Wednesday, September 06, 2006

eat this book – on exegesis

"Many of us have picked up the bad habit of extracting 'truths' from the stories we read: we summarize 'principles' that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a 'moral' that we use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk. We are taught to do this in our schools so that we can pass examinations on novels and plays. It is no wonder that we continue this abstracting, story-mutilating practice when we read our Bibles. . . . It takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible." (p.48)

"Exegesis is the discipline of attending to the text and listening to it rightly and well. . . . All our masters in spirituality were and are master exegetes. There's a lot going on here; we don't want to miss any of it; we don't want to sleepwalk through this text. . . . exegesis is . . . noticing and responding adequately (which is not simple!) to the demand that words make on us, that language makes on us." (pp.50-51)

"A close relationship doesn't guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn't guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand thoroughly, to answer appropriately. Which is to say, the more 'spiritual' we become, the more care we must give to exegesis. The more mature we become in the Christian faith, the more exegetically rigorous we must become. This is not a task from which we graduate." (p.53)

"These words given to us in our Scriptures are constantly getting overlaid with personal preferences, cultural assumptions, sin distortions, and ignorant guesses that pollute the text. The pollutants are always in the air, gathering dust on our Bibles, corroding our use of the language, especially the language of faith. Exegesis is a dust cloth, a scrub brush, or even a Q-tip for keeping the words clean. . . . But exegesis does not mean mastering the text, it means submitting to it as it is given to us. . . . Exegesis is an act of sustained humility." (pp.53,55)

"It is useful for readers of the Bible to keep company with some of our master exegetes; the easiest way to do it is to use their commentaries. Biblical commentaries are, for the most part, employed by pastors or teachers in the preparations of sermons or lectures. They are treated as 'tools.' But there are treasures in these books for the ordinary reader of the Bible. . . . biblical commentaries have for too long been overlooked as common reading for common Christians." (p.54)

Source: Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson