noel Freedman (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (Doubleday, 1992).
Hermeneutics is the theory of understanding a passage's meaning. Traditionally and simplistically, four different kinds of meanings have been discovered in biblical passages:
- the literal (historical) meaning;
- the allegorical (mystical or "spiritual") meaning;
- the anagogic (typological especially as relating to the end times and eternity) meaning; and
- the tropological (moral) meaning.
The difficult task for the interpreter then, is to be sure that everything the passage means is brought out, but that nothing additional is read into the passage. We do not want to "miss" anything, but we do not want to "find" [or add] anything that is not there, either. Hermeneutics, properly applied, is thus interested in the boundaries of interpretation the upper and lower limits which are intended by the Spirit of God for the reader. Listed below are some sound resources for the study of hermeneutics:
Godeon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2d ed. (Zondervan Publishing House, 1993).
Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Craig L. Blomberg, William Klein, and Kermit L. Eckelbarger, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Word Publishing, 1993).
Wayne E. Ward, The Word Comes Alive (Broadman Press, 1969).
George L. Klein (ed.), Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle: Preaching the Old Testament Faithfully (Broadman Press, 1992).
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If you have questions or comments for me,
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For His glory! Dr. Henry
1 LXX n. Refers to the Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, meaning "seventy" and frequently referred to by the Roman numerals LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and includes the Apocrypha.
2 Vulgate n. Latin edition of the Bible translated from Hebrew and Greek at the end of the 4th century. Revised in 1592, it was adopted as the official text for the Roman Catholic Church.
3 Hermeneutics n. The branch of theology that deals with principles of exegesis.