By Pastor Harold Miller, Jr.
New Hope Baptist Church
“Exegesis,” which literally means, “a bringing out” or “leading out” is the task of getting the meaning intended by the original writer “out of” the text. The opposite of exegesis is eisegesis, which means, “a bringing” or “leading into.” Eisegesis results in reading meaning into the text that was not intended by the original writer. One should seek to do exegesis with care, while at the same time seeking to avoid the carelessness of eisegesis. There is no set order for doing exegesis, although there are several generally accepted phases or aspects. The text itself is the primary consideration and becomes the basis of semantic analysis, word studies, and thematic synthesis. The order of application may vary according to the intensity of interest of the exegete (you) and the text being exegeted. Ultimately, the fundamental rule is that the interpreter (you) must be obedient to the text.
The Text. The text must be chosen and its integrity confirmed or established. Sense units or thematic development will usually serve as a guide in determining the limits of the text. The establishment of the text will necessarily involve the exegete in the discipline of textual criticism or analysis in order to discern variant readings, which may exist.
The Context. Interpreting the text in its context is absolutely essential to correct exegesis and the avoidance of eisegesis. The overall context of the particular biblical book must enter into consideration, as must the immediate context of the particular passage within the book. Secondary tools such as biblical introductions and surveys, Bible dictionaries, concordances, reputable commentaries, and Bible atlases, may all provide opportunity for reflection and for the establishment of the historical, geographical, cultural, and literary contexts of the particular passage.
Grammatical Analysis. Greatest attention must be paid to the text itself in order to discern exactly what the author has written and to the extent possible discern exactly what the author intended. Here’s where one’s knowledge and understanding of the original languages (the language in which the text was originally written) is brought to bear. The sentence is the major unit utilized in the expression of thought. Read and analyze each sentence of the passage. Analysis includes determining the subject and the verb of each sentence. Take the text apart. What verb tense does the author use to express his points? What is the force of the verbs? How are the participles used? What types of subordinate clauses manifest themselves in the passage? What emphasis is suggested by the word order or by separate personal pronouns in use?
Word Study. Word study moves beyond the analysis of the grammar to analysis of individual words in order to discern the possible shades of meaning in the author’s usage. Because “words have usage and not meaning,” they mean whatever the individual author has used them to mean.
Integration. After a careful, contextual examination of the components of a text, a final integration of one’s findings calls for a full expression of thematic synthesis as to the meaning of the text.
Some Suggested Procedures: (For those who have not studied the original languages.)
Although a common practice, it is basically a wrong procedure to consult several commentaries (first) to see what they have to say on a given passage and then choose the interpretation that is most pleasing. If this is done, one simply seeks for the commentary that reinforces one’s presuppositions. In this approach, the student neither thinks on one’s own nor does one actually become involved with the scripture passage itself.
- Determine the extent of the text. A text that is too short may neglect the larger context while a text that is too long may lead only to generality.
- Look up and read the passage in at least 3 to 5 different versions, make sure to note the context.
- Note significant thoughts or ideas in the text.
- Pay particular attention to the verbs (action words) and verbal forms in each sentence of the passage.
- Once you have isolated the verbs and verbal forms, use a concordance (Strong’s Exhaustive and Young’s Analytical are both good to have) to determine the Hebrew or Greek word from which the English was translated.
- Do a word study of significant words, Noting the translation and/or use of these Hebrew/Greek words in other passages by the same author and by other authors.
- Formulate your opinion of the meaning of the verbs and verbal forms in the passage.
- Formulate your interpretation or meaning of the text. (What it meant then)
- Compare your findings with various commentaries and other resources.
- Formulate an opinion of the relevance of the text. (What it means now)
The afore-mentioned procedure or a similar methodology is very important in biblical studies. Of all the things I learned from my Greek professor (Dr. Greene) at Mississippi College, I shall never forget his favorite line: “A knowledge of the original languages is imperative to proper exegesis, teaching and preaching, because you can’t tell them (the people) what it means (now) if you don’t know what it meant (then).”
Most of you reading this have not and will not become involved in a formal study of Greek and/or Hebrew. But, be not dismayed in your attempt to find the original meaning. There are several resources available to aid you in your studies. Here is a list of some the most significant ones in my humble opinion:
- The Amplified Bible
- The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
- The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV)
- The New International Version of the Bible (NIV)
- The J. B. Phillips Translation
- The James Moffett Translation
- The Life Application Bible (available is various versions)
- The Key Word Study Bible (available in various versions)
- The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible
- Young’s Analytical Concordance of The Bible
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
- Dictionary of Old Testament Words for English Readers
- The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words
- Harper’s Bible Dictionary
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary
- The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon
- Word Studies In The New Testament (Four volumes by Vincent)
- Word Pictures In The New Testament (Five volumes by Robertson)
- The Theological Dictionary of The New Testament (Abridged in one volume)
- The Complete Word Study Dictionary of The New Testament
- The Complete Word Study Dictionary of The Old Testament
- The Matthew Henry Commentary
- The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
- Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary
An Example of Exegesis:
Passage: Genesis 3:16.
