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New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors

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This indispensable, stimulating guide provides a practical method for a thorough, careful exegesis of the New Testament. It gives step-by-step ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors

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fitz

New Testament Exegesis by Gordon Fee

by fitz on Apr 14, 2009

Fee is refreshingly clear when it comes to the purpose of his book. He hopes that his book will serve "as a textbook or a guide for students to learn the exegetical process, from the opening of their Bibles to the writing of the paper" (p. xiii). And what is exegesis? Like all good philosophers, Fee is very quick to define his important terms: his definition of exegesis is in the first line of his introduction. "The term exegesis is used in this book in a consciously limited sense to refer to the historical investigation into the meaning of the biblical text" (p. 1). The Bible, although the inspired word of God, nevertheless had real human authors and was intended for real human readers at a certain time period, points out Fee. Exegesis, as Fee understands it, seeks to uncover what the biblical author wished to convey to his particular audience. Fee discusses exegesis in his introduction because his book is not a treatise on what exegesis is but rather it is a handbook on how to successfully execute it. "What I have tried to provide is a guide to all the steps necessary to do good exegesis" (p. xv). And indeed, Fee wastes no time before he gets going. The book is very technical in scope. Fee begins by positing that good exegesis is all about asking the right questions. In this way will the author's intended meaning make itself known. "Good exegetical questions fall into two basic categories: questions of content (what is said) and of context (why it is said)" (p. 5). What then follows for all of chapter one is a meticulous step by step process of what to do when doing exegesis on any passage from the New Testament. Fee starts with eight steps which ought to be followed no matter what passage you have selected. These are his "initial steps" and they serve to provide "a provisional idea of what is going on, both in the whole document in general and in your own paragraph (or pericope) in particular" (p. 8). They consist of: 1) survey the historical context in general, 2) confirm the limits of the passage, 3) become thoroughly acquainted with your paragraph/pericope, 4) Analyze sentence structures and syntactical relationships, 5) establish the text, 6) analyze the grammar, 7) analyze significant words, and 8) research the historical background. In what follows, Fee explains these steps and provides the questions the budding exegete ought to ask of himself and of his passage. Fee, to give a few examples, stresses grammar, reading the original Greek (although he is extremely accommodating for those Greek ignoramuses or neophytes), and the helpfulness of consulting different translations. After the first eight steps, we come upon a split. There are different steps nine through eleven depending upon the genre of the selected book one is working from. Fee, in his introduction, has already supplied the reader with his division of the New Testament into four types of literature: 1) Epistles, 2) Gospels, 3) Acts, and 4) the book of Revelation. So the specific passage in question will dictate where you turn to next in Fee?s work. Each of the four genres has their own distinct set of steps nine through eleven. One must not treat an epistle the same way as one would a Gospel because of the nature of the writings. Fee explains: "the epistles have basically a one-dimensional historical and literary context... The Gospel writers, by way of contrast, have a two- or three-dimensional historical context, which in turn affects their literary context" (p. 20). Such is an example of why the different genres call for separate treatments. We all happily re-convene for steps twelve through fifteen. These last steps complete Fee's exegetical process. In wrapping up one should 12) consider the broader biblical and theological concepts, 13) consult secondary literature, 14) provide a finished translation, and 15) write the paper. His twelfth step encourages the exegete to ask where the passage fits "within the whole corpus of revelation comprising Christian theology" (p. 31). So although Fee's work seems very basic and foundational to the interpretation process, it nevertheless significantly assumes that the reader is familiar with the "whole corpus of revelation". Exegesis for Fee is not executed in a theological or Scriptural vacuum. He also emphasizes this holistic approach in step one. "The first step always is to read the entire document through. You need a provisional sense of the whole before analyzing any of its parts, and you gain such a sense by reading it through" (p. 9). The same argument can easily be applied to the Bible as a whole. And indeed he does use this reasoning when he deals with the Old Testament in reference to the New. "It is important that, as you engage in the exegesis of the NT, you always pause to ask how your passage is either explicitly or implicitly impacted by the OT. Recent studies have shown that there are few, if any, citations of the OT by the NT writers that do not carry an awareness of the OT context" (p. 102). Fee leans heavily on extensive prior knowledge from his readers before they attempt his methods. The first chapter is called "Guide for Full Exegesis" and indeed this is just what it is. Fee's entire process of how to properly execute exegesis is all in the first thirty-eight pages of the book. The whole plan is laid out even more briefly on a very helpful schematic on pages six and seven. Chapter two is the largest chapter but it is just a more detailed explanation of some of the steps covered in chapter one. Chapter two "is filled with a variety of aids to exegesis that must be worked in at various points in the process outlined in Chapter I" (p. 39). Fee provides in depth examples where necessary and fleshes out some of his steps in a very concrete and practical way. Section II.2, for example, is a very thorough example of how to do textual criticism and why it is important. This is to be expected since textual criticism is foundational to the interpretive process. A text must be established before it can be understood. Section II.5 deals with the historical-critical study of a text. It is in this section that one could apply other methods not explicitly mentioned by Fee such as rhetorical criticism. Chapter two does seem to be grammatically heavy. Fee obviously places great importance on the words themselves and their patterns of construction. There are two remaining short chapters in Fee's book. Chapter three is a guide specifically designed to aid pastors in crafting good exegetical sermons. They will therefore be better equipped to teach their flocks the truths from the bible. For the sermon, says Fee, "ought not to wrap shoddy scholarship in a cloak of fervency" (p. 134). Chapter four is a long list of various resources available for the exegete that ought to satisfy even the most ambitious student. Fee is a model of carefulness and thoroughness in his instruction throughout all of chapter two. Whether he is explaining the finer nuances of how to properly lay out a sentence flow, reading from antiquity in order to become familiar with the time period, or how to avoid overexegeting by grammatically analyzing every word to death, Fee remains helpful and precise. One gets the impression that one will receive from Fee's book in direct proportion to how much effort is put into his methods. The closer his rules are followed and the more his suggested books are referenced, the more will the true treasures of exegesis unfold. On the other hand, less can be gleaned with good results as well. The book is for exegetes what a step-by-step instruction manual is for someone assembling an engine. And this is precisely what Fee intended. As far as this intention is concerned, Fee's book is a very useful one. Using the guidelines it sets forth, one would be able to successfully do exegesis on any passage from the New Testament.

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