There are two things on which all interpretation of Scripture depends: the process of discovering what we need to learn, and the process of presenting what we have learned. (Augustine)
Exegesis is listening carefully to a text in order to grasp its intention and experience its impact. In one sense, an exegetical procedure asks questions of ancient texts so that they might once more speak with clarity and coherence. Exegesis “slows down” the reader and fosters patient, attentive listening to the text so that its inner movements and intended effects can be observed. In this way, a sort of dialogue between text and exegete is established.
The purpose of exegesis is to reach a critically informed and theologically sensitive understanding of the text, appropriate in and for the life of the church in its engagement with the world. The goal is not to establish the once-and-for-all-time meaning of the text, but to discern the message of the text for a particular occasion and context. As Hayes and Holladay observe: “Exegesis does not allow us to master the text so much as it enables us to enter it” (Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook, 3rd ed. [Louisville; London: Westminster John Knox, 2007], 22).
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