Context and Exegesis

Questions and discussion about B-Greek policies or the B-Greek forum.
cwconrad
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by cwconrad » January 28th, 2016, 2:28 pm

I very much appreciate and affirm the substance of the propositions that Jonathan has set forth in his response to Stephen. Insofar as I have anything to add, it is my understanding of the implications of that response, an understanding that may or may not be shared by others but one that I think is worth setting forth.

Participants in this forum all value and read the Biblical text with care, seeking as best we can to understand precisely what it says. In this forum especially we seek to understand the Greek text of the New Testament and the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament as well as the text of early Christian writers who composed in Greek. It is the Greek text of these documents that is our primary focus.

Although we don’t talk about it, I think it is generally clear to all participants that we approach the Biblical text from a broad spectrum of hermeneutical perspectives, i.e. we hold individually a range of understandings of the Biblical text’s authority and inspired status, understandings that ordinarily are bound up with our faith-commitments and the faith-communities of which we are individually members. It is important to take this into consideration when we talk about whether exegesis is “off topic.”

My dictionary defines exegesis thus: “critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture”. Unquestionably that is what we are doing when we analyze a Biblical Greek text in terms of its syntax, diction, discourse patterns, etc., etc. and endeavor to set forth as clearly as possible what it is that the Greek text is saying. I think that we all recognize that this is the heart of our endeavors as students of Biblical Greek: the quest to understand what the Greek text of the Bible is saying.

For many, however, the exegetical task extends beyond clarification of what the Greek Biblical text is saying and involves exploration of what that text implies for faith and action within our faith-communities. That is to say, exegesis in this broader sense extends to drawing out the theological and moral implications of the text in itself or in association with other Biblical texts and the Biblical corpus as a whole. In our B-Greek Forum we deliberately choose not to engage in this extended exegesis for the reason that exegesis of that sort is necessarily sectarian, grounded in our several faith-commitments and faith-communities rather than in our shared understanding of the Greek language and our shared commitment to explore what the Greek Biblical says as a Greek text.

More needs to be said than that, however. It is important, I believe, to be clear about Biblical Greek texts that enunciate ethical or doctrinal propositions. Any of us could point out in the gospels and in the letters of Paul and elsewhere texts that bear profound theological and/or ethical significance. Some of these are what are called “hard sayings” (e.g. Mt 5:20 or Mt 5:29) ; some are scarcely intelligible and subject to considerable dispute (e.g. 1 Cor 5:3-5, 1 Cor 15:29); there are some that I find deeply disturbing (e.g. Rom 9:21-23). I think we can reach agreement about what each of these passages is saying as a Greek text; on the other hand, we may very well come to very different understandings of the implications of these verses for faith and behavior, depending on the hermeneutical assumptions we bring to bear upon the texts in question. In my judgment, we ought in this forum to limit ourselves in discussion of such verses to such exegesis of the texts as sets forth as clearly as possible what it is that the Greek text is asserting and we should steer clear of discussion of theological or doctrinal implications of these texts.

There are other forums for discussion of theological and doctrinal implications of these texts; there are other forums for apologetics and explorations of “proof texts” that some wish to employ to promote or defend one variety of faith or attack another variety of faith. I think we need to steer clear of those endeavors in this forum.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Jonathan Robie
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by Jonathan Robie » January 29th, 2016, 3:00 pm

I'm inclined to combine this and my previous response, modify the language just a little, and add it as a formal policy to the Policies section. Any comments on that plan?

Jonathan
cwconrad wrote:Participants in this forum all value and read the Biblical text with care, seeking as best we can to understand precisely what it says. In this forum especially we seek to understand the Greek text of the New Testament and the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament as well as the text of early Christian writers who composed in Greek. It is the Greek text of these documents that is our primary focus.

Although we don’t talk about it, I think it is generally clear to all participants that we approach the Biblical text from a broad spectrum of hermeneutical perspectives, i.e. we hold individually a range of understandings of the Biblical text’s authority and inspired status, understandings that ordinarily are bound up with our faith-commitments and the faith-communities of which we are individually members. It is important to take this into consideration when we talk about whether exegesis is “off topic.”

My dictionary defines exegesis thus: “critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture”. Unquestionably that is what we are doing when we analyze a Biblical Greek text in terms of its syntax, diction, discourse patterns, etc., etc. and endeavor to set forth as clearly as possible what it is that the Greek text is saying. I think that we all recognize that this is the heart of our endeavors as students of Biblical Greek: the quest to understand what the Greek text of the Bible is saying.

For many, however, the exegetical task extends beyond clarification of what the Greek Biblical text is saying and involves exploration of what that text implies for faith and action within our faith-communities. That is to say, exegesis in this broader sense extends to drawing out the theological and moral implications of the text in itself or in association with other Biblical texts and the Biblical corpus as a whole. In our B-Greek Forum we deliberately choose not to engage in this extended exegesis for the reason that exegesis of that sort is necessarily sectarian, grounded in our several faith-commitments and faith-communities rather than in our shared understanding of the Greek language and our shared commitment to explore what the Greek Biblical says as a Greek text.

