Historical-grammatical exegesis & the “eclectic and literary method” (quotes)

Yesterday, I cited Christianity Today’s interview with Carson and Beale about Commentary of the NT use of the Old Testament. Here are some further quotes about methodology and some of the limitations of historical-grammatical exegesis.

Beale: Historical-grammatical exegesis traditionally has been used to exegete a Hebrew or Greek paragraph. You try to interpret it contextually in the book, using word studies, grammar, and syntax. You try to understand the logical development of thought within the paragraph, historical background, and theological or figurative problems. You check for parallel texts. It’s a whole array of things you bring to bear on a particular paragraph.

Eclectic and literary [method] extends grammatical-historical exegesis from just looking atomistically at the paragraph in the context of its book. In my view, part of exegetical method has to do with how the passage fits into the corpus of the author, how it fits in the New Testament, and how we relate it to the Old Testament. One would especially want to pay attention to Old Testament allusions and quotations, going back to see what’s happening in the Old Testament. You might call that a biblical-theological perspective that really goes beyond the traditional understanding of grammatical-historical.

I like to use the phrases “narrow-angle exegesis” and “wide-angle exegesis,” letting Scripture interpret Scripture, or “canonical-biblical exegesis.” This lets later texts in the Old Testament interpretatively develop the earlier texts, and traces how the trajectory finds further development with the New Testament writers. They tend to be sensitive, when quoting one text, to other developments of that text in the Old Testament. That’s a wider consideration than just looking at your paragraph in the New Testament book. You have to do both.

The limitations of historical-grammaticial exegesis are evident. The problem with any form of communication is that you need the context in order to fully understand its meaning. (Tip of the hat here to the Relevance Theory of Linguistics, which like the Bible is easy to understand in broad strokes but quite complicated in detail.) It’s hard enough when we try to communicate with our own loved ones. Understanding the Biblical context is further complicated by an interval of 2000 years and several layers of culture.

While we are on the subject of historical-grammatical exegesis. I liked this reference by DJA Clines who described it more of a way of life than a method.

From On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays 1967-1998, Volume 1
(JSOTSup, 292; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 23-45

[Click here for Cline’s whole essay on methods.]

i. Historical-grammatical exegesis. This is in fact not so much a method, but more a way of life to most biblical scholars. The term refers to . . . Continue reading