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9 Steps for Bible Exegesis and Exposition

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    9 Steps for Bible Exegesis and Exposition

    Once we understand the importance of Bible study, the role of prayer and personal application, and the centrality of interpretive method, we can embark on the exegetical journey. The 9 Steps for Bible exegesis and exposition are:

    (1) Verify Text and Translation
    (2) Understand Background and Context
    (3) Identify Structure
    (4) Identify Grammatical and Syntactical Keys
    (5) Identify Lexical Keys
    (6) Identify Biblical Context
    (7) Identify Theological Context
    (8) Secondary Verification
    (9) Development of Exposition

    Note that the first 7 steps are truly exegetical (drawing from the text itself). We need to be sure we are avoiding eisegesis (reading ideas into the text) throughout these steps. Step 8 is an assessment of our exegetical work, and step 9 is for putting the passage to further use (hopefully, we are already putting the passage to proper use throughout the process of studying it).

    (1) Verify Text and Translation

    There are three components to this first step: verify the boundaries of the text, verify the best reading of the text, and write a brief passage overview. Keep in mind that at every step some understanding of the original languages is a necessity, because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The exegete doesn’t have to be an expert in Biblical languages, but one should be able to read at least a little bit and have a working knowledge of available tools and how to use them, because true exegesis can’t be done in a secondary language. Bible software like e-Sword can be very helpful for helping to introduce the languages and is free.

    First, verify the boundaries of the passage. Recognize that the passage is a propositional unit and a complete thought. Understand where that thought begins and ends. Dividing a passage unnaturally can cause tremendous misunderstanding. Example: compare the ending of Matthew 16 with Mark 9:1-2. Keep in mind that chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text but were added much later. Sometimes they are helpful, other times not.

    Next, verify the best reading of the text. There are many manuscripts in both the Hebrew and Greek books of the Bible. Consequently there are frequent variants in the text. Usually the differences are not of great significance, but sometimes they can be. A series of external and internal evidences can be helpful for recognizing the best reading. External considerations include age of manuscripts and geographical distance between agreeing manuscripts. Internal considerations include consistency in style, length of reading (shorter preferred over longer) and difficulty of reading (difficult preferred over simpler). Example: In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, consider which word has a higher probability of authenticity: nepioi (small child) or epioi (gentle). Note: if you don’t have any access yet to the Biblical languages, you can simply compare different English translations (like KJV, NASB, NKJV, and ESV) – this won’t give you the precision of working in the languages, but it will help you get used to the process of critical comparison.

    After completing these two steps, write a brief overview of the passage including four components: identify and summarize the variants discovered in the text, briefly summarize the passage, summarize your current understanding of the theological impact of the passage, and identify your own doctrinal presuppositions in approaching the passage. Thinking through each of these aspects will help the reader handle the passage with accuracy and open mindedness.

    Step #2: Understand Background and Context

    Once we have established the boundaries of the passage we are studying, and are confident that we have the best reading, we can march ahead in our exegesis. In the second step, we seek to understand the background and context of the passage.

    First, we need to identify and explain the significance of literary form and genre. We should not apply different hermeneutic approaches for different genres – we need to be consistent in our methodology, but recognizing the type of literature will help us in a number of these steps. There are essentially five basic literary forms used in the Bible:

    Primary Historical Narrative – historical narrative which advances the chronology of Biblical history, including Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, The Gospels, and Acts.

    Complementary Historical Narrative – historical narratives which complement (as contemporaries of) the primary historical narratives. This category includes Job, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Esther.

    Poetry and Praise – includes Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations.

    Prophecy – interspersed with historical narrative and poetry, this form presents, usually, God’s revelation of judgment and restoration. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel (although not included in the Nebi’im section of the Hebrew Old Testament, its form is prophetic and complementary historical), the twelve minor prophets, and the New Testament book of Revelation.

    Epistles – letters including Pauline and general epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude).

    Genres like near east myth, Greco-Roman bios, and apocalyptic literature are not Biblical. While some argue that Genesis is Near-East myth, Genesis claims to be and is attested to be historical narrative. While some perceive the Gospels as Greco-Roman bios, they claim to be historical narratives representing actual events. While some argue that Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic, they have internal claims to and external attestation of historical narrative and prophecy, bearing little similarity to extra-Biblical apocalyptic literature.


    Once we understand the literary genre, we can have some insight into the building blocks of the book, and of the passage we are handling.

