Excerpt from A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis

The following was taken from the Introduction of A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis by Craig L. Blomberg with Jennifer Foutz Markley.
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Exegesis comes from two Greek words, ἐξ (“from, of, out of”) and ἄγω (“to lead”), referring to the process of leading out from a text its original meaning. Exegesis is closely related to the art and science of hermeneutics (from Gk. ἑρμενεύω, “interpret, translate”). As it turns out, perusing the tables of contents of recent works on these two topics often discloses considerable overlap. Traditionally, hermeneutics developed more as a subset of philosophy, dealing with larger, theoretical questions about whether one can determine the meaning of someone else’s utterances or communicative acts and, if so, to what extent and how, whereas exegesis is the actual practice of doing the interpretation. In some contexts, “exegesis” is the term reserved for working with the biblical texts in their original language as one seeks to grasp their intent. But we want our textbook to be widely useful to specialists and nonspecialists alike, so we have written it for New Testament readers who have studied Greek as well as for those who haven’t.

The etymology of “handbook” suggests a small volume, though not all that goes by that label today is necessarily short or succinct. This little book was inspired by Gordon Fee’s highly successful and useful introductory textbook, New Testament Exegesis, which has gone through three editions and helped a generation or more of theological students and practitioners. Fee wrote what in many ways can be thought of as a “how-to manual,” with numerous short, prescriptive instructions in each chapter but without an abundance of illustrations from Scripture elaborated in detail. In our experience, exegesis is caught as much as it is taught, or, better put, it is learned inductively at least as much as deductively. In other words, there are really only a fairly small number of unvarying rules or principles with which one needs to acquaint oneself; the rest of the skill comes from repeated practice and from the evaluation of the work of other practitioners. So we have written a work of more expansive prose than Fee’s, emphasizing examples of the various exegetical tasks from significant New Testament passages, with motivational comments en route.

We did so because we recognize the barriers, logistically and emotionally, that Bible students face in faithfully elaborating a full-orbed exegesis of a given passage of Scripture. There are plenty of other books related to the New Testament with “exegesis” or one of its cognates in their titles, but some focus on the whole range of biblical criticisms rather than function as an exegetical textbook per se. Many produce excellent, detailed explorations of a select number of the key tasks involved in exegesis but don’t work the student step by step through the full exegetical process. Occasionally, a work excels in presenting extended examples from New Testament texts, but doesn’t treat methodology in much detail. In several instances among these various volumes, genre criticism (highlighting the distinctive interpretive principles for different literary forms), more appropriately dealt with in introductory hermeneutics texts, occupies a large percentage of the work.

We have tried to avoid each of these potential pitfalls and to create a ten-chapter work, not too long overall, that proceeds in a sequential fashion according to the logic of the exegetical task itself and devotes approximately the same amount of attention to each step. We have discussed methodology to what extent is necessary to get the introductory theological student under way in the process. But we have used abundant illustrations from the New Testament itself, focusing on those where getting exegesis right makes a significant difference because of what is at stake in the text. Of course, many students will recognize that we have not shied away from at times using biblical illustrations that themselves have been interpreted in competing ways. Interpreters who wish to disagree with the conclusions in our specific illustrations are obviously free to do so, but hopefully they will recognize the kinds of principles and methods they will need to employ in defending alternative interpretations. They will also learn why one pair of writers has chosen the particular interpretations they have, and they will understand the kinds of arguments they would have to counter in order to argue for alternative approaches.

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For more information on A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis, click here.