We need to seek to enter the world of the text. First and foremost we need to look to Isaiah. That is our first principle of exegesis. Here is out second principle of exegesis and that is that the meaning of a text is genre dependent. The meaning of a text depends to a great extent upon its literary form. We talked a little bit about this at the very beginning of our course when we were talking about the diversity of the Scripture, the different literary genres, and I just want to unpack this idea a little bit right now.
There are many different literary forms, different genres in the Bible. We have psalms, we have proverbs, we have parables, we have letters, we have legal material or laws, we have prophecy, we have history or historical narrative. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away leaving him half dead. Well, this is a parable. And so if we recognize it as a parable we are going to be looking for certain things.
So what is important, as we would see in this parable if we were studying it, is that this man is Jewish and the man that is going to come along and help him is a Samaritan. Jesus is driving home a point through the use of a parable. Well, what is being described? If we identify this as history or historical narrative we would be very confused. We have to recognize that this is an apocalyptic narrative. This is a picture, an image, a story using symbols that represent different things.
Understanding the way apocalyptic literature works will enable us to understand more clearly what the message of Revelation is. We have to recognize that this letter is written to a church in the first century, that it is written to address their issues and concerns. We have to recognize that this letter is written by the Apostle Paul, the first-century Christian missionary and church planter. If we recognize the genre as a letter then we are going to be looking for certain clues as to its meaning. So identifying the genre is critically important in terms of interpreting the text.
Here is a third fundamental principle of exegesis and it is one that we have mentioned in passing many times and that is that context is the key to interpretation. The context of a passage determines its meaning. And here we have to distinguish between two different kinds of context.
What we call historical context, the first part, and what we call literary context. Literary context is sometimes referred to as co-text. So we would have historical context sometimes called simply context and literary context sometimes called co-text. That is the text around and beside the text. So our point is context is the key to interpretation. First of all historical context — historical context refers to the total life situation in which the book arose.
Aspects of that, the general historical context would include the geographical context. And so understanding that geographical context is critical to recognizing what Jesus is doing and the significance of his encounter with the woman at the well, a Samaritan woman in that particular context and understanding who the Samaritans were. Not only the geographical context, but historical context includes the historical and political context. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — Tiberius was the emperor of the whole Roman Empire. Herod tetrarch of Galilee — this is Herod Antipas the son of Herod the Great who was ruling in the north over Galilee as a essentially a vassal king for the Romans.
So we get the establishment of the broad historical context of the gospel. Then we get a broad overview of the religious context — during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Now that is an interesting statement, because Luke seems to get it wrong. Judaism had only one high priest and we know historically Caiaphas was the high priest, but Luke, in fact, gets it right because he recognizes that Annas who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas was really the power behind the high priesthood and so he, even though he might seem to get it wrong, strictly speaking, from a strict historical perspective, he gets it right in terms of the true historical situation.
So Luke gets it right when he introduces this religious background. The next phrase says the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. So we have set the stage historically and politically for the ministry of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel. So Luke who has such a strong sense of the historical background and context of the Gospel sets the stage for us in terms of our reading of the Gospel. That is the geographical context, the historical and political context; another part of this broad historical context is the religious situation.
Well, that is a way of referring to them as interpreters of the law. Moses, of course, wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. He recorded the law. We refer to the old covenant as the Mosaic Law. Well, the Scribes and the Pharisees are the guardians of that. Their tassels on their garments long — once again Leviticus tells Jewish males to have tassels or fringes on their garments.
We do not think of blood as making anything clean, we would think of it as certainly staining. Well, this passage, of course, comes from the sacrificial system of the Old Testament where an animal would be sacrificed as a payment for sins. The author of Hebrews draws on that imagery to identify Jesus as the great final sacrifice for our sins. Understanding the religious context of Judaism is essential to understanding this passage and understanding that Jesus Christ is the great and final sacrifice for sins. Let me give you one example, a kind of broad example that hits various points of religious, social, cultural and historical context just to illustrate what we are talking about the need to understand the historical context.
This is the parable of the tenant farmers in Mark Jesus has just entered Jerusalem. He has entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey in literal fulfillment of Zechariah He then enters the temple and clears the temple courts and a series of controversies with the religious leaders begin. In the midst of those controversies Jesus tells a parable, we call it the Parable of the Tenants or the Parable of the Tenant Farmers.
