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.


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!

The majority of mankind will be saved

It is not uncommon to hear the depressing and unbiblical doctrine that only a minority of the human family will arrive in heaven.

Various biblical texts are wrongly used to support this unbiblical idea.

  1. Jesus was asked: “Are there few that be saved?” Lk 13:23.  Jesus replied with neither Yes nor No to this, but that many would be too late, out of complacency, and to make sure that you are not among them.
  2. Jesus said: “Narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there be that find it” Mat 7:14.  However, Jesus does not say that there will always be few.  There were few in His day, and there may be few in your locality, but it is not always so.
  3. “A remnant shall be saved” Rom 9:27.  Paul wrote this in the context of there being many unbelieving Jews in his day.  It will not always be so.  Paul was dealing with the small number of Jews in his day who believed in Jesus as the Messiah  by showing that it was predicted by Old Testament Scripture.  This is not a comment on the whole number of the saved.
  4. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock” Lk 12:32.  The disciples were a little flock in Christ’s day, but He went on to say, “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  The little flock is not a comment on the whole number of the saved.
  5. Jesus said: “When the Son of man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?”  Lk 18:8.  This is commonly misinterpreted to mean that the world will get worse and worse and so the Christian church will always be in the minority.   Rather, Jesus is speaking about the international apostacy at the end of the world after the Millennium – see Rev 20:7-8 – so that Jesus will then come quickly on the last day Jn 6:39,40,44,54 and Jn 12:48 to judge mankind.  So Lk 18:8 is not a comment on the whole number of the saved.

The Bible teaches the opposite of this depressing doctrine.

  1. Believers inherit a kingdom Lk 12:32, whereas the devil and his hordes are consigned to a pit Rev 20:3 and then a lake of fire Rev 20:10 and Mat 25:41.  “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” Jn 14:2.
  2. There is an innumerable number of saved human beings already in heaven Rev 7:9.
  3. Even the majority of angels are on Christ’s side Rev 12:4.
  4. World population is growing exponentially and there have been more human beings living on Earth in the 20th century than in all previous centuries put together.   In the Millennium Rev 20:2-7, the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” Rev 11:15.  This Millennium will be more than enough time for the Lord’s people to outnumber the ungodly on Earth.
  5. It is possible and even probable that untold numbers of babies miscarrying in the womb, and infants dying in infancy, have arrived in heaven.  See Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermon on 2Kings 4:26, who supports this view in spite of his two unbiblical comments against infant baptism.  A more definitive treatment of the subject is The Theology of Infant Salvation by R. A. Webb, 1907, reprinted by Sprinkle, 1981.
  6. Jesus will have the majority at last: “And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence” Col 1:18.  Jesus will not be beaten by the devil and his hordes.  Jesus is a winner, not a loser.  “None of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” Jn 17:12.

The ungodly will find themselves belonging to a minority of losers, on the wrong side of history, to their everlasting shame and dismay, while the godly will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world Mat 25:34.

The ungodly are hazarding this gift of eternal life through their supercilious unbelief.  Jesus challenges them: “If I say the truth, why do you not believe Me?” Jn 8:46.  Jesus invites them to examine themselves and to look at themselves in the mirror.

Biblical mnemonics

Ps 117: the shortest chapter in the Bible.
Ps 119: the longest chapter in the Bible.
Ps 118: the middle chapter in the Bible.

Ps 118:8 “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”

1188/2 = 594.

There are 594 chapters before Ps 118 and 594 chapters after it if one includes the whole New Testament.

These are rather uncanny coincidences in view of the relatively late formulation of the chapter divisions in the Bible.

The Hebrew Bible has a different order of books, so these statistics apply only to the English Bible with its order of biblical books, but this is where it gets complicated and loses the simplicity of the above mnemonic.

Strictly speaking the middle chapter of the English Bible is Ps 117, but this is Ps 116 in the Hebrew Bible.  However if the English Psalms were numbered the same as the Hebrew Psalms, the middle chapter of the English Bible would be Ps 118, as in the simple mnemonic above.

So, one can remember 1. the middle chapter in the English Bible is also the shortest chapter in the Bible, but 2. to remember how many chapters are involved the mnemonic above carries more information.

There is greater disparity in calculating the middle verse of the Bible because of the different numbering of verses in the Psalms, where the Hebrew Bible sometimes makes the title of the Psalm a separate verse, whereas the King James Version incorporates the titles into the first verse.  Some websites claim that Ps 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible, while others claim that the King James Version has an even number of verses and, on this reckoning, the two middle verses are Ps 103:1-2.

The shortest verse in the English Bible is “Jesus wept” Jn 11:35.  The Greek version of this text has three words, and the Hebrew version of Job 3:2 “And Job spake, and said” has three words also.

The Old Testament has 3 – 9 = 39 books

The New Testament has 3×9 = 27 books = 66 books in total.

  1. there is one God.
  2. there are two natures in Christ: His divine and human natures.
  3. there are three Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
  4. there are four Gospels and the four corners of the Earth – north, south, east and west – suggest comprehensiveness.
  5. there are five books of Moses and five sections in the book of Psalms.
  6. six is reckoned to be the number of imperfection – and 666, the number of the beast Rev 13:18, is the apotheosis of religious imperfection.
  7. there are seven days in the week, and seven is the biblical number for perfection.
  8. eight is the biblical number of new beginnings: circumcision was on the eighth day and Christ’s resurrection was on the eighth day.

The Hebrew Old Testament has three sections; there are four Gospels in the New Testament, and the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament is sometimes called ‘the fifth Gospel‘ because it has so much of Christ in it.


The Ark of Noah – and The Unsinkable Dream

I have just finished reading The Unsinkable Dream by Johan Huibers, the Dutchman who has built a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark. Its Dutch title is Let Your Dream Sail.

It is a wonderful read about an amazing project with so many lessons that you should simply purchase the book for yourself.

The Ark is currently on a tour around the ports of South America, such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Olympic Games are being held at present.

You can read about it and support it here:

Ark Of Noah Foundation video on Vimeo; more Ark of Noah Foundation videos here.

Sermon on Acts 13:26

‘Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent’ Act 13:26.

God’s salvation is sent to you.

The Holy Spirit sends the Gospel to all who hear it and offers salvation freely to them.

This makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ a ‘must hear’ item.

Preached Wednesday evening 21/4/1999 at Glasgow, commencing the Communion Season.

Direct link to download

Metaphors and exegesis

Biblical exegesis is a wonderful God-given skill.  It enables the exegete to draw out of Scripture the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to imposing on Scripture a meaning that the reader has already determined (eisegesis -reading into Scripture one’s own prejudices).

There are many principles for exegesis, but one of them is to be aware of biblical metaphors.

The failure to notice that ‘Woe to them that are at ease in Zion’ Amo 6:1 is a metaphor, applied to the careless in Samaria, has led some exegetes to think that Amos is addressing those living in Zion in Jerusalem.

Just as we apply this phrase to people of our acquaintance, so it appears that it was already a metaphor in Old Testament times.

A summary of the opening chapters of Ezekiel

To understand Scripture, one needs to understand texts and passages in context.

So a summary of Scripture chapters can be very useful to help us understand the context.

I have been doing so for years for my Bible commentary, an on-going work that will probably be published posthumously. However, this does not prevent extracts coming out as required or requested.

This latest blog is a request from Graham Mair, a godly companion who labours diligently in the Lord.

This is a simple summary of the opening four chapters of Ezekiel. It can be downloaded here – Ezk 1-4.

The first online instalment of my Bible commentary was here.

My Bible commentary undergirds my other writing. There are two major works I am engaged in, with a third one ticking away in the background.