    Next, to continue our pursuit of the background and context, we need to research key questions regarding the background of the book – questions like (1) Who wrote this book? (2) To whom did is the book addressed? (3) Where was it written? (4) When was it written? (5) What was the occasion of the writing? (6) What was the purpose for the writing? (7) What were the circumstances of the author when he wrote? (8) What were the circumstances of those to whom he wrote? (9) What does the book tell us about the life and character of the author? (10) What are the main arguments and ideas of the book? (11) Is there a single, central theme of the book? (12) What are the characteristics of the book? These are a few important questions we try to answer from the text itself. If we can’t find answers in the text (or nearby texts), then for now we accept our limitations and press on to other questions.

    From our pursuit of background and context, we should summarize our findings, highlighting the following elements: historical, social, geographical, authorship, date, and literary form. Finally, we should explain how these findings are significant to the interpretation of the passage.

    After verifying the text and translation of the passage we are considering, and after examining the background and context, we need to identify the structural keys – or building blocks – of the book so that we can recognize shifts in thought or argument, and developments in the narrative.

    In some books, structural keys are easy to identify, while in others the structural keys take a bit more effort to discover.

    Genesis is divided up by the Hebrew word toledoth (often translated as “the generations of” in Gen 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, etc.). The book is developing God’s working in human history through a particular lineage.

    In Habakkuk, the structural keys are the shifts in the dialogue. Habakkuk asks God two questions, God answers them, then Habakkuk offers a prayer of praise and trust. Notice how the chapter and verse division displaces the statement in 2:1.

    Chiasm is a literary structure in which the pattern resembles half of the Greek letter Chi (X). In Lamentations, chapters 1 and 5 have similarities, and chapter 2 and 4 have similarities, but chapter 3 stands alone as the central focus of the book in its chiastic structure. Notice 3:18-26 and the tremendous emphasis there.

    Lamentations has another set of structural keys besides chiasm: chapters 1-4 are written in acrostic form, and chapter 5 is not. So in that way, chapter 5 is set apart.

    John explains his purpose for writing in John 20:30-31, and explains that his purpose for writing is that readers would believing in Christ. He identifies the tool he uses as signs (semaion). Notice the connection between John 20:30 and John 2:11.

    The narrative and geographical divisions of Acts 1:8 provide an outline of the book. Also present is division based on prominent characters (i.e., Peter and Paul).

    James uses the phrase “my brethren” to emphasize or advance arguments.

    Revelation 1:19 provides a chronological key to the divisions of the prophetic book.

    These are just a few examples that can help us understand the importance of and approach to recognizing the natural divisions in the book. Whether the structural keys are immediately recognizable or more challenging to find, we should always be careful in our observation not to miss these important guideposts.

    Once we have identified the structural keys, we are then equipped to outline the book, identifying major and minor divisions. Once we outline the book, we can begin to see the importance of the structure in the communication of the purposes of the book – which is a vital component for understanding the individual passages and how they contribute to that overall purpose.

    After (1) identifying the best reading and translation, (2) recognizing background and context, and (3) identifying the structural keys of the book, we need to (4) identify the grammatical and syntactical keys in the passage.

    First, we need to be able to distinguish between grammar and syntax, because they are not the same. Grammar refers to the rules of how words relate to one another, and syntax, to the actual usage. In other words, grammar is the theory and syntax is the practice. Grammar is the set of rules Paul would have understood and followed when he wrote his epistles, and syntax is the end product.

    Also, we need to understand the importance of studying the relationships of words before studying the words themselves. The fifth step for Bible exegesis is to identify lexical keys, yet we consider grammar and syntax first. Why? Very simply because the context in which a word is used – including its relationship to other words – is vitally important to understanding the intended meaning of the particular word chosen. Without first understanding the structures used for connecting the words, we cannot correctly ascertain the intended meaning of the individual word.

    Further, we need to identify the grammatical and syntactical keys themselves. We can start by identifying historical/cultural references, figurative language, rhetorical devices, quotations, key sentence structure, clauses, etc.

    Consider, for example, that Revelation 12 is a narrative describing some important signs. What is sometimes understood to be figurative language in this context is actually not figurative at all, but rather is a literal description of a figure, i.e., a sign.

