Bible Exegesis for Beginners

A Happy New Year to all my readers.

Last New Year I posted Do you know the Doorman? This is a very important question and your answer is even more important.

Jesus Christ is the Door to heaven and we learn from Him in the Bible, which tells about Him, His character, teaching and work as the Saviour of sinners.

So let us begin this New Year with guidance on how to study the Bible. This is a very profitable way to begin a New Year and it is one of the best gifts I can give my readers.

It is now possible to read the Bible online, which is one of the great benefits of the computer age, avoiding the ungodly attempts to prevent people reading the Bible and which continues in some countries and religious communities to the present hour.

Reading the Bible

It is amazing that everyone has an opinion on the Bible although they may not have read it. This shows the underlying and prevailing paradigm in current society.

Few people will give an opinion on William Shakespeare’s writings without having read Shakespeare’s works, but this does not stop multitudes of people condemning or at least dismissing the Bible for various reasons although they have never read it. Why do you think this is?

This reminds us of the natural prejudice against the Bible and that we should pray to God to help us to understand His Bible.

Studying the Bible

It is one thing to read the Bible. It is another thing to study it. Studying the Bible yields spiritual food for the soul, but the best way to study the Bible is in a prayerful frame of soul, asking God Who gave us the Bible to enlighten our minds by His Spirit Who inspired the penmen of Scripture.

Exegesis of the Bible

Bible exegesis goes a step further than Bible study. Most people study the Bible translated into their own language, but translations can be wrong. As time progresses, the difficult verses for translation are being identified and addressed, but not always for the better. We now have translations of the Bible that modify its meaning – for example feminism and genderism have twisted its teaching in recent times, just as false theology was imposed on the Bible from the early centuries of the Christian church leading to corrupted versions of Bible. Thankfully, God has not only inspired the Bible but He has also preserved it.

In spite of centuries of biblical study there are still verses that current translations continue to translate wrongly. This need not be because of an agenda being superimposed on the translation but simply because proper exegesis has not been applied to a text and one translation group will simply follow or even copy the phraseology of another version. Some of these mistranslations have wide-ranging effects in misleading and dividing Christians. Some of them have still to be identified by academia in a manner similar to ancient Egyptian artefacts buried in the sand awaiting discovery that changes perceptions as soon as they are brought to light. Several that come to mind are Mat 16:18-19, John 15:2, Rom 11:16, 2Th 2:8-9 and there is, of course, the whole Book of Revelation and its relationship to its kindred prophecies in the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah. There is plenty scope for the exegetes of the future.

The imposing of preconceived ideas into the meaning of Scripture is very common and I call it eisegesis [ice-eh-gee-sis], whereas drawing the true meaning out of Scripture is called exegesis [ex-eh-gee-sis]. This shows the importance of biblical exegesis, otherwise the wool may be pulled over your eyes. I recall an evangelical farmer telling me in the 1990s that he was going to study theology at one of the Scottish universities so that the wool would not be pulled over his eyes. After a few years of University study, he had been led completely astray by his lecturers as he imbibed their critical theories, which he was completely ill-equipped to handle and to which he succumbed. People need to study the Scriptures for themselves, and a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. We should study the Bible thoroughly. As a teenager, I made it my lifelong ambition to be thoroughly acquainted with the one Book that mattered – the Christian Bible.

“These people were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word of God with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

The Acts of the Apostles: Act 17:11

Not everyone is able to do exegesis, because this requires the ability to read the Bible in its original languages, Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. Why so? Meaning can be lost in translation and thus it is important to be able to read the original sources.

Tools for biblical exegesis

Thankfully, with the advent of the internet and the computerisation of the Bible, there are now readily accessible tools that can help a studious person to examine and study the Bible in its original languages.

Commentaries

The traditional tool for deeper study of the Bible is to read Bible commentaries. This is good and commendable but it relies upon other people’s Bible exegesis.

