top of page

Biblical exegesis: Simple Faith To Cheer The Heart To Love

Biblical exegesis: Simple Faith To Cheer The Heart To Love
Biblical “Exegesis” means to explain a text. The words mean what they say unless we know a passage is poetic, prophetic, or a parable.

Table of contents:

Biblical exegesis: Simple Faith to Cheer the Heart to Love

“Exegesis” means to explain a text. It comes from the Greek word ἐξήγησις, from ἐξηγεῖσθαι, “to lead out”) and means to draw out the meanings within that text.

Understanding English is the first step in exegesis:

A simple example of this occurs when the Bible says, David*, Stephen, and the fathers “fell asleep,” which means they died. * means this person has a bio in my book SPIRITUAL LIVES.

We need to understand every word we read, so a dictionary is necessary for exegesis, and being sure we know what we are reading is the first of five steps in drawing out the meaning of a text.

Exegesis is sometimes a little more complex because the Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek.

Jesus* used this version. The New Testament was written in Greek. Before we got them, Jerome* translated them into Latin, and later still, King James* had them translated into English.

Let’s exegete a familiar passage:

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?“Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.”

A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”

A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.“. – John 21:17

Our English word “love” is used here to translate two different Greek words, (ἀγαπᾶς) and (φιλῶ). Jesus starts with the first more noble term, the one used to speak of God’s love, as in John 3:16.

Peter uses the second (φιλῶ) a warmer, more affectionate word, and Jesus adopts it too. He is telling Peter He is his friend as well as his Lord. What excellent value this exegesis provides!

Step 2 in exegesis is taking the words literally

In exegesis, the words mean what they say unless we have a clear indication that a passage is poetic, or prophetic, or a parable. When we read that Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, we understand Moses was a real person, Egypt a real country, and the children of Israel real slaves. Likewise, they crossed the real Red Sea, and spent 40 years in a real wilderness before crossing a real Jordan River into a real Promise Land!

Any honest exegesis of the Book of Genesis begins by taking at face value what it says. God created the heavens and earth and all that is in them in six days.

This is not poetry or allegory but historical narrative. Moses wrote this and believed it and so do we.

The long ages of the Patriarch ares literal, and so is the great Flood. All this is affirmed later in the Bible, often by Jesus Himself. Any exegesis must always take seriously what Jesus has said about the passage.

Here is Jesus’ exegesis on the Book of Jonah:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:40

Step 3: History and place are key in exegesis

We must look at things in their historical context. Moses* wrote the Law for a specific nation at a specific time (1500 BC). Before that, people married their sisters, during and after, marriage and sexual conduct was restricted, and violations were punished harshly, often with death.

The prophets were written during the time that kings ruled, kings of Israel and Judah, and later Babylon and Persia (1000-500BC).

Later still, in the New Testament, the Romans presided over a conquered Jewish people (5BC-70AD). Customs were different, and times, weights and money were unique to each culture.

Understanding this will help us understand what “3 days” may mean!

Christian Bible dictionaries can be a tremendous help, as can commentaries from reliable sources. The most helpful resource I know is E‑SWORD the Sword of the LORD with an electronic edge.

This free study tool has all we need and more for exegesis, many Bible translations, concordances, dictionaries and a wide range of commentaries.

Step 4: Scripture on Scripture is the best exegesis.

The Bible does not contradict itself. The Old Testament says:

The Lord appeared to Abraham* near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).

The Lord would speak to Moses* face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).

The New Testament says:

No one has ever seen God (1 John 4:12).

No man has seen or can see [God] (1 Timothy 6:16).

St. Paul* shows us Jesus is the answer to this apparent contradiction:

Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things. Colossians 1:15

Jesus Himself speaks to this when Philip asks to see the Father:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father; that is all we need.

Jesus answered, “For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? -John 14:9

The most familiar story illustrating this point is Philip the Evangelist and the Ethiopian Eunuch:

Philip ran over and heard him reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The official replied, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” And he invited Philip to climb up and sit in the carriage with him.

