Wednesday, November 29, 2006

N.T Exegesis Step 4: Provisional translation

This is an exciting part of the exegetical process. When you get to actually translate the original Greek into your language. I say your language because you will be using English words that have a meaning to you slightly different to other English speakers. English Bible translations are normally either focused on American English speakers or British English speakers and there are differences in the nuances of each.
I enjoy reading the NET Bible, but there are times when a particular word has been used that appears to be more American than British. (Being married to an American is a big advantage in these situations).
So at this stage you will get to translate the Greek into your own receptor language.

Before you can do this however, you need to establish what the text of the passage is:

4a) Establish the text.

You probably know that there are around 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. As with all other ancient works of literature, no manuscripts are letter for letter the same. This is often shocking to those of us who were born after the printing press was invented, but before then no-one ever expected their copy of a book to be exactly the same as their neighbour's copy of the same book. This is because without the use of printing presses and computers, human beings made human mistakes when copying manuscripts. What this means is that we have around 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that more of less say exactly the same thing as one another, but there will be variations in spelling of some words, and sometimes a wrong word will be written in one manuscript, and sometimes a whole line will be missed out in another manuscript. Now this isn't really a big problem, because by looking at all the different manuscripts it becomes easy to see where mistakes were made. However there are a very small number of instances (we're talking about less than 5%) where scholars have been divided about which manuscripts have got it right, and which have got it wrong.

When doing exegesis it is important to know if you are exegeting one of these passages. For example, Romans 5:1 in some Greek manuscripts writes 'echomen' with a long 'o', but others write 'echomen' with a short 'o'. This might not look like a significant difference, but in actual fact its the difference between "Let us have peace with God" (short 'o') and "We have peace with God" (long 'o').
It's not easy to know which is the right one (B.T.W it's not a Byzantine verses Alexandrian matter).
So if you're exegeting that verse you need to know that there is a good chance it could mean either, and look at the textual evidence for both and be able to either be convinced in your own mind, or to be aware that you might not be able to be dogmatic about it. This is really important if you are going to teach on this passage. You don't want to dogmatically teach something that might be based on a scribes typo hundreds of years ago!

So how do you look this stuff up?
First off I would suggest the NET Bible. If you can't afford a leather version, then download it for free from, or use the NEXT Bible online on their website. This contains thousands of notes on Textual Criticism and is very helpful. B.T.W Textual Criticism doesn't mean criticising the Bible! It's a term that can be applied to any ancient work, and is the process of working out which textual variants are scribal errors (or margin notes) and which are correct renderings of the original autographs.

If you want something more in depth than the NET Bible notes, and with more discussion, then Bruce Metzger's commentary on the New Testament Text is excellent.

If you want to go further than that, then get Nestle- Aland's 26th or 27th edition of the Greek New Testament and learn to read the apparatus on that.

You can also use Esword to look up some of the major differences between the Alexandrian and Byzantine and the Textus receptus manuscript lines.

I have talked about this extensively on my Greek for the Street Series (DVD 3) where I demonstrate how to use Esword to look up these, and the class performs some textual criticism on some interesting variants.

To finish this post I should end with a word of warning. Textual criticism is a highly specialised field. Be careful about making assumptions that are not backed up by evangelical scholars. For the novice I would suggest merely using it as a way of understanding what commentators are talking about, and for seeing how sure you can be that your particular English translation is using the correct text.
if you want to progress above this level, be prepared to spend a lot of time studying this field so that you avoid committing pulpit crimes.


P.S I'll post the intro to my DVD on Textual criticism soon.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

NT Exegesis Step 3c: Identifying the text's role within it's context:

So far we've looked at
1) Spiritual preparation.
2) General introduction.
3) Literary context.
- a) identifying the literary type and appropriate interpretation method.
- b) identifying the limits of the text.
and now we will look at

3c) identifying the text's role within it's context.

This is where we look at the text we have chosen to study and try to work out how this piece fits into the rest of the puzzle.

This means that we don't treat our text as a text we have found in the middle of a black hole, but instead a text that is surrounded by other texts.

