Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week One: What is exegesis?

“The ultimate goal of biblical exegesis is not information but transformation. True exegesis is accomplished only when individuals and communities engage in the embodiment or actualization of the text. The reading community, we might say, is to become a ‘living exegesis’ of the text” (Gorman 22). As I was reading the Gorman text this summer, this quote caught my eye and profoundly shaped my understanding of exegesis. When I read it for the first time, I shared it with my parents and told them, “This is the reason I am a Biblical Studies major.” I cherish this opportunity to study what I believe to be living texts, texts that shape my worldview. But most of all, I appreciate that who I am becoming is as much a part of my education as what I am learning. This is the difference between information and transformation. Information is an important aspect of exegesis, but the goal of exegesis is information that results in transformation; good exegesis must be both informational and transformational (Gorman 22). This language of transformation is the foundation on which I have built my understanding of exegesis.
Of course, there is much more to exegesis than information and transformation. Exegesis is the process of deeply questioning, exploring, and engaging scripture. Exegesis intentionally creates space for scripture to transform lives. As I read Gorman’s descriptions of exegesis as investigation, conversation, and art (10), these concepts resonated with me. First and foremost, exegesis is investigation. It is impossible to understand a text without asking questions of its context; the investigation of the sociological, cultural, and historical background of the text is perhaps the most important part of the exegetical process. However, conversation and art are also important aspects of exegesis. To me, the exegetical process seems to be nothing more or less than conversation. As exegetes, we are in conversation with the text and the text is in conversation with us. We engage the text alone and in community, and exegesis creates space for transformation in our lives and in the life of our community. Exegesis is a conversation between individuals, communities, and scared writings that transcends space and time. In investigating historical and cultural questions, we start a conversation between “readers living and dead” (Gorman 11). Finally, exegesis includes elements of art. Exegesis is not black and white; instead, it leaves room for discussion and discernment. Exegesis requires creativity to ask new questions of the text and creativity to ask old questions in search of new insights. Above all, there is one word that encompasses my understanding of exegesis: interaction. Exegesis is interaction with the text, interaction with others, and interaction with God.

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