Following the steps indicated in the Lecture 3, complete a word study on each of the important words in James 2:8-11.
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BIB-355 Lecture 3
Principles of Interpretation âˆ’ Dealing with the Text
In order to accomplish the task of bridging the gap between the ancient author and modern interpreter, organizing the study of the biblical text into clear principles and procedures is imperative. As shown in the diagram in Lecture 1, the interpreter must examine the author and original recipients of the text and their historical situation, examine the biblical text itself as a work of literature, and consider the text in its canonical setting as the whole Bible. The steps set out here consider first the text, then the historical/social and literary context, followed by the canonical setting of the passage.
The first principle of biblical exegesis is dealingwith the text, the passage of Scripture that has been chosen or assigned to study. For this week’s assignments, the student is assigned a text to exegete. There are three necessary tasks that must be carried out in examining the lexical and grammatical elements of the text. These steps give the interpreter a clear idea of what the text itself is saying.
Analyzing the Sentences
Common sense might say that the exegete should start by examining the individual words. However, the meaning of the text is not found in the words, but in the sentences. The basic unit of thought in language is not the word, but the sentence. Words must be put into a sentence structure before they can come to have the meaning the author intends. The student needs to analyze each sentence to discern what statements or thoughts are intended by the author.
This is done by subjecting each sentence to a diagramming process. In order to do this, the student must be able to recognize the basic elements of the sentence. These basic elements are displayed in a diagram which highlight them and show their relationship to one another more clearly.
What are the basic elements? Every sentence has at least two basic elements: the subject (usually a noun or pronoun) and the predicate. The subject is the doer of the action, and the predicate is the word that expresses the action (e.g., run, jump) or state of being (e.g., is, was, will be). These two together form a clause, a subject-verb combination. Many sentences have a third basic element, a verb complement. There are three different kinds of complements: the direct object (receives the action of the verb), the indirect object (who the action is done for), or for state of being verbs, a predicate noun or adjective. Use the “Diagramming a Sentence” resource to practice identifying these elements in a sentence.
A sentence might also have modifiers (words, phrases, or sub clauses) that go with one or more of the basic elements. An adjective might modify the subject, direct or indirect object, or predicate noun. An adverb might modify the verb. Prepositional phrases are usually used to modify nouns or verbs. Other phrases like infinitives and participles can function as one of the basic elements or can be used to modify a basic element. Even sub clauses (subject-verb combinations that are not the basic elements) can be used as modifiers of basic elements.
Another important kind of word seen in sentences are connector words, or conjunctions (words such as “and,” “but,” “or,” “although”). In the diagram, these words are put on a vertical line between the sentences, words, or phrases they connect.
The idea of the diagram is to put the basic elements on the main line in the order subject-predicate-verb complements. Then the modifiers of each basic element are arranged under the element it modifies, each on its own line. When all the words, phrases, or units (such as sub clauses or infinitives) of the sentence are arranged, the student can see much more clearly the main ideas and their relationships to one another. The “Diagramming a Sentence” resource gives several example sentences that have been diagrammed. The student should practice diagramming sentences using the illustrations and instructions in this resource.
Diagramming the Paragraph
A paragraph is a grouping of sentences that addresses one main idea and functions together as a unit. Some linguists maintain that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic thought unit of language. Finding the central statement of the paragraph is important, as is how that statement is made through the interrelationship of several sentences. In a paragraph there is one main statement with several “modifier” statements, or sentences, around it. Be aware that the main statement may not be the first sentence in the paragraph; often it is not.
Steps should be taken to diagram the main theme and flow of thought in a paragraph. Since students have already analyzed the sentences carefully, they are ready to distill the statements of the paragraph into one sentence expressing the central theme or statement. This statement should be a simple sentence, written in the student’s own words (not using a quote from the paragraph). After identifying the most important idea in each sentence, deciding how each sentence relates to the main theme of the paragraph is necessary. One of the sentences will state the main theme most clearly, and all the other sentences will in some way modify that sentence. The diagram is designed to make these relationships clear for analysis.
Consult resources for an example of a paragraph diagram and to learn how to lay out the diagram. Also, in Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, there is a list of ways that sentences can relate to one another listed under adverbial types (p. 267). Use these resources in order to carry out the exegesis assignment.
At this point in the exegesis, searching out the meaning of some of the more significant words in the focal passage is necessary. The reason such a word search is important is that a word does not have a single meaning, but a range of meanings. Consider the sentence, “I see what you are talking about.” The word “see” in English has many meanings (consult any dictionary). In this sentence, it could mean “to perceive with the eye” or“to understand.”In Scripture, the precise usage of a word is important, so a word study is necessary.
The first step is to select the words to be studied. Any word or words that are crucial to the main theme of the passage should be considered. Also, words that are “loaded” or that have a broad range of meanings (such “faith” or “righteousness”) should also be considered. Perhaps words that are important for the larger context (the book) of the focal passage should also be examined. Any word the exegete finds unclear in some way should be studied. Identifying names of places, people, or events with which the exegete is not already familiar is also helpful. A reference to Abraham may be clear, but a reference to Ahab may need to be explored.
Next, the exegete must determine the original Hebrew or Greek word that underlies the English word selected. Remember, the exegesis must look at the text from the author’s perspective and the words he used. A good concordance is a helpful resources to use. There are several good online concordances such as blueletterbible.org.
Now it is time to study the word carefully. Using a concordance or a Greek or Hebrew lexicon (if Greek or Hebrew words are recognized), determine the range of meanings that the word had in the author’s day. By reading the passage and considering the flow of thought and the use of the word in the sentence, determine which of the various meanings was intended by the author in the specific sentence in which it occurs. Do not assign a meaning to it that is not consistent with the context of the word. The criterion is not what sounds good, but what the original author intended.
Since dealing with the text is only the first step in the exegetical process, the conclusions about the meaning of the text should be tentative. However, it is helpful to highlight important discoveries from the work thus far. Highlight the main theme of the paragraph, the flow of thought, and important relationships between ideas. Note the various possible meanings of important words. All the information gathered so far is the basis for the next steps.
Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (2003). Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc.