. What Is Exegesis—and Why Should I Care?

What Is Exegesis—and Why Should I Care?

“Exegesis” sounds like a technical and abstract idea, but at its core, it’s quite simple.

Exegesis is drawing meaning from what the Scripture says.

Exegesis is going to the Bible to understand what it meant when it was written, and letting the author’s intent govern the way the Bible is interpreted. Exegesis can involve highly technical language analysis, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can do it right now.

What Is Exegesis? Watch How It Works!

Let’s try out some exegesis on Luke 17:11–19, where we see Jesus cleansing ten lepers, but only one thanks him. We start by looking the passage up in Logos 5.

A big part of exegesis is answering the question, “What did the author want to get across?” We see in Luke 1:1–4 and Acts 1:1–2 that this book is intended to be an exact account of Jesus’ acts and teachings, so we need to see what Jesus says and does in this passage:

  • Jesus cleanses ten lepers.
  • Only one comes back to glorify God and give thanks.
  • Jesus commends the thankful one.

Now that we’ve covered the elementary stuff, we can start doing exegesis, right? Well, actually, we’ve already started. We determined some of what the text means by letting it speak for itself—that’s what exegesis is.

Now Let’s Try the Exegetical Guide

Written by
Jeffrey Kranz

Jeffrey Kranz is the founder of OverviewBible, a Bible-literacy website and YouTube channel, and the author of The Beginner's Guide to the Bible. He creates materials to help people understand what the Bible is, what it's for, and what it's all about.

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  • I would think that in this case the verb would be much better translated as “and he thanked him” and all discussion of the participle would be left to the side. It is hardly fair to give the users of this software the impression that there is spiritual significance in the fact that the ESV has translated a participle with a participle. The participle is really an artefact of normal Greek hypotaxis.

    • Suzanne, to say “he thanked” would be to change the participle to an aorist, effectively changing the dependent clause into an independent clause, which is not the case in the Greek. On the other hand, expressing it as “giving thanks” presents the action in an adverbial sense, connecting it to the main verb (“fell”).

      Thus, in my opinion, the “giving thanks” better illustrates the manner in which this man fell at Jesus’ feet (i.e. in the act of giving thanks as opposed to just thanking Him). Additionally, the participle helps solidify that the two acts were contemporaneous (i.e. occurring at the same time) rather than subsequent.

      • You already have some of it. In Logos 4, go to “Guides” and click on Exegetical Guides. Input the verse you want to look at and click the arrow to the left. The Greek (or Hebrew) comes up. However Logos 4 doesn’t have the Apparatus (the means to find out which manuscripts have which words (i.e., to identify the differences in manuscripts)nor does it have the Grammars. You may be able to buy those separately rather than order the entire package. I haven’t done that.

  • Let’s look at some examples –

    Ἐγερθεὶς ἆρόν σου τὴν κλίνην καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου. Matt. 9:6
    Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” ESV

    Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον [c]τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει; Mark 2:9
    Rise, take up your bed and walk’? ESV

    Did Jesus really say two different things in two different incidents? Look at how they are translated.

    Matt. 2:13, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ φεῦγε εἰς Αἴγυπτον

    Who would suggest that this means “Sleep all you want, but after you have awoken, take the child and mother, and flee.”

    Or perhaps this example, from the Spartans to the Persians,
    μολὼν λαβέ
    Would this sound best in a movie as “once you have come, take our weapons.”
    Or as a challenge “Come and get them!”

    I deeply regret that the exegesis tool may lead people astray, and reinforce the dubious notion that the Bible translation that you feature in this post is superior in its use of the participle in English in this case. I think that this is misleading.

    • Oops, sorry Eddie, you didn’t write the post so I should not have said “you.” I just feel that the exegesis tool does not explain the normal feature of hypotaxis which is discussed at length in Nida, Toward a Science of translating, or in Dan Wallace’s grammar. Nor does it reflect the actual translation patterns of the ESV elsewhere. It is just a random case where the ESV happened to retain the participle for no particular reason.