To do this we ask ourselves questions like,
"Why did the author put these verses in this part of his book?"

"How do these verses add to his argument?"

"How does this fit in with the section before or after?"

Often this stage is missed out because it's tempting to just dive into the text we are studying and just understand it on its own merits. The problem with this is that its like ripping open a letter someone sent to you, and just trying to understand one paragraph within that letter without reading the whole thing - it will be easier to understand any given paragraph when you see how it fits in with the other paragraphs.

I've been writing a paper on Romans 7:14-25 recently, and it appears that some have tried to understand what it means without looking at how it fits in with the sections before and after it. This approach makes the task much more difficult, and increases the possibility of getting it wrong.
If however you look at chapter Romans 7:1-13, and then Romans 8 - You can ask the question,
"Why did Paul put in 7:14-25?"
"How would his train of thought have worked without it?"
"How would the listeners have understood the Paul's point it without it?"
then it becomes much easier to ask,
"What is Paul's train of thought in 7:14-25, as it relates to 1-13 and Chapter 8.

B.T.W it can be helpful to write down headings for each section of text to help you follow the train of thought.

Next time we'll look at Step 4: Provisional translation.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Funny things that children say: Old versus New Covenant:

I just found my 3 year old daughter pretending to paint on my door. She told me she was putting blood on the door.
The reason was because of Pharaoh!
I told her that I've got Jesus' blood instead, she replied that she's got Moses' blood!
I now feel like Paul having to explain the superiority of the new covenant over the old covenant mediated by Moses!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

NT Exegesis step 3b) Identifying the limits of the Text

So far in our look at New Testament exegesis we've looked at the first step:
1) Spiritual preparation.
the second step:
2) General introduction.
and we started looking at the 3rd step:
3) Literary context.
which we can split into 3 different processes:
a) identifying the literary type and appropriate interpretation method. (which we looked at last week)
b) identifying the limits of the text.
c) identifying the text's role within it's context.

Today I'm gonna talk about
Identifying the limits of the text.

When we study a New Testament a book we find that it is made up of many sections of text. These sections themselves are normally made up of smaller units of text.
In this stage of exegesis we look at the passage we are studying, and try to identify where the unit of text begins and where it ends.

When we do this we ignore the chapter and verse numbers because these were added hundreds of years after God breathed (inspired: 2Tim 3:16) these words.
Neither the Holy Spirit, nor the original authors put the verse and chapter numbers there 2000 years ago.

There's a number of ways to find where the unit starts and stops, but here's 5 suggestions:

1) Start reading the book a few paragraphs before the section you want to study, and keep reading it till a few paragraphs afterwards. As you read look out for any change in topic, time or place, or even literary style. Another thing to look for is if the person changes, in other words is the writer talking about "You" and then starts saying "They"?

2) If you have a Greek New Testament then you can see how they have divided the text.

3) If you don't have a Greek New Testament, you might have a study Bible that in the introduction to the book gives an outline of how they interpret the text divisions (NIV study Bible does this).

4) Good commentaries will provide their interpretation of where a unit starts and stops.

4) Bibleworks 7 (which is my favourite Bible software) has Metzger's Bible outline on it, which I find useful.

5) If you know Greek you can also look to see what words are used where you think a unit starts or stops. This can be very useful where the NIV might start a new sentence, but in the Greek it's still the same sentence. In fact it is a tendency of the NIV to put long Greek sentences into shorter English sentences to make it easier to read. If you can look up the sentence in the Greek you can see more easily if there really is a new sentence, or it the train of thought is actually still flowing on in a really long sentence (Paul sometimes uses really long sentences!).

Now it's usual for there to be differences of opinion about where a unit starts and stops - so be careful to not be dogmatic about it. But often you will find there is a lot of agreement amongst scholars about where a train of thought starts and stops.
By trying to find this out for yourself, not only will you have a lot of fun, but you will get to know the text so much better.

Have fun detecting the units!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How to read Genesis

Here's some teaching on hermeneutics of Hebrew narrative, and how to read Genesis in the Old Testament Bible. Narrative makes up most of the Bible, but sadly this genre is often misunderstood.
Enjoy D