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Exegeting the Text

Welcome to my neurosis. I again offer these posts as “the way I do it,” not as “the way it should be done.” So, here’s the beginning of the study process for me.

I begin my study of a passage each week (rarely am I more than a week ahead in preparation) by translating the paragraph or pericope from its original language. Here’s where my seminary training has been most helpful. I copy and paste the text (Greek or Hebrew) into a blank page in MS Word (more on Bible software later – I use Libronix and Bible Works). I will triple space the text and print it out. I then move through each word, translating it in its basic definition, parsing each verb, while circling and noting any significant issues I will need to follow up on syntactically and/or lexically. So that I can see them at a glance, I underline each verb (or verb form) with a red pen. I do this so I can quickly focus my attention on the action of the text, seeing if it is more descriptive (indicatives) or prescriptive (imperative), or the type of action emphasized in a narrative text. I print it out so that I can take it with me and review it and work with it wherever I go (church office, home study, freeway . . .).

After my initial run through the text, I write out a fresh working translation. On my Word document, I insert a section break after my Greek or Hebrew text, and then write out the translation. The purpose in my fresh translation is to awaken my mind to the details of the biblical text in its most raw form. I pay very close attention to emphatic word positions, usage of prepositions, participles and their relation to controlling verbs: all issues that made little sense and little difference until seminary. I’m so thankful I went to a school that not only made me learn Greek and Hebrew paradigms, but also made me think through the significance of original language syntax and its impact on interpretation and clearly preaching the author’s intended emphasis.

I do not attempt to produce an easy-to-read modern translation. I have plenty of those to look at. I want a translation that reminds me when I read over it, of the emphases of particular words, tenses of various verbs and the use of important conjunctions and prepositions. I try as much as possible to produce a translation that follows the word order of the text. Doing so allows me to see literary devices an author may employ in order bring significant emphasis to a phrase or section (i.e., emphatic position, an envelope structure or a chiasm). The translation is essentially for my own personal use in study.

The second step in my exegetical study stage is I re-organize (on my word processor) the Greek or Hebrew text into a block diagram.[1] While I have done this for many years using the English text (I began this process before seminary after taking a class from Precept Ministries and reading Robertson McQuilken’s book, Understanding and Applying the Bible), my approach to this step was significantly deepened during my MDiv. work at TMS and after taking Dr. Daniel Block’s DMin. seminar in “Expository Preaching in the Old Testament,” and Dr. Thom Schreiner’s class in “Expository Preaching in the New Testament.”[2] In essence, this diagram is arranging independent phrases on a line by themselves to the left margin (or right in Hebrew) and then indenting dependent clauses under the appropriate clause they modify.

The purpose in this approach is to maintain the word order (in order to see literary devices) and be visually drawn to the main ideas of the author. I cannot over emphasize the importance of this step for me. The block diagram will ultimately have a major impact on the major idea of the sermon I will preach and on what I will and will likely not emphasize in the message. I will also use this diagram as a worksheet, highlighting key terms, repeated words, aligning important prepositional phrases, etc. I can spend a few hours just on the translation and diagramming portion of my study. Even if I did not work in the original languages, I would still do this process in English. It is one of the most helpful steps in my study process.

Once I have completed the diagram, I write out in the expanded left margin of my diagram a basic exegetical outline of the text. I then write out an initial sentence, trying to capture the main idea of the text in one short (usually around 20 words or less) statement. Walter Kaiser’s approach has significantly affected me here.[3] Haddon Robinson’s[4] suggestion to find the “big idea” and state it initially in a past tense sentence was the impetus for pursuing this approach.

To see a few examples, go to www.fbcsj.com. Go to “Resources,” “Document Downloads,” and then choose “Preaching Class.” I have a few examples of my exegetical notes and pulpit notes. They are Word documents and so the Greek fonts may not come out on your computer. I’ll work on getting a few .pdf files up.

The next post will be a review of my lexical and syntactical study of a passage. Other posts to come will include how I try to bridge from exegesis to exposition, the sermon manuscript and the preaching act, the role of prayer, where I study, Bible software and important study tools.



[1] I typically change the page settings from portrait to landscape, with a half inch top margin, quarter inch bottom margin, three inch left margin and quarter inch right margin. I will then create a text box in the expanded left margin so I can write out an exegetical outline beside the text.
[2] Dr. Schreiner’s approach is outlined in his book on Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.
[3] Kaiser, Toward An Exegetical Theology.
[4] Robinson, Biblical Preaching.

 

 

 

 

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