A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. Now, as Jesus often does he begins to tell a parable from everyday life and there were vineyards all over Galilee so anyone listening to this message would understand this. A vineyard would have a wall around it for protection, would have a watchtower where a night watchman could keep guard to keep robbers and bandits away. Also, it was very common to have a wealthy land owner who would rent such vineyards out to tenant farmers who would plant the vineyard, would keep the crops, and then would give a share of those crops to the owner of the vineyard.
So understanding the region of Galilee and this kind of tenant farmer situation where there was often abuse where an owner would be viewed as taking advantage of the poor tenant farmers and there would be animosity and anger between the two. This whole scene would have been understandable within the context of the first-century Galilee, the region in which Jesus is telling this parable. Isaiah 5, what is called the Song of the Vineyard, and let me just read for you a portion of Isaiah My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. So as soon as Jesus began to tell this parable his Jewish hearers would immediately recognize this Song of the Vineyard, this description as soon as he began to speak of a wall around the vineyard, a pit for the winepress, the planting of vines.
And they would also recognize what happens in this Song of the Vineyard in the Old Testament context. This vineyard produces only bad fruit. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it. When I look for good grapes why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard, I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed. I will break down its wall and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. As Jesus begins to tell this parable any Jewish person in the first century would immediately recognize that behind this parable is this judgment oracle against Israel for her sin. It is the same story, but with a twist.
Instead of referring to the vineyard in judging the vineyard, Jesus refers to the tenant farmers who are overseeing the vineyard and they, it quickly becomes clear, represent the Jewish religious leaders. Then he sent another servant to them, they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another and that one they killed. He sent many others, some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son whom he loved. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and given the vineyard to others.
The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. Finally, he sends his dear son, a reference to Jesus, of course, and they kill the son. We have been discussing historical context and what we have been looking at are aspects of the general historical context of the biblical material: the history, the politics, the religion, the culture, but there is also something we could call specific historical context and that relates to the circumstances from which each of these books arose.
Issues like the authorship, issues like the date, the provenance, which means where the document was written from, the recipients, to whom the document is written, and the purpose and occasion for which it is written. Let me illustrate this from an American example. They would also recognize the date or the approximate date, that this was an address given at Gettysburg on November 19, after one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. The recipients are the American public devastated by that war. The life situation or occasion is of course this bloody battle that turned the tide of the Civil War.
The purpose of this particular document was to unify and inspire the nation in the context of this war. Now that is the specific historical context to that Gettysburg Address. Now you can see in that case how important understanding those issues of authorship, of recipients, of purpose, and occasion are for understanding that particular document. It is the same with New Testament documents. The author is Paul the apostle. The date is about A. The recipients are this immature, struggling church at Corinth. The occasion — Paul has just received a delegation from Corinth with questions from the church and reports of problems in the church.
Understanding those specific questions of historical context, the why the book was written, the when the book was written, the purpose for which the book was written; these are critical questions for understanding the letter of 1 Corinthians. So we have general historical context. What was the world in which these documents arose, these documents were written. And specific, what is the specific life situation in which they arose. So our first kind of context — historical context.
Gospel of Luke (P/G)
Our second kind of context is literary context. Literary context refers to the progress of thought in the book or the progress of the argument. The key question to ask with reference to literary context is what is the point. What is the point the author is making? When we say, as we often do, that was taken out of context, that verse is taken out of context, we are generally referring to literary context, the flow of thought, the progress of the argument. Now how do we determine literary context?
Well, we must think of concentric circles moving outward. The smallest basic unit of meaning is the word, followed by the sentence, followed by the paragraph, followed by the larger section, followed by the book or letter, the document itself. So we have to ask the question where does meaning reside? Does meaning reside in words? Well, yes, but certainly not completely. What does the word fresh mean? Well, we could speak about fresh air, we could speak about fresh fruit, we could speak about fresh bread and fresh water.
Fresh air means brisk air or air that is not stale, stuffy. Fresh fruit might mean fresh fruit as opposed to canned fruit. Fresh bread would mean just baked bread. Fresh water would mean water that is not salty; we have saltwater lakes and freshwater lakes.
You could speak of a fresh slant on a story and that would be a creative or new way to tell a story. You can speak of fresh linen and by fresh linen we do not mean new linen we mean clean linen, something clean placed in a room. We can speak of fresh troops and fresh troops would be rested troops. So, you can see the word fresh as we have said with reference to Bible translation, all words have a range of possible meanings, not generally one single meaning.
