Exegesis is a big word that, in evangelical circles gets thrown around like a frisbee on a college campus. Some of you may not even know what exegesis is. Well, to put it simply, it means explaining what a text–or in Christian circles, Scripture–means. There. I just exegeted exegesis. Words, sentences, paragraphs and books carry meaning; and though our postmodern friends would like to deconstruct language to remove all meaning, the fact remains: language carries meaning!
If you want to convey something to someone, you have to communicate it in some manner. God desires to convey His truth unto us, and one of the primary ways He has selected to do so is through His Word. Most Christians know that they should read the Bible, study the Bible, and that preachers should preach from the Bible. But why? Why would we select the Bible above any other book? “Well, son,” a rotund fundamentalist might say–with a holy kiss of condescension–“it is God’s revealed Word to us, where He shows us His will.”
We have so many ideas swirling around in our evangelical heads as to how to use the Bible, and I fear that many of them are at best misguided, and at worse, erroneous. Some treat the Bible like a Hallmark Movie, that stirs warm fuzzies and imparts some good moral lessons. Some take Bible stories and assign the most bizarre meanings to them; such as 1 Kings 1:4 being a prophecy of Bill Clinton (yes I have heard that point made). Some flop open the Bible, plop their wishful finger down and hope that God has something remarkable “just for them,” and if they are lucky, their finger will land on Leviticus 21:13 and they can they say God gave them that “oh, so important confirmation” that they should start dating the cute girl in the singles group at church. Some have a pre-decided doctrinal slant and the Scriptures become only an avenue to prove their viewpoint; this is especially true of those who are trying to predict who the Antichrist will be. Some think of the Bible as spiritual vegetables; it is good for you, and that is the only reason they read, and often don’t “get a whole lot out of it.” Some love to have lots of intellectual information about it, and can win every Bible trivia game around.
Notwithstanding all of these creative uses, how are we supposed to handle God’s Word? How do we plum its depths and discover its meaning? I recently heard a radio ad for a secret Money Code that is hidden in the Bible that if followed will make you rich. Is this how God wants us to exegete and explain His word?
The Pharisees were excellent exegetes of the Old Testament. They in fact knew what God meant to say so well that they added hundreds more rules, laws and guidelines to help God out. I mean, He was vague in some places, wasn’t He?! They were just helping to make it clear by straining out the gnats of personal preference, swallowing the camels of obvious sinfulness, and then laying heavy loads upon the shoulders of incapable humanity. Their hope was that they might obtain life through perfect understanding and keeping of a theological code and system. They were reliant upon exegesis as the avenue to life; thus, Jesus rebukes this wholesale, by plainly saying: “[You] search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).”
Context, Greek words, literary structure, cultural references all matter in explaining a passage; however, Jesus tells us that He is the context of it all. David studies Leviticus and says, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).” David sees all the stuff about white hairs in plague spots, oxen in ditches, impure sexual relations, various sacrifices and ceremonies and why do you suppose he breaks forth in praise? Because the Holy Christ is the focal point of all these shadows, symbols, ceremonies and types.
Your goal in reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and preaching the Bible is to know and make known Christ. He is the Word made flesh after all. In Him it all hangs together (Col. 1:17). I would be a pretty pathetic husband if I only memorized facts about my wife, but didn’t seek to invest in actually knowing her, by communing with her. The lethal step we often take in studying the Bible is by looking at a passage and merely looking for “the moral of the story.” Instead, we ought to come to the Bible with the understanding that “they are they which testify of Christ.” Ask the Spirit of God to show you Christ. In Christ is the sum of all goodness, therefore, rather than a self-powered pursuit of human goodness, live, by faith, so near unto Christ that you are ever saturated in the perfume of His presence.
I like to ask three questions whenever I approach God’s Word:
- Where is Jesus is this passage?
- What do I learn about Jesus in this Passage?
- And, so what? Meaning, how does this truth about Who He is, change who I am, and what I do, and how I live?
Spurgeon was fond of saying, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” I like that. Now, of course, we need to take heed to be faithful to the context of the passage, and make sure that the beeline we make to the cross doesn’t tramp through a briar patch of sloppy doctrine or through a nest of over-spiritualized hornets. However, every jot and tittle of God’s Word is pointing us towards the life-altering power of the cross of Christ. In every text of Scripture, make a beeline to the cross, but take the road that the Bible itself delineates.
Thus, if you need moral reform, guidance and clarity in decision making, soundness of doctrine, intellectual insight into the text of Scripture, then you must cease mere human “exegesis,” and instead begin exeJesus. It is really good for the soul! I do not want to study God’s Word merely to pass a true false quiz; I want to discover more of the glory and beauty of Christ. As usual, M’Cheyne has a fine way of inspiring us to treasure and love God’s Word in Text, which leads us to the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. He says, “One gem from that ocean [of Scripture] is worth all the pebbles from earthly streams.”
Indeed. It is high time we don some spiritual scuba gear.