    Next, we should note rhetorical devices employed in the text. Dialogical method is used by Paul in Romans 9:14, 19, 22, 30, and 32. Question and answer adds to the clarity of the passage and demonstrates the use of logical reasoning in Paul’s argument, but also indicates the limitations of human logic (9:19-20). Parenesis (encouragement) is found in Romans 12:1-15:13; 1 Thessalonians, etc. Other devices include judicial, deliberative, epideictic (demonstrative, persuasive), etc. Jesus uses figurative language (metaphor) in John 11:11 in describing Lazarus’ death. The same metaphor is also applied in Psalm 17:15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

    Number of persons is an important key to be aware of. Whether a verb is pertaining to the first, second, or third person, can sometimes make a tremendous difference in a passage. Acts 2:38 includes an important imperative regarding repentance and baptism that seems, in the English translation, to indicate that repentance and baptism are both necessary for forgiveness. However, the imperative repent is second person plural while be baptized is third person singular (let him or her – each one – be baptized), and the pronoun (your sins) is also second person. This grammatical key, not seen clearly in the English, is critical to understanding the verse.

    Word order is important – especially in Hebrew and Greek. Unlike English, in which word order is often dictated by the parts of speech chosen, in Hebrew and Greek there is much more freedom with regard to word order, so it is significant that a Biblical writer places one word before another. In the creation account of Genesis 1 each day is described as consisting of evening and morning. The order (evening first) is significant. How does this relate to Jewish culture? How impactful is this syntactical repetition in defining the scope of an individual day (i.e., 24 hours)? Does this phrasing lend credence to a literal six-day creation? How can there be evening and morning before the sun is created?

    Progress in the text is important. Notice the phrasing of Psalm 1:1. There is a progression from action to inaction (walk, stand, sit). How is this significant in describing the blessed man?

    Word endings are important. What is the rock in Matthew 16:18? What is the grammatical significance of the distinction between the two word endings: petros is a piece of rock or a stone, petra is a large rock or boulder. Note correlation of 1 Peter. 2:8, Romans 9:33, and 1 Corinthians 10:4.

    After recognizing grammatical and syntactical keys in the passage, it is helpful to diagram each sentence in the original language in order to visually recognize distinctions and their significance. Finally, briefly summarize the importance of grammatical and syntactical keys in the passage. This helps in synthesizing the data, and prepares the exegete for the next step.

    For a more thorough handling of grammatical and syntactical considerations, a text devoted to grammar and syntax is helpful (like Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and Waltke’s and Connor’s An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax). While ordinarily in the first seven steps of the exegetical process I discourage the use of external sources (in order for the exegete to look at the passage as objectively as possible), at this stage a good grammar or intro to syntax is fairly necessary, unless one has developed a high level of expertise in the languages. For most, these tools will provide aid without adding so much peripheral information that objectivity is hindered.

    After completing the detailed grammatical, syntactical and lexical analysis, we need to step back and refocus to the bird’s eye perspective and so some synthesizing. First, we need to identify the overall theme of the book, but by completing the first steps in the exegetical process, the theme of the chosen book should by now be apparent. If we have done our work well to this point, the remaining steps are easy. Once we grasp the overall theme of the book, we need to summarize the immediate context surrounding the passage. Note how important it is to recognize the immediate context in relation to the following passages:

    Genesis 49:10 (for context definition, see 49:1) – the immediate context demonstrates the significance of the statement regarding Judah. What kind of statement was it?

    Exodus 20 – The Ten Commandments. Should this passage apply to the church today? Why or why not? How does the immediate context clarify the issue?

    2 Chronicles 7:14-15 – This passage has often been applied by the church to the church. Is this appropriate? What does the immediate context say about the intended audience? What kinds of consequences are promised? What is the significance?

    Job 34:37 – Does Elihu personally indict Job for sinning?

    Psalm 58:6 – How is this an appropriate prayer?

    Isaiah 6:8 – This sounds like a very bold response by Isaiah. How do the preceding events alter that perception of this passage?

    Ezekiel 40-48 – What time period does the context suggest?

    Matthew 13 – Why is Christ speaking in parables. What is the significance?

    Mathew 16:27-28 – Contextually, to what event is Christ referring? (Note the chapter division of Mk. 9, how it fits the context better than the chapter division between Mt. 16-17).

    Acts 2:4 – How does the immediate context define to speak with other tongues? See 2:11.

    Galatians 3:28-29 – How does the immediate context define and limit the elimination of all distinctions?

