First things first

The task of the exegete is to understand the text, its author, and its first readers.  He must understand, but he must neither philosophize nor preach.  However important these later processes may be, a text must be understood before it is used for purposes of philosophy or preaching.  Otherwise purely arbitrary decisions will take the place of that understanding which restricts the exegete’s use of text to what is real or possible.

– Johannes Munck, Preface to The Anchor Bible:  The Acts of the Apostles, 1967

This statement is strong and might not need (as if anything does) a comment from me, but I’m thinking this scholar-writer’s last sentence might lose something in translation (from a Germanic mind, not the language per se), so let me try to re-order and paraphrase:

An exegete who preaches or philosophizes too soon will undoubtedly make arbitrary, unwarranted decisions as he seeks to “apply” the text—decisions that are impossible to make based on the text itself.

The point here:  we really shouldn’t rush to “apply” biblical texts before we understand them.  And I mean really understand them.  Exegesis comes first.


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