Exegesis: Training Bible Study Muscles
Training the body through physical exercise promotes and improves muscular strength and the overall health of the body. The benefits of training begin at the exact moment an exercise program begins. It may take some time before the results manifest themselves outwardly, but through consistency and hard work, “cuts” will appear as more precisely defined muscles emerge.
Likewise, training the mind, and heart, to study the Bible using the exercise of exegesis promotes the accuracy and precision of well-formed understanding. It’s a common tendency to take familiar parts for granted, word-associate with other passages, and/or skip over the controversial, confusing, or even tedious parts. But God wastes no words. And true exegesis employs equal opportunity study for each verse of a passage.
The results of doing exegesis will be almost immediate. At first the exegetical process may seem cumbersome, but with frequent training, the importance of each step becomes apparent. And as muscle memory develops, exegesis becomes instinctual.
Paul reminded Timothy of the Kingdom value of being trained in the words of faith and of the good doctrine, which would enable him to be a good servant of Christ Jesus by teaching truth to the brothers and sisters (1 Tim. 4:6-7). And Paul continues:
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8
Ready to start building those huge Bible Study muscles?
The Top 5 Proven Ways To Build Bigger Bible Study Muscles
1. Train heavy and train hard
What Is Exegesis?
Fundamentally, exegesis means to present a detailed explanation or interpretation of a Biblical passage.
Before going deeper into this definition, it is crucial to understand that exegesis is first and foremost a collaboration between you, as a believer and student of God’s Word, and the Trinity. The most important part of studying the Bible, whether you are doing personal study or intend on sharing it with a class, another individual, an entire congregation, etc., is prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.
When training with these workout partners, training gets heavy. And training gets hard (in an effective way). The Trinity compels you to do your best work. No shortcuts. No skipping a word. No jumping immediately to the commentaries.
The wonderful thing is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit want you to “get it.” To understand the Word. They want you to experience the joy of an “ah-ha!” moment.
The Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that inspired God’s Word. The Spirit and the Word cannot be separated. As a people studying the Word, and earnestly seeking to hear God, we must rely primarily on God’s Spirit to teach us everything. (1 Cor. 2:9-16; John 14:16-17, 26, 16:7-11).
As the exegete engaged in the process of exegesis, you are working in a collaborative effort with the Trinity. -RDRD Bible Study
2. Eat enough protein and caloriesEveryone knows that a serious exercise program requires proper feeding of the body. Healthy foods promote energy levels, muscle development, and cardiovascular endurance. This is the age old rule of “garbage in=garbage out.”
In the process of exegesis, the same holds true. Enough “protein and calories,” the building blocks to accommodate understanding and application, must be taken in to produce a thorough study of a biblical passage.
A more formal definition:
Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scriptures to discover the original intended meaning. It is the attempt to hear the Word as the original recipients heard it, to find out what was the original intent of the words of the bible.
Key words to pay attention to are:
- Careful – done with thought, attention, and a careful consideration of the facts
- Systematic – done with a fixed plan, system, or method
- Original – “back then” when it was written
The Bible cannot mean something that the original authors did not intend the first hearers to hear and understand. This is called authorial intention.
The exegesis of Scripture is approached hermeneutically (systematic) in order to determine what the authors intended the hearers to hear. When the intended meaning is understood with a high degree of confidence, then the principle of the message can be applied to the contemporary situation, person, congregation, community, society, culture, world, etc., also with a high degree of confidence.
Scripture cannot mean something to us today that the original authors did not intend it to mean to the first hearers.
Exegesis and Hermeneutics are the Protein and Calories of Bible Study
The fundamental goal of exegesis is to discover the meaning of the biblical text. The principles and procedures that are necessary to accurately discern the meaning must be identified and explained. This is the purpose of hermeneutics.
The terms exegesis and hermeneutics are sometimes used interchangeably. But there is a distinction between them. Bernard Ramm says:
Hermeneutics . . . stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game. . . . The rules are not the game, and the game is meaningless without the rules. Hermeneutics proper is not exegesis, but exegesis is applied hermeneutics. In this sense, hermeneutics may also be seen as the “method of exegesis.”
In general, exegesis requires knowledge of many things. Stay encouraged and press on to the goal.
- Know the skills you currently possess and remember these skills are continually growing stronger. Moreover, you are being spotted by the collaborative effort of a Trinitarian workout partner.
- Avoid overexertion and strain by identifying the ever-changing fine line between respecting your limits while also challenging your max.
3. Track your progress and always push yourself to improve on your previous workouts
Skills that you can track and develop
a. Read the passage under study carefully.
In sermon preparation, my preaching professor said he would read the preaching text 50 times and urged the class to do the same. This may sound excessive, but I guarantee that passage will become a part of you. You will develop an intimate connection with it. It will be written on your heart.
Of course, there is also reading the passage in context and that also should be done multiple times during preparation.
b. During and after reading the text, ask questions about the content and context.
- What does that word mean?
- Why is that sentence there?
- In what way is that sentence related to the previous sentence? The following sentence?
Not one single word of the Bible is wasted. Every word has a purpose.
Having some basic knowledge of Greek and Hebrew helps with content, specifically to answer the question “What does that word mean?” Plenty of dictionaries, Greek textbooks, and software are available to help with this part.
Some critical commentaries will have notes on words from the original languages. Look at those if necessary, but don’t read the commentary comments until you are absolutely finished with your study—you and the Trinity remain in a collaborative effort at this point. Don’t bring anyone else in until you all are finished.
