Academic exegesis

Academic exegesis is that form of interpretation which copies academics or authority figures.  The Lord Jesus Christ cut through this in His teaching.

Academic exegesis is seen in the translation of several biblical passages.  Bible versions are the product of teams of academic translators pooling their collective knowledge to produce a final decision on the translation of particular texts.

It is easy to demonstrate that when a significant translation, such as the New International Version, makes a break from a traditional translation, then subsequent versions will follow, on the principle that new research has identified an improvement.

However, these are not always improvements but such is the bias of academia that academic exegesis kicks in to cement the new translation as the new standard, inhibiting independent thought and establishing a new paradigm.

Those who are unfamiliar with translation may think that this criticism is too strong. So it might help to give an example of academic imitation.  For a long time it has been recognized that Jn 5:39 is not a command ‘Search the Scriptures’, as the King James Version suggests, but a comment ‘You search the Scriptures’, meaning that in spite of their searching of Scripture they did not realise that the Scriptures spoke about Jesus.  The variations in translation can be viewed by clicking here.  So far, so good.

However, what about Jn 5:31?  A quick review of twenty versions, old and new, shows that there is little variation among them.  Yet most commentators know that there is a difficulty with this text and there are various attempts at explaining the verse.  The point is not which interpretation is correct, but that in spite of all the academics pouring over this verse none of them have translated any version as a rhetorical question.  The proper translation is: ‘If I bear witness of Myself, is My witness not true?’ which makes much more sense than the statement ‘My witness is not true’ – the uniform translation in all versions I have consulted – especially when the standard translation contradicts what the Saviour says in Jn 8:14.

Why is this?  Bible translations are produced by teams of academics, so how have they not analysed the Greek text for themselves and discovered this?  Have they been so busy studying the commentaries and weighed up the opinion of other scholars that they have not done their own exegesis?  If so, this is not exegesis of the text, but relying upon academia, the very thing that Jesus exposed.

This appeal to authority is what the scribes did in Jesus’ day – so when He cut through their academic exegesis and explained the proper meaning of Scripture, ‘the people were astonished at His doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’ Mat 7:28-29 and Mk 1:22.  This mistaken emphasis is similar to modern theology, which is not ‘the study of God’ theos-logos but ‘the study of theologians’.

Proper exegesis of this passage would have yielded the result that the negative statement of all extant English translations cannot be correct, even before analysising the Greek text, which like Jn 5:39 has legitimate alternative translations.  So why have so many teams of translators followed each other along only one of these alternatives?  The answer is either that they have not considered the alternative or that they are too frightened to break out of the consistent consensus of academic opinion.  Neither option is commendatory.

Why call it academic exegesis?  1. because it is not exegesis, which does not need any qualifying adjective.  2. when something goes wrong with exegesis, there must be a reason for it.  The commonest error is eisegesis, which is the very opposite of exegesis.  3. in this case, the error arises because of an overweaning fear of breaking out of the academic consensus, so that ‘academic’ exegesis is an appropriate adjective.

This is only one of many examples of academic exegesis in Bible translation, in which academics are controlled by their peer group and too frightened to do their own exegesis, resulting in academic imitation, which Jesus broke through in His time, and which we must continue to assess in our time.  God willing, I hope to return to this subject with more examples as time permits.

Update:

10 Jul 2017: Ps 125:3: the NIV translates this with ‘the land’, which: 1. is not the Hebrew word, 2. does not make sense; 3. is not true; but 4. it is followed by many modern versions.  So why is this so?  They are copying each other – not exegeting the text.  Only some versions notice that another of the Hebrew words in this text is ‘wickedness’ and not ‘wicked’.

25 Jul 2017: Ps 104:4: ‘angels spirits’ has been translated as ‘messengers winds’, copied by current translations.  I happened to exegete this Psalm in my Bible commentary a few days ago specifically on this subject about the angels and today I discovered this article in the Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record Oct-Dec 2016, pp. 17-21 on this very subject.  There is providence for you!

What is Effectual Calling?

Effectual Calling is the call of the Gospel taking effect.

The call of the Gospel is often ignored, in spite of its free offer and wonderful terms that sinners might have peace with God and eternal life.

Sometimes the call of the Gospel to follow Christ has a temporary effect, as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower.  When it has a spiritual and lasting effect, we call it Effectual Calling.

So what happens to make it effectual?

A permanent response is effected by the Holy Spirit of God accompanying the Word of God.  The apostle Peter explained the difference as they “have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” 1Pe 1:12.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains it:

“Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

There are four other matters in this work of the Holy Spirit to be discussed:

  1. conviction of sin and misery,
  2. enlightening the mind in the knowledge of Christ,
  3. renewing the will, and
  4. persuading and enabling sinners to embrace Jesus Christ.

I plan future blogposts to discuss each in turn.

