A. The significance of Exegesis in taking hold of the gospel
We must not be led astray by false teachings just because the Bible is quoted in the ‘sermons’ or teachings (and there are plenty of these in the u-tube, websites and internet) – this does not mean that the ‘sermons’ and teachings are biblical.
Here is where Exegesis comes in and this is very important for us as believers to be aware of.
Basically, exegesis interprets a text by analysing what the author intended to communicate – it draws the meaning out of the text. Of course, a thorough exegesis is the task that often calls for the help of the ‘experts’ trained to know the language and circumstances of a text in its original setting. But that does not mean that one has to be an expert to do good exegesis.
We are not dealing here with all the necessary ‘tools’ for proper exegesis. But a grasp and practice of exegesis to a certain extent can help us to discern false and wrong teachings significantly and this would help contribute to the fulfilment of the ‘telos’ or goal of our faith.
To do good exegesis, we have to learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text. It is also helpful for us to know the historical context and this differs from book to book of the Bible; the historical context will include the time and culture of the author and readers, the occasion of the book, the geographical and political factors relevant to the setting of the author.
For instance, the book of Ecclesiastes, presumably written by king Solomon or someone in his ‘persona’, was historically placed in the Old Testament context, probably around the time of king Solomeon. The preacher was not knowledgeable of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (the ‘Wisdom’ of God), although he, with all the other Jews, were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. He did not know of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and he was not fully aware of the scope of our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a wise Jew with all the available resources to observe and experience all the areas of life on earth and yet his context restricted him from knowing the eternal purpose of God in Christ in all its fullness. Worship for him and his people was in the context of worship in the tabernacle or temple, and worship can only be instituted with many ‘offerings’ (including sin offering, offering of thanksgiving for God’s positive response to their ‘vows’) and the approach to God was in the context of being very cautious not to infringe on the “Holiness” of God. Even the high priest on the day of atonement might die in the ‘Holy of holies’ (where the ark of God was placed) if he approached God without cleansing of his sins and wrongdoing.
Today, we, as believers, are privileged to go to God in prayer and worship anytime and at any place and we are also able to address God as ‘Abba’, our heavenly Father. The curtain dividing the holy place from the ‘holy of holies’ has been torn when Jesus died on the cross on our behalf – we can have access to the holy almighty God because we are united with His Son Jesus.
Job was written in a context when those in the book were not aware of the enemy and being called Satan. The wisdom of Job’s friends was limited and to them, ‘bad things’ cannot happen to good people – the conclusion is that when bad things happen to us, it must be because of our specific sins.
The goal (telos) of exegesis is to gain a worldview based upon and informed by the biblical text. Ultimately, we all conduct our lives based on our worldview, our perception of life as a whole. Biblical exegesis should be the foundation in the building of that worldview – hence the significance of good exegesis in the church and among God’s people.
Exegesis will never be our passion if our hearts are not gripped by biblical truth; only then will it lead to a deeper and richer joy in God (Jn.15:11)l. If our heart never ‘sing’ when doing exegesis, then the process has not reached its culmination. And if we have never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then we are not listening for the ‘voice of God’.
The person who has been transformed by the biblical text by good exegesis will want to share the truth that has changed him or her with others; like the Servant of the Lord we will be taught ‘to know the word that sustains the weary’ (Isa. 50:4). We will communicate these truths to ‘reliable mean who will also be qualified to teach others’ (2 Tim.2:2).
B. Good exegesis is in line with God’s revelation and inspiration of the Bible
Good exegesis is in line with God’s revelation and inspiration of the Bible – and this is undoubtedly important. Good exegesis should be exercised in preaching, teaching, bible study, counselling and all forms of communication, not only in the local church but in the world-wide church in every age.
It is relevant to note that good exegesis is akin to good interpretation of Scripture; and good and wholesome interpretation provides a ground for personal faith and guidance for individual Christian living, and also enable the world-wide church to understand itself, to interpret its history, to reform and purify its life continually, and to rebuff all ‘attacks’ made upon it, whether from within, by sin and heresy, or from without, by persecution and wrongful rival ideologies. In fact, all the problems ever faced or will be faced by the church are in principle covered and solved in the Bible (provided it is wholesomely interpreted and practically applied in the lives of Christians and the church).
