Exegesis literally means “to draw out.” It’s the process of interpreting Scripture while preserving the intended meaning. This is the most accurate method of how to interpret your Bible.
There’s more to translating the Bible than simply converting a word in Hebrew to another matching word in English. Biblical exegesis makes an attempt to produce the highest level of accuracy in language interpretation.
This article will explore Christian exegesis in detail to show us how we get to read God’s Word in our own language with confidence that it’s the accurate word of God.
Table of Contents
What is Christian Exegesis?
Christian exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning of Scripture in it’s original language or earliest available text. It’s a multi-faceted look at the text:
- How does the passage fit into the Bible as a whole?
- Historical context including social and culture settings.
- How are the individual words used (lexical and syntactical).
- Who wrote it or what is the source?
Why is Exegesis Important in Christian Theology?
It’s important because knowing what the inspired authors intended us to understand from the Scriptures is critical to learning how to interpret your Bible.
Genuine believers hunger for God’s Word, and we should not settle for anything less than the authentic messages from God that He desires us to know so much that He wrote them down in a book for us.
The Bible should never change because God does not change. It is us that is expected to change or transform through exposure and fellowship with God.
Historical Development of Exegesis in Christian Tradition
It all began around 6000 years ago in the Garden of Eden. Satan approached Eve and said “is that what God really said?” They fell into the trap and ate the forbidden fruit because they didn’t take God’s word seriously.
Satan has been putting our ancestors and us all into this exact situation ever since that day in the garden. The devil is intent on causing us to misinterpret God’s word.
Noah was the reformer of his day that eventually brought back the genuine word of God, but it didn’t last. God sends destruction and prophet after prophet through history to correct the apostate interpretations of His Word.
God’s people eventually began writing down the inspired words of God, but Lucifer didn’t let that stop him. Just look at the Pharisees and their interpretation of the Torah (law). Jesus literally called them vipers and devil worshipers. They were altering the meaning of God’s Word.
Then we get to the Catholics and see them fall for the same lies which eventually produced Martin Luther and the Reformation. The remnant always gets the task of bringing society back into line with God’s Word.
We’ve come to point where the reformed churches have fallen away as well. They are apostate and fallen to lies. Now it is up to the non-denominational church to keep the Bible pure and sacred.
The Role of Exegesis in Learning How to Interpret Your Bible
The main result of accurate interpretation and understanding of the Bible should be to challenge our own biases and false beliefs. It should confront us with the truth and lead to a change in direction within us. God promises transformation to the believer, not the apostate, nor the scoffer.
God gives us a chair in heaven. We don’t get a throne. We change because we are flawed. God is not.
Types of Exegesis in Christianity
- Where it was written?
- When was it written?
- Who was the inspired writer?
- What was happening in the culture at the time it was written?
- Who was it written to and why was it written to them?
- This is basically the opposite of historical exegesis.
- Does this contradict any other passage of Scripture?
- What is the relationship between this biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine?
- Analysis of the Bible as a literary text.
- Are there any literary techniques used to hide meaning in the text?
- What is the context and subject of the immediately preceding passage?
- Does the following passage help explain the text?
How to do Exegesis in Christian Bible Study
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get more out of your Bible studies. We all know someone that likes to take Scripture out of context that obviously doesn’t read the Bible. We don’t want to be that person because it makes us look dumb.
This is how Christians search for meaning in Scripture and how your interpret your Bible:
Step 1 – Choose a Passage or Section of Scripture.
You may be going verse-by-verse or using a reference Bible to study related passages. Either way is fine.
Use multiple translations of each passage and look up the definitions of the words from each passage. This is important because translations have variations and most of us think we know what a word means but really don’t.
I keep a New King James (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), and a New American Standard (NASB) (MacArthur Study Bible) on hand because they are considered to be literal and accurate translations.
The study Bible is great because MacArthur provides a wealth of insightful comments on Scripture.
Step 2 – Study the Words in their Original Languages
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and The New Testament was written in Greek. English comes from Latin, so you can add that one to the list as well.
Studying the words will build a deeper sense of the intended message by building up a mind map of meaning surrounding the passage. It’ll also build up your knowledge base over time and is a good way of educating yourself.
We’re basically building the foundation that the interpretation will be built upon.
Step 3 – Examine the Historical and Cultural Context
This step focuses on asking questions about the passage. Where was it written? Who wrote it? Who was it written to? When was it written? Why was it written? Was there any social or cultural issues of note attached to the content of the passage?
The goal is to minimize our own baggage and become a bystander of an earlier time to read the passage like the writer meant it to be read or heard. We want to hear the passage like the original audience did.
Continuing the house building theme: this step builds the walls of our interpretation by filling in detail and context.
Step 4 – What Does the Passage Actually Mean
So we’ve chosen our passage, figured out what the words mean, and dove into the culture that produced it. Now we need to put all the pieces together and determine what it all means.