Exegetical Question: What was the woman’s “desire?”
The first task is to read the text and the surrounding passage in order to get a good “feel” of the context of the text. This can be done by reading the text and the surrounding passage in several versions. For the purpose of this illustration, the KJV, the NASB, the NIV, the NET (New English Translation), the Amplified Bible and the NRSV will be used, but we will copy only the phrase that is pertinent to this exegetical study.
“And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” KJV
“Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” NASB
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” NIV
“You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” NET
“Yet your desire and craving will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” AMP.
“Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” NRSV
From the versions that we have selected, we see that only the NET carries the meaning that we suspect is the correct interpretation of the phrase. Now, let’s begin our study to prove or disprove our hypothesis.
From reading Genesis 3:1-21 (the entire chapter) we discover that the larger context of this text is God’s pronouncement of judgment for sin in the Garden of Eden. The specific context of the text is the judgment on the woman. It is noted that the woman’s judgment is “sandwiched” between the judgment on the serpent and the judgment on the man. Also the judgment of the serpent and the judgment of the man are prefaced with the phrase: “Because you have . . .” However, the judgment of the woman contains no such preface. This is in line with the order in which the characters are first introduced and portrayed (verses 1-6) in this chapter: the serpent, the woman and then the man. When God interrogates them, the order is reversed: God speaks to the man, the man blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent (verses 9-13). When the judgments are issued, the order of reverts back to the original order, God judges the serpent, then the woman and finally the man. I note from my familiarity with the use of lists in the Bible that the most significant items on a list are usually the first and the last. The fact that the woman is in the middle in all three listings might be a hint that she bears “less” responsibility than the serpent and/or the man.
My exegetical question is: What was the woman’s desire? Traditionally, it has been taught by some that “the woman’s desire” was a sexual desire for her husband. But an honest, careful look at the passage in its proper context renders this interpretation as highly improbable. First of all, note that the immediate context is judgment. Therefore, if the woman’s desire was sexual, then we must conclude that sexual desire is a direct consequence of this judgment, thereby being an indirect the consequence of sin. However, we know that this is not the case because the original mandate was for the woman and the man to “be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, sexual desire was a natural part of the human interaction from man’s creation, not as a consequence of sin. Secondly, it would not make sense for sexual desire be a consequence of judgment. If anything, the lack of or the denial of sexual interest would be a more fitting “punishment.” So, in view of the context, an interpretation that views the woman’s desire as being sexual is at best, ill informed.
After gaining an understanding of context, the next order of business is to determine the Hebrew word that is behind the English word, “desire.” This can be done by looking up the English word, “desire” in a concordance. Using The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible, we look up the entry for “desire,” noting that there are several, 111 to be exact. However, we notice that the Strong’s number keyed to the word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 is 8669. We also note that out of 111 entries, the number; 8669 only occurs 3 times; in this text, in Genesis 4:7 and in Song of Solomon 7:10. So before we even look up the exact Hebrew word, we already know that the Hebrew word for “desire” is the same in these three verses and that this particular Hebrew word only occurs in these three verses in the entire Bible! Hence, logic dictates that we may find some hint of what “desire” means in our text by looking at how the word is used in the other two verses.
We go to Genesis 4:7 first and we find God talking to Cain about his (Cain’s) reaction to the rejection of his sacrifice and God’s acceptance of Abel’s. Sin is personified as lying at the door. God says to Cain, “Unto thee shall be his “desire” and thou shalt rule over him. We also note of the similarity in sentence structure between this verse and our text.
Genesis 3:16: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband / and he shall rule over thee”
Genesis 4:7: “and unto thee shall be his desire / and thou shall rule over him.”
Since these verses occur in the same book, written by the same author and the sentence structure is almost identical, it is reasonable to assume that whatever the word “desire” means in one verse, it has the same meaning in the other verse. It is obvious that there is no sexual connotation in Genesis 4:7. Correctly interpreted, Sin wanted (desired) to rule over Cain, but he had the ability to rule over sin, although he did not. If we were to transfer the same meaning of “desire” (noting that they are the exact same words in the Hebrew) from 4:7 to 3:16, we could conclude that an interpretation of the verse could be that Eve would have a desire to rule over her husband, but (the Hebrew word for “and” is also translated as “but,” in some places, depending on the context) he would rule over her.
