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1. The Gk. word exegesis is used of the art of Biblical interpretation or exposition. Hermeneutics* studies principles and formulates rules for interpretation; exegesis uses the principles and rules to determine the meaning of the text. The Bible is a clear book (see Perspicuity of Scripture). But it was written long ago in languages and in a cultural situation strange to most of us, who live in a different kind of society, with concepts and values other than those of old Palestine. Even people who stood much closer to the sacred authors in terms of language, culture, and time needed explanations. Philip interpreted Is 53 for the eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts 8:26–35). Jesus explained the OT to His disciples (Lk 24:27).

2. Several tendencies in exegesis soon developed in the early ch. By the end of the 1st c. divergent modes of interpretation were current.

3. The School of Alexandria (Clement* of Alexandria is regarded as the founder of the theol. school; Pantaenus* was the 1st teacher of the catechetical school), esp. Origen,* sponsored allegorical interpretation. It held that the passages of Scripture that relate hist. events or speak of earthly things have deep meaning other than literal. Accordingly we must distinguish bet. the literal, the allegorical or mystical, and the moral sense. The literal sense, it was held, is at times unworthy of the Scriptures, e.g., in the story of Noah's drunkenness (Gn 9:20–27); hence we must assume that a deeper meaning was intended. The existence of a literal sense was not denied, but it was held that this sense often must be disregarded or discarded. See also Alexandria, School of; Millennium, 3.

4. Allegorical interpretation was opposed by the School of Antioch, whose representatives included J. Chrysostom,* Diodorus* of Tarsus, John* of Antioch, Lucian* of Antioch, Paul* of Samosata, Theodore* of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret* of Cyrrhus. They held that the literal sense is usually the intended sense and must be adhered to unless it is plain that an allegory is intended, e.g., in parables. Influenced School of Edessa.* See also Antioch, School of.

5. In the Middle Ages, up to the Reformation, the allegorical method was gen. followed and even extended. Passages were declared to have a 4-fold meaning: literal, allegorical or mystical, moral, and anagogic. The anagogic (from Gk. for “lead upwards”) meaning involved the hope of heaven; e.g., the Sabbath law (Ex 20:8) signifies (a) the 7th day must be kept as a day of rest; (b) Christ rested in the grave; (c) the Christian must rest from sin; (d) true rest awaits us in heaven. Much ingenuity and nonsense entered into this kind of exegesis.

6. The revival of learning and study of Heb. and Gk. introd. a change. M. Luther* freed himself of the spell of allegorical interpretation and became an interpreter honored throughout Christendom. Calvin also rejected the medieval system and became an exegete of extraordinary ability. Through the reformers the principle that the native, natural sense, is the sense intended by God was vindicated and became the directive for Prot. theologians. Thus the foundation was laid for later achievements in exegesis.

7. Unfortunately, some exegetical insights of the Reformation were soon lost. Luth. orthodoxy (see Lutheran Theology After 1580) developed a dogmatic kind of exegesis, whose method consisted of applying categories of doctrine to the art of interpretation. In that period the analogy* of faith was identified with the doctrinal content of summaries extracted from clusters of passages put together without full regard to their context. Pietism* revolted against this kind of exegesis and returned interpretation to the practice of such obvious principles as letting the sacred documents speak for themselves. J. A. Bengel* was an early exponent of Heilsgeschichte,* careful grammatical analysis, textual* criticism, quest for the hist. Jesus, millennialism,* and an interest in concepts and terms of the kind that led to G. Kittel's* Theologisches Wörterbttch zum Neuen Testament. Other and later pietists resorted to devotional interpretation that looked for spiritual incentive in every passage and influenced other devotional writing.

8. Ref. 17th-c. exegesis suffered for a time from the excessive typology of men like J. Cocceius.* Among more moderate practitioners of this art were P. Fairbairn* and M. S. Terry.* There is revival of interest in typology modified in form, depending largely on recapitulation in the Biblical account of God's revelatory activity.

9. Recent decades have been marked by emphasis on the historicocritical* method that followed the Enlightenment* and its concern for determining the actual nature of the events recorded in the Scriptures. Proponents of this method (e.g., K. H. Graf,* J. Wellhausen,* and H. E. Fosdick*) at first attempted to apply principles, derived in a gen. way from biological evolution, to interpretation of Scripture. In the 20th c. the view became prominent that the worshiping and teaching community of Israel and the early ch. produced the Biblical documents, as we know them, on the basis of oral tradition and earlier liturgical, catechetical, and homiletical materials.

10. Interest in comparative religion as part of preparation for Biblical interpretation has been abandoned in favor of emphasis on Biblical theol. in its uniqueness. In recent yrs. the RC Ch. has concentrated on Biblical interpretation, with the way prepared by Pius XII's (see Popes, 33) 1943 encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu. Counterpart to this encyclical is the World Council's Guiding Principles for the Interpretation of the Bible accepted by the ecumenical Study Conference 1949. WA, MHS

See also Theology.

R. H. Grant, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, rev. ed. (New York, 1963); J. Wood, The Interpretation of the Bible (London, 1958); R. M. Grant, J. T. McNeill, and S. Terrien, “History of the Interpretation of the Bible,” The Interpreter's Bible, I, ed. G. A. Buttrick et al. (New York, 1952), pp. 106–141.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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