Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook
Summary of the Purpose, Argument and Content
According to Hayes (2007), exegesis is the usual activity that all people put into practice in their daily lives. For instance, anytime people try to master or understand something they heard or read, that can be referred to as exegesis. The book illustrates exegesis in terms of an act of communication and explains more on the factors that influence and affect the process of communication. “Theses factors include the historical gap between different cultures and the evolution of the text or the sacredness (Hayes 22)”. The book had the aim of illustrating to the readers that cultural gap is the factor that separates both the modern and the first readers of the bible. For instance, the cultural pre-supposed by the biblical culture is known to be that of the ancient Mediterranean world and Palestine in particular.
It is noted no bible was written originally in a modern language; the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic while the New Testament was written in Greek. This implies that all modern exegetes in interpreting the bible experience difficulties due to language barrier. The historical gap as a factor separates the current from the past. The book shows that despite the length of time in which the bible was written, many things in the bible seem to take the form of a historical narrative. In addition, most of the writers of the bible tend most of the time to express their feelings, thoughts and establish their theology using the past, present and the future.
As the book illustrates, it always has the beginner audience in view thus the author discuses the points of details that may be seen confusing to the people while setting out on the exegetical journey. The author tried to argue that, “in the early stages of the interpretation of the bible, a good number of people had the tendency of assuming that faith and activities of their society were identical with and directly conditioned by the teachings of the Bible (Hayes 67)”. This was so because they had a belief that the bible was provided divinely and therefore their appropriation on the teachings of the bible was ordained through divine powers.
Therefore, as a result, the bible interpreters lived on believing that they were carrying on God’s will as it had been provided to the biblical writers. They had the thought that all items in the bible including the difficulties and problematic texts were a divine revelation. Hence, there occurred an argument that the theology of the bible interpreters and their respective societies affected the outcome of their exegesis during the early periods. For instance, this was proved by the case of the use of the bible by the Christians especially the use of the Old Testament.
The general purpose of the book on exegesis of the bible was to achieve a critical and theological sensitive understanding of the message especially for the life of the church in its association with the world. It also helped in exploring the meaning of the text that would later lead to the discovery of the significance of the bible exegesis and its relevance. According to Hayes (2007), he argues that exegesis is a systematic way of interpreting a bible message (45)”. It is believed that every person gets involved in exegesis in one way or another. Nevertheless, biblical exegesis has its own special needs and disciplines. It has a simple goal of reaching an informed understanding of the text. There are different aspects of the meaning of a text and various forms that can be addressed by exegesis. Therefore, it is difficult to present an exegesis text and hope it to be the final word. It is required that an exegesis is done in a coherent and informed understanding of the final presentation depending on the encounter of a person at a particular time.
The book also tried to argue on the issues concerning the modern era of the interpretation of the bible that was noted to extend from the period of growth and development to the current era. The major purpose of this era was to carry out the study and understanding of some of the documents about the bible just like people would study any other type of document (Hayes 140). The book further illustrates that in the modern era, the settings historically by the composers of the bible experienced a great increase in attention.
The new emphasis of the bible led to different ways on how to interpret it in various perspectives. For instance, the book shows that various methodological approaches were used in the early church. This includes its usage in reconstructing the history and religion of Israel and the early church. Furthermore, it was generally compared with the literature of other cultures in the early days. The writer of the book showed that through this approaches, a good number of bible interpreters got attracted to the bible because of its aesthetic and artistic values. Therefore, this modern era helped the bible to continue providing the necessary services as the foundation study of both the Christians and Judaism. It is today argued that the bible is mostly studied and taught under the contexts of academic restrictions.
Critique of the Book
By reading the book, one notices its aim, which is fresh with non-technical presentation of thoughts and ideas being considered and explaining clearly on other concepts by linking them to our daily life. The book also tries to deal with most of the frequently asked questions concerning the bible hence giving the audience humble time of understanding every detail in the book. The most interesting part of the book is the way it connects the common sense from which the beginning of the criticism of the bible has been created and exposed. It is seen to be very instructive for an individual in a New Testament lesson to view a particular idea applied to a Hebraic text. Therefore, the book plays a wonderful role in balancing the treatment of both the Old Testament and the New Testament as required. Therefore, as a result, this has led to an increase in its value especially to those students dealing with the study of both the testaments. However, the book lacks some necessary information that could have added to its value. The book does not elaborate or provide enough information on the discussion concerning the textual families that focused almost exclusively on the New Testament texts without revealing the unseen secrets particularly to the new exegetes.
On the negative side, the book involves a chapter based on the historical criticism that included a short introduction to the reception history, which involves interpreting a biblical text in a historical manner within the church. “Reception history is a technique used in interpreting in order for one to be sure about a particular issue (Hayes 187)”. There is also more criticism based on grammar where it provides several popular common pitfalls that were experienced particularly by those trying to get a clear understanding of an informed reading of the text through its grammar and syntax.
The book has also a number of problems especially in the treatment of what it refers to as a special focus exegesis, which is very brief. Such issues include culture, gender, economy and other perspectives. This chapter is supposed to be at least detailed and longer than it is currently. For instance, the book puts together about thirty or more years that led to the explosion of a new critical perspective, which radically transformed the area of biblical studies into just one chapter. Unfortunately, this is the shortest chapter in the entire book that tried to introduce the audiences to the issue of liberation theology; it was expected to be the chapter with the most details and given much attention because it introduced a new concept.
The book got its recognition through the strength of other parts. In my opinion, the book causes mixed feelings concerning its appendix especially in the section concerned with computers and the internet. It was acknowledged by the writer that by the time the book was published, which is our time, it would already be out dated. Therefore, all readers going through this book currently are very much computer and internet literate.
This implies that although the book has useful information for its audience concerning ways to improve on their religious studies, they already have the information in advance. Moreover, in case the book intended to expose its audience in a more general sense to various computer software and applications that are important in the study of the bible, then it could be extremely necessary to have references because they could be helpful and powerful options that exist outside the proprietary world.
Another negative issue concerning the book includes the engagement of the modern readers in exegesis, which exposes the book to more criticism. For instance, the current reader may fail to understand the meaning of some wordings; hence, this may result into fundamental problems that textual criticism is concerned with. Therefore, it is important that every person concerned with the issues of exegesis must try to determine the meaning of the wording in the bible in order to help reduce textual critics. Another criticism is done in the context of the bible’s setting in both time and space; for instance, its historical, geographical and cultural settings or even the content of the main writer and audiences. It is important that each word, place, name or other difficult concepts be well explained to enable the reader to have an easy time in understanding the main message in the bible. For instance, providing the period, geographical location, and writer of the bible is always very necessary.
Hayes, John. Biblical exegesis: a beginner’s handbook. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. Print.