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Posts Tagged ‘exegesis’

All too often, in a debate, a hundred different biblical passages are thrown around without any real knowledge of what they mean. For instance, lets say I’m in a debate with an atheist and that atheist wants to ‘prove’ to me that God is evil, so he/she will cite 20 passages from the bible. They, however, most likely just lifted those off of some web site that has those passages listed in “how to prove god is evil when debating a Christian”. The person I’m having the debate with has no understanding of the passages he/she cited, nor do they even want to understand them. I usually just ignore such things, because of that, and I don’t have time in my life to go over the interpretation of every verse in the bible to this person’s satisfaction. That is their task if they want understanding.

So sometimes it comes down to “No, that passage doesn’t mean X, it means Y”. And they respond, “Well, that’s your interpretation, but it clearly says X”. What they don’t know about is exegesis, or more generally hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the process of interpretation to find the most accurate and precise meaning of a text. As a process, it has rules and steps that should be followed to yield the best results. It encompasses basic reading comprehension techniques (which I find most people online do not have), as well as moving beyond them. For example, when reading a text or let’s say a verse in the bible, you should know what voice it is written in, who the speaker is, who the author is, what is the topic they are writing on, basic sentence structure things such as implied subjects or objects, and context. You can go a few steps further and learn who the expected audience of the text was, what type of literature it is (law, prose, poetry, parable, metaphor etc), what the society was like for the author and expected audience (this will help you define how the text would be received and what meaning people of the time drew from it), and what was the original language and how are certain key words in the text translated (for example love can be Eros or Agape, sexual or sacrificial etc). I won’t go over all of the techniques used to interpret a text precisely here because they are available elsewhere if you choose to delve into that topic.

The point here is that 99% of the problems in debates where bible verses are cited can be solved with proper understanding of the text gained through diligent and precise interpretation following hermeneutical principles. Alas, that is beyond the call of duty for anyone throwing out verses this way and that, hoping that one will stick to the mind of the believer who may not have a greater understanding of interpretation than his atheist friend, and who perhaps does not have the time to look in to fifty different verses and technically analyze them. Doubt and disbelief is still unlikely to happen this way if the believer has a mature faith.

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