I recently finished three books which are relevant to the task of exegesis (a close reading of the biblical text, with the purpose of discovering the intent of the biblical author). The three authors are fairly well respected in evangelical circles (and often wider ones as well). I read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, and David Alan Black’s Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. All contributed added to my knowledge of the task, though some were more interesting than others. Here I’ll collect some various thoughts that resulted from reading and reflecting on the books.
From Carson’s book, I was reminded of the absolute necessity of humility in scholarship. Scholarship which isn’t humble (and in turn, self critical) usually ends up veering off into some fallacy or another. Going hand in hand with humility is the need for intellectual honesty. It’s very easy to get an idea and run with it, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. Usually this results in ignoring important evidence. When the scholarship in question surrounds scripture, it’s even more important to be honest and humble. Reading about all the ways which people misuse and abuse the Greek text of the New Testament warned me as I study Greek: tread softly and be hesitant about making broad statements. Don’t try to bend the text to a preconceived notion. You do yourself and the text a disservice in this case.
Fee’s book was the most fascinating for me. As a Pentecostal scholar and minister, Fee has a very strong appeal to me as someone raised in and involved with Pentecostalism, and as someone who loves intellectual pursuits. The combination is still rare, though slowly changing I hope. Fee impressed on me the wealth of all the resources that we’ve been given. Between the lexicons, the commentaries, the synopses, and dictionaries, it’s astonishing. Seeing a process laid out for doing detailed reading was also helpful, and I know it’s something I’ll return to in the future, Lord willing, when I preach or teach. The final thing which struck me in Fee’s book was his deep appreciation for the Spirit’s activity in the text. His appeal, in the middle of all of the scholarship, to encounter God in the text, and to let God examine you through the text, is something that I hopes stays with me.
Finally, there was Black’s book on Linguistics. In all frankness, this book was the most difficult. Perhaps it’s because my lack of exposure to linguistics, but I found it rather boring. Black did a good job of presenting the basics of linguistics and giving examples from New Testament Greek. He claimed throughout that the linguistics discipline has much to contribute to New Testament studies. While I believe him, he didn’t show this very much. Perhaps that was beyond the scope of the book, but it would have kept me much more interested in the book. That said, he did cause me to think more about how language works in general. This definitely helps one not make bogus conclusions when studying Greek, especially when doing word studies.
All three books were valuable for trying to growing in the art of Scripture reading. I’d recommend any of them, with the caveat that the linguistics book may not be the most exciting, and also that all of them might be hard to follow without some exposure to Greek.