The importance of finding the passage’s context—as your first task in Bible study—cannot be overemphasized. Context is the most important part of bible study—apart from prayer and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
Always remember—A text without a context is a pretext to a prooftext.
There are 3 types of contextual questions. Following is a brief overview for the sake of discussing exegesis. Each of these have a separate post for a more in-depth explanation.
There are 3 contextual areas that must be determined:
Historical context includes info such as:
Time and culture of author and readers
- Who wrote the text, and who is the intended audience?
- When was the text written?
- When was Moses born?
- What was the Egyptian culture like?
On Paul’s voyage to Rome why were they looking for a place to winter? (Acts 27:12:13)
Why was the man helped by the Good Samaritan going down from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10:30)
Why was Ish-bosheth made king by the commander of Saul’s army after Saul died?
And most importantly:
Occasion and purpose of the book, letter, psalm, etc.
- Why did Paul write 1 Corinthians?
- Why did Luke write a gospel?
The correct interpretation will be consistent with the historical-cultural background of the passage
To answer questions related to historical context, get a good Bible dictionary, such as The Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible. You can usually find a good used copy or an older version at a reasonable price.
Note: I am not pointing the finger at anyone, but it is the tendency of a lot of people to google this kind of info. And according to whatever search engine algorithms Google has in place that day, a few selections will pop up. So the problem? You never know what you’re going to get. Or where it came from. The author, etc. etc.
Having a “go-to” copy of a bible dictionary will provide a consistent source for reference. You will come to know what to expect from this dictionary. Maybe it will tell you additional resources to consult. And most importantly, it can be trusted. If you still need to google, first establish some consistency and routine instead of taking whatever Google chooses to offer up.
Literary context means that
- Words have meaning in sentences
- Sentence meaning is clarified based on the sentences that come before and after it
Literary context reminds us that the Bible is literature. And that it contains multiple literary genres which each have their own reading strategies.
- What is the genre of this passage? Is it wisdom? Or a narrative? Or a letter?
- Content – the words. How are they translated? What do they mean? —in CONTEXT
- How should this be understood as part of a narrative?
- What is the context of the text, i.e. how does it fit in the author’s main argument in the book, his larger body of work, his purposes?
- How does Colossians 3:5 fit in with the overall message of Colossians?
- How does the message of Colossians fit in with all of Paul’s 13 letters?
- How is the purpose of Colossians related to any of Paul’s other letters?
- Why does Paul use this particular word in this text?
- Why did Paul write this text?
The main resource to help answer questions such as these is a good translation of the Bible. Some Bible Versions are more suitable for study. Many will provide info about the context.
The intended meaning of any passage is the meaning that is consistent with the sense of the literary context in which it occurs
Historical and literary context are of utmost important in the exegesis of a passage. But the Bible’s purpose is not historical record or literary artistry (though it is both)—it is theological.
The Bible teaches us about God and our relationship with God.
The nature of the Bible is fundamentally Christocentric.
With this in mind, ask yourself questions like:
- How does the Sermon on the Mount teach us about God?
- How does the OT narrative about Abraham and Melchizedek teach us about God? How does it teach us about Christ?
- At what point of revealed salvation history does this take place? Before or after the law was given? Before or after the Davidic covenant? Before or after the Resurrection?
As you work through the exegetical task, you can track and measure your personal growth in:
- The importance of reading and rereading the passage being studied.
- Learning a bible study process.
- Defining words using original languages.
- Ascertaining historical, literary, and theological context
4. Be patient
As will any worthwhile endeavor, the process of exegesis has to be learned–and practiced. Each time you exegete a passage you will learn something new. You will learn things that need tweaking in the process. You will learn that one passage may not require a step that another passage needed, etc.
The important thing to remember is that exegesis is a process that can be developed to master status and beyond. In a fitness program, each time a muscle is exercised, it is broken down but then grows back stronger. Likewise with exegesis, each time the process is used, your exegetical ability grows stronger.
5. Make recovery as much a priority as training
Recovery is the act of returning to a normal state after a period of training. In exegetical training, recovery is also necessary.
Personally, I like to exegete something as early as possible in advance of using it to write a paper, sermon, etc. Working through a passage, one word or phrase or paragraph at a time, requires intense focus on separate parts of the passage. Then studying the passage as a whole requires another intensity.
After the exegetical process is completed, all the parts can “marinate.” While you’re busy with other activities, the brain will work overtime thinking about the passage, making connections, applications, illustrations from personal life. While reading a newspaper or magazine, talking to a co-worker etc., you will find analogous situations and illustrations. The more time that is allowed for recovery, the richer the understanding, presentation, sermon, class, or article will be.
- Exegesis means to give an explanation or interpretation of a Biblical passage.
- Primarily it is a collaboration between the exegete and the Trinity.
- Scripture cannot mean something to us that the original authors did not intend it to mean to the first hearers.
- Hermeneutics identifies and explains exegetical methods.
- Read the text being studied carefully. And multiple times.
- Ask questions of the text.
- Consult others (commentaries) only after you have pushed your limits (which are always increasing).
- Study the content, i.e. word meanings.
- Historical Context
- Literary Context
- Theological Context
Related posts and practical examples can be found here on RDRD Bible Study on the Hermeneutics category page.
Until next time –
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14