As for the Free Offer of the Gospel, there is an explanation of this here.

Atheists believe in God – they just don’t believe in the devil

Agnostics are more honest than atheists.  Agnostics acknowledge that they do not know if there is a God, but atheists declare confidently that there is no God.

Does this mean that atheists have searched the Universe and concluded that there is no God to be found?  No – they have not searched the Universe.  Atheists arrive at their conclusion by reasoning.   It goes like this.

If God is all powerful and good, then why do evil and suffering exist?  Either it means that God is not all powerful or that He is not all good.  As evil and suffering exist, this proves that God does not exist.

No – it does not.  What it does prove is that atheists intuitively know that God must be both all powerful and all good.  They acknowledge in their reasoning that God cannot be one without the other.

For the more theologically literate, this is the modern, practical use of Anselm’s ontological argument.

The problem with this atheist reasoning is that the atheist does not believe in the devil as the source of evil.  They blame God for the devil’s work.  A simple mistake in their reasoning.

It also shows the limitations of rationalism.  Reason is not sufficient to prove something but only to test a proof.  The reason for this is that one’s reasoning is not infallible, and one can make a mistake at any stage in one’s reasoning, just as the atheist has done above.  So reason cannot prove that there is no God; it can only be used to check if a proof holds water.  Some things are too high for reason to explain or understand.  Reason is a useful tool, but it is not sufficient.  Some things are above reason and some things are against reason.  Do not confuse one for the other.

This is why in the scientific world we use experiments to check if a hypothesis is right, and this is why we need divine revelation to keep us right in our thinking about God, origins, the purpose of life, death, life after death and eternity.  We neglect it at our peril.

Postscript:
1/5/2017: John Macleod on atheist beliefs in ‘There is no God, and we hate Him’ – Scottish Daily Mail, Thursday 27th April 2017: “atheism is not rationality. It is a religion – a faith-based belief system, like any other religion, and in whose names some of the most appalling crimes of the twentieth century were committed. And the fanaticism and hatefulness of so many atheists suggest their position is not, in truth, there is no God; it is that there is no God, and they hate Him.”

When did the Bible last change your thinking or behaviour?

Christians claim to be submissive to the Word of God. They acknowledge that they are not ‘the finished article’.

The development of their Christian character is effected by the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to their thinking, speech and behaviour. It is called sanctification – ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth’, prayed Jesus for His disciples in John 17:17.

Christians desire to be ‘fit for the Master’s use’ 2Timothy 2:21. Does the Lord use you? Are you open to His guidance? Does the Bible change you? Or are you beyond change? Some people’s views never change, which suggests that they don’t submit their thoughts to Scripture – ‘bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ 2Cor 10:5. When did the Bible last change your thinking?

Why don’t people change?

1. because they do not study their Bibles for themselves. Once a godly person sees the teaching of Scripture, his conscience is bound to it; but if a person rarely studies Scripture, it is unlikely to change him.

2. there is another reason. The fear of change and being thought unorthodox.

Many Christians are familiar with the concept of ministers and elders looking over their shoulder and not acting freely according to their own understanding and conscience because of what others might think. They are afraid of seeming to be unorthodox.

This is a recipé for disaster, curtailing one’s readiness to respond to the leading of Scripture.

So why does it happen? Usually because there is one person who pulls up others for what he perceives to be unorthodox. This person is rarely challenged in his thinking and may have ties to influential people, so that he has influence out of all proportion to his understanding. But he is orthodox! and this is all that matters. Rather, he is orthodox in the area he knows about, but he fails to see what others see and would like to act upon.

This ‘one man ruins all’ attitude is very common and very influential in the Christian church. ‘A little folly’ can ruin a reputation Ecc 10:1, but it can ruin a congregation and many other things.

It is time for individual Christians to remember and reclaim the liberty with which Christ has made them free. ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage’ Gal 5:1.

The Synoptic Solution to the Synoptic Problem

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have many similar stories, but with very slight variations.

For example, Mark tells us Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus Mk 10:46, but Matthew tells us that Bartimaeus had another blind companion Mat 20:30, with the same request at the same time Mat 20:33. So why did Mark mention only one? These miracles occurred when Jesus was leaving Jericho Mat 20:29, Mk 10:46, and they followed a similar and previous miracle upon Jesus’ arriving at Jericho Lk 18:35. Careless preachers will speak about these incidents as if they are the same, and may even say that Luke made a mistake.

There are many variations in the Synoptic Gospels and textual critics try to explain these differences. Theories abound about the existence of lost manuscripts that were copied by different Gospel writers and sometimes copied wrongly. Almost every proposed theory assumes that each synoptic Gospel writer consulted one or both of the other synoptic Gospels.

