In listening to the text we ask: how can we initiate a first-hand relationship with the biblical material? Here we try to accomplish three things: First, we compare approximately two or three published English (or other modern, foreign) language translations, such as the RSV and two others of one's choice. The focus of the exercise is to get acquainted initially with the pericope and to identify noteworthy differences between translations as possible areas for follow-up areas for study in subsequent steps. Long comparisons of translations are to be avoided.
Second, we need to know which textual reading of the Greek/Hebrew text has the strongest claim to originality and so we examine the critical apparatus of the Nestle/BHS text. No need to do an exhaustive study here, the operative principles are simple:
- a) external evidence - if the support of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts overwhelmingly favors the reading in the text, accept the probability that this is in fact what the author originally wrote;
This exercise prompts a tentative decision on the most original text and an appreciation for the kinds of changes within the history of textual transmission.
- b) if there is a major split in the Alexandrian family, go to internal evidence - if one variant is more difficult (lectio difficilior) or is shorter (lectio brevior) that one is likely more original than the longer or less difficult one.
Third, we produce our own first-hand, initial, rough translation retaining basic lexical equivalencies and Greek/Hebrew syntax at this stage and postponing smooth translation decisions until Step V when we can base such decisions on further research and reflections.
Here we ask: how does the text say what it says? This Step is critical for the process of first-hand encounter. Take out notepad and pen and assume the posture of inquirer: let the questions and musings flow! The first part of this Step focuses on genre considerations, literally how the text chooses to communicate in the medium of written word. Every text has a particular form of diction, using common or more specialized vocabulary, simple grammatical constructions (simple sentences connected with the conjunction "and") or more complex ones using the principle of subordination (participles placed in the service of main verbs), echoes from or direct dependence upon traditional genre (miracle story, parable, pronouncements, poetry, debate scenes, prophetic speech or combinations of such), direct or indirect address (quotations or allusions), and dramatic flair and simple narrative. Why an author chooses certain forms of written speech over others provides an important, initial inroad into subsequent issues of meaning, that is what one intends to say. Let the writer mean what she or he means; keep asking what that might be!
The second part is one's own candid response to what is unfolding in this inquiry. Record on the notepad one's own questions, doubts, and affirmations in deliberate, active engagement. If you don't understand something, say so; if you disagree, say so; if you are encouraged and affirmed, say so. In each case, try to say why.
Finally, the third part is to try to organize these personal responses by locating them within the lines of questioning of the methodology as a whole. Is your question an historical one? Is it directed at the intent of author's composition? Is it a matter of application for the preacher or teacher? Is it's concern one's own devotional life? Or, do you honestly not know what kind of question it is? One discovers here, in this Step, a lot about one's own theological identity and pilgrimmage - first-hand.
How does the pericope function within the compositional whole of the author's work? This Step takes seriously the notion that an author has a purpose in mind by the choice of starting point, sequential development and conclusion. The chain one holds at either end is held together by its links; a literary composition is similarly structured. The exegete seeks to understand the pericope at hand here in this step in terms of that linked whole. Starting with the focal pericope one asks about the links preceding and following it to see how they are related. What merges by moving fore and aft along the compositional line is a growing appreciation for the special intent and theological burden of the author, who also emerges slowly as an historical person through the data and great themes, etc. of her or his composition (important especially when biographical data, such as in the case of Mark, are otherwise sparse).
The practical shape of the Step has three parts: a) examination of surrounding pericopes, b) grasp of the compositions's overall shape and intent (here in addition to one's own reading of the work and consultation with published introductions to the NT/OT and commentaries in the overview section is recommended), c) data gathering on the life and historical circumstances of the author.
How can we break through the redactional wall to the historical circumstances behind the composition and the traditions to which the author is indebted? Here we examine the historical resources imbedded in or serving as backdrop to the pericope we are studying. Treading the path called history of tradition analysis we are moving as far back in history as possible in a careful, disciplined way and claiming whatever we may as reasonable illumination of our text. Portions of our Step II discoveries about the genre, quotations, and allusions, etc. will assist us here. Through practice we'll gain facility in using the standard resources for this area of study. The three facets of the step are:
- a) Primitive Christianity, i.e., the early church, as available to us through the rest of the New Testament and extra-biblical Christian as well as patristic resources;
- b) the Old Testament and Judaism (Strack-Billerbeck's compilation of parallels as well as selected commentaries specializing in the area of backgrounds);
Caution is in order here against time consuming unwise "rabbit chasing." Focus upon Step II questions, patience, and a healthy respect for stewardship of time will help one to remain circumspect here.
- c) the Hellenistic world (Lohmeyer's commentary and resources such as the Loeb Classical Library).
How does one move from the "statement intention of the text" to the issues of relevance for the exegete's own world? This Step gathers data from the previous steps, incorporates them into one's choices for a smooth translation, and prods one into crossing the "hermeneutical bridge." The first part of the Step is to gather the salient features of previous steps in summary fashion. No need to report everything done in those steps. A practical way to determine "salient features" is to pay attention to the questions asked and organized in Step II. Which questions were you able to furnish with an adequate answer and which ones not? Where did you make some exciting discoveries? Did any "ahas" occur for you? Did you locate the theological "center of gravity" in the text? Are you now able to say what are the major and minor concerns of the pericope? How would you describe it/them in your own words?
You should be ready now for the second part of the Step which is to make a fairly responsible, coherent smooth translation of the text - to take some risks in such a translation based on your exegesis. This translation will probably not be used in a worship setting as a substitute for official translations like the RSV, but it should certainly be used in didactic settings to stimulate further discussion among other participants in the interest of deepening learning and understanding.
Finally the third part of the Step is to build and cross over an interpretive bridge to the present. Put in plain and simple terms, one is invited here to liken what you have heard in the text to the experience of faith and life in our world. Does it remind you of anything? Is it "like" what happens when people wrestle with issues of honesty? Or the deep structures of pain, grief, guilt or some other? Bob Shelton recommends turning to the "keen observers of life." That is a good idea. You find them among the poets, painters, novelists, playwrights, moviemakers, song writers and so on and not only among the famous. Be open to looking in unlikely places for your partners in bridge building. They may be there among your friends and the members of your church. Daily life is the context of hermeneutics.
How does exegesis become responsible contemporary address? This area of concern is not exclusively the struggle of the exegete but it is also the struggle of the exegete. That is to say, the exegete is compelled by the subject matter of the texts themselves to stay involved in the matter of theological relevance and proclamation and not to leave such to someone else. To put it another way, all theologians and preachers are in this methodology to be exegetes, listeners to the text and one another together.
In the context of Bi 216, development of this Step can only be made in preliminary fashion. One may decide to offer a variety of forms of contemporary address. The minimum requirement is a sermon in sentence outline form. This should include a statement about the audience, a thesis statement, and a comment on what you hope to accomplish in this sermon. Statements on audience and on what you hope to accomplish should also accompany other forms of address, such as poetry, musical compositions, art work, or whatever.
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