Not so many years ago, I embarrassed myself during a conversation with a friend and fellow church member, a learned pastor and medical doctor who served many years as a missionary in Africa. “Sometimes I just want to throw the Bible out the window!” I blurted. His startled expression made me realize what a strong statement I had uttered and how open it was to being interpreted as sacrilegious. I hastened to explain. “There’s so much to know about the background and context and original language of any given passage. How can we find meaning without an interpreter’s resource constantly at our side?” He cautioned, “Don’t count out the Holy Spirit.” Oops. Yes, the Holy Spirit, always present to guide us as we read and search. And this humble servant gave witness to believers in Africa who had no other source than the Bible itself whose insights upon reading it were amazing and life-giving.
That conversation humbled me and made me think, reminding me always to invoke the Spirit when I study the Scriptures. Nonetheless, the conversation did not dampen—nor was it meant to—my enthusiasm for spirit-led, faith-fed exegesis. When I first heard the word exegesis I thought it was exe-Jesus. (I think I’m very brave to admit that!) But if you are a mathematician, you know that you exegete the root of an equation. And if you are a student of the Bible—and how can you not be a student of the Bible if you consider yourself a serious Christian?—you know that exegesis is the “exposition, critical analysis, or interpretation of a word, literary passage, etc., especially of the Bible” (Webster’s).
Recently, through exegesis, I learned about the significance in John 19, verse 20, of the King of the Jews inscription posted on the cross being written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The gospel writer was signaling that Jesus died for the whole (known) world, not just the original chosen people. Also, the trilingual caption expressed Pilate’s contempt.
Since I have engaged in exegeting biblical stories and passages—largely for the purpose of writing the Sunday by Sunday series—the material has come alive with meaning and is far more interesting as well as sensible. In the next blog, I’ll tell how study and reflection and pondering have helped me come to positive terms with one of the most troubling stories of the Old Testament, the command to sacrifice Issac.