      Here is the way Tyndale translated this passage, also the Geneva Bible and Bishop’s Bible,

      and fell doune on his face at his fete and gave him thankes. And the same was a Samaritane.

      The KJV switched to the participle, but not because Tyndale et al ignored an important truth.

  • “On the other hand, expressing it as “giving thanks” presents the action in an adverbial sense, connecting it to the main verb (“fell”).”

    Maybe you are not aware of the Greek tendency to hypotaxis. This verb does not have an adverbial sense any more that “wake up” in “wake up, take the child and mother and flee’ has an adverbial sense. Participles are the normal way to string together verbs in a Greek sentence.

    I think somehow I am not being clear. I will try to find a passage which explains hypotaxis. Here is another example, Gen. 18:22

    και αποστρεψαντες εκειθεν οι ανδρες ηλθον εις σοδομα
    and after the men had turned away from there, they went to Sodom

    וַיִּפְנוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיֵּלְכוּ סְדֹמָה
    And the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom

    So in this case, the Hebrew had parataxis, but Greek style influenced the translator to use hypotaxis in Greek. We are in no way obliged to translate the Greek hypotactic style into English. Tyndale did not do this, nor did Luther. KJV and ESV sometimes do and sometimes don’t.

    I don’t know if this clarifies what I am trying to say. Sorry if it isn’t clear.

    • HI Suzanne, I certainly appreciate your time in explanation. I’m still a novice Greek student, so I’m trying to absorb your explanation. Forgive me if I could use more explanation.

      I don’t see the disconnect between the participial translation suggested and hypotaxis. It appears that according to both Dan Wallace’s Grammar (p. 657) and the “Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek” (by Matthew DeMoss), parataxis refers to the subordination of clauses, meaning one or more clauses are made dependent to an independent clause (in contrast to parataxis in which independent clauses are strung together, typically with conjunctions). Syntactically, Wallace outlines three potential functions of the dependent clause including substantival, adjectival, and adverbial clauses (pp. 660-5). The last of which can be reflected with an adverbial participle.

      Laying aside the ESV for a moment, the NASB and NKJV/KJV (even the NLT) also translate the above verse as “giving thanks,” while the TNIV/NIV and NET translations suggest your earlier suggestion of “and thanked” (which actually seems more paratactic than hypotactic to me). I don’t know if any of the translations would suggest that an important truth has been missed, but I do find it interesting that the older Tyndale translation you quote at least seems more to gravitate towards a force of mannerism (“and gave thanks”) rather than the aoristic-style (“and thanked”).

      Thus, while you state that we’re under no obligation to translate a participle as a participle, I feel that given the dependent nature suggested by ευχαριστων seems better translated in a connected sense (via either “giving thanks,” or even “gave thanks”).

      • Sorry, that last paragraph should read:

        Thus, while you state that we’re under no obligation to translate a participle as a participle, I feel that given the dependent nature suggested by ευχαριστων seems better translated in a subordinated sense that conveys means (via either “giving thanks,” or even “gave thanks”) rather than two possibly independent actions.

        I agree that this exegetical tool could be misunderstood by someone untrained in Greek, but I’m not sure that this example would necessarily lead someone astray by not giving more details regarding hypotactic structures.

  • I think I have built this into more than it is worth.

    I am just suggesting that there are many cases of participles in Greek, that we translate into a string of main verbs in English. We can recognize the fact that there are participles in Greek but still translate with a main verb in English because otherwise meaning is lost.

  • I love breaking down the scriptures but I think there is a golden nugget here. Jesus cleansed ten lepers only one came back. The nine received physical healing but the one received spiritual healing. Everyone needs a savior not everyone calls him Lord. Get this Jesus called the man a
    Foreigner which was a Samaritan. To put it plainly salvation is offered to both Jew and gentle. Let’s always remember when searching the scriptures we have a comforter who will show us all things the Holy Spirit. Be blessed don’t stress.

Written by Jeffrey Kranz