The question becomes “what is God telling us?” It’s not about what we think. We are only interested in what the text actually says.
This step puts the roof on our house and keeps the inside dry and pure. It shelters the truth of our findings and keeps out false interpretations.
Step 5 – Theological Principles
How does God expect me to respond to this passage? How should my behavior change to be more obedient to God based on what I now know from studying this passage?
The question that we DO NOT ask is “what does this passage mean to me?” We don’t get to decide what God’s Word means. Our job is to understand what God is telling us and obey.
This house of understanding is completed in step 4, but this step is where we walk through the door in obedience by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us with His truths. We live in the house of truth: God’s house.
Common Challenges Faced in Christian Exegesis
- The Bible covers 7000 years of time. This can be a challenge to study because we’re naturally rooted in our own time. Bible students are also students of history to help build a time map of the past.
- The geography in the Bible is foreign to most of us. Many pastors take groups to Israel yearly so that believers can walk the roads, climb the mountains, and float in the Dead Sea.
- Biblical language is different from the languages we speak and the ancient writers use different genre features in their works. This is why it’s important to study the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin version of the words that we read in our Bibles.
- Ancient cultures are alien to us because we’re used to living in our own skin. We must do our best to bridge the gap and strive to understand them.
Contemporary Relevance of Exegesis in Christian Theology
The authentic word of God has been under attack from apostates since the beginning, and today is no different. I would say the internet and electronic devices make it worse.
Our generation finds itself in the middle of the prosperity church and the deconstruction of faith movement. It’s manifest your destiny and Burger King Jesus out there. But the Bible doesn’t say that you can have it your way because His way is the only way to salvation.
So we’ve got a confused generation being taken advantage of by AI chat bots that have been given over to reprobate minds. This means that they are morally depraved and have been rejected by God. They are beyond hope.
But we are the remnant of our generation and need to guard the pure words of God. Our duty is to occupy until death or the return of Jesus. We do this through careful examination of Scripture and the uncovering of truth.
Interpretation Disputes and Debates in Christian Exegesis
There are 4 ways that people like to interpret the Bible and is referred to as hermeneutics.
The literal interpretations seeks out the plain meaning of each passage and accepts it as truth. The truth of each passage cannot contradict another passage in the Bible because God cannot lie.
An example would be where the Bible calls us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” in Matthew 5:13-14. The literal meaning is that we’re supposed to illuminate the world with His truths by the way we live and be the preservative that keeps the truth.
Light penetrates the dark and salt preserves against spoilage. It’s up to us as individuals to use our gifts accordingly.
Moral interpretation claims that each passage of Scripture has multiple layers of meanings. It was started by the Jews and is obviously not a good method of interpretation because we see over and over in the Bible where Jesus says they do not understand the plainly written words of Scripture.
This method caused them to miss His first coming even though Scripture told them the exact day that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on the colt. It is my opinion that the moral interpretation of Scripture is what produced the Pharisees.
This is similar to moral interpretation and used mainly by people that don’t believe the Biblical events actually happened. They want to say that the flood isn’t real, but God wanted to teach us something by telling us a story about it anyway.
This method is clearly false. It’s the type of argument that apostates and cultural Christians use to teach the Bible because they lack faith. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not how to interpret your Bible.
Just because we can’t imagine the entire world flooding doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Archaeology shows us that the entire world was flooded just like the Bible says.
So allegory in Bible interpretation tells me that the reader doesn’t believe God’s word and is basically calling Him a liar simply because they can’t handle the truth.
Anagogical Interpretation (mystical)
This method is kind of kooky and gets into predicting the future through numerical values, prophecy, and the last days.
It might be a good way to explore fiction ideas if you’re writing a book, but I wouldn’t stake my future on it. Not understanding something in the Bible doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with God. The lack is always within us.
That is not a good method of how to interpret your Bible in my opinion.
The Bible is written is a way that allow all levels of intelligence to understand and spend several lifetimes studying. It doesn’t need to be mystical or complicated. Just read it with purpose and grow your relationship with Jesus.
Exegesis and the Authority of Scripture
The Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 makes a wonderful statement about the authority of Scripture:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church: but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefor it is to be received because it is the Word of God.Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
The Bible is your user manual to life if you claim to follow Jesus Christ.
Future Trends in Christian Exegesis
The future will still bring an erosion to God’s Word and it’ll be up to the next generation to keep the truth. The devil will always be on the fringes whispering “is that what God really said?”
It is and always will be the remnant church’s job to push out the apostate and their evil influences to remain pure in our theology the way God intended.
The truth has fallen from favor in most Bible universities and the major denominations have become apostate. It’s time to go our own way and become salt and light. Learning how to interpret your Bible properly will keep us both on the path of truth.
We are the remnant.