Every so often, I will talk about the importance of exegesis. In order to interpret scripture accurately, we have to look at it in the context that it was written. This includes how it fits in the particular book of the Bible it was written in, and in the scope of the entirety of the Scriptures. We need to understand the history surrounding it, the people and culture, the original language (the actual words used), and the definition of those words at the time they were written. In other words, we need to make sure we are not using modern definitions to words that had an entirely different meaning at the time the Scriptures were written.
Today, I want to talk about applying Exegesis to non-Scripture texts or texts that use Scripture (in part, or as the foundation) of their content. I’m also going to speak directly to our responsibility in this as leaders and voices in the public sphere.
Exegesis is the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture but not exclusively scripture. Christian speakers, Pastors, and literature seem to be the primary people to use the term exegesis. It’s principals however reach beyond that. An example of a people who were prime in exegesis were the Bereans. They were heralded because when they would they finished listening to the message of their Spiritual Leaders, they would test those messages against the Scriptures to ensure they were true.
This is the beautiful mechanism that God has given us in order to discern Biblical truth. He didn’t just gift the Scriptures to certain people, but compelled the hearts of men to make Scripture available to everyone in a language they could understand. It has also become the litmus we use when reading extrabiblical resources to ensure the teacher’s message is trustworthy and in alignment with the Scriptures.
Confession… I read a lot of books. I probably don’t even comment on 2/3 of what I read. Some of it has turned out to be complete trash, where right out the gate I see gaping holes in the exegesis. I will usually toss the book in the trash and ne’re give it a second thought. I will not finish the book, but instead move on about my way. I also will not go out into the public square and sling accusations of heresy, false teaching, etc.
1. I didn’t finish the book. If I am going to make a public statement about a book, resource, or teacher, you better believe I am going to do my homework. To make accusation or approach possible slander is a BIG DEAL which we shouldn’t take lightly… especially if we are people of influence. I have watched people on the internet spew venom and call out “false teachers”, and when I look at their evidence it is lacking. A 2 minute clip from a 60 minute sermon… or a 2 sentence quote out of book of 60,000 words is their best proof. And, in most cases it has been taken completely out of context.
Before I share that clip, article, or blog… you better believe that I am going to read the full text or watch the full sermon. I’m going to research the accusations. If I don’t have the the time to do FULL, COMPLETE, research… I don’t have the authority to speak for/against something.
2. I have bias. We all do. We read material coming from our own lens of experience, education, and understanding. Considering I am not all knowing, like God, I am prone to error. Things I believed to be 100% gospel truth ten years ago no longer stand firmly on two legs, because I have grown in maturity, knowledge, and experience. I know that it is possible for me to enter the “research” with a conclusion in mind. When that happens I tend to read more into that which supports my bias and disregard that which challenges it. In other words… I might be wrong. I need to know with absolutely certainty that I am right before I lodge an accusation at anyone.
3. I have a responsibility. I am responsible to God for any accusation that I make, especially when it is against a fellow believer. Since I have a public voice, I am responsible for those who read my words or listen to me speak. If I lead someone astray, or into sin… because now they are casting judgement with me because of my opinions… that is a heavy responsibility to bear. If I do not know with 100% certainty that my opinions are actually facts… I am better to hold my tongue than loose my venom.
But Gena, we can’t let people fall victim to false teachers and poor theology!
You are right. We can’t. What I will do is:
- I will read the text. If I am so compelled to expose something, and God can use those in the public sphere for this… I will read the text and do the research. In full. I will pray before hand that I come at it with a God’s view lens and not my own.
- I will test the text. Are the Scripture references accurate, and in context? Are the non Scriptural parts of the text supporting the Scripture, twisting Scripture, or in conflict with Scripture?
- I will test the writer. I don’t want to examine just 1 work, but the body of work and the life of the author. I want to know who influences them, what authors do they read and speakers do they listen to? Who is their teachers/Pastor? Give me the big picture.
- I will share concern. I will never out right call a person a heretic or false teacher. Instead, I’ll share the concerns that I have with the content/message and show support for why I have those concerns. This will not be a drive by finger wagging and tongue lashing, but rather a well thought out and defended argument. (Remember that I said if I don’t have the time to do the work, I don’t have the authority to sling the accusation.)
- I would rather teach people how to spot a false teacher for themselves than to just put another face on the bullseye or name on the blacklist. I would rather teach on false principals than the people who teach them.
- I want false teachers to slip into ambiguity. Instead of drawing more attention to those whom I don’t find trustworthy with the Word, and unintentionally giving them more influence… I’d rather cast light on the teachers who are being trustworthy and whom I would recommend. Let those teachers get the attention, let me use my influence to point you toward their materials. If someone is going to get their 15 minutes of fame, I’d rather it be 15 minutes on the people I am for versus the ones I can’t support.