Good Exegesis is vitally important to the Christian, here’s why!
There are numerous valid reasons for doing good exegesis, but two stand out as being exceedingly important. First, there are many in today’s world that have little regard for finding the true meaning of the biblical text. Second, there is an abundance of false teaching circulating in Christian circles that are the direct result of bad exegesis. Often times, these misinterpretations are the result of ignorance and not of bad intentions. If one is to give the Bible the value it deserves as sacred/ divine text, then proper exegesis is a matter of utmost importance.
A common question among many students of the Bible today is “What does this mean to me?” The emphasis on reader-response methods of biblical interpretation and deconstructionist approaches to the Bible are pandemic in our postmodern world. If the meaning of the biblical text can vary from one person to the next (relativism) then how can we possibly use the Bible as a guideline for Christian living? Fee states that “if ‘meaning’ lies only with the reader, not in the text or with the (unknowable) author of the text, then from this view the possibility of the Christian community’s hearing from God through its sacred texts is rather thoroughly negated.”
Applying good exegesis is not optional for anyone interested in discovering what the biblical text really means. The Bible was written by specific people who had specific messages for specific audiences, and only when we understand these components can we properly understand the Bible. As is stated in “The Importance of Good Exegesis” If we are to believe God’s word, we must know God’s word. If we believe it has “God for its author” then there is no book more important for us to understand.
With an ever-increasing number of pastors and teachers actively involved in ministry who lack a thorough understanding of Scripture, it is no wonder there are so many deviations from sound biblical interpretation plaguing the Christian community. While an overwhelming majority of these errors are not intentional, the impact on the lives of those that are listening is significant. Misunderstanding the Bible can be damaging to one’s own faith as well as to the people one ministers to and everyone who is influenced by one’s ministry directly or indirectly.
The types of errors committed are far too numerous to list but the results are the same: people are left with a message that was never the intention of the author, nor ever understood that way by the original audience. Sadly, lack of understanding, and sometimes pride, are usually part of the reason why these mistakes are made. Practicing good exegesis requires a proper attitude and understanding of one’s own limitations. Fee affirms insightfully:
The exegete is a reader, whatever else, and as such we bring all of who we are to the reading of the text, applying both known and unknown presuppositions of all kinds—theological, sociological, and cultural. But rather than let that reality be a cause for despair and therefore give up the exercise altogether, it should drive us in two directions: (1) to make us work all the harder to spot those presuppositions and thus be open to changing our minds about texts on a regular basis and (2) to cause us all the more to take a stance of humility before the text, rather than a heavy-handed, authoritarian ownership (mastery?) of the text.
Applying good exegesis is of utmost importance if one is to avoid dangerous and costly misinterpretations of the Bible.
Those preachers and teachers who have understood the seriousness of their carelessness have sought to acquire the tools necessary for proper exegesis. In my own ministry (of over 30 years) I have probably committed most if not all possible errors. I remember years ago, preaching as a youth pastor, and basing messages on the water/vapor/ice analogy to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, inadvertently teaching modalism; preaching about end-times events pertaining to Israel during the Great Tribulation as if they were meant for the Church; teaching various Pelagian errors without even realizing it, etc… However, my desire to be a better instrument in God’s hand led me to study and equip myself with the tools I needed to avoid such mistakes.
The Bible and (more important) its Author deserve a far more careful approach on behalf of anyone who sets out to interpret them. Today’s society values relativism to the point where any meaningful interpretation of the Bible becomes impossible. VanGemeren puts it in perspective:
“How does the ancient text (the Bible) make an impact on our modern theological mind-set? Is theology a separate discipline from biblical interpretation? Many interpreters are highly skeptical of the truth claims of the Bible as well as of its use in shaping the way in which we interact with “the modern world.” Vanhoozer posits that since Jesus Christ is “the Word incarnate,” words are God’s means of sanctioning a truthful way of life, politics, and values. Deconstruction and postmodernity notwithstanding, the student of the ancient text must learn to let the text speak meaningfully to a new context.”
Such a meaningful interpretation is vital to preserving the sound doctrinal teachings of the Bible and avoiding the misinterpretations that continue to hurt the Christian community. Thus, good exegesis is not optional for anyone who truly loves the Author and his Message.