29 Aug 2006

Exegesis as Prayer

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Preaching, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

Exegesis as Prayer

I have long thought that ruminating on the Word of God to be an act of worship. For those who have read my book (with John Mark Hicks) Kingdom Come they will recall an emphasis on Lectio Divina which is a form of prayer using Scripture. Since I have also come to believe that the glorification of God and the sanctification of life constitute the ultimate reason for biblical interpretation I have come to the conclusion that exegesis itself is an expression of prayer.

I recently read an article by Clifton Black titled “Exegesis as Prayer” in The Princeton Seminary Review (vol 33.2 [2002], 131-145). This is not the typical article for a scholarly journal but it was extremely refreshing. Some of the reflection of this post grew in response to that piece I read a month or so ago. Black makes the startling observation that while previous generations were afraid of appearing to “loose” ours is afraid of appearing to “pious.” This is especially true, amazingly, of biblical scholars. Yet if exegesis is prayer, and I believe it is, there are three prayerful dispositions for the exegete, these dispositions prepare the interpreter to both hear and be shaped by God.

A Disposition For Holiness

Who is like You, O LORD, majestic in holiness?” (Exodus 15.11). To interpret Scripture with a disposition for holiness means to release our narcissistic grip on magistracy and to reclaim the opposite which is a vocation for ministry. Humility is not self-degradation but surrender of one’s self before God’s word becoming like the soil from which we were created that is fertile and needs mulching. There is something starkly ironic with the sight of one who is full of knowledge but has no sign of Christian hygiene. To quote Black, “Few spectacles are more ridiculous, or more pathetic, than a seminar whose members beat the hell into one another over differing interpretations of the love command in John.”

We come in awe of the holy. We do not quantify that holiness rather it is a mystery. We risk consumption by the holy Love that is a Tiger, not a teddy bear (cf. Hebrews 4.11-13).

A Disposition for Realignment

For you have died , and your life has been hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3.3). “For the LORD is your life” (Deut. 30.20). Exegesis in the shadow of the Crucified One remembers the People of God, from and for who Scripture was created. Cruciform exegesis resembles petitionary prayer in this respect: if serious, its practitioner is inextricably bound up with its fulfillment (cf. Matt 25.31-46). Life is linked to interpretation. We do not know or understand the text until it realigns our lives. We come to the text with the prayerful attitude that the Lord is our life.

A Disposition for Praise

My soul proclaims the greatness of the LORD” (Luke 1.46). Exegesis is hard to justify if it does not culminate in gratitude and adoration. Anthony Bloom once wrote that “All the food of this world is divine love made edible” (School for Prayer, p. 41). The same is true for knowledge that feeds the mind and spirit. Merely admiring the skill of Psalmist or rhetoric of the Hebrew’s Preacher simply engages aesthetic faculties. Prayerful exegesis takes place when the beauty of Scripture seizes our soul; when “My God!” is the only thing worth saying. The beauty of Scripture is that it reveals the greatest and most loving of Fathers in the Universe. Interpretation finds its goal in our burst in joyful praise. God’s word has then penetrated our hearts.

Just some random thoughts from the Stoned-Campbell Disciple.  See also my God as Prayer Partner.

Soli Deo gloria,
Bobby Valentine

20 Responses to “Exegesis as Prayer”

  1. preacherman Says:

    I agree with the Lectio Divina. I would love to see it more in worship but definatley more in my personal life too.

    I have never looked at exegesis as prayer before. I know alot of ministers don’t like the exegesis part of sermon preparation but maybe if they look at it from your perspective they might see exegesis in a different light. I know that when I exegete a passage is more meaningful and I understand what God is trying to say to me. So, can we also look at exegesis as God’s voice in the conversation?

    Great thoughts.
    YOu always make me think.

  2. Velcro Says:

    Good Post. I especially like to pray scripture out loud.

    “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”

  3. Alan Hunt Says:

    Forgive me for a trivial, tangential question, but … Could you provide some exegesis (as prayer or otherwise) of your blog title, Stoned-Campbell Disciple? I suppose Campbell Disciple would mean that you emulate Alexander Campbell (correct me if wrong), but I’m lost on the Stoned- part. Thanks.