There have always been commentaries on the Bible, but they have proliferated since the 16th-century when the printing press was invented and the Bible was translated during the European Reformation from the original biblical languages into the native language that people could understand, by Martin Luther into German and even earlier by John Wycliffe into English. Commentaries help the ordinary student to go deeper into a Bible text or a book of the Bible. Not only were John Calvin‘s sermons on consecutive portions of Scripture published but he wrote a very influential commentary on almost all books of the Bible which are in print to the present hour. His skill at that time was to cut through the fanciful and allegorical interpretations of other commentators.

Commentaries are the standard way for biblical exegetes to publicise their study of the Bible, and I have my own commentary on the Bible in continuous, daily update after my family worship. However, sometimes these commentaries can disappoint. Matthew Henry‘s massive six-volume commentary on the Bible, reprinted also in an abbreviated single volume, is a devotional commentary composed after his family worship. It will explain many things in the Bible and warm the heart of the spiritually-minded, but it may disappoint those who consult it for a particular detailed point, which he bypassed. It was not intended to be an academic commentary. On the other hand, the less-often mentioned three-volume commentary by Matthew Poole is based upon such academia that Matthew Poole consulted over 100 commentaries available in his day when he was writing his own commentary. Some people complain that he gives different opinions without mentioning his own, but this is because they have overlooked his method of doing so, which is simply to use the phrase “or rather” and then gives the opinion that he favours. Since then there have been specialist commentaries on particular books of the Bible or particular themes.

Exegetical tools

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and being able to quote biblical authorities and commentaries is an endless process and may not yield the correct result. It can lead to strife, pseudo-academia and a party-spirit. Rather, one needs to be able to ground one’s opinions in the Bible and to know that its text means what you have studied it to mean. If you quote Bible texts, then you should have studied them to ensure that they mean what you think that they mean. The purpose of commentaries, and preachers, is to help you to better understand the Scripture. If they do not help, find one that does.

Being able to consult the Bible in the Hebrew and Greek languages helps you to assess if a commentary is useful to you, but more commonly it helps you to determine if your minister is studying the Bible properly. Surveys have shown that most people get their religious, biblical and theological teaching from preachers rather than books, just as the general public have their views formed by the mass media, social media and popular songs – each preaching their own brand of false religion.

A preacher may appear to be very learned by quoting Hebrew or Greek but a little research may show that he got it wrong and did not really know what he was saying. I have witnessed this more times than I can number. Indeed, your preacher might simply be quoting a commentary rather than “accurately handling the Word of truth” 2Tim 2:15, a work to which preachers are set apart and ought to be trained to an extent that others may not have the opportunity.

This blogpost does not propose to make you an expert in biblical languages but to help you to use the basic tools now freely available on the internet to check the basic teaching of preachers against the Bible.

What I propose to do is to point you to freely available tools that you can use to check out some basic points in the meaning of a text of Scripture, which, for example, has just been used to support the message from your latest preacher.

Free computer programmes

There are computer programmes that cost a lot of money and the details that they provide may be too complicated for the ordinary person to use, and more than they need. So I will point you to programmes that are free and give you enough information to do basic exegesis. There may be other ones, but I have familiarity with the following. No-one is paying me to promote these programmes and the good thing about evangelical Christians is that they are usually so keen to promote the Word of God, the Gospel and to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ that they do not charge money and even give their time freely to others.

A basic Bible programme is e-Sword which can be downloaded in less than a minute, shorter than the time it will take you trying to choose which of all its free resources you would like to use. It downloads to your computer so that you do not need to be connected to the internet to use it once you have set it up. On the website https://www.e-sword.net/ click on the large download arrow. Once it is downloaded to your computer, click on the downloaded file and it will then load the programme on your computer.

It comes already set up with the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), the definitive standard against which all other English-language versions are measured, but you can download a large number of other versions, dictionaries, commentaries, etc. You will see a menu at the top called Downloads, which you can use to download what you need.

Click on Download and you will see the options from which you can choose.

You can make your own choice of the resources you want, and I am not going to teach you how to use these as I am going to concentrate on Bible exegesis. You can see that there are Commentaries galore and many resources, but what you want is the Hebrew and Greek Bible text to do your Bible exegesis.