    Ephesians 3:3 – How is the mystery defined contextually?

    Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who is being described, believer or unbeliever?

    In these – and any passages, we need to understand the immediate context. What directly precedes our chosen passage, and what immediately follows it? How does the immediate context contribute to and define our chosen passage, and what impact do those contextual factors have on the passage’s contribution to the book?

    Because context is the single greatest factor in defining words and helping us understand intended meaning, we cannot give too much attention to Biblical context. In discovering that context, we do need to exercise caution that we are focusing on the textual, rather than theological context (that is another step entirely). If we introduce theological concepts before thoroughly considering Biblical context, we can lose our objectivity here. So, we ask simple question, and try to answer them textually. What is the overall theme of the book? What immediately precedes and follows our chosen passage, and how does that context impact the passage? And how does our chosen passage contribute to the overall theme of the book?

    Finally, we can examine more distant contexts. Does the writer have other Biblical writings that have related contexts that we should consider that can help us understand our chosen passage. Remember, we need to look at the big picture, and then near contexts, then far contexts, and in that order.

    In Step #6, we considered Biblical context, examining contexts on the basis of immediate and near textual proximity. In Step #7, our concern is theological context – a contextual consideration of theologically (topically) similar passages. The goal here is not to introduce extra-Biblical theological constructs; rather, we are simply trying to recognize the inherent theological components and implications of the passage we are studying.

    First, we identify theological principles in the passage we are considering; second, we recognize the connection between those principles and the rest of the book; third, we compare with far reaching (but theologically similar) contexts to verify the theological principles; finally, we summarize our findings regarding the theological themes and principles based on context.

    (a) Identify theological principles in the passage.

    Recognize that generally larger contexts must be observed in order to identify theological principles, although sometimes, key individual words can provide significant theological framework (i.e., justification, redemption, propitiation, predestination, etc.).

    For example, what theological principles of the church (ekklesia) are presented in Matthew 16:13-20? Who is building the church? What is the scope of the church? Note the importance of a sufficient lexical and grammatical study here, as “upon this rock” has been understood in several different ways: (1) the rock is Peter – a foundational understanding for the development of apostolic succession, (2) the rock is the earth – an argument for the earthly scope of the church and a cog in the defense of replacement theology, (3) the rock is the confession that Peter made – detaching this phrase from key prophetic significance, and (4) the rock is Christ (the view that properly considers each of the necessary exegetical elements).

    Note Peter’s explanation in 1 Peter 2:4-10 appealing to Isaiah 8:14, etc. If the previous steps (grammatical, syntactical, lexical, contextual, etc.) are not given sufficient attention, the theological principles in a passage can be significantly misunderstood, leading to wide ranging and inaccurate conclusions.

    In Romans 3:21-31, what is the theological significance of righteousness? In Ephesians 1:1-14, what is meant by predestination? How does the principle of predestination impact the passage? In James 2:14-26, what is the theological relationship between faith and works?

    (b) Connect the principles to the overall context of the book.

    What significant theological principle arises from Romans 5:12, 17-19? How does it support the argument of the epistle? In Galatians 3:15-29, what was the purpose for the Law? How does this relate to the theological theme of the epistle?

    (c) Compare with far reaching contexts to verify theological principles.

    In James 3:1-12, regarding the theology of the tongue, compare Ephesians 4:15, 29-30; 5:4, Colossians 3:5-10; 4:5-6, and also Proverbs 6:17, 10:20 and 31, 12:18-19, 15:2 and 4, 17:4; 18:21, 21:6 and 23; 25:15 and 23, 26:28, and 28:23. What theological principle is clarified by a comparison of John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 with the outline of the book of Revelation? What key theological principle is outlined in Ephesians 2-3, and how does a comparison of Jeremiah 31, Romans 9-11, 2 Corinthians 3, Galatians 3 and 6:16, 1 John 2:25, and Rev. 19:11-14, 20:1-6 clarify the issue?

    (d) Summarize theological themes and principles based on context.

    At this point we are simply recording our findings. With the completion of this step, technically we have completed the purely exegetical portion of our study. The first seven steps are all exegetical – drawing out directly the meaning of the text. The final two stages are actually not exegetical, but have to do with external verification and then application. But before we move on toward Step #8, lets take a moment and look at one extended example.

