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                OLD TESTAMENT EXEGESIS                                          

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Old Testament Exegesis Section Two

Old Testament Exegesis Section Three

Old Testament Exegesis Section Four

            Old Testament Exegesis Section Three


                                            I.  COURSE DESCRIPTION

A practical study of the procedures for doing sound exegesis in the various portions of the Old Testament.  The method will include the study of words, poetics, textual criticism, syntax, biblical theology, and practical exegetical exposition in the different genres of the Hebrew Bible.  

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The main objective of this practicum in exegesis is to develop the skill of doing exegesis in the Old Testament.  To accomplish this, the student will

A.                 Become familiar with the best books and resources for the work,

B.                 Learn how

to do thorough word studies,

to analyze poetic language and literary structures,

to solve textual problems,

to explain syntactical relationships,

to do biblical theology,

to develop accurate and meaningful expositions of the text, and

C.                 Become men and women of the Word.




Exegesis Assignments







This assignment is designed to give you the opportunity to work with “categories of meanings.”  You are free to read word study books along the way, but they will not actually do for you what you need to do.  You are not trying to define the word ga’al, for the dictionaries will do that.  You are trying to learn what kind of “redeeming” this word involves.  That comes only from looking at how it is used in different contexts.


1.                  First, look up the word in a Hebrew dictionary, either BDB or KBL.  See what those works say the basic idea of the word would be.  This just gives you an idea where you are going.


Note that there is more than one “root” ga’alWe have homonyms to deal with.  There is not much you need to do at this stage other than be aware of the existence of another root.  Sometimes you will be studying your word (“redeem”) and a passage that a dictionary lists under it belongs under the other word.  Normally that does not happen, but sometimes it might.  


2.                  Next, using a good concordance (Englishman’s, Mandelkern’s, Lisowsky’s, or Eben Shoshan’s) that gives you the Scripture references where Hebrew ga’al, “redeem,” occurs, you simply start looking up the passages and assigning them to denominations (which you name).


At first glance you might be frightened off by the fact that there are about 100 passages (although it would not take long to look them all up, especially since some concordances put them in the order of the Bible passages).  But you will quickly see that when you get into certain chapters of the Bible, the word could occur a number of times, and one of the passages should tell you how it is used.


Dictionaries give categories of meaning, but they are not helpful very often.  They might tell you that first the verb is used with man as subject, then it is also used with God as subject.  This is of some help, but does not give you any idea of the meaning.  You want to describe what kind of action is going on in the passage.  For example, is the redeeming a divine deliverance, or the marriage of a relative, or the avenging of a death, etc.  When you get a verse clear in mind, you write a definition (like these) for it.  When you find verses with the same meaning, you list them under the heading.  When you are done, you should have two, three, or five or so groups of usages.  This enables you to see the range in the meaning for the word.


3.                  Now you write up your findings.  You do not write out all your passages and descriptions (and you do not simple give a computer printout from a word study on the web).  You write a working definition for the word, which will be a common denominator for all the categories.  For this word you will need to use something other than “redeem,” because “redeem” in English today would not suggest the meanings that this word has.


Then you list the categories of meaning under it.  And, for each category of meaning you supply one or two good passages and explain briefly what the word is doing in those contexts.


You should be able to get the findings of your study on one or two pages.  Accuracy and clarity is far more important than being exhaustive (and exhausting). In an exposition you want to be able to say, “This word basically means X.  It is used for XX, and YY, and ZZ.  In our passage this last meaning of ZZ applies best.”  Simple, clear, helpful.  Because you have done the work.  (In exposition you can always tell if someone has done the work; and it is not because they go on and on discussing it.)  Then, whenever you come across this word again in your exposition, you will be able to use your material, or perhaps clarify it further.


4.                  Watch out for rare uses that do not fit with other verses, or highly figurative uses that have a different connotation.  These will have to be listed and described separately. 


