It’s beyond debate that we live in the “golden age” of Christian publishing. Though this is a huge blessing, it means we have an unending stream of books clamoring for attention. Pastors face constant pressure to keep up with the next best book on biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology. Overwhelmed with our own deficiencies, we often reach for books on leadership and time management. Burdened with the weight of sins both within and without, we frequently reach for the latest counseling books and journal articles. Feeling the need for inspiration and hope, we tend to grasp for biographies of faithful saints who have gone before. For every conceivable issue we face, there seems to be a plethora of books ready to help if we will simply take up and read.
Now all the types of books mentioned above are helpful, have a place, and I’m not going to stop reading them any time soon. Yet I feel the need to remind busy pastors of one more thing: Exegesis. After all, the glossy new books, from each theological discipline that are clamoring for our attention, depend on one thing for their arguments and conclusions (at least the good ones do): Exegesis. Whether we realize it or not, when we read we are under a constant barrage of exegesis. If we are going to read books and evaluate their arguments by the standards of Scripture, then we need to be good exegetes ourselves.
Furthermore, if we are going to be pastors who faithfully shepherd the flock, then we must continually hone our exegetical skills. It is a sad reality that many pastors fail to continually improve their exegetical abilities through continued study and reflection on the discipline of biblical exegesis. In other words, too often pastors will give themselves to literature and seminars on theological or practical ministry issues (e.g. leadership, counseling, church finances) without ever returning to a textbook on biblical interpretation.
My contention is that pastors should create room in their reading schedule for honing their exegetical skills. After offering reasons for continued improvement in the area of exegesis, I’ll close by offering three suggestions for improvement.
If you’re like me, you had a hermeneutics class in seminary … but the foundations for biblical interpretation laid in that class were quickly made and easily forgotten. For example, unless you have been doing word studies every day, you have most likely forgotten many of the “ins and outs” of how to do a good word study. Contrary to what some might think, simply hitting the “word study” button on your Bible software is only the beginning. Understandably, you probably do not have the time to do detailed word studies during your sermon prep each week. Yet keeping the basic rudiments of this discipline in your mind will help you save time and avoid error next time you plan to hang a big sermonic point on a single word.
Furthermore, each biblical genre comes with guidelines for interpretation. Again, because of our finitude, we are prone to forget. The rules governing the interpretation of prophecy, or historical narrative, or parables will grow “fuzzy” if we do not review them regularly.
In short, because we are prone to forget what we learn, we must make a concentrated effort to reinforce the principles of biblical interpretation in order to be the best exegetes that we can be.
We Want to “Rightly Handle” the Word (2 Tim 2:15)
I’m assuming that you’re a pastor or Bible teacher who wants to preach the Bible to your people rather than use the Bible to support what you want to say. In other words, you want to do “exegesis” instead of “eisegesis.” I’m assuming you don’t sit down in your study and pray, “Lord help me read into this text what isn’t here!” Yet, invariably we “bring ourselves” to any text we read. Keeping our exegetical methods honed by studying the “rules” of biblical interpretation will help us fight against importing our own context and concerns into the textual world of the Bible.
We Care about Truth
I’m also assuming that you don’t ascend the pulpit with the desire to spout error. Instead, you spend hours coming up with the “main point” for your sermon that is true to the “main point” of the text. We should take care to ensure that our main point truly came from the text at hand and was truly what the biblical author intended.
The heart of the faithful pastor ought to be burdened by a desire to speak only true things about the Word of God. Honing our exegetical skills is a means to the end of rightly handling the word of truth. As we become better exegetes through the continued study of how to interpret the Bible, we are more prepared to handle the text of Scripture with accuracy.
Along these same lines, as we become better Bible interpreters, we are more readily able to discern poor handling of the Word. As I mentioned above, all the books on your shelf depend on exegesis. Not everyone has the same exegetical methods and assumptions! Your powers of discernment in reading depend in large part upon your skill in biblical interpretation.
So as you plan your reading schedule, you should include books on leadership, theology, church history, and exegesis. And you do so because you are prone to forget what you learned in your hermeneutics courses, you are charged with the right handling of Scripture, and you care about truth.
To conclude I offer three ways that can help us hone our exegetical skills:
Fight to Keep Your Languages.
Jason DeRouchie writes, “Knowing the original languages helps one observe more accurately and thoroughly, understand more clearly, evaluate more fairly, and interpret more confidently the inspired details of the biblical text.” No Hermeneutic textbook can replace a first-hand familiarity with the biblical languages. Yet even if you’ve lost most of your ability to read the languages, simply devoting some time to study the different discourse functions of common conjunctions will go a long way in helping you track biblical arguments.
Train Yourself to Use a Method for Sentence Analysis.
This is by far one of the most helpful ways to hone exegetical skills. The website I regularly use for this is biblearc.com. Biblearc provides a wonderful platform to learn and hone these skills. Analyzing texts with the Discourse, Bracketing, and Phrasing modules found on the website forces you to grapple with how everything in a given text holds together and how that text fits into the context of the biblical book in which it is located. While you can certainly understand the flow of a passage without these reading tools, I know of no better way to graphically represent and retain the way you see the text holding together.
Along these lines, I suggest buying a copy of Interpreting Pauline Epistles by Tom Schreiner. His little volume will prove useful as you continue to learn how to trace the argument of a passage of Scripture.
Read Books on Hermeneutics
Make a list of books on Hermeneutics and chip away at them over the years. Some that I have found helpful are: Exegetical Fallacies (D.A. Carson), How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Fee and Stuart), 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Robert Plummer), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Robert Stein), Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (G.K. Beale), and Invitation to Biblical Interpretation (Andreas J. Köstenberger).
You don’t necessarily need to make these types of books the things you read while sitting on the beach during vacation. Instead, simply keep them close and revisit them from time to time.
As stated above, we live in the golden age of Christian publishing. We have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. By all means, read as widely as possible in the time you are given. But as you read widely, make sure to read works that help you read the Bible, the most important book, for all it’s worth.
Joel Aubrey is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He currently lives in Minneapolis, MN where he works for Bethlehem Baptist Church.
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 One helpful way I have found to create room in my schedule is to utilize audio books for the fiction, biographies, and leadership books that I read. Audible is really helpful for this because I can listen at different speeds depending on the depth of the material being covered.
 A Great book for doing this is The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature, by Sidney Greidanus. Or read, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein.
 Jason S. DeRouchie, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections,” Themelios: Volume 37, No. 1, April 2012 (n.d.): 36.
 See Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010).