Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers

Michael J. Gorman, ed. Baker Academic, Peabody, MA September 1, 2010
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The first edition of this work was published in 2001. The present edition has benefited from new developments in the field and feedback from those who have used the earlier edition in a variety of contexts. One distinctive of Gorman’s approach is an emphasis on theological interpretation (to be defined below). This has become even more prominent in his revised edition. The book is divided into three parts: orientation, elements, hints, and resources.

The first part, Orientation, introduces the approach of the book. It provides a discussion of various methods and an overview in chapter 1 of Gorman’s own approach. In chapter 2 Gorman discusses which texts are best for study. He mentions original language texts but spends most of his time discussing how to choose an English translation. Gorman’s preferred translations for exegesis are the New American Bible, the NET Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and Today’s New International Version (pp. 44–46). Among the many others he lists in various categories are the New American Standard Bible and New International Version, which are useful “with caution” (pp. 46–47). He also discusses study Bibles (pp. 52–57). This chapter is helpful for all who are puzzled by the many available English translations.

The second part of the book introduces and describes seven “elements” of Gorman’s method. Each element receives a chapter. In addition to describing a particular element, information on writing the results of the study of the element is included. Gorman’s method is somewhat eclectic (p. 23) and generally can be described as historical, literary, and theological. He acknowledges that his method is not the only way to read the text (p. 5).

The first element of Gorman’s method is survey. Here the author provides a brief discussion of how to survey a passage to begin one’s study. Next, contextual analysis explores various contexts in which a biblical text may be found. This includes the historical and social as well as the literary and canonical contexts. Gorman is correct to include this discussion early. It will help guide further detailed study. Third, in formal analysis the Bible student considers form, structure, and the flow of the text. Here outlining is done and further structural observations are made. Fourth, the individual parts of the text are considered in what Gorman descriptively labels detailed analysis. This is the longest aspect of the process and includes procedures such as word studies and grammar. This is an accessible chapter for many Bible students; however, it is too basic for many seminary-trained exegetes. Fifth, the text as a whole is considered in synthesis. Here main ideas are determined. Gorman also acknowledges that there will be differences of opinion on some of these issues (p. 129).

Sixth, the ancient text’s message is considered for the modern reader in reflection. Gorman calls this theological interpretation. This chapter has undergone significant revision from the earlier edition as the author has become more convinced of its importance (pp. 1–2). By theological interpretation he does not mean one’s interpretation should be based on one’s (systematic) theology, nor does he intend this to be the creation of a system of theology. Rather, it is exegesis in a church context (p. 147). Of course some theological convictions are brought to the text. Gorman acknowledges two principles: divine self-revelation and address, and the unity of the church (p. 147). To these he adds eight others (pp. 148–55). Essentially, theological interpretation is a complex approach to application. Gorman is to be commended for his emphasis on the importance of application in the interpretation process, an aspect often left out of more formal treatments of the topic.

One wonders, however, where these principles have come from. Would they be different in a different time or place? This reviewer prefers the use of a label like “application” to “theological interpretation.” The latter may communicate a dogmatic theological approach. Also Gorman apparently sees this as a part of the exegetical process itself (thus the label theological interpretation); however, this seems to suggest that such conclusions were intended by the author or are in the text itself.

Seventh, the Bible student needs to return to the initial work for possible expansion and refinement. Here the student is encouraged to look at the work of others. He or she should ask, Is there room for refinement? One should not assume that all sources are correct, but this gives the student the opportunity to make changes if he or she is persuaded by exposure to others.

Part 3 begins with a short chapter on errors to avoid (chap. 10). This section discusses potential problems for each of the previous chapters. The final chapter is an annotated bibliography of resources to use for the exegetical process. Such lists are always subjective, but Gorman provides more than enough helpful comments about excellent resources to meet the needs of seminary students and others.

Each chapter’s value is enhanced by a concluding bullet-pointed chapter summary, practical hints, and questions labeled “For further insight and practice.” The book includes four appendixes. The first is a table of exegetical methods, which is generally a list of various methods often used in biblical studies. Each includes issues regarding why they are used, goals, and sample questions that the method may help answer. Although not made explicit, some methods would be considered primary methods or approaches to interpretation (e.g., narrative criticism, canonical criticism), while others would be used with other methods for more particular reasons (e.g., intertextual analysis, form criticism). Second, an outline of guidelines for writing an exegetical paper is included. This condenses the method in the book. Third, Gorman includes three sample research exegetical papers from students. These are helpful, but they are not examples of detailed original exegetical studies, and thus they will not help all seminary students and others interested in more detailed work.

This book is a welcome contribution to the literature on exegesis. Its straightforward “elements” sections make it an easy method to follow. Its emphasis on theological interpretation or application is helpful and provides important direction for students. However, this book is not advanced enough to meet the needs of upper-level seminarians and serious Bible students; yet its use at the beginning of the learning process can be helpful. Following this method will be beneficial to Bible students.

—Joseph D. Fantin

October 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2011 vol. 168 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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