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Exegesis of Romans, part 1


The word ‘exegesis’ has become very hip. Every pastor worth his weight in words refers to his sermons in the third person as ‘Exegesis’. This is a good thing, at least in principle. The alternative, and the antonym of exegesis is ‘eisegesis’, and that is seriously ‘no bueno’. Eisegesis means to read your opinion and prejudice into the text; to see in the text what you want to see. When we put it like that, obviously it is… well… shall we say: Less than ideal. The ideal is for the preaching of the word of God to bring out of the text the objective meaning that is in the text, without any cross-contamination with the subjective opinion of the preacher. As is always the case with any ideal, this is extraordinarily difficult. One could say nigh impossible… so I will: It is nigh impossible. We have no natural means or mechanism to comprehend something objectively. Everything we read is read in our voice and with our vocabulary. Every word is matched against our inner dictionary and drawn on the canvas of our own mind with whatever ‘thought Crayons’ we have managed to accumulate over time. Some of us have the triplet set given out in restaurants — where you hope that you don’t get the pack that has two greens. While others have put together the Ultimate Master Set, with the built in sharpener. I hate those people. However, having a bigger kit is only a small advantage, because the receiver must still guess which color to fill in each concept with; and that coloring is by definition subjective. So if he sees everything through a single colored lens? Eisegesis all the same.

Therefore, simply “reading and believing” is not possible. If it were, we could “read and believe” a language we don’t understand. We wouldn’t need an English Bible, or even a Bible in any human language. Between “reading” and “believing” there is always “understanding”. At times “understanding” is a noun; happy times indeed! Most of the time it is a verb. And in the midst of this brutal, never ending struggle of “understanding”, we construct mental tools. However, if we are not very deliberate, those tools invariably take the form necessary to make understanding easier and faster, not necessarily more objective and more accurate. Eisegesis is a result of studying the Scripture using only the fast and easy toolset. It is the mind’s default answer to the world’s most misleading question, “What can I say about this text?” A mnemonic aid to remembering ‘eisegesis’ is to think ‘ISAY-gesis’. 

On the other hand, ‘exegesis’, is the good fight against subjectivity and self-centeredness. Exegesis is the endeavour to coax out of the text its undefiled, objective sense. Exegesis is the mind’s recalcitrant answer to the most humbling question, “What does this text say that I don’t understand?” This question is nearly impossible to answer. It is like asking, “What am I not seeing that I cannot see?” How do we go about seeing what we can’t see, and understanding what we can’t understand? We use the correct toolset. This toolset consists of both internal as well as external tools. The external tools are helps like diverse translations, a very good dictionary, a very good thesaurus, some Greek and Hebrew lexicons, linguistic study, a lifelong habit of reading well written books (the subject of those books is of very little consequence), and many others as well. These you can acquire, most can be acquired easily and cheaply. In truth, you already have most of them at the tip of your swiping finger. 

The internal tools are much more difficult to assemble, and much more expensive. They will cost you untold reserves of laziness and bias, which are your brain’s way of not thinking — and never underestimate your brain’s capacity to avoid thinking: It is practically the only thing it ever thinks about. The most important internal tool is humility. If you think you know, then as far as your brain is concerned, you do know; and your brain will warp its internal fabric of reality to square that assumption with all the data. You won’t even have to think about it. Regardless of how much something seems to fit and make sense, you should always be willing and anxious to realize it is not so. This isn’t doubting the Scriptures (as many protest), it is doubting yourself. This tool can easily be confused with the eisegetical tool known as ‘Skepticism’. They are nothing alike. Skepticism makes you doubt everything, and is only an alternative shortcut to not thinking about anything. Like skepticism, humility is always searching for the truth. But unlike skepticism, it delights in finding it, and it can find it because it doesn’t look for the truth within itself. Humility will allow you to allow the text to say things you don’t like, that you don’t comprehend, that you don’t countenance. It won’t be easy but it will be possible, but only if you are humble before the text. 

That is exegesis in the abstract. Exegesis instantiated in practice is a very peculiar and specific crossover between translation, paraphrase, hermeneutics, and commentary. Although the word is often used as a synonym for exposition and hermeneutics, it is neither of those. An exegesis proper is the study of the intended meaning of a text based exclusively on an analysis of the text’s structure. The only external material that should be pulled into an exegesis is that which the author clearly references. There are several ways to go about producing an exegesis. The method I have found most helpful is writing a sort of paraphrase of the text, reordering it to simplify the parenthetical material as well as the complex grammatical and logical structure that might exist. This paraphrase should be in your own words, there are no extra points for maintaining the word choice — or word order for that matter — rather, points are deducted. (A definition isn’t helpful if it only repeats the same word.) The paraphrase should expand any idioms, shorthand notations, and rhetorical abbreviations. An exegesis should spurn any sort of hermeneutic or homiletic attempt; it is not the role of the exegesis to harmonize scripture or doctrine, nor bring conviction or compel to action. An exegesis is objective, analytic, and dispassionate. But rather than try to catalog an exegesis in any more detail and then attempt to explain those details, I refer the reader to the sample below.