So meaning does not reside in words, meanings resides in words in context. The meaning of words is determined by their context. Let me just give you an example of this. Well, I can identify the meaning of those words — the President in this context is almost certainly the President of the United States. Prepares to do battle — What kind of battle is this? Well, this is a legislative battle, a battle between political parties perhaps.
This battle it says is in the House. What kind of a house is that? Well, that house is a word referring to the House of Representatives, a body of legislators or politicians who decide on legislative bills. Over the welfare bill — The President prepares to do battle in the house over the welfare bill. Well, what kind of a bill is that? I get an electric bill where I pay my electric bill and I pay my water bill, is that the kind of bill?
No, this is a piece of legislation, a piece of law that is going to be voted on. So each of those words — president, battle, house and bill — have a variety of possible meanings, but when I place them in that context, the broader context, both the historical context and the literary context that is the surrounding words, tells me what that means. So what have we done? We have created another sentence with many of the same words, but those words have different meanings.
So meaning does not reside in words alone, it resides in words in context. Alright, moving outward in our concentric circle, if the word is the smallest basic unit of meaning, the next unit of meaning is the sentence. Does that sentence have meaning? Well, yes, it has meaning but not entirely. What last eight years am I referring to?
What is the disaster? Someone else in a business, maybe their partner has just run away with all of the money from a business they have been building together for eight years and you might say the last eight years, meaning this business, have been a financial disaster. Perhaps a very difficult marriage, someone might say in anger the last eight years have been a disaster. You see the point is the sentence does not have meaning apart from it being an utterance, for one thing, within an historical context and part of a larger paragraph.
Moving outward in our concentric circles we have words, we have sentences, we have paragraphs.
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Paragraphs get their meaning from larger contexts, so ultimately literary context moving outward from words to sentences to paragraphs to sections and then to the larger entire document or book. Words only have meaning within these larger contexts and moving outward in the context is essential to comprehending the meaning of the text. That is what we mean by literary context. Now we could actually move outward even further from the book, because the book itself has a larger context.
Philippians was probably written from Rome, at the same time Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. So that larger corpus, it is a part of that literary context. Of course, then, we could move even further than that and say all of the New Testament epistles then are the next concentric circle beyond the Pauline letters because they are related in some sense that these are letters from Christians to churches or Christians to individuals.
And then of course we can move outward from the New Testament epistles to all the New Testament documents, because they are related to each other as being part of the canon of scripture, as being part of the early Christian writings. It does not concern us here, however, because everyone in the early church believed that this interpretation came from Jesus. Assumed from this was that all parables should be interpreted in a similar manner, i. This does not mean that one could read allegorically into the parable anything they wanted. There existed certain basic rules. One could not find in a parable an allegorical interpretation which contradicted the teachings of Scripture or the teachings of the church.
Some placed even further restrictions on the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, by arguing that one could not find in the parables a teaching which was not expressly taught elsewhere in the Scripture or in church doctrine. There were voices in the early church which opposed the allegorical method of interpretation. The Antiochian church fathers Chrysostom, Isadore of Pelusium, Theodore of Mopsuestia in particular protested against this method of interpreting Scripture, but the first clear voice against applying this method to the interpretation of the parables was John Calvin.
He was the first known person who protested the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan and denied that the good Samaritan represented Jesus Christ. Calvin also avoided the allegorical interpretation of other parables as well. Unfortunately his wise and judicious interpretation of the parables was not followed, and the allegorical method continued to be the dominant method of interpreting the parables for over three more centuries. He argued that, unlike allegories, the details in the parables should not be searched for individual meanings.
On the contrary they are meant rather to demonstrate the loving kindness of the good Samaritan in caring for the man who fell among thieves. Unfortunately, he overreacted to the abuse of the allegorical method of interpreting the parables. In reaction he argued that none of the parables of Jesus contained any details with allegorical significance. They were all simple analogies with a single point of comparison. If one found allegorical significance in any of the details, this was attributed to the editorial work of the church during the oral period or to the gospel writers. Why the later church and gospel writers were able to add allegorical details to a parable whereas Jesus could not was never satisfactorily explained.
