on doing exegesis well

it involves much textual work, but maybe even greater background work.

listen to this short clip showing a bit of banter between John Piper and Don Carson:

Mastered By the Book from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

I side with Carson in this video and even want to assert that I think if one does his or her “homework” well, he or she may not need 10 hours of time in the text necessarily. I feel as if Piper is making a false dichotomy between the need for textual work and the need to do much background work. Even further, I would go opposite of Piper and think the person who does a lot of background work on the text may do better in their textual work than the person who spend all their time in the text with little to minimal background work. I say this because I feel the more one knows what is going on “around the text” that is, the better one understands the “context,” i.e., that which goes with the text, the more effectively can work and handle the text because doing textual work involves more than just doing outlines and word studies and so on. Words do not mean anything unless we know what is going on in the larger frame of things.

Well, that is how I see it anyhow… what about you?


6 responses to “on doing exegesis well

  1. They both have a point and I don’t think they disagree with each other. It’s really a matter of emphasis. Background and text go hand in hand. The text presupposes all kinds of background information so it’s important to know it, but if one’s time is spent mostly on background issues and hardly at all in the text then they could very well miss the point. For example, sticking strictly to the text of 1 Cor. 8-10 will yield all kinds of knowledge concerning Paul’s use of Deuteronomy. In one sense that is gaining background info since Deuteronomy forms the backdrop of his argument, but in another sense it’s information that won’t be gained from spending most of your time looking at social and historical matters related to Corinth and idol worship. But without some knowledge of Corinth’s issues with pagan temples, sacrificial meals to pagan deities, and their views on knowledge and wisdom as it relates to the so-called weak and strong, then we’ll miss a lot of Paul’s criticism.

  2. The danger with placing too much emphasis on the “text” is that one may end up really assuming they know what it says, when in actuality they’ve only created an artificial and ahistorical context. Certainly doing such a thing as cultural/historical studies may lead in this direction as well if one ignores the text itself. I think if one, at the very least, takes time to read a few technical commentaries (e.g., WBC, NICOT/NT, NIGTC, etc.) on any given passage/book they will be fairly well equipped for understanding such contexts as linguistics, socio-political situations, etc. without needing to do as much outside work beyond those commentaries and working with the actual text. I would guess that part of our problem is the waning emphasis of pastors actually taking significant time in the study (at least that is what I’ve discovered in my own context with other ministers).

    • Rick, so sorry this is just getting posted, somehow it got send to the spam area… sorry about that. I have had limited access to a computer for a while. I share your thoughts exactly! I hope you are well.

  3. Bryan, I just see Piper arguing a false either/or – it doesn’t hold a lot of weight. I mean I give it to him that much of the contextual – cultural- lingustuic issues can be discerned from the texts – at the same time I guess I felt he was down playing background work – but it could be he and carson were just talking past each other… it was fun watching Tim Keller’s reaction to it all.

  4. Theoretically it is a false either or but in practice I don’t think it is.
    I think his point is that the return on a lot of time spent studying the background isnt as great as just staying in the text. Its not even something that should be attempted to be equally balanced but instead the text should get a lot more attention.

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