Lastly, there are a few important caveats: An exegesis is not intended to replace any other tool, and certainly not the sacred text of Scripture. It is meant to be examined alongside the text, as a sort of tentative map. It should never be regarded as definitive, only as suggestive. If at any point the text seems to cancel or challenge the exegesis, it is the exegesis that should be adjusted. Commentaries, expositions, and hermeneutics all have their rightful place and are not challenged or displaced by a proper exegesis. Also, an exegesis is not an attempt to explore any of the deep meanings of the individual clauses in the text. Doing so will dilute its purpose and make it nothing more than a commentary by another name. An exegesis is best seen as a small scale map that gives a sufficient sense of where the textual structure lies and how it is connected, but is not concerned with detailing every possible bend and slope. And finally, an exegesis’ explanatory power is proportionate to the range of text it incorporates. An exegesis of a single verse is of almost no use whatsoever, if such a thing where even possible. An exegesis of a single chapter is merely amusing, not generally useful; like a bulbous plastic screwdriver. To really do it most properly, it needs to cover the entire book. Granted, that can be extremely arduous, so if you must narrow the range, try to be as inclusive as possible. Otherwise, you could end up doing half the work but only getting 1/10 the effect.

As you examine the following exegesis, please be aware that it is mostly intended to illustrate an exegesis; so you will likely find some elements that you disagree with. Those might or might not be wrong; it is possible that you are wrong (see the section on humility). I welcome any feedback you care to share, however, I have purposefully made this exegesis rather rough to afford you the opportunity to smooth it out while observing it in motion. I will leave you to it, with this one word of advice: When you write out an exegesis, make sure to point out to your audience that you intentionally left it rough, to afford them the oppor…

Exegesis of Romans

(1.1 – 2.16)

From Paul: A slave of Jesus Christ, called to be a witness of his resurrection, and set apart for the good news of God about his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the gospel that was previously promised by his prophets in the holy scriptures. And this Jesus, in the flesh was the descendent of David. But this Jesus in the spirit was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. And it is by this Jesus that we have received grace and been commissioned to be witnesses of his resurrection to demand in his name that people from all nations obey the faith; and you who are the called of Jesus Christ are among those people.

To: Everyone in Rome who is beloved of God and called to be saints.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by thanking my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, that your faith is spoken of everywhere around the world. God who I serve in the gospel of his Son with every fiber of my being is my witness that I always mention you in my prayers when I plead with God that he would allow me to finally visit you. Because I desperately want to see you, so that I might strengthen your resolve by sharing some spiritual gift with you; but more importantly, so that we all might have the opportunity to comfort each other by our mutually shared faith. I don’t want you to think that I didn’t want to minister to you the same way I have ministered to the other Gentiles. Many times I planned to visit you, but was thwarted everytime. I am very aware that I owe a debt to both the Greeks and the Barbarians; to both the wise and the unwise. So, as far as I am concerned, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: First, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes — both to the Jew first and also to the Greek; and second, because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, clearly predicated on and substantiated by faith. As pertaining to both of these reasons it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (More on this later.)

Conversely to the revelation of the righteousness of God: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who’s suppression of the divine revelation, that is clearly manifest in them, is predicated on and substantiated by unrighteousness. First, because they have no excuse. The immaterial nature and invisible power of God can be clearly seen in the Creation and comprehended by observing what is material and visible. And second, because when they did know God, they neither glorified him as God should be glorified nor did they even express thanks; but instead through their silly speculations they became worthless and because of their foolishness they descended into moral darkness. Claiming to be wise, they made complete fools of themselves trying to replace the glory of the eternal and immaterial God with figurines shaped like temporal and physical men, and birds, and mammals, and reptiles. As a final consequence, God gave them up to be overcome by the dehumanizing, filthy cravings of their own innermost desires. I reiterate, because they had replaced the divine revelation with a lie, and had worshipped and served the creation more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

To particularize this final consequence of God giving them up to filthy cravings: It was so catastrophic that even their women perverted their own sexual nature, in the same way as the men had abandoned the natural attraction towards women and burned with disgusting passions and enaged in depraved sex with other men; all of them receiving in themselves the well deserved consequences of their depravity.

And to particularize the consequence of them suppressing the divine revelation: God gave them over to an unmoored and twisted worldview to pursue their self-destruction. Hence they are filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness. They are full of envy, murder, contentiousness, deceit, and malignity. They are gossipers, slanderers, antitheists, disdainful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, renegers, without natural affection, unappeasable, and merciless. And to top it all off, although they are aware of God’s judgment that the penalty for these crimes is death, they not only continue to do them, but they celebrate those that do them.

But since the righteousness of God is to the Jew first, then you also have no excuse, whoever you are that judges the heathen: For in judging others you condemn yourself, because you actually commit the same crimes that you condemn. We have already established the indisputable fact that God will unfailingly judge anyone who commits such crimes. So do you really think you can judge others for these crimes that you commit yourself, and yet somehow manage to escape God’s judgment? Or is it that you contemptuously dismiss God’s good natured patience and self-restraint in affording you space to repent? Either way, be it because of your obstinate hypocrisy or your contempt of repentance, the consequence is the same: You are only succeeding in multiplying and intensifying the wrath of God that he will pour out on you in the day when he decides to no longer restrain his anger and reveals his righteous judgment. At that time he will give back to everyone according to what they have done: To them who patiently persevere in doing good — because they desire glory, honor, and immortality — he will give back eternal life; but to them who defiantly refuse to obey the divine revelation, pursuing unrighteousness, he will give back contempt and wrath. In short, on that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel, there will be adversity and anguish on every last one who does evil, on the Jew first, but also on the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace on every single one who does good, again, on the Jew first, but also on the Gentile; because God shows no favoritism.

This impartiality is evident in the reality that as many as have sinned without the law shall perish without the law, and as many as have sinned under the law shall be condemned by the law. This is because it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who are acquitted. But to the point that those that sin without the law perish all the same: When the Gentiles who ostensibly don’t have the law, intuitively do the things contained in the law, they declare that they do, in fact, have a law: It is the functional law that is written in their collective consciousness and revealed when they accuse and excuse one another.

To be continued.

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