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writing things down…

Previous matters

  • Previously I had some reflections on teaching exegesis. I’ve now had my first go at lectures on Word Studies and Historical-Cultural Background. My initial thought? There is absolutely too much information for seminary students to digest. Courses on exegetical methods cannot hope to do much more than present some 1) general ideas about methodological approaches, 2) helpful tools for the task, and 3) encouragement in light of the enormity of the task. (NB: ‘some’ is a key word in the previous sentence.) The question then becomes, “What is the pertinent information? What, among all of the ‘stuff’, should students be aware of and exposed to?” For example, what do students really need to know about the historical and cultural background of the NT? I suppose the answer to that question varies depending on what text is under investigation. Ultimately, I also suppose the answer to the question should be “as much as possible!” A better question then is “What (and how much!) can instructors teach students about the historical and cultural background of the NT in one (possibly more, but still one section of a 10-week course) lecture?” I came to class armed with loads of information. I was prepared to retell the story (legend?) behind the LXX. I had some notes on the Hasmonean dynasty and the Second Temple period. I was even ready to discuss some of the specific Hellenistic literature relevant to NT studies. But, we only had time to barely touch on these things. I offered an analogy for what I was doing. It was a bit like being at a party and having someone introduce you to a person but then leaving the two of you behind to get acquainted on your own. I could only introduce the students to the idea that investigation of Judaic and Hellenistic literature would bolster their NT exegetical work. When I could I tried to acquaint the students with some of the literature or at least to sources that would acquaint them. In the end I left class feeling a bit overwhelmed. I can only imagine how the students felt. And, in the end, many of them are wondering what they need to do to write their exegesis papers. How much historical and cultural background information ought to find its way into their papers? The only answer I could give was “enough”. Word studies are not as overwhleming as historical-cultural background. They can lead into some pretty intense historical investigation though. My focus with the word studies lecture was to emphasize the contextuality of the word under consideration. One cannot do a word study of dikaiosyne. One can, however, do a word study of dikaiosyne in Matthew 5. In addition to contextualizing word studies, I also emphasized some of the exegetical fallacies to avoid. I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and incompetent with the word study lecture as I did with the historical background one.
  • Previously, I noted that I planned to work up some thoughts about the two theological commentaries that have recently begun to appear on book shelves. Yesterday Fuller’s boookstore finally replenished their copies of Stephen Fowl’s commentary on Philippians in the Two Horizons series. I have only read the first few pages of the introduction. The most promising thing for me is his short initial section entitled, “Writing a Theological Commentary.” I will want to say more about his thoughts on this task later. Stay tuned.

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