5.                  If there are related nouns or adverbs that are listed after the verb’s listing, take a quick survey of them.  Sometimes they will help you understand the meaning; often they will duplicate the verb’s meanings.   Be careful with names that use the verb; the meaning of the name is derived from the meaning of the verb, and not the other way around.






The purpose of this assignment is to give you some exposure to the task of working with the etymology of a word.  This will not be as straightforward as the first assignment, more like detective work than survey.  But it is the kind of work that you will have to know about in expounding the Old Testament, either being able to do some of it, or being able to evaluate work that is done, because there are hundreds and hundreds of rare and difficult words in the Old Testament.  To understand them, we have to work with the form, the context, and the ancient interpretations.


1.                  Understanding the Problem


The verse says, “My Spirit will not strive (AV, “contend” in NIV) with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”  Our word is yadon, “strive/contend.”  This is the only place in the Bible this verb form occurs.  To get some idea of the degree of difficulty, check what the Greek Old Testament has at this point.


2.         Studying the Form


The first step is to parse the form (which will call for you to dig into the irregular verbs again).  Here, under the prefix of the imperfect, we have a long “a” vowel (the qamets).  That would normally tell you we have a hollow verb or a geminate verb form.  So you look in BDB to see if either occurs. 


You will find a hollow verb din, but it is 2nd yod.  It would not be spelled this way.  But that seems to be what translators are accepting because it is the closest form to what we have.  But the form in the text has a waw (albeit the holem waw), and not a yod (which would be a hireq yod).


So you now must start to look for other options.  Here you would consider forms that occur in the cognate languages.  Do they have a form closer to this one, either a geminate root, or a middle waw root, that would have a meaning better suited to this context? 



3.                  The Greek


Does the translation in the Old Greek (the LXX) give you any idea on the meaning in the passage?  Does it line up with any possible suggestion from the cognate languages?


4.                  The Context


Now, with an option or two available, including the original estimation, what fits the context of the passage the best?  Study the surrounding verses to see what it is that God says he is about to do, and not do.  And note the consequences that follow, that mortal live will not live on forever. 


When it says his days will be 120 years, does that mean every one will live to be 120, or that in 120 years the flood will come?


So then, what do you think the root of the verb is, and what do you think the meaning is in this passage?








This assignment will give you a chance to see how the ancient versions interpreted and translated the Hebrew text, often trying to take idiomatic and culturally distinct forms and making them clear.   This selection is a fairly straightforward one to deal with, and one that has bearing on the New Testament text as well. 


1.                  First, you need to know what the chapter is all about.  Read it through, and briefly (one paragraph) describe what is going on).  Then list the place or places where this particular word occurs.



2.                  Now analyze the word itself.  What is the “root” of the term, and what does that verb mean?  Why would that word be used for the act that occurs in this context?


3.                  Now determine how the Greek text translated the form.  You may want to look at an Interlinear Greek Old Testament to see the form and its translation, or you may find it in Hatch and Redpath’s concordance to the Greek Old Testament.  What is the Greek word that is used, and what is its form?  Is this a good translation or not?  To answer this, determine what the Greek word would communicate about the act.


4.                  Finally, are there any New Testament links to this Greek version of Leviticus 8?

You can approach this in a couple of ways.  One would be to see where the Greek verb appears in the New Testament.  That might give you a lot of passage to work with.  So the second way would narrow it: where in the New Testament is there a similar subject being treated where this verb is used?  This consideration should get you to the High Priesthood of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews rather quickly.  What would you say, then, about a couple of those difficult verses?








In Isaiah 38:9-20 we have the beautiful praise psalm of King Hezekiah.  Read the context and the passage to become familiar with the event and the meaning of this passage in the context.  The song is a praise song, written after the king recovered.  But all praise songs of this type recall the dilemma, the pain, and the prayer for healing before they actually praise. 


Our interest in it for this assignment is to gain practice in interpreting the figures of speech that are comparisons.  For each of the figures listed below, state the literal meaning, then name what figure is involved, and then state the intended comparison  in your own words (not repeating the figure).



