24 Feb 2007

Text & Context 1: Thoughts on Exegesis & Interpretation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Preaching
The off and on series titled “Text & Context” will be focusing on one kind of biblical study. This is not the only kind a disciple will engage in but it is critical. In my book coauthored with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come, other approaches are also explored.

I recently read the following comment or question:

Why are they so eager to leave the Bible?

The question was written by a person of sincerity and integrity I would imagine. It was directed toward a group of folks who have come to a different understanding of a controversial subject than themselves.

My own question is: Why must I assume that he or she or they are “leaving the Bible” when he/she/they disagree with me? What if he/she/they take the Bible with incredible seriousness. What if they really do care what the Bible says? What if they care just as much as I care … and I know that I care what the Bible says.
The following series seeks to posit a few answers to my own questions. I have come to a radical conclusion for a person within the Stone-Campbell Movement. I have come to the conclusion that the Bible can be a difficult book to read and it can be a difficult book to interpret. I have come also to the conclusion that it often borders on dishonesty to say that it is not. The paragraphs below are an introduction to this idea.
While gazing at the wall I conceived of a new tact I want to take: I have decided to do a series of posts that address the issues of exegesis and hermeneutics of the biblical text. Thus I will be doing a series of posts (of varying length) that cover topics such as the principles of word studies (including the use and abuse of such); historical and cultural backgrounds; linguistic and translation issues; sociological issues regarding interpretation and from time to time I will focus these interpretive guns on specific texts to illustrate the value of exegesis. It is my hope that these mini-“essays” will be of help to all who read the Bible . . . but especially to those who teach and preach it.
As a beginning teaser, and to demonstrate that we often need to be discriminating readers of the text paying careful attention to the contexts of the words inspired by the Spirit, I offer the various shades of meaning of the word “means”:
1. “You never say what you mean.”

2. “I did not mean to insult you.”

3. “What do you mean by ‘rationalization?”

4. “She means well.”

5. “This means war.”

6. “The root meaning of ‘holy’ is ‘separate.'”

Here we have a word (“mean”) that is used in six different senses, all of which are legitimate. This little exercise also quickly points to the fallacy that is so easily engaged in in word studies of declaring there is a “core” meaning to a word. Rather this exercise has easily shown that it is context that determines meaning.

Sentences 3 and 4 both seem to indicate “intention,” that is the intention of whoever produced the sentences. Sentence 5 points to “implication” and not the absurd suggestion that the word “this” literally means “war” (but in communication the meaning would be clearly understood). Sentence 6 involves some sort of clarification. Sentences 1 and 2 suggest that two people are aware of an intention to communicate for some reason it is not satisfactorily realized.
And none of these another use, “why are you so mean?
More to come . . .

Bobby Valentine

Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate)

24 Responses to “Text & Context 1: Thoughts on Exegesis & Interpretation”

  1. Messianic Gentile Says:


    Great stuff. I am eager for the series to get underway.

    Also, I would appreciate your input on MG’s latest post. I have not finished Frethiem, in fact I set him aside for a while. I actually get more OT juice from Wright than even Bruggemann, who I also enjoy a lot. But I am shaping and articulating things that are difficult to shape and articulate, at least for me.

    Your input is treasured.

    Many blessings…

  2. Zack Says:

    Looks good Bobby! I’ll be checking your blog out to read about it. All of that is of major significance.
    I agree, just because we disagree doesn’t meen we’re not brethern. That’s also important for all of us to remember. Thanks Bobby! God bless you and your family. I hope and pray Rachael is feeling better today. Peace!

  3. Tim Says:


    As someone who does translation on an almost daily basis, I can really appreciate what you’ve written. The shades of meaning (all puns intended) become even more complicated as we cross languages.

    I’m looking forward to your next posts!

    Grace and peace,

  4. lisa Says:

    Very interesting! I look forward to some more. Hope Rachael’s doing better. 🙂 Have a good weekend!