The Christian Bible, though a very human book, recording much sin and error, reflecting in many places the weaknesses and limitations of its human authors, is yet – and this is the fundamental truth about it – a divine product, whose primary Author is God.
Christ’s authority demands the acceptance of the Old Testament as divinely inspired. His witness concerning its character is emphatic and unambiguous, because of its divine origin (Matt. 5:17-20; Luke 16:17). He Himself, the Son, was in everything subject to His Father’s word in the Old Testament.
Christ’s authority also demands the acceptance of the New Testament as possessing the same character as the Old Testament (Luke 24:24-25, 44-45; John 5:39-46).The apostles also claimed that it was written primarily for the guidance and benefit of Christian believers (Rom.4:23-24; 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:11l 2 Tim. 3:16) and that it could not be understood at all by those who would read it in the light of Christ (2Cor. 3:14-16).
Then we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit – the internal proof. It is by the use of the faculty of faith that we discern God’s Word for what it is. Faith sees the real nature of that at which it looks – this has been the church’s experience down the ages. The Bible is the revealed Word of God, in the sense that in its pages God speaks His mind – all HIs mind – concerning the purpose for His people. It is not the Word of God in the sense that every separate sentence, including the words of evil men, expresses His mind or reflects His will.
All Scripture, however, is inspired by God. Inspiration denotes a supernatural influence of God’s Spirit upon the Biblical authors which ensured that what they wrote was precisely what God intended them to write for the communication of His truth, and hence could be truly termed ‘inspired”, ‘breathed out by God’ (2 Tim. 3:16). In that light, Scripture is inerrant and infallible.
We see therefore the significance of wholesome interpretation and application of Scripture. And wholesome interpretation hinges on good exegesis with illumination from the Holy Spirit; this in turn leads to proper and wholesome application of the Bible in the lives of Christian believers and in the church world-wide in every age. Without this, there is always the danger of wrong or distorted teaching of God’s truth (even though the Bible is referred to and verses are ‘highlighted’), lop-sided emphasis on part of God’s revelation without reference to the whole and that leads to tragic outworking of Christian life and ministry). This sad state of affairs has been seen not just today but also in the history of the church as a whole and certainly, it grieves the heart of God.
C. Why accurate and good exegesis and interpretation of the Bible is important
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded,set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:13).
To survive in the cosmic battle with Satan, we need to prepare our minds for action and be sober-minded. God has made us in such a way that the heart is to follow the mind. The Holy Spirit gave us a book with the content of revelation that we might be transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2 ESV) The book of Proverbs says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..” (Proverbs 23:7).
The author of Proverbs knew very well that the organ of thought is not the heart, but the mind. When he speaks of thinking in his heart, he is speaking of the deepest thoughts we have. We are what we think; we become what we think. If our thinking is confused and muddled, our lives and outworking will be chaotic. If our thoughts are constantly impure, the impurity will soon show itself in our lives sooner or later.
Accurate and proper interpretation of Scripture cannot be effective and wholesome without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our Teacher and Author of the Bible. The Spirit seeks to inform our thinking; repentance itself, the first fruit of regeneration, is a changing of the mind. Christians are exhorted to think deeply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of truth).
The Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the Word, but to separate the Word and the Spirit is spiritually fatal and disastrous. The Spirit teaches, leads, and speaks to us through the Word and with the Word, not apart from or against the Word. How it must have grieved the Spirit when various ones, claiming the leading of the Spirit, are actually acting against the Word of God. We have noted previously that Satan can act as an angel of light; he is more than able to plant ‘thoughts’ and ‘visions’ which the ones receiving might conclude that these come from God Himself. Deception is a deadly ‘weapon’ in his hands. Hence the Bible tells us to ‘test’ the spirits; and the test concerns the issue of truth. The false prophet classically claims that he does speak the truth.
Since the Scriptures are the revealed truth of the Holy Spirit, they function as the norm and test of truth. The Spirit does not contradict Himself; He is not the author of confusion.
Learning the truth is not an end in itself; it is the means to the end of learning and practicing holiness. But it is important to realise that learning the truth involves knowing the Bible and God’s revelation accurately and interpreting the Scriptures wholly (with good exegesis and interpretation, followed by godly application). Only then can we be good ‘doers of the Word’ and obedient servants of God!