  4. Don Neyland Says:

    Mark this day Bobby Valentine…Mark it and mark this day well; mark it well and remember it; remember this day remember it when the day begins and remember it when the day ends; this truly is a day that we may not see and certainly won’t be seen when we are both long gone; mark and remember it long for this day- to you Robert P. Valentine and for this article I, Don Neyland, say…..AMEN

    Hodge said, ‘I don’t believe in the power of prayer…I believe in the power of God who answers prayer.’

    Prayer as exegesis…
    God as the power of prayer
    …exegesis from the power behind prayer.


  5. Don Neyland Says:

    just a small suggestion GET RID OF THE STONED-CAMPBELL DISCIPLE junk. It is very easy to change the name of this blog without changing the blog-dress. I know you…you ain’t a disciple of Campbell and the whole “stoned” thing is just going to be misunderstood ALL THE TIME. Take from someone who is usually misunderstood……

    Don Neyland

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Preacherman you are kind. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

    Josh I can tell you, like me, grew up with King JamesISMs flowing through the mind. The KJV is the only major translation that renders Rom 10.17 like that, most others say “word of Christ.” Glad to know we had to endure similar things.

    Alan Hunt, welcome to Stoned-Campbell Disciple. I am delighted to meet you and I hope you will be back on many occasions. A full explanation of the “Stoned-Campbell” is found in the following post:

    Don, I am on my way to the hospital to see if I have either died, experienced a shift in the space-time continum or if the eschaton has arrived. I knew a moment of agreement could not last because … I plan on keeping the StonED-Campbell thing. For two reasons at minimum: First I think it is funny as all get out; second I like it. Folks should not take themselves so seriously …

    Bobby Valentine

  7. Tim Archer Says:

    Thanks, Bobby, for more thought-provoking material. Seems like we can get in such a hurry to explain a passage that we forget to take the time to meditate on that passage.

    I’m finding it harder to dig deep into Scripture now that I’m not preaching every Sunday. I miss it. And I’m ashamed to say that I’m not motivated enough just to do it for my own benefit.

    Stay after it!

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Bobby,

    I did read your article “Exegesis as Prayer” and it is excellent. If communitication with God is to be a two way exchange, we have to be willing to listen to him as well as talk to him. One of the primary ways (though certainly not the only way) he speaks to us is through his love letter to us, The Holy Bible. To have completeness in our relationship with him, we have to read, study, rightly discern and then take into the heart his words to us. Excellent article and wonderful food (meat, definitely not milk) for thought.

    Anthony H

  9. Bill Says:

    Yes, Bobby, my soul was nourished and blessed by this post. It is excellent!

    Thank you for doing the hard work that lies behind this post. It is but one of the ways that your life gives witness to the grace and glory of God!!


  10. cwinwc Says:

    Interesting thoughts Bobby. I’ve never thought of “exegesis” as prayer.

    I love you posts because they stretch my thinking. Keep on posting my “Land of Beer and Cheese Brother.”

  11. hermit jeremy Says:

    i had some comment about this and augustine’s confessions, but it would’ve been little more than one of those comments that try to let everybody know that i’ve read the confessions.

    instead, i just wanted to agree with BV, stoned-campbell disciple is dang funny.

    and i kept the reference to augustine just so that i could say he’s funny

  12. David Cook Says:


    Another great post. I honestly have never thought of exegesis as prayer. For someone who has long admired your wisdom and the introduction you have given me to the discipline of ruminate this practice will greatly increase our approach to the text regardless of where it is found in the cannon.
    Shalom my friend and do not change the name of your blog,

    ~Stretched and convicted,

  13. Royce Ogle Says:


    I admire you as a scholar and for your evident love for the Lord and the people He died for. That being said, I respectfully must disagree on this one.

    If you read the prayers of the Bible, the exortatioins to pray, instructions on how, when, why, and where to pray, you will reach only one conclusion. Prayer is asking. Everything else is not prayer.

    Studying the Word of God, meditation on God and His word, praise, worship, thanksgiving, and many other exercises are useful, and cannot be minimized, but none of them are prayer.

    One example is that familiar verse, Phil 4:6 ” Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. Thanksgiving should accompany prayer, but prayer is letting our requests be made known to God.

    My intention is not to be disagreeable, or to split hairs, but to encourage biblical prayer. One of the greatest weaknesses of our churches, and us as individuals, is our lack of prayer. Not much of importance for the cause of Chirst since Pentecost has happened that was not birthed in the prayer room. In the Acts of the Apostles in the first century, and all of the great harvests of souls in the following centuries have had in common believers who gathered only to wait on God in beliving prayer for souls and the glory of God.

