The purpose in grammatical-historical exegesis is to understand
to the extent possible the original intention of the author.
Although it is impossible to get in the author's head and know
for certain what he meant, by studying background and grammatical
conventions it is often possible to come to a similar system of
shared meanings and thus correctly infer the author's intent.
The order of the following steps may vary from text to text.
Love the truth (2 Thess. 2:10-12), want to do God's will (John
7:17), continue in Christ's word (John 8:31-32), ask God for
wisdom (James 1:5), study daily (Acts 17:11), and handle the
scriptures rightly (2 Tim. 2:15).
Recognize your own pre-understanding, if any, to help control
any bias you may already have. Approach the study with as
much of an open mind as possible and be willing to change
Read the passage in question over several times, including the
greater context (at least the chapter it is in; preferable
the whole book). Read it in as many translations as you can
find, including a literal translation (such as the American
Standard Version). Read it in the original if you can; if
not, consult a Greek-English or Hebrew-English interlinear
and read it in that way. If you have some knowledge of the
original language, make your own translation.
List all the possible meanings that you can think of, even
those that seem obviously wrong. List all the areas that
may cause problems of interpretations. Look at the problems
associated with possible meanings and try to think of
possible solutions. Commentaries may be used to learn
possible meanings, but it is dangerous to be influenced by
them at this point in making a decision about what the
Consult the footnotes of the UBS and Nestle-Aland Greek New
Testaments and BHS Hebrew Old Testament for textual
variations. List the manuscript evidence for various
readings and note the textual families and ages of the
manuscripts. For the New Testament, consult Metzger's
Textual Commentary and/or Terry's Student's Guide. Critical
commentaries may also be used for both Testaments. Try to
determine what might have caused scribes to change various
readings. Decide upon the most likely original text. Vary
from the experts' opinion only with caution and good reason.
Study the historical background of the author and his intended
readers, to the extent that this can be determined. This
includes trying to determine the author, his readers, the
date and circumstances of the writing, information about any
individuals and places named in the text, social customs,
and the world view and cultural facts of the people of that
time and place. Study the events of the historical
background of the text and its historical foreground as well
(i.e. the events that happened before and after the
Try to identify the literary type (genré) and text-type
(narrative, expository, hortatory, persuasive, procedural)
of the text. Try to identify the characteristics of such a
work and the extent to which this text follows standard
conventions at the time and place of writing.
Outline the passage. If it is only part of a larger text,
outline the entire text. Look for patterns of repetition
(such as parallelism, cycles, and chiasmus) and progression
of thought. Summarize the passage and any greater text of
which it is a part. Be alert for any symbolism and figures
of speech which may occur, such as similes, metaphors,
allusions, personification, metonymy (associated thing),
synecdoche (part for whole or whole for part),
overstatement, and understatement. Give special care when
working with poetry (note how word order and choice is
Analyze the grammatical structure of the passage. Identify
nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and other parts of
speech. Note the tense, voice, person, and number of the
verbs and gender, case, and number of nouns and adjectives
(Freiburg's Analytical Greek New Testament can help).
Identify main clauses and dependent clauses, with the
subjects and predicates of each. Diagram the sentences if
necessary. Decide what modifies what. Try to explain any
unusual occurrences of word order. Be aware of any ellipsis
or other kinds of missing text, which the author expected
his readers to infer. Do this step in Greek, Hebrew, or
Aramaic if at all possible; use an interlinear if you must.
The only English translation that approaches usability for
this step is the American Standard Version.
Analyze the vocabulary of the passage. Look up the meaning
of key words in dictionaries, lexicons, and wordbooks. Use
a concordance (an analytical or Greek-English/Hebrew-English
is best if you cannot use a Greek or Hebrew concordance) to
study all the occurrences of the key words and phrases of
the passage in the passage, the greater text, other writings
of the author, and the literature of the time. Try to
determine the range of meaning which each word can have, and
its meaning as limited by context in the passage under
study. Use the lexicons in the original language if
possible (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker [BAG or AGD] is best
for the New Testament; Brown-Driver-Briggs [BDB] is best for
the Old Testament); if not, use books such as Vine's
Study the context of the passage in any greater text or
collection of texts. Consider any parallel passages. Check
quotations and allusions to the Old Testament. Look for
other passages on the same general topic. Understand an
ambiguous passage in the light of clearer ones. However,
note that a passage is not ambiguous just because it
contradicts any pre-understandings that you may have had of
it. Check to see whether seemingly contradictory statements
may be talking about the same general subject but with
different directions of emphasis. Not all Bible subjects
are so simple as to be discussed from only one perspective.
Pay special attention to the emphasis. What is the author's
main point? The meaning of a smaller passage should not
contradict the meaning of a larger text, unless the author
is using it for illustration of an idea with which he
disagrees. Pay special attention to any quoted material,
especially as to whether the author agrees or disagrees with
what is being said.
Consider prevailing thought of the time of writing in the
field in which the writing occurs and try to decide whether
this text is saying something similar to or different from
Note the answers to the questions what, where, when, who,
why, and how as relates to the passage. Especially ask:
1) Who spoke it? (Christ, Paul, Satan, Job's friend); 2) To
whom was it spoken? (Christians, Jews, Noah); and 3) What
were the circumstances? (a flood coming).
As the next to last step, consult what others have said about
the passage. Commentaries can be consulted at his point.
Make any revisions to your views as necessary, but do not
accept something just because an "expert" says it means
something. After all this work, you are something of an
expert yourself. However, be critical of any conclusion
that you come to which no one else holds.
Write up the results of your study. An exegesis is not
complete until it is in written form. Often writing helps
to clarify one's thoughts.