1.         “In the noon time of my life” in verse 10.


2.                  “Must I go through the gates of death” in verse 10.


3.                  “And be robbed of the rest of my years?” in verse 10.


4.                  “Like a shepherd’s tent” in verse 12.


5.                  “Like a shepherd’s tent my house has been pulled down” in verse 12.


6.                  “Like a weaver I have rolled up my life” in verse 12.


7.                  “And he has cut me off from the loom in verse 12.


8.                  He broke all my bones in verse 13.


9.                  “I moaned like a mourning dove” in verse 14.


10.              You have put all my sins behind your back” in verse 17.









We have now added the figures of speech that are substitutions.  This assignment will focus on them, but in order for you to see the difference, it will also include more figures of comparison.  Follow the same procedure for this assignment as you did on the last.


1.                  “Hear, O heavens. Listen, O earth” in verse 2.  (Two figures involved, one for the individual words, and one for the two together)



2.                  “Your whole head is injured . . . from the sole of your foot to the top of your head” in verses 5 and 6 (What is the figure for the whole section?)


3.                  “The Daughter of Zion is left” in verse 8.  (In dealing with one term you have to deal with the other; two different figures).


4.                  “Hear the word of the LORD your rulers of Sodom” in verse 10.


5.                  “Your incense is detestable to me” in verse 13.


6.                  “They have become a burden to me, I am weary”in verse 14.


7.                  When you spread out your hands” (v. 15)


8.                  I will hide my eyes” in verse 15


9.                  “Your hands are full of blood” in verse 15.


10.              “You will be devoured by the sword” in verse 20 (two different figures).









Now we will complete our survey of the figures of speech by studying the figures of addition and the figures of suppression or omission.  Psalm 139 provides a great opportunity to see an array of figures.  For each of the following state what the literal meaning would be, name the figure or figures involved, and then put in your own words a paraphrase of the expression or explain what it would mean.  Be brief, but accurate.


1.                  “O LORD, you have searched me” in verse 1.


2.                  “You sift my going out and lying down”in verse 3 (two questions here).


3.                  “Before a word is on my tongue” in verse 4.


4.                  “If I take up the wings of the dawn” in verse 9 (two figures here as well).


5.                  “Your right hand will hold me” in verse 10.


6.                  “Surely the darkness will bruise me” in verse 11 (two figures).


7.                  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” in verse 13.


8.                  “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth” in verse 15 (two questions again to address for the line).


9.                  “Your eyes saw my unformed body” in verse 16 (the two words will be part of the same answer; you have to explain them both in the process).


10.              “All the days ordained for me were written in your book” in verse 17 (two separate parts again).   To think about: if you took “days” as a synecdoche, what would you be saying?  If you took it as a metonymy, what would you be saying?










This assignment will give you the opportunity to work on a textual problem in a psalm.  Here we will see what is so true about textual criticism: when a problem arises in the text’s manuscripts, it is not that we do not know have what the original manuscript had, but that we have to decide which of the readings was what the original had.  For this first assignment, the important thing to do is to follow (and learn) the basic procedure.  To do the assignment you will need a Hebrew Bible with the textual apparatus, access to a good Greek lexicon (preferably Liddell and Scott, or Abbot-Smith), access to an interlinear or column Old Testament in Greek and English (very helpful but not necessary), and access to the copy of the Dead Sea Scroll (J. A. Sanders, The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 [Oxford, Clarendon, 1965], p. 25). A photocopy of this page will be sufficient to see the data (and helpful to have the editors critical notes on the scroll).


1.                  First, you must know what the Masoretic Text says and what it means in the passage.  The verse reads: “When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed” (or: we were like those who dream).  It is this last form that we are dealing with: kekholemim (< khalam).  So, parse this verbal form completely and define the verbal root.


2.                  Now, the apparatus in the Hebrew Bible tells you that the Greek (i.e., the LXX) has a variant reading: parakeklemenoi.   So you need to parse this Greek form and establish its meaning (hint: see under parakaleo).  Does this form look like it is a translation of the Hebrew form?  Explain your answer.