  5. Brian Nicklaus Says:

    looking forward eagerly to this series

  6. Kevin B. Says:


    In a class I once had a teacher tell us to say the following sentence seven times, each time greatly empasizing one particular, different word, to see the meaning that can be lost when reading a written sentence:

    “I never said you stole my money.”

    The point was obvious; there’s much more to exegesis than “just reading a text and believing what it says.”

    Hope your little girl is doing better. We’ll pray for her in our nightly prayers.

    Kevin B.

  7. Zack Says:

    By the way, just curious. What do you mean by “bib”? The book is called “Risk: Are you willing to trust God with everything?” by Kenny Luck. He is the founder and president of Everyman Ministries and is the men’s minister at Saddleback Community Church in Southern California. God bless you Bobby. I pray Rachael is doing better. Blessings! Zack

  8. Steve Puckett Says:

    I like the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6. A little different script than my Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia .

    We talked about in our Wednesday Bible group the disadvantage that we have when reading some sections of the Bible for the very reason you discuss here. We can hear the voices of the people speaking to know if their voice is dripping with sarcasm, speaking in laughter, or being dead serious. We have to realize that there are many nuances of words that allow for differences in interpretation.

    Good thoughts and good series.

    I guess your in-laws will be nearby soon from what John told me yesterday. Tell Beverly we missed her this weekend.


  9. Tony Arnold Says:

    I look forward to reading your upcoming posts. Do I get some graduate level continuing education credits for it?


  10. John Roberts Says:

    Great thoughts – looking forward to the series.
    You forgot a couple of other meanings of mean – “You are one mean dude!” (David to Goliath) or, “You cook a mean pot of stew” (Esau to Jacob). And then of course there is the mean of a set of numbers (or am I just being mean by pointing those out?)

  11. Beverly Says:

    If we know all the exegesis and hermeneutics of the biblical text and have not love we are a clanging symbol. I have been surrounded by great theologians who can tell me all about that but don’t understand what to do with a woman going through a divorce and one who has been abused.
    Please, speak to the subject of abuse from the pulpit…

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    beverly thank you so much for dropping by my stoned-campbell blog. your comment was so on target and i will indeed address the “problem” of “abuse from the pulpit.”

    i agree that there is a great need to not only love but sound as if we really do love. i have heard a preacher or two assure me that he did love me but i was not clear on it from listening to him.

    thanks for giving me a wonderful idea for a new post.

    hope to see you again around my blog.

    bobby valentine

  13. Gary W. Kirkendall Says:


    It seems obvious that a great deal of discomfort among traditionalist stems from their inability to control the flow of information in the internet age. In generations past alternative views were not only frowned on, they were completely ignored and never mentioned. Now you have a new world of information and sharing that completely bypasses the “Gate Keepers” of truth — it is a hard pill fo many to swallow.

    I have a good man here who is a serious Bible student. He comes to class each week prepared and fully interested. He prepares by reading his Coffman commentary — it is the only one he has, and he brings it with him every week. So for him, if Coffman says so, its true, everything else is, at the very least, questionable.

    I really feel that this is why there is so much fear among the tradionalist in today’s church.

  14. Beverly Says:

    Bobby..well, good grief Vonnie talks about you like your the best thing since sliced bread! and thank you, I have alot to share with those who are willing to hear about what was such a comfort in such dark times..

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Why do you refer to someone as “from the Stone-Campbell movement?” Can’t someone just be a Christian, a member of the body of Christ? We do not hold allegiance to Stone or Campbell. I do understand what you “mean” by that. But isn’t that misusing words as you have talked about? One who responded said “traditionalist” as one who is a “mean” believer. You “wild haired liberals” are as “mean” as everyone else. Have you noticed that so many (not all) who have come to greater knowledge and a new way of thinking has really weird hair?

    No, I am not a “mean” person. I do love you in the Lord. But, yes, very disappointed. I do appreciate your scholarship. I do appreciate how the Lord has blessed you with a great mind. I do enjoy your writings. I do wonder how we (churches of Christ) have gotten so far removed from each other? One understanding I do have is many have left the churches of Christ. I do not mean those who have a church sign that says, “Church of Christ”, but those who hold to the name of Christ. Those who teach the doctrine/teaching/gospel of Christ. As one said in his blog, “I do not allow correct doctrine to be what drives me in my faith.” O’brother were art thou.

