Exegesis – Then and Now

One kind reader of this blog recently asked me to discuss the style of exegesis used by the Apostles. I must admit I’m a bit puzzled by the request.

The only recorded teachings of the Apostles are found in Scripture itself. Occassionally, in Scripture, the Apostles provide some exegesis of (other) Scripture. Example:

Hebrews 4:1-10
1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

And the same with Paul:

Romans 3:9-20
9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: 18There is no fear of God before their eyes. 19Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

And Jesus himself opened the Scripture to the disciples:

Luke 24:25-27
25Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? 27And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

So, we can say that the Apostles and Jesus cared what the Scriptures said and explained doctrine to people from an analysis of Scripture. Nevertheless, there some important differences between the Apostles and us. The Apostles were inspired to write Scripture: thus it was not just them, but the Holy Spirit speaking. Furthermore, the Apostles apparently knew the original languages, thus they probably did not have to work with translations.

After all, exegesis is, simply, trying to discover through careful analysis what the text is saying. It is what we do when we get a letter from a friend, or read a newspaper article.

The Word of God should be our study, as Jesus said:

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Praise be to our God of Truth!


P.S. The kind reader followed up by pointing out that it has been alleged that the Apostles practiced a form of exegesis in which they just siezed on any verse that supported their view and ignored the context. The reader also suggested that it has been alleged that the Apostles followed the “thirteen principles” of interpretation.

As for the the thirteen principles of interpretation, it seems that this is a reference to a Rabbinical tradition, but the Rabbinical tradition only appears much later (think the second millenium of our Lord’s incarnation) . There are certain modern Judaizers who seek to impose an apostate Jewish mindset as a context to the writing of Scripture. We reject this, because we know that Jesus was constantly rebuking the Jewish leaders, and returning the congregation to Sola Scriptura.

As for the alleged technique, this is no new charge. For example, it is charged that Paul took “Esau have I hated” out of context in his quotation of it in Romans 9. Even if that were so, we know that Paul was inspired to do so. Because we are not similarly inspired, we cannot provide additional revelation, we can only learn from the revelation we are given.

Here’s a link to useful discussion of Calvin’s exegetical method:


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