    In John 14:1-3, Jesus describes His plans for Himself and His disciples. He says,

    “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

    Let’s trace what Jesus is saying, particularly in vv. 2-3:

    I go to prepare a place for you.
    I will come again
    And receive you to Myself
    Where I am, you may be also.

    Notice the verbs: I go, I will come again, I will receive you, you will be where I am. Now let’s reproduce these verbs graphically:

    First, He ascends. Next He descends, but with purpose of receiving them to himself (thus, they ascend). Now, let’s look at some other similar passages and see what we can learn.

    1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 seems to be describing a similar series of events:

    “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

    First, He descends. The dead in Christ rise. Those alive are caught up with them in the clouds to meet Him. We are always with Him. Let’s look at this graphically as well:

    Notice the similarities. Both passages describe Jesus returning, not to the earth, but in the air for the purpose of receiving His own to Himself, to take them back with Him to where He is. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 add helpful information about stage #2 in the 1 Thessalonians passage (resurrection of the dead). Because of similarities in content we can recognize these three as parallel passages, and by comparing their theological content we can begin to develop an understanding of the Biblical event we call the rapture, and by a similar comparative process, we can distinguish this event from the events described in Matthew 24 and Revelation 19, thus helping us understand that what Jesus describes in John 14:1-3 is not the same event as His second coming in Revelation 19. That, of course, has tremendous implications for how we understand the future. Further, these distinctions help us to recognize the importance of accurately handling the theological context of passages.

    Technically only the first seven steps of the exegetical process are truly exegetical. In those steps we aren’t using anything but the text itself (though because of our limitations in connecting with the languages especially it is expected that we will use tools like lexicons and perhaps even grammars). In those steps, we have avoided referring to commentaries, because we can’t rely on the exegesis of others without ceasing to exegesis on our own. So with as little external aid as possible, we have sought to draw out the meaning of the text. And if we have done our job well to this point, we have a good handle on the passage we are studying, and we are ready to test our hypothesis of meaning.

    In this eighth step, secondary verification, our job is to use external sources (like commentaries) in order to verify that we have asked and answered the right questions. The first seven steps are exegesis proper – primary verification. We verify meaning by appealing to the primary source: the text itself. Now we move on to secondary verification, where we appeal to external sources to test our work.

    Primary verification (as worked out in previous steps) comes from the contextual examination of Scripture – first the immediate context in an exegetical verification, and then more far reaching contexts in a systematic verification. By this point primary verification should be effectively completed. Secondary verification offers a further opportunity to challenge one’s exegetical work by comparing it to the exegetical work of other learned exegetes.

    Valuable external resources at this stage include introductions (generally to Old or New Testament studies), surveys (generally offering overviews of Old and New Testaments or individual books), handbooks and dictionaries (providing general outlines and definitions), and exegetical commentaries (providing verse analysis and other key exegetical information).

    First, we should utilize a number of resources covering the selected passage. Avoid locking into one commentator, but rather utilize a multiplicity. Comparing an exegesis with only one commentator generally does not offer enough of a broad view to soundly test the exegetical process. The purpose of this process is not to simply find agreement with an esteemed commentator, but rather to provide a critical look at the exegetical work we have already done. We are not trying to confirm our answers; rather we are trying to make sure we haven’t missed any important observations.

    Next, we should identify the hermeneutic method of the commentators. This is a vital step, not only in assessing a commentary’s validity and usefulness, but also in developing a critical approach to Biblical research literature. Developing an awareness of the commentator’s presuppositions, theological bents, and methodologies is key in both areas. While this can be a painstaking process, usually there are litmus test passages we can look at to quickly identify the commentator’s interpretive approach.

    As we become familiar with various external sources, we should summarize agreements and differences in the interpretations of the commentators. Exegetically and critically examine each commentator’s agreements and differences. Have they covered key elements, or have they glossed over difficult or controversial issues? Particularly in light of the hermeneutic method utilized, certain conclusions can be expected. An allegorical approach will generally lead to replacement theology conclusions. Spiritualization will often de-emphasize primary applications. Theological hermeneutics can often lead to wild and unverifiable conclusions. Do those commentators using similar methodologies arrive at similar conclusions? Have any of the writers made observations or asked questions we haven’t?

    Armed with answers to these questions, we now can defend our interpretation or alter it in light of the findings. If secondary verification uncovers holes in our exegetical conclusions, we need to go back and review our entire process to determine the cause. What we need is not only a refinement of the conclusions regarding the particular passage, but also a refinement in the overall process. We need to ensure that the next exegetical exercise is sounder than the previous. Ultimately, we simply need to observe well and answer questions properly. So we are using external sources to test whether we have been thorough, or whether we have left stones unturned.