3.                  While you have the Hebrew dictionary open for khalam, look around to see if there is a second root, or a similar root that the Greek text might have considered.  Recall that the Greek text was a translation made from an unpointed text (no vowels).  Why does the critical apparatus direct you to Jes (Isaiah) 38:16?


4.                  We are fortunate to have the witness of the third family of manuscripts for this problem as well (the Masoretic Text preserves the Babylonian, the Greek preserves the Egyptian or Alexandrian): the Palestinian text type, represented by the Dead Sea Scroll.  You will note as you study the scroll from Qumran that vowels were not written; only long vowels were represented by some consonants (recall the system of matres lectionis from beginning Hebrew).  With that in mind, compare the letters in the scroll with the letters in the form in your Hebrew Bible.  What is different about the scroll?  What would that difference indicate about the form (how would it be parsed differently than the form in the MT)? Does the parsing of the form in the scroll allow a translation from the verb “to dream?”   So which Hebrew root does the DSS probably have?


5.                  Does the “reading” in the Qumran scroll line up with the Masoretic tradition or the Alexandrian tradition?  Note the apparatus in Sanders on line 10 of the scroll, because he lines up what manuscripts are on either side of the issue. Try to explain the best you can what you think happened in the transmission of the Hebrew text on this verse.


6.                  What would then be the difference in the meaning of the text?








Your English Bible probably says, “they have pierced my hands and my feet.”  But some Bibles will have a footnote telling you that this is not what is in the Hebrew  manuscripts.  The majority of the Masoretic manuscripts have “like a lion, my hands and my feet.”  So we know the two different ideas; now we have to sort out the evidence and the reasoning to the proper conclusion.  Once again the assignment s primarily designed to get you into the process.


1.                  First, check what the Hebrew Bible has in the text for this verse (recall in the Psalms the verse numbers will be one off occasionally).  Analyze the form of the word, the preposition and the noun.


2.                  Second, determine the variant readings.  Here you are still dealing with manuscript evidence of reading, and not mere speculation.  What does the Greek Old Testament have?  Is that a Jewish or a Christian translation (hint: watch your dates for the work)?  What about other Jewish works, like the Targum?  As you collect the data you will see that there are a number of different renderings, but all these versions seem to have a verb, whereas the MT has a noun. 


3.                  Now go back to the form and take a closer look.  Does the fact that the noun ends with a yod help you see how close the form would be to a verb ending with waw (for the shureq for “they”).  How similarly were the yod and waw written in the manuscripts?  So, could this have been an accidental change?



4.                  Or, because the change was not in the earlier Jewish renderings but came later, does this suggest a deliberate tampering with the text on a theologically significant line?  This would be hard to prove, but there are some hints in this direction from J. ben Chayyim, one of the scholars who first published Hebrew manuscripts with marginal notes.   To sort out this bizarre development and argument, read the discussion in C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible (KTAV Publishing House Inc.), pages 968 (or start with 964) - 972.  The whole discussion concerns the scribal list of words that occur twice in the Bible with a different meaning in each of the places, so that if a word occurs on this list for one passage, its pair has to have another meaning.  It is a witness to the earlier scribal ideas of what the word meant in the passage.   It may be confusing to you in its details, because you are starting reading at page 968.  But the gist of the discussion should be understandable, and provide a window into how theology influences textual work on occasion.


5.                  Now try to draw some conclusions about the verse.  Explain the way you would argue if your were defending either view.








On the last assignment as a Christian exegete you probably were in favor of the reading “they pierced” from the outset (just as some Jewish scholars would have taken the other side from the outset).  It is difficult to suspend bias until the data has been gathered and studied.  Well, Psalm 2:9 will be just as difficult, if not more so because it is a verse that is quoted in the New Testament.  This assignment will give us the opportunity to deal with this kind of problem.


Some conservative Christian scholