Components of Exegesis / Illustrated by Example: Ezk. 40:1-4

Implementing a hermeneutically controlled exegesis is key to proper interpretation of the Bible. Involving rigorous study and attention to detail, interpretation relies crucially on not only knowledge of Scripture but also reliance upon the Holy Spirit for guidance and instruction.

In order to begin properly interpreting the bible, the interpreter must examine himself in the light of Scripture. This means that the interpreter must be continually in prayer, placing himself under the authority of Scripture, repenting of sin, and seeking to be taught, in other words, having the right attitude before God. The interpreter must also examine the presuppositions he brings to the text and those he holds about the text. These presuppositions may involve examining his thoughts behind original authorship, or presuppositions regarding its purpose to reveal something about Christ; cf. Lk. 24:44-47. Interpreters must also examine their goals in interpretation. That is, what do they hope to reach through study? In this process the interpreter must seek to determine the end goal of his study, asking, “What is the passage about?” and “What is God saying to us?” Lastly the interpreter must pray expectantly, hoping, and believing God will reveal, something for him and for His people.

Once the interpreter has prepared himself and examined his presuppositions he is able to move to the text and begin searching for meaning within the passage. This process begins with looking into the Grammatical-Historical (GH) features of a text. GH exegesis involves examining language, literary features, and the historical background of a text. It involves establishing a literary context in which concentric circles of context can be drawn, from a unit of scripture to the entire book and onto the complete canon of scripture. Looking at the passage one also needs to examine the genre in which it appears. Upon reading Ezekiel 40:1-4 one sees that it is a historical narration of a prophetic vision that Ezekiel recorded, the beginning of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple. As such, he should be observant of literary features that may be present in the text, which would fit the genre, namely “prophetic narration” which would include prophetic “forthtelling” and “foretelling” along with heavy use of symbolism and use of non-literal speech such as allegory. One should also be able to determine through common sense the purpose of the writing, which in this instance is explicit in verse four, that it would be “declared to the house of Israel.”

The interpreter should, based on an understanding of the literary themes and after a reading of the chapter and the entire book, be able to fill in any historical and cultural background pertaining to the passage. The purpose of this should be to establish the original intended meaning for this passage and for observing any distanciation or “cultural gaps” that may be present in establishing the passage’s historical meaning. The first verse opens recording the date in which Ezekiel received his vision, being “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken”. The interpreter might ask, “What is the significance of recording this for Ezekiel’s intended audience?” “Are there any culturally significant practices that would occur on the tenth of the month at the beginning of the year?”

The interpreter should also ask questions regarding any symbolic meaning that may exist in words and phrases used in the passage. He should, with the understanding that the semantic choices of the author may or may not be of significance ask, “What is the significance of being brought to a ‘high mountain’ (Ezk. 40:2)?” “What is the significance of the man’s appearance of bronze and his measuring rod (Ezk. 40:3)?”

After thoroughly reading the text in multiple translations the interpreter should look into reliable scholarly aides to help find connections outside of the passage itself. Biblical dictionaries are helpful in investigating various meanings of phrases like “high mountain” or a “measuring rod” (Ezk. 40:2, 3). Exhaustive concordances are useful in finding connections within the text to other passages; cf. Ezk. 40:2; Isa. 2:2-3; Mic. 4:1; Rev. 21:10. Use of commentaries also help in establishing connections to themes, some even providing a synopsis of how the passage in question has been interpreted throughout history. While helpful the interpreter must know to be critical of not only his presuppositions and conclusions in this process but also of the aides themselves.

The interpreter should also seek to go beyond the GH interpretation and into theological interpretation. Knowing that “scripture interprets scripture” the interpreter should seek to know how the passage contributes to God’s word and fulfills God’s ultimate divine intentions. The interpreter must examine any typological symbolism that would point to Christ and to the Church by asking questions like, “Is the man with the appearance of bronze pointing to Christ (Ezk. 40:3)?” “Could the declaration of the vision to Israel also be for the Church (Ezk. 40:4)?” It is from here the interpreter can begin to look into the “fuller sense” of a passage.

With some connections it is the responsibility of the interpreter to be critical of his own conclusions. Genuine theological findings will always agree with the GH use by the author. Theological findings should also fit into the story of God’s establishing of Redemptive History (RH). The interpreter must ask, “How is this finding RH?” “Does it point forward to God’s ultimate fulfillment?” Once organic connections are made to GH and RH the interpreter can begin applying what he has learned by asking, “What is the passage telling us?” “What am I being asked to do now with this knowledge?”

In summary, while this description is by no means comprehensive, from it we have begun to see how establishing a hermeneutically controlled process for interpretation is rooted in scholarly academic practice along with seeking the prayerful leading of God in the revealing of His word.

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