If any of you cannot read Hebrew or Greek, modern computer technology enables us to work around this. First, we need to get the tools on to your computer for easy use.

Bibles

With the e-Sword programme open, and connected to the internet so that you can download more resources, click on Bibles in the Download menu within the e-Sword programme. A long list of Bible versions appears. There is a scroll bar on the right hand side to move to different languages; it opens by default at the English-languages Bibles. One of these is critical but a few others are helpful also. So, to make it easy to select what you need, I have listed them in the order that they appear on the e-Sword list (rather than the order of usefulness to you) – under the English language Bibles click on name of each of the following – Brenton’s English Septuagint (the English translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), King James Version w/Strong’s Numbers (KJV+) which is essential for your study, Young’s Literal Translation (useful but not essential); under the Greek language Bibles click on Greek New Testament (Textus Receptus) w/Strong’s Numbers (useful when you become familiar with what the e-Sword programme can do), Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) w/Strong’s Numbers; and under the Hebrew language Bibles, click on Hebrew Old Testament (Tanach) w/Strong’s Numbers. It is these Strong’s Numbers that will help you even if you do not know Greek nor Hebrew. If you speak other languages, you may want to download these languages.

Dictionaries

Now you will want to download a Hebrew and Greek dictionary. The window you have open at present is called Bibles. Click on Dictionaries tab beside it and download these dictionaries: Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions, then Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries and Thayer’s Greek Definitions.

You may have noticed that when you clicked on the each of these downloads, that the file appeared briefly in the lower window and after a while it disappeared – it appeared while it was downloading to your e-Sword Bible programme on your computer and it disappeared when the download was complete. In order for these downloads to appear in e-Sword, you need to close e-Sword on your computer and re-open it, then you will see that these Bible versions appear as tabs in the Bibles window of your programme. These are arranged roughly in alphabetical order with the main English versions taking priority in the top line along with Compare and Parallel, which are different options to display more than one version at a time.

When you click on these tabs the window changes to that Bible version at the same chapter and verse that you have currently selected in the Bible window. Obviously, the Hebrew, Greek Old Testament and Brenton Septuagint only work if you are in the Old Testament, while the Greek New Testament only works when you are in the New Testament.

To help you to save the verses you are studying, and to jump to them quickly, you will want to display bookmarks. Click the Options menu at the top of the page and select Display Bookmark Navigator. This opens a series of ten bookmarks on the right margin of the Bibles window and when you right click on one of these it saves the current verse highlighted in the Bible chapter, then left clicking on it will bring you back to this verse from wherever else you were studying. There are keyboard shortcuts (Alt key + number) to these bookmarks, but the shortcut to bookmark 7 has not been working for at least four years in spite of my drawing attention to it.

You can learn the basics about the programme while I publish a few more lessons on Bible exegesis over successive days. I suggest that you begin by going through the dropdown menus at the top of the programme to see what each of them does.

There are other tools you will need, but this is enough for one day and I hope to follow up with how you can make use of these Strong’s Numbers in your Bible exegesis.

Post script: I have intended to write this blogpost for about four years, ever since a post-graduate student at my local theological college felt that he had not been trained adequately how to exegete his Bible. He was a foreign national who had come here with his family and I felt sorry for him and embarrassed that our academic instutitions are failing their students, failing the nation and not living up to the reputation earned by earlier generations when Scotland was once known as “the land of the Book” and whose population after the 16th-century Scottish Reformation was the most literate in the world. Realising that it would take a series of blogposts, I never found the opportunity to begin this. However, having begun, I hope to continue it and I hope you will enjoy following it as I progress. Meanwhile you can experiment with this Bible programme or any other one that you are using. If you are using another programme, it will almost certainly have Strong’s Numbers and make sure you have this option selected for Bible study. Every blessing for 2022 – for Time and Eternity.

Links:

1 Jan 2022: 1st post: Bible Exegesis for Beginners.

8 Jan 2022: 2nd post: The usefulness of Bible exegesis.

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