    I can’t emphasize enough that the point of this stage is not simply to look at the conclusions of other writers and gain satisfaction in agreeing with them. The point is to focus on their process, not their product. Just as in our own exegesis our goal is not to manipulate the process to arrive at a certain product, our goal here is to uncover the process of these other sources, for the sake of assessing and testing our own. It is for this reason that we delay using these resources until after we have finished exegesis.

    Once we have examined the secondary sources, hopefully we find they confirm that we have asked and answered the key questions – that our process has been sound. If so, we move on to the final step (exposition), and if not, we revisit our work to refine and correct any deficiencies.

    This is a step where we can easily derail. Even if we have done our first seven steps well – handling the text accurately and comprehensively – and even if our eighth step has helped us to have confidence that we have grasped the meaning of the passage, there is still much possibility of error in our ninth and final step. The major problem is that we sometimes forget our purpose at this stage – and we fail at this in two particular ways.

    Recall the four basic steps of Bible study: observation, interpretation, correlation (or verification), and application. The first seven steps of the (more detailed) exegetical process entail observation, interpretation, and primary verification. The eighth step completes the verification process. So the first eight steps of the exegetical process correlates, basically, with the first three steps of basic Bible study. By comparing the more complex process (exegetical) with the simpler process (basic or introductory Bible study), it is apparent that the final steps of both are to be very practical – meaning, having to do with practice. Once we have understood the meaning of the text, what are we supposed to do with it? James reminds us to be doers of the word and not just hearers only (Jam 1:22).

    The first purpose of exegeting and understanding the text is so that we might follow it. Of course, we must recognize the distinction between primary application (for the initial audience) and secondary application (for you and I). The Scriptures were written not only for the original audience, but also so that you and I might be equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Consequently, there is no passage of the Bible that we can’t draw from in our own personal lives. We just need to draw correctly. Consider, for example, Ezra, who, as is recorded in Ezra 7:10, sought to learn the law of God, to practice it and to teach it. Notice the order in Ezra’s process: learn, do, teach. We mustn’t learn simply so we can teach others. We must learn so we can grow closer to our Lord, understanding Him better. So this final step (exposition) is not first about preparing an explanation of the passage for someone else, it is about me putting the passage into use in my own life, and doing so with proper understanding of the passage in mind. The first of two major ways we can fail at understanding the purpose of exposition is to focus on training up others before allowing myself to be trained.

    The second purpose of exposition is to communicate God’s word to others, ultimately for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:12; 2 Tim 3:16-17). And here is where we often get it wrong: when we think that we are the ones equipping people, we have missed vital Biblical data. It is not you and I that equip others – it is the word of God. His word equips, and it is the task of exposition (after we practice) to help others understand how to handle God’s word for themselves. Rather than create followers who are dependant upon us for their daily sustenance, we need to be helping disciples to grow in the ability to feed themselves. Consider this: of all the instances the word feed is used in the NT, it is never used as an imperative to pastors – or anyone – with respect to spiritually feeding others (the only exception is Jn 21:15, in which Peter is given specific direction from Christ). Even in the Lord’s prayer, the disciples were to ask the Father for their daily bread (Mt 6:11). In short, our job is not to create dependants who have to come to us for feeding. Rather, it is to train up disciples who will have not only the ability to feed themselves, but also the ability to teach others to feed themselves as well (2 Tim 2:2). We must keep this goal in mind as we communicate the Bible to others.

    If that goal is firmly in mind, then we can avoid the second major mistake of exposition: the failure to show our work. It is remarkable to me how many exposition textbooks describe accurately the exegetical process, and then when they move into the subject of exposition, they suggest the exegete hide his or her work from those they would teach:

    “Don’t use Greek and Hebrew words.” “Don’t talk about grammar.” “Don’t get into the technicalities.” “Just give them the big idea.” “Don’t exegete from the pulpit.”

