Douglas Stuart on OT Exegesis

Douglas Stuart in his primer on Old Testament Exegesis writes:

To do OT exegesis properly, you have to be something of a generalist.  You will quickly become involved with the functions and meanings of words (lingustics); the analysis of literature and speech  (philology); theology; history; the transmission of the biblical writings (textual criticism); stylistics, grammar, and vocabulary analysis; and the vaguely defined yet inescabably important area of sociology.  Natural intuitive skills are helpful but no substitute for the hard work of careful firsthand research.  Exegesis as a process can be quite dull.  It’s results, fortunately, can often be exciting.  Exciting or not, the results should always at least be of genuine pratical value to the believer or somthing is wrong with the exegesis.  While this book is a primer, and hardly an exhaustive analysis of exegetical presuppositions or techniques, it ought to serve you well if your reason for learning exegesis is eventually to apply it’s benefits in Christian preaching or teaching.


So what is the goal of either OT or NT exegesis?  That’s right!  Application!   Without it your preaching or teaching will be empty, dull and pointless.  Without application points your sermon or teaching will not be a sermon or teaching – it would just be meaningless empty talk.   Stuart states later that he intentionally leaves out some parts of the exegetical process to the focus can remain on application, as it should be!

So what are some ways to draw out application points in OT Exegesis?

List the life issues: this means we try to draw out the most important (transferrable) life issues in the passage compared to the secondary or less important issues.  Are these life issues still a concern for us to day and if so, what are the implications?

Clarify the nature of the application: do the applications inform or direct the reader?  A passage the describes the love of God primairly informs whereas the passage that commands the love of God primarily directs.

Clarify the possible areas of application: does it promote faith or action? While these should remain together, they are distinct  and any given passage may focus on one more than the other. 

Identify the audience of the application:  There are two audiences of application: the personal and the corporate.  Is the passage dealing with individual issues or corporate ones? 

Establish the categories of application:  is the matter primarily personal or interpersonal?

Determine the time focus of the application: it is past, present, future?  Is the call immediate or is a more steady response needed?

Fix the limits of the application: it is often as valuable to explain how a passage does not apply as how it does apply.  In general, it is safest to limit potential applications as much as possible.  Limit applications to what the passage itself implies or leads to.

So that’s it folks!  Let me know what y’all think!


7 responses to “Douglas Stuart on OT Exegesis

  1. Thanks for the post. By way of clarification, do you draw a distinction between principle and application? As I see it, principles are broad and general truths or truisms, whereas applications are specific, and if I can coin a word, “do-isms.” I often refer to applications as principles with shoe leather on them. You may have touched on this when you refer to that which informs and that which directs. My confusion is that both of these fall under a heading of application.

  2. I agree that the primary purpose of exegesis is application. As it says:

    But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

    For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

    But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

    James 1:22-25 NASB

    Here’s two simple patterns for exegeting (explaining the meaning of) a passage:

    1) What does it say? (observation)
    2) What does it mean? (interpretation)
    3) What do I do? (application)


    1) Meaning (what was the original intended meaning for the original intended hearers?)
    2) Message (what is the message for us today?)
    3) Movement (what do I do in response to the message?)

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