The passage of scripture that he was reading was this: “He was like a sheep that is taken to be slaughtered, like a lamb that makes no sound when its wool is cut off. He did not say a word.

He was humiliated, and justice was denied him. No one will be able to tell about his descendants, because his life on earth has come to an end.”

The official asked Philip, “Tell me, of whom is the prophet saying this? Of himself or of someone else?”

Then Philip began to speak; starting from this passage of scripture, he told him the Good News about Jesus. – Acts 8:30-35

These four steps of exegesis are all at the service of step 5/ Simple Faith to Cheer the Heart to Love

Step 5. The Practical Principle of Exegesis.

Once we have properly examined the passage to understand its meaning, we have the responsibility to apply it to our own lives. To “rightly divide the word of truth” is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a life-changing event.

Recently a professor at a leading seminary wrote a best-selling exegesis that raised many questions and doubts.

Although there was nothing wrong with his exegesis according to our first four points, there was with this fifth one.

It was not building Simple Faith to Cheer the Heart to Love. In fact, his questioning shook many people’s faith, and he was asked to resign.

What kind of exegesis do you want to do?

We have already answered this in our title, we want to encourage Simple Faith to Cheer the Heart to Love

This is congruent with the goal of our pastors.

Pastor and teacher John Piper asks a question of preachers that we need to ask of ourselves: Does Your Theology Drive Your Exegesis?

Here are 5 points Piper makes that we can build on:

1. Let every test speak

We need to do real exegesis on each text used. Do not let the text be “squashing them all into our little systematic desire, whether it is Christian Hedonism or whatever you happen to love.”

Do not put in texts that bring nothing of their own. Focus on the text and extract all you can to fulfill God’s message.

2. Always show what is really in the text.

Do not highjack the text to teach something false.

“I think imposing alien meanings from outside a text —even from other texts in God’s word — is the death knell of authority in preaching, the death knell of trustworthiness as a preacher, the death knell of being interesting as a preacher, and the death knell of growing in our understanding of the Bible.”

3. Keep in mind the Bible’s greatest commandment.

I had a professor in graduate school who once said after reading a long paper I had written: “This is very well done, but I come away asking one question: So what?”

We all know the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. But what does that mean? How do we do that? Our exegesis needs to go beyond stating the obvious and draw further from the well of scripture to help us love God as He commands us.

4. Know humankind’s greatest aim.

Our greatest purpose as believers is to glorify God in whatever we do, and this is God’s purpose too! How wonderful, to be aligned with Him.

Piper teaches that it is the Bible’s aim and should be ours in our exegesis to help people delight in God all the time, including horrible times, because glorifying God is supremely important in the Bible, and that is the way we do it.

5. Highlight God’s greatest gift.

Jesus is God’s greatest gift. He is All and in all, and this will guide our exegesis in sharing His Gospel. He is wonderful from beginning to end, and Piper has this testimony regarding his own preaching:

And, therefore, I have tried in recent decades, especially, to keep the cross close, beneath and behind, all preaching, because the cross is the price that was paid for God’s glory and the ultimate presentation of God’s glory for our everlasting enjoyment.

Exegesis can be more than words

Although our theology teaching must be honest and clinical regarding process, it must never come without love and compassion. Jesus came to save that which was lost, and that must be our aim too, including our exegesis.

I think of an exegesis Jesus gave his disciples when they asked why a man was born blind:

And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Jesus answered, Neither has this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be revealed in him.

And when He had spoken these things, He spat on the ground and made clay from the spittle. And He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.

And He said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which translated is Sent). Therefore he went and washed and came seeing. – John 9:2-3 and 6-7

Then the Pharisees asked the man to do an exegesis on whether Jesus was a sinner

He answered and said, Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that being blind, now I see. -John 9:25

And this is the goal of exegesis, that we may see the truth of the text, of course, but more importantly, to see the One behind the text, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have a wonderful treasure,

The gift of God without measure;

We will travel together,

My Bible and I.

I have a wonderful Saviour,

He took me into His favor,

Governs all my behavior,

Since I made Him mine.

Old Sunday school song (anonymous)

13 views0 comments


bottom of page