Changes in Biblical Exegesis

Biblical exegesis describes the cumulative approaches used in interpreting the bible to draw out its intended meaning. Applying principles of hermeneutics in interpreting biblical text. In order to proceed with any biblical exegesis, we must first consider a few of the obvious challenges to our task which include the distance of time, language, and cultural values.

The next task is to understand that our challenge of time encompasses the next two challenges; language and cultural values. It is language and culture that is often very fluid throughout time. Therefore the more time that has passed the more culture and language will change. 

Both of these challenges are in a constant state of flux. They rarely, if ever, stand still for time. While the cultural values of society sometimes move in opposite directions, language, for the most part, progresses toward simplification. 

As a matter of comparison, we can loosely liken the changes in society’s cultural values to the trends one sees in clothing styles. Different times and different eras have fostered, for example, conservative views of the Christian faith. In other words, people believed that the bible was the word of God and it was to be followed to every extent possible. In other eras, such as our current post-Christian culture proves, we see the more liberal side of our culture where more people choose not to place such reverent emphasis on the bible and its teachings.

I offer this comparison because it shows how time affects perceived cultural values in societies. Cultural values are never at a standstill. Where one might go out on a limb and say that languages might be written in stone, cultural values are not. 

The challenge of applying cultural values in biblical exegesis in this light also becomes more difficult when the matter of geography is added to the equation. It is difficult enough to try to apply a singular cultural value system to the work, but it is multiplied ten times when we must view the cultural values of even sometimes extinct societies. This issue becomes even more magnified when we add the distinct languages of the different cultures. That is not even taking into account the evolving of our own language. Here in the present, 2021, we find that many of the more socially-used words my generation grew up learning now mean something else.

These challenges, as I can see them, will never be overcome completely. Language and cultural values will always be in an ongoing state of flux. And while the “gap” of time will only worsen, between biblical times and our modern times, we have certainly no shortage of scholars and theologians to help us along the way.

In the first of our three historical eras, we have the “Early and Medieval” periods where biblical interpretation was based upon belief of faith, assumption of Divinity and authority, and community tradition.

The periods of the Reformation and Renaissance showed us, through the influence of Jewish scholars, that attention to the grammatical study of the biblical text was the priority of the day in providing the straightforward meaning of the biblical text. 

Here in our Modern period, since the days of the Enlightenment, great emphasis was placed on taking a different approach. Rather than treating the bible directly in its Divine nature, it was to be viewed and and understood just as any other work of writing would be. This “textual criticism,” and its varieties as it became to be known, produced the intent of extracting understanding without necessarily theological inferences. The practice of interpretation became, in a way, abstract.

©2021 Clayton Moore All Rights Reserved!

Originally Written for Masters in Ministry, Ohio Christian University, May 29, 2021

References Exegesis Definition (Para 1)

Hayes, J.H. and Holladay, C. (2007) Biblical Exegesis. Louisville and London. Westminster John Knox Press 

Welma, Jeffrey, Christian Leaders Institute, BIB 420 Hermeneutics and Exegesis

Zondervan Academic (Oct 2017) ZA Blog. Biblical Interpretation: 4 Challenges and How to Overcome Them


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