Then we look and see how the word is used in Song of Solomon 7:10: “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.” Since this whole book is about sexual love, it is obvious that in this context, the “desire” is indeed sexual. However, the “desire” could be translated as a desire, not just to have the maiden sexually, but to sexually dominate.
Finally, we look up the Hebrew word that is translated as “desire” and discover that it is, teshuwqah pronounced; tesh-oo-kaw. The definition is: “a sense of stretching out after; a longing; – a desire.”
We find this definition by looking in the back of the Strong’s concordance in the Hebrew /Chaldee Dictionary for the key number: 8669.
Before we conclude our study, we should look up the other main verb in this sentence, which is “rule.” The corresponding Strong’s number is 4910 and the Hebrew word is “mashal” pronounced “maw-shal.” It means, “to rule, have dominion, reign.”
Eve’s judgment was directly related to her sin. She tried to rule over her husband, leading him into sin. Consequently, her judgment was that he (her husband) would rule and dominate over her. The fact that this is a judgment upon the wife could be an indication that God’s original intent was not for the man to dominate his wife, but rather for him to lovingly provide leadership for her. (Real leadership is not force, but influence.)
Note that we have formulated our thoughts and conclusions based upon our personal analysis of the text. It is only after we have done this that we should confer with the commentaries. Commentaries are not to be consulted first but rather, we should consult them last! If we have done our homework thoroughly and honestly, our conclusions will be confirmed by the commentaries. However, there will be some commentaries that will not agree with our findings. This does not necessarily mean that our interpretation is wrong and they are right. Some commentaries will support our findings and some will not. But if we have done our homework correctly, we are more enriched for having engaged the text. And although we might not agree with their findings, we will have a better understanding as to how they reached their conclusion.
Comments from various commentaries:
“Then God told the woman that she would have pain in bearing children, and that she would be mastered by her husband whom she desired. Because Eve’s desire probably refers in this context to her prompting Adam to sin, it is better to translate the verse “Your desire was for your husband.” Having overstepped her bounds in this, she would now be mastered by him.”
From The Bible Knowledge Commentary
Your desire … he shall rule. Just as the woman and her seed will engage in a war with the serpent, i.e., Satan and his seed (v. 15), because of sin and the curse, the man and the woman will face struggles in their own relationship. Sin has turned the harmonious system of God-ordained roles into distasteful struggles of self-will. Lifelong companions, husbands and wives, will need God’s help in getting along as a result. The woman’s desire will be to lord it over her husband, but the husband will rule by divine design (Eph. 5:22–25). This interpretation of the curse is based upon the identical Hebrew words and grammar being used in 4:7 (see note there) to show the conflict man will have with sin as it seeks to rule him.”
From The MacArthur Study Bible
She is here put into a state of subjection. The whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is, for sin, made inferior, and forbidden to usurp authority, 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. The wife particularly is hereby put under the dominion of her husband, and is not sui juris—at her own disposal, of which see an instance in that law, Num. 30:6-8, where the husband is empowered, if he please, to disannul the vows made by the wife. This sentence amounts only to that command, Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; but the entrance of sin has made that duty a punishment, which otherwise it would not have been. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy. If Eve had not eaten forbidden fruit, and tempted her husband to eat it, she would never have complained of her subjection; therefore it ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be complained of, that made it so. Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence.”
From The Matthew Henry Commentary
Conclusion and application:
When Eve partook of the fruit and convinced her husband to partake of it, not only did she disobey God, but she also usurped her husband’s authority. He was supposed to have been “leading” her, but instead, she “led” him. The Lord’s rationale in his judgment of the woman was this: “Since you insist upon leading your husband (in this case into sin) you will always have that tendency to want to dominate or control him, but you will not be able to because he will rule over you.”
It should be noted that the Lord prefaces the man’s judgment with the words, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.” Adam fell into sin because he listened (obeyed) the voice of his wife instead of listening to and obeying the voice of God.
From this we can surmise that the “battle of the sexes” in the family is a direct result of sin. God is a God of order. The man is ordained by Divine mandate to be the leader of the home. This does not mean that he is to dominate his wife, but rather to lovingly lead her and his household in the ways of God.
This situation is rectified in the New Testament in Christ. The Christian wife lovingly submits herself to the authority of her own husband (this is not a command for all woman to submit to all men in general), who loves her, just as Christ loved the church. (See Ephesians 5: 22-25)