The Synoptic Problem is a problem created by unbelieving textual critics who think that there are contradictions between the Synoptic Gospels, that these are mistakes, and therefore they cannot be inspired writings. It arises because of the unwarranted assumption that one Gospel writer is consulting or copying another Gospel writer, and the refusal to believe in the inspiration of Scripture 2Tim 3:16 and the superintending oversight of the Holy Spirit in producing and preserving the final version of the Scriptures Ps 12:6-7.

Luke tells us that there were various manuscripts circulating Lk 1:1-4, and he had evidently read some of them. The Synoptic Problem assumes, however, that he, Matthew and Mark had read one or more of the other Gospels. Luke does not say so, and the assumption is wrong.

Rather, we have no proof that any of them had read the other Gospels before they wrote their own Gospel. The likelihood is that they had not read each other, and internal biblical evidence suggests that they had not. The Gospel story was well known to Christians and committed to memory. There were many oral and written accounts circulating in apostolic times, with multitudes of variations. At the time of composition of each Gospel, there was a plethora of material, and Luke with his medical skills of observation, analysis and diagnosis made a special study of what information was available to him in order to record in the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles an accurate account of what he could ascertain. Analysis of Luke’s Gospel shows that he did not have the Gospels of Matthew nor Mark to hand during his researches for writing his Gospel, nor even the Gospel of John. Similar analysis of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark reveal the same about each other. They did not copy each other.

The Synoptic Solution is the proper analysis of the synoptic accounts according to biblical principles of exegesis. The Synoptic Solution analyses and exegetes the biblical text in the light of the Holy Spirit’s Authorship of Scripture, by the aid of the Holy Spirit’s guidance 1Cor 2:14 and Rom 8:5-9.

An example of the application of the Synoptic Solution can be found here.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the good news of the free offer of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The evidence of a living faith in Jesus Christ is love to God, love to one’s Christian brethren and love to one’s neighbour. Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” Jn 14:15,23.

Faith must lead to good works, and prayer without repentance and a plan of action is empty words. We need prayer and action; action that needs prayer to be effective; action that will teach us and encourage us to pray in order to have God’s blessing on our work.

The Gospel needs to be distinguished from the social Gospel, which is a counterfeit gospel. The social Gospel misinterprets the Gospel as salvation by good works, or salvation by merit. Merit and grace are opposites Rom 11:6. Salvation is by free grace, God’s unmerited favour, not by merit.

This misinterpretation arises because social justice is the natural outworking of the Gospel, and social justice is mistaken for the Gospel itself. Social justice arise from the Gospel; it is not the Gospel itself.

Social justice is another way of saying that “faith without works is dead” Jam 2:20,26. Social justice is so important that Jesus taught that worship which does not arise from, and does not create Christians who are interested in social justice is vain, empty worship, which does not please God because it is devoid of proper content.

Exegesis and eisegesis

As a divinity student in 1980 I came across the term ‘exegesis’ in reference to the exegesis of Scripture.  It means ‘drawing out’ the meaning of a written text and Scripture in particular.

I was aware of the common problem of people reading into Scripture their own opinion and thus putting into Scripture something that was not there.  The danger of this is that it clothes the wrong idea with the full force and authority of Scripture.

For example: ‘A bishop must be … the husband of one wife’.  Instead of reading this in the light of polygamous practice, some have interpreted it as if it reads ‘only one wife during the whole of their lifetime’ so that people who have divorced and remarried are excluded from office, interfering with the lives of multitudes of Christians.   There are other ideas read into this verse with similar unhappy results.

Another example is Mat 7:14 ‘ strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.’  This is commonly read and preached as if it says: ‘there will always be few that find it.’  It doesn’t.  This is reading one’s own ideas into the text rather than drawing out of the text its full and proper meaning.

This mistake was so common that I realised that I needed a term to describe it, so I coined the term ‘eisegesis’ in the mid-1980s – reading into the text ideas that were not there.

There are multitudes of examples.  The Thessalonians misunderstood Paul’s first epistle as if he had said that Christ would return soon, whereas he had said suddenly, which he corrects in his second epistle 2Th 2:2.

Many people read ‘But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup’ 1Cor 11:28 as if it means ‘and therefore let him eat’, whereas the original Greek text shows that it means ‘and in this self-examining manner let him eat’.

The Greek prepositions ex – meaning ‘out of’ – and eis – meaning ‘into’ – give us these two terms:

Exegesis: drawing out of (ex-) a text what is its full and proper meaning.

Eisegesis: reading into (eis-) a text one’s own ideas, prejudices, suppositions and interpretations, which may or may not be scriptural, and which may or may not be in the text.

If we read into Scripture what we already know, we will not learn anything new.  But the value of exegesis is that one draws out of Scripture what one may not know – adding to one’s knowledge.

Thus Jesus said: ‘Every scribe who is instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a man that is a householder, who brings out of his treasure things new and old’ Mat 13:52.

Only by exegesis can we draw new things out of Scripture.