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!

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