More needs to be said than that, however. It is important, I believe, to be clear about Biblical Greek texts that enunciate ethical or doctrinal propositions. Any of us could point out in the gospels and in the letters of Paul and elsewhere texts that bear profound theological and/or ethical significance. Some of these are what are called “hard sayings” (e.g. Mt 5:20 or Mt 5:29) ; some are scarcely intelligible and subject to considerable dispute (e.g. 1 Cor 5:3-5, 1 Cor 15:29); there are some that I find deeply disturbing (e.g. Rom 9:21-23). I think we can reach agreement about what each of these passages is saying as a Greek text; on the other hand, we may very well come to very different understandings of the implications of these verses for faith and behavior, depending on the hermeneutical assumptions we bring to bear upon the texts in question. In my judgment, we ought in this forum to limit ourselves in discussion of such verses to such exegesis of the texts as sets forth as clearly as possible what it is that the Greek text is asserting and we should steer clear of discussion of theological or doctrinal implications of these texts.

There are other forums for discussion of theological and doctrinal implications of these texts; there are other forums for apologetics and explorations of “proof texts” that some wish to employ to promote or defend one variety of faith or attack another variety of faith. I think we need to steer clear of those endeavors in this forum.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by Barry Hofstetter » January 30th, 2016, 8:02 am

Excellent idea, I agree.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by Stephen Hughes » February 2nd, 2016, 9:29 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:Any comments on that plan?
Jonathan Robie wrote:On the other hand, I think discussing various ways in which a Greek text could be understood is very much in scope, along the lines of what you see in commentaries like Meyer, ICC, Expositor's Greek, etc. who all read each other's interpretations and reasoned from them. These are the building blocks that people can go off and construct their theologies - just not here on B-Greek.
It seems that if everyone who wanted to ask questions, had a copy of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament for the relevant section of the Text, there would be considerably less questions asked. A commentary like that is similar to Rogers-squared or Zerwick and Grosvenor, except that it really sticks to dealing with the Greek text as the Greek text, and bills itself as the step before dealing with interpretations of the text.

Will a tolerant acceptance of non-theological factors, such as culture and contemporary culture be covered in the new policy? I ask, because, besides the faith and religious background of the authours, probably the most greatest influence on their work would be the era they lived in, both in conformity and reaction to it.
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(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

Jonathan Robie
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by Jonathan Robie » February 2nd, 2016, 10:05 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:
Jonathan Robie wrote:Any comments on that plan?
Jonathan Robie wrote:On the other hand, I think discussing various ways in which a Greek text could be understood is very much in scope, along the lines of what you see in commentaries like Meyer, ICC, Expositor's Greek, etc. who all read each other's interpretations and reasoned from them. These are the building blocks that people can go off and construct their theologies - just not here on B-Greek.
It seems that if everyone who wanted to ask questions, had a copy of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament for the relevant section of the Text, there would be considerably less questions asked. A commentary like that is similar to Rogers-squared or Zerwick and Grosvenor, except that it really sticks to dealing with the Greek text as the Greek text, and bills itself as the step before dealing with interpretations of the text.
We do interpret texts here, and discussing various interpretations is important, but at the level of "what does this text say" and "how can this be understood in context". And none of this is new policy. If anything, the reason for clarifying this is so that people won't be afraid to do some interpretation. But we really don't want to do theology here, and we especially don't want to do proof texting and theological debates.

In fact, exegesis and interpretation are practically the same thing. The posts in which Carl and I discuss what kinds of exegesis are appropriate apply equally well if you substitute the word interpretation. Some of that will definitely go beyond what you see in Baylor or Zerwick and Grosvenor. How far beyond? I'm not sure we can completely spell this out in a policy, beyond what we have attempted so far. That's why you have moderators.
Stephen Hughes wrote:Will a tolerant acceptance of non-theological factors, such as culture and contemporary culture be covered in the new policy? I ask, because, besides the faith and religious background of the authours, probably the most greatest influence on their work would be the era they lived in, both in conformity and reaction to it.
There are certainly aspects of their culture that are needed to understand the meaning of words and idioms and allusions, and we need to understand things within the cultural context. So I think we should talk about how we can best allow discussion of these things without having it become free ranging opinion or bringing in all those "everyone knows" statements about ancient history that are frequently so iffy, and keeping the focus on the text and the language.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

cwconrad
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Re: Context and Exegesis

Post by cwconrad » February 2nd, 2016, 3:35 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:Will a tolerant acceptance of non-theological factors, such as culture and contemporary culture be covered in the new policy? I ask, because, besides the faith and religious background of the authours, probably the most greatest influence on their work would be the era they lived in, both in conformity and reaction to it.
There are certainly aspects of their culture that are needed to understand the meaning of words and idioms and allusions, and we need to understand things within the cultural context. So I think we should talk about how we can best allow discussion of these things without having it become free ranging opinion or bringing in all those "everyone knows" statements about ancient history that are frequently so iffy, and keeping the focus on the text and the language.
I think it may be helpful to expand upon these points in order to clarify what is at risk in a “tolerant acceptance of non-theological factors, such as culture and contemporary culture.”

I personally adhere to a faith-community that suggests the church has an “obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding”. While that seems perfectly reasonable to me, I can understand how persons with different faith-commitments might view this as an invitation to embrace kinds of “historicism” that are likely to relativize the message and intent of the Biblical text, even to raise a question whether ethical norms set forth in Biblical texts remain valid in a historical and social order centuries later when conditions that were factors at the time of composition (e.g. the institution of slavery, the rule of the Rome over the ecumenical domain of the New Testament documents, etc.) no longer prevail. Adherents of some faith-communities find anathema any suggestion that the doctrine and ethical norms set forth in Biblical texts should be interpreted differently today than in centuries previous or at the time of their composition. I don’t share that view myself, but I respect those who hold that view, and that is the reason why I think that our interpretation of the Biblical text as a Greek text should not go beyond what we can demonstrate that the Greek text itself means, in terms of analysis that we all share.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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