Recently I came across a review of N.T. Wright’s new book on justification in the e-journal Themelios. Though I have not read the book I am familiar with the ongoing debate between John Piper and N. T. Wright on the nature of “justification” in Romans. Sidenote – an obvious conflict of interest exists when the reviewer is the executive pastoral assistant to John Piper. However, more to the point of reading the Bible, the reviewer criticizes Wright’s exegesis by comparing him to Piper:
Exegesis has two different flavors for Wright and Piper. Piper wrestles word by word, proposition by proposition, and then paragraph by paragraph. Wright moves much quicker through large chunks of Paul’s thought, refers frequently to whole chapters and paragraphs…
Mathis illustrates a common mistake in reading Scripture. To Mathis’ point, one must not merely hover over the text or keep the text at arm’s length. However, the myth of word-by-word exegesis has been propagated to the exclusion of context. Every word is important, but any given word, phrase, or paragraph is pointless if it does not contribute to a coherent whole. There are many contemporary examples of preachers, teachers, and scholars who purport to do Biblically faithful exegesis merely by teaching word-for-word through a text. However, it might be more impressive when one synthesizes and explains the content of an entire paragraph, chapter, or book in the Bible.
One thought on “The Forest or the Trees?: Thoughts on Reading the Bible”
It doesn’t have to be either-or, does it?
The word for word informs the paragraph and the paragraph informs the word for word. Sure there are some who err on one side or the other, but we cannot allow either to sway us in the other direction.