At times along with the basic analogy, Jesus and the evangelists gave allegorical significance to a detail which must be noted. Despite this Julicher has contributed a most valuable insight to the interpretation of the parables. We should therefore content ourselves with seeking to discover the basic point of a parable and not press the details for meaning. Nor should we see in the ring a symbol of Christian baptism.
This rule helps bring clarity to several parables in Luke. When applied to the parable of the good Samaritan, it becomes clear that Jesus was not teaching an allegorical portrayal of the history of salvation. The parable of the good Samaritan thus has as its main point what it means to be a neighbor. The details going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, pouring on oil and wine, the two silver coins [ denarii], for instance are simply local coloring to make the story interesting and coherent.
One must go down when traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho for Jerusalem is over three thousand feet higher than Jericho. As for the references to oil and wine, these are merely illustrations of the loving care of the Samaritan in applying firstaid to the wounded victim by washing his wounds wine and applying upon them first-century ointment oil. As to the two silver coins, one can imagine how the early church might have interpreted this passage if Jesus had mentioned three coins. Now the entire Trinity would have been seen as involved in the salvation of this man!
The parable of the Dishonest Manager is a good example of how a confusing parable can become understandable when one is content with finding the basic point of a parable. Numerous attempts have been made to explain the behavior of the steward in as being good or praiseworthy. For a more detailed discussion, see Dave L. This does not require that he did this through dishonesty. It may simply refer to wasteful mismanagement on his part due to incompetence.
Jesus does not explain why. Obviously the reason was not important for him in telling the parable. It is his actions in which made him a dishonest steward! The steward is not commended, however, for his dishonesty but for his shrewdness a. He is commended because he shrewdly prepared for his future. Nevertheless, if we do not press the details of the parables, they serve well the point Jesus sought to make. The sheep are even now being separated from the goats. Judgment is just around the corner. Learn from the dishonest steward and prepare yourself.
In seeking the main point of a parable there are several questions that are useful in this process. These include:. If we ask these questions concerning the parable of the prodigal son, it becomes clear that the three most important characters are the father and his two sons. In seeking to understand which two of these are the most important we should take note of what is found at the end.
Here the parable focuses on the father and the grumbling, older son. We should also note that there is an extended conversation between the father and the older son. On the other hand, there is no conversation between the father and the younger son! Whereas it is true that more space is devoted to the younger son in the earlier part of the parable, this is not enough to offset the focus at the end and the conversation of the father and the older son. Additional support for this conclusion is found in the context Luke gives the parable in a. It was C. Dodd pointed out that in interpreting the parables we must keep in mind the original audience to whom they were addressed.
How would a Jewish audience in A. When this rule is applied to the parable of the good Samaritan, it is evident that this will result in a very different kind of interpretation. No doubt this is due in large part to this parable. When Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, he was here, as in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, giving both a defense of his behavior in eating with publicans and sinners as well as making a powerful Christological claim.
Jesus was claiming that the kingdom of God had now come. In his ministry God was visiting the lost sheep of Israel. It was therefore time for celebration and dancing. Why did not the Pharisees and teachers of the law enter into the joy of the occasion? The parable of the Great Banquet makes a similar point. The host and other religious leaders had been invited to participate in it. Yet even though they spoke of the blessedness of sharing in the kingdom of God, they did not realize that it was now already here, and that they were in reality excluding themselves from entering into it.
The kingdom of God had come, and they were making excuses for not entering it. Those who had excluded themselves would indeed be excluded Nevertheless the celebration would continue. In their places were coming the outcasts of Israel. Making no pretense of possessing their own righteousness, they heard the message of repentance and faith gladly and responded with great joy. The main reason for this is that in no other parable is one of the characters named. That Luke, however, understood this as a parable is clear from the way he introduces it. It seems clear therefore that when Luke introduces the present passage in the same way cf.
This is one of a pair of two-part parables in Luke. The other is the parable of the prodigal son. In both of these parables, if the second part and were omitted, few readers would think that anything was missing. Yet in the present form of both parables, and there is no reason to deny that Jesus told these parables with both parts,  Whereas Luke could stand alone, this cannot be said of The second part requires and builds upon the first part.
The same is also true of Luke and The second part of this parable requires the first and builds upon it. This is evident because of the rule of end stress and the fact that it is only at the end that we find direct discourse.
Related Methods for Luke (Methods in Biblical Interpretation)
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