    James put it in simple terms. Much of the time we do not have what we want and need simply because we do not ask God.

    Sunday morning prayers that are beautiful, but ask for nothing and expect nothing, are not prayers but speeches “to be heard of men”.

    I can think of no greater blessing in my 45 years of being a child of God than specific answers to prayer. Answers that were so specific that no person could miss the fact that our Father hears and answers prayer.

    Just pray! When I teach on prayer I never fail to state this truth. “The only Christians who get their prayers answered are the ones who pray.”

    God promises food and clothing for those who put Him first but Jesus taught us to ask for “daily bread”. Why ask for what God has already promised? Because it pleases God for His little children to ask Him for what they need.

    New York is a better state than it was a few weeks ago. Blessings on you and your work.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  14. hermit jeremy Says:


    i should let bobby defend himself, especially since you know each other, yet it seems that bobby’s proposition of exegisis being prayer does not escape the realm of the petitionary, but is bound up with it. that is, we exegete with an attitude that offers up our soul during reading to God so that it may be remade in Christ’s image.

    but, more to the point of my responding…

    i understand a “biblical” take on prayer to be more than just petitionary. undoubtedly, the Lord’s prayer is largely composed of requests: give us this day, forgive us our trespasses, and what not… but it also inludes praise and confession (of sins). likewise Paul’s prayer/hymn in Ephesians 3 is not just petitionary but also includes praise “now unto him who is able” and confession (of God’s sovereignty and power). i don’t think that the close of Paul’s prayer is simple formula but an intrinsic part of the prayer that demonstrates attitude and a component of prayer.

    all that to say: confession of our sins, of God’s greatness, of Christ’s efficacy, and praise of God’s power are all part of prayers in the new testament.

    if we take into consideration the psalms… imprecation, lamentation, adoration, confession, accusation are all biblical examples of what prayer can look like.

    anyway, forgive the intrusion, i’d love to know what you think about biblical prayer being more than just petitionary.

    pax Christi

  15. Angie Says:

    Sure do appreciate this post Bobby.

    This seems beautiful and simple to me… the emphasis is, once again, placed rightly on God above all else. The emphasis just can’t be on our rightness of the meaning of every jot and tittle in scripture. As important as it is, God so many times gets lost in it…

    The more complex things get, the greater my temptation is to simplify in that the gospel and all it entails is more than adequate for peasants as well as scholars. I wonder how much more simple minded people get God than some who spend their lifetimes digging deeper.


    P.S. Bobby, your response to Don is a hoot! I definitely laughed out loud!

    AND I absolutely adore your blog title! 🙂

  16. JD Says:

    Great post, Bobby … which is to be expected. I liked your title as well – even though when I first saw it I thought it was a typo. I think we should learn to smile more often.

  17. Don Neyland Says:

    Oh, i don’t care…keep it. Just trying to help you not have to answer for the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 time the tired old question “Why STONED” as if anyone had to justify what they “call” their blog.

    Well, i signed on officially for another three years down here……………..

    ps: I’m Ancient Wanderer :} oops!

  18. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Biblical Prayer as ONLY petition or only AS petition? I suppose it has more to do with position than simple petition. We as “lesser” parties can only make requests of God as the Greatest/er party. And we as the lesser party ultimately have only requests as our sole avenue of pray…even thanksgiving has the element of God accepting our thanks, and the same can be said of praise.

    But prayer is (literally ONLY) asking…no i must agree with ‘hermit’ but in doing so i use really smaller words. 🙂

  19. Laymond Says:

    Exegesis is the process of approaching Bible interpretation with a humble spirit, and an open mind. In order to gain a true understanding of God’s Word, one must be willing to allow God’s Word to speak for itself, and be willing to abandon cherished beliefs if they are in conflict with God’s Word.
    I employ prayer often in my search for understanding, but I never considered my search as prayer.

  20. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Great discussion. Jeremy though I have never met Royce, I would love to one day. I do agree that we are defining prayer far narrower than Scripture does if we say that prayer is only petition. Prayer is much more than that. Psalms is a good place to go to explore the dimensions of prayer.

    Don, now that you have revealed yourself as Ancient Wanderer many other things make sense 🙂

    At the very least there is more on prayer in KINGDOM COME.

    Bobby Valentine

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