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Exegesis is a critical analysis of a text, such as a passage in the Bible, by objectively studying it to draw out the meaning. In a scholarly setting, exegesis is a thorough analysis. It covers many factors such as context, narrative, literary genre, word studies, cultural context, figurative language, historic context, etc. And may take many pages, even hundreds of pages, to critically examine a verse or passage. In a church setting, such as a sermon or debate, exegesis is much more summarized. A Pastor or teacher presents his findings or interpretation based upon the more thorough study he did behind the scenes. So long as this verbal exposition and interpretation is supported by the speaker, such as with other verses, historical examples, etc. Then many refer to this simplified presentation as exegesis as well. If the interpretation is not backed by textual or contextual evidence, but merely asserted into the passage, it would be called eisegesis - reading "into" the text rather than basing ones conclusions on the contextual scripture. When we do personal study, the level of depth we go into analyzing a passage may vary. But while we may not often be able to do a full research analysis on a chapter or verse, we can use many tools to help our approach be exegetical with a mind to examine the text for what it means, and not what we "want" it to mean or what we have been taught by others to think it means. Since no scripture exists in isolation, one of the handiest tools for a layman is putting the text in it's larger context. Imagine it's as if you want to understand the nature of a specfic tree, so you start by examining it's placement and relation to the forest around it. Reading the book the passage is in is a great place to start. For some books (e.g. Psalms, Proverbs) this is not as necessary, as the book is broken up into units. Reading the whole book, with special attention on the chosen passage, helps place the passage in context of it's larger narrative. Observe as you get closer to the passage: who is speaking? Who is the audience? Was their a prior thought to the passage that the current one is building off? Was their history leading up to the chosen story? Is the passage a fragment of a larger argument? Etc. After reading through the book, or a section surrounding the chosen passage, try to place the literary genre as well. Understanding different types of genre will help you in several areas: analyzing the structure (some genres follow a strict format;) knowing what level of figurative language to expect (e.g. parables, prophecies, poetry, and apocalytpic texts have a high level of figurative language, wheras historic narratives have little;) understanding the purpose of the book (to convey information, to persuade, to praise, etc.); as well as hint at what rhetorical devices you might expect. Now that the tree has been roughly placed, one can start looking at the tree itself - the passage. Even here, it is better not to dive into the fine details (such as word studies) first thing. Rather, more can be done to narrow the meaning: examine parallel scripture to see if it sheds light on the topic; examinine any confusing or uncommon phrases to see if they have cultural context; look for the connections in the passage such as and, but, and yet; look for the general flow of thought, with words like, "therefore" or "for this reason." Check interlinears to understand how the sentences are structured and relate. Then, dive into any words in the passage or verse that are crucial to its meaning or uncommon in use. Find out what they meant in their original language, if you can. It's also a good idea to analyze even some common jargon words - like grace - as 'popular' definitions aren't always accurate. Now that you've analyzed the passage, you can begin synthesizing your findings into an interpretation that takes all the factors you have studied into account, and start applying any principles learned.
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