Wondering how to put all the tools and pieces of Bible study together so that you can tackle a specific passage of Scripture? Here’s the overall procedure.
- Select a unit of study.
- Typically, it works best to study the whole, then the parts, then the whole:
- Book –> chapters –> paragraphs –> verses –> sentences –> phrases –> words –> phrases –> sentences –> verses –> paragraphs –> chapters –> book.
- Read the passage in the larger context.
- Observe and mark up your passage to form an initial impression of its meaning.
- Form an initial overall guess (working overall hypothesis) as to the general meaning of the passage (theme or main point).
- Start a list of questions you need to answer to either proof/disprove your hypothesis (e.g. 5Ws and H).
- Focus on a particular interpretative problem (e.g. word, phrase, syntax, background, grammar, flow of thought, etc.) that answers one of our questions.
- Form a guess (working specific hypothesis) as to the meaning of/solution to that problem.
- Test this hypothesis. Study, gather information, try the nuances & implications in the flow of the passage, see if it is consistent with the author’s other works, etc.
- Revise your hypothesis as necessary until it fits all the clues you have in the passage and all the clues in the relevant information outside the passage.
- Repeat steps 4-6 with respect to each different interpretative problems until you have revised your hypothesis of the overall meaning and refined it so that it fits all the clues in the passage and the 5C’s of Bible study.
- Once you have reached your conclusions, determine any universal truths or principles from the passage.
- Check your principles against those from the rest of Scripture. Revise as necessary.
- Finally, decide how those principles can be applied in specific situations.
What is exegesis?
We are taking “exegesis” to mean the discovery of what the text means in itself, i.e. the original intention of the writer, and the meaning the passage would have held for the readers for whom it was first intended. This is exegesis proper. The further step of application of this original meaning to our own situation is strictly a separate discipline.
Exegesis is seldom a simple case of black and white, where all honest scholars must inevitably reach the same conclusion. . . . Where the reader disagrees with the proposed exegesis, he should ask himself whether the author has adopted the wrong method to solve this particular problem, or whether he is using the right method, but using it wrongly. Both are, of course, entirely possible!
One commentary is not enough, for few commentators (including, no doubt, the present writer) can resist the temptation to make all the evidence point towards their chosen solution, and to play down or even ignore the less convenient facts. – R.T. France, “Exegesis in Practice: Two Samples” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, I.H. Marshall, editor, Erdmans, 1977.
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