    I can’t emphasize enough how completely wrongheaded these suggestions are. If the goal is to help people to develop their own abilities to handle the text, then I absolutely must model these things in my own exposition. If I don’t, I am equally as guilty as the father who refuses to allow his children to see how a meal is prepared – ever. How will those children handle the responsibilities of life when they have no one around to feed them and they must do it themselves? Elsewhere, I have suggested that we are not chefs, preparing fancy meals for people’s delight, but instead we are teaching people how to cook for themselves. If we don’t show those we are training how to do the basic exegetical tasks necessary for their own feeding, then how effectively can we possibly be at training them? It is a terrible travesty when anyone creates dependency in anyone else. And when we don’t teach people to think, study, and function on their own, we are being very, very cruel.

    Okay, so how do we do it right, then? Show your work! Exegete from the pulpit – from the dinner table, the sofa, and anywhere else you are given opportunity. Where there are people willing to learn, show your work in the text. Teach them how to do that work themselves. It’s just that simple.

    And please, please…stop writing sermons, and let the Bible speak for itself. A sermon can’t equip anyone. God’s word can and does. Which would you rather provide?

    Now that the dead horse has been sufficiently pummeled, let’s move on to some specific methodology for communicating the Bible to others. Please keep in mind what follows is only a suggested way to prepare for communicating the Bible – it is certainly not the only acceptable form of delivery. The key is whether or not we are allowing the text to speak on its own terms and showing people how to handle it for themselves. That is the goal of the process that follows.

    First, provide a verse analysis or a running commentary on the passage. Generally this can be as simple as basic summary of each passage in relation to the overall context, or it can be as complex as including every discovered element of exegetical insight. In either case (and all those in between), the content should be the direct result of the exegetical study.

    Second, summarize principles (universal truths applicable to all), primary application (intended response of the initial audience), and secondary application (intended response of you and I). If a universal principle is evident in the passage, it should be noted as crucial to both primary and secondary application. Primary application relates directly to the original intended audience, while secondary application relates to later audiences, including the exegete. Principles and applications should be stated with clarity and conciseness to ensure that keys have been grasped.

    Third, identify the impact of the passage on your own life and begin to act upon it. Just as it is throughout the entire study process, the passage should have personal impact. Remember, James exhorts believers to be doers of the word and not merely hearers (Jam 1:22-27), and later cautions against being too “ready” to teach. Before the edification of others must come the application to one’s self. Remember Ezra:

    For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

    Ezra’s priorities show a focus on (1) diligence necessary for study and learning, (2) being an effectual doer and practitioner of all that God had said, and (3) only then being a faithful teacher of Scripture. While it is easier to focus on how the passage will be delivered to a target audience or congregation than to consider its impact on ourselves, the godly examples of the Bible demonstrate how important personal devotion and godliness is to God. Practice comes before teaching. The adage says, “Them that can’t do, teach,” but in the context of Biblical teaching, it is more accurate to say, “Them that would teach (and even them that wouldn’t) must do.”

    Fourth, develop a presentation of the passage for the edification of others. Here is an effective basic pattern for the structure and delivery of an exposition: (1) reading of the entire passage to be covered, (2) prayer for guidance in study, (3) basic summary of background and context, (4) reading of individual section (sentence, verse, or paragraph), (5) relating of section to the overall context, (6) summary of each section’s verse analysis and exegetical key points, (7) highlight principles and applications at appropriate points, (8) offer a brief summary of overall exegetical context, highlights, and principles and applications, and finally, (9) prayer for wisdom and strength in order to be an effectual doer of the word, to the glory of God.

    Examine, for example, the exposition recorded in Nehemiah 8:1-12. Note in particular the emphases regarding both the content and the response. The content – the textbook – was the word of God (8:1). It was prayerfully considered (8:6). It was opened and read from (8:3, 5). It was explained, to ensure that the hearers understood (8:8), and it provided calls to action and encouragement (8:10). In response, the people gathered to hear it (8:1). It was heard attentively (8:3) and respectfully (8:5). It was received as true (8:6). It was received patiently (8:7). It elicited personal response (8:9). It resulted in worship of God (8:6). It was understood and acted upon (8:12).

    Why do we study the Bible? Why should we allow it to abide richly in us? Why should we be doers of it? Why should we teach it to others?

    The answers to these questions go a long way in helping us to understand how to do these things. Let’s not forget our purpose as we engage in the process. God has a purpose in communicating His word. Let’s not stand in His way by doing a poor job of understanding it, a poor job of obeying it, or a poor job of communicating it.

    “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth. It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

    Source: 9 Steps for Bible Exegesis and Exposition, Part 1: First Things First - drcone.com
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