Constructive Exegesis -- By: William Arnold Stevens

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 039:154 (Apr 1882)
Article: Constructive Exegesis
Author: William Arnold Stevens


Constructive Exegesis

William Arnold Stevens

Exegesis in its broadest sense includes the whole function of interpretation as employed upon the Holy Scriptures. The interpreter acts as the mediator between mind and mind in the transmission of thought. Taken at the highest, his office is that of the prophet, who receives directly the thought of God and communicates it to man. In this Article, however, exegesis will be considered simply as employed in under standing the Scriptures, leaving out of view the methods by which its results are to be made available for the use or advantage of others. As thus employed it aims to elicit from a given passage or book the whole thought and purpose of the writer.

Schleiermacher, indeed, included interpretation as a whole under the definition die Kunst des Verstehens, “the art of understanding.” Inadequate as the definition is, it undoubtedly penetrates to what is fundamental. An art, truly, and apt in this age of much reading to lag behind in the so-called progress of the arts! The searching challenge of Philip the Evangelist, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (γινώσκεις ἃ ἀναγινώσκεις; the felicitous paranomasia of the Greek being perhaps untranslatable) still goes to the heart of the matter, and needs fresh and constant

iteration, with more than Socratic pertinacity, in the ear of every student of the Bible.

In what sense, or to what extent, is exegesis, thus considered, constructive? The question concerns the order and the aim of the entire exegetic process. In raising, and in attempting to answer, this inquiry, I would address the student, as well as the professional expounder of the Bible — the reader, as well as the writer, of commentaries. We are at present witnessing a remarkable revival of biblical studies; the press is teeming with commentaries. The appearance of the Anglo-American Revised New Testament has awakened a fresh general interest in the problems and principles that specially concern the exegete. Surely, there was never more need that biblical interpretation should subject its methods to critical inquiry, ground its work upon broad philosophical principles, and obtain the clearest possible conception of its own ideal. Any real progress will much depend upon its keeping steadily in view the true goal of its course in order to press thitherward with undiverted energies. My main object in this Article is to show that in the exegetic process the constructive idea should dominate throughout. Precisely what is meant by constructive — should any ambiguity attach to the term in this connection — will very soon appear.

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