  16. Gallagher Says:


    I look forward to the next installment! Great thoughts.

    Reading your posts helps me in developing thougths and challenging me to grow greater! Thanks

  17. Matt Says:

    Should be good.

  18. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    I thank you for coming by and joining in on the discussion. In the spirit of that dialogue let me make a couple of comments.

    First, you are quite right that “conservatives” do not have a monopoly on being “mean.” I do not and have never equated the term “mean” with “conservative” or for that matter “conservative” with “legalist.” No, No. I have met some so called “grace” advocates who seemingly know nothing about grace. I have said, as recently as this past Sunday in a sermon, that grace is NOT a doctrine to believe but a way of LIFE. Thus I believe you have a legitimate point. But because humans, liberal or conservative, are still FALLEN and full of the Sinful Nature, they will behave in very ungracious and ungodly ways.

    Second, it is (I am sure) theoretically possible to be a naked Christian. But in reality I and more than likely you and most of the folks who read this blog … I, and we, ARE in fact “members of the Stone-Campbell Movement.” This is a historical fact. I cannot change it and contrary to a popular myth, no one else can either. We are historically LOCATED in space and time and unless we claim some sort of deity we cannot escape the constraint of history. We can live in denial. We can create and illusion. But we cannot change that we still are Christians that are located in a specific historical, geographical and social context.

    Third, I appreciate your kind words about my writings. I will take them as a compliment. If we are to really “study and show ourselves approved” that always opens up the possibility of reaching conclusions that others may not have. Our forefathers in the faith, Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, David Lipscomb and others were willing to take that risk. I believe that restoration necessarily implies taking risks. A true restorationist, it seems to me, is always and by definition never satisfied and always on a journey. In a word a restorationist is an explorer.

    I do not see what you see regarding those who have “left Christ.” There are always those who will be a Demas … these folks are not folks who have a different reading on some controversial issue however. A Demas is a person who has literally given up and denied Christ. I know a few embittered preachers that have done this. It is sad indeed.

    Fourth, I too lament that our fellowship is fragmenting. In fact I hate it. That is not to strong a word. I really do hate it. I personally believe that there is not a single issue facing the modern church that even remotely comes close to the circumcision, jew/gentile issue of the first century. If those brothers and sisters were able to get it together then I have to ask myself “Why can’t we??” My conclusion is that we have been baptized but we have not truly died to Christ.

    Thank you so much for coming by. I hope you will continue to make astute comments. Don’t be afraid to leave a name either.

    Bobby Valentine

  19. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Oh, I forgot one thing … I just got my hair cut so it is not too weird now, 🙂

    Bobby V

  20. Trey Morgan Says:

    Excellent thoughts Bobby … Excellent

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, excellent remarks and I do appreciate them. I certainly agree with most of what you said. and do appreciate the things that I did agree with. Your demeanor is Christ like.

    I have to appreciate the risk that stone, Campbell and and many others made. Restorationist are risk takers. But time and space and location do make me a part of stone and Campbell movement. These men came to this country to get away from State religion/churches. They pleaded for naked Christianity (If that is what you meant by it). As Paul, we should be “no ties to man” only Christ EPH & 1 COR.

    I want/will only wear the name of Christ.

    Your fourth point, I thank you. God bless and God bless

  22. Anonymous Says:

    I am “Outnumbered” Lisa’s grandmother. I do not have my on blog site, but enjoy and appreciate reading the links she has added to hers. Yours is one I do find thought-provoking, and sometimes challenging. I wondered about your name “Stoned-Campbell Disciple.” Is there a reason for “Stoned” rather than “Stone?” If you have revealed that in some previous post, just direct me to it through this post, if possible. Thank you. Jeanne M.

  23. Steve Puckett Says:

    Good follow up comments, bro. I look forward to the rest of your series.


  24. preacherman Says:

    Excellent as always.
    Great stuff indeed.

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