The Nature of Biblical Exegesis -- By: Karl C. Ellis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 137:546 (Apr 1980)
Article: The Nature of Biblical Exegesis
Author: Karl C. Ellis


The Nature of Biblical Exegesis

Karl C. Ellis

[Karl C. Ellis, Bible Teacher, Kasilof, Alaska]

A survey of contemporary theological literature or a sampling of present-day sermons points up the immediate necessity of careful exegesis. An example of careless exegesis is the Alexandrian school of interpretation, introduced by Clement (ca. A.D. 150-220) and developed by Origen (ca. A.D. 185-254). This allegorizing theory of interpretation or exegesis is perhaps illustrative of a modern phenomenon, namely, being dissatisfied with the revelation of Christ in the Word and seeking deeper or more exotic meanings and experiences to fill the gap.

Origen, although historically closer to the source of revelation and having a grasp of the original languages, was not content with the plain literal meaning of Scripture. Origen’s interpretation was “based on three senses of Scripture, the literal, moral, and allegorical. The Bible was inspired, useful, true in every letter, but the literal interpretation was not necessarily the correct one.”1 Origen’s approach was a downgrading of the literal historical interpretation by which he negated the basis for accurate exegesis.

The Definition of Exegesis

Exegesis is a transliteration of the Greek word ἐξήγησις, meaning “narrative, description,” or “explanation, interpretation.”2 The noun does not occur in the New Testament and is used only once in the Septuagint in Judges 7:15 in the sense of “interpretation” of a dream. The verb form, ἐξηγέομαι, used in

Judges 7:13, means “explain, interpret, tell, report, describe…relate something to someone.”3 It is used in extra-biblical sources “for the activity of priests and soothsayers who impart information or reveal divine secrets;…he has made known or brought news of (the invisible God) J[ohn] 1:18 .”4

Exegesis is used today more in the sense of interpretation. Exposition, which is concerned with the explanation of the results of exegesis, is the natural outcome of exegesis. Exegesis therefore is a component of the broader field of hermeneutics, which establishes the general principles of interpretation. Exegesis then is limited to a determination of the meanings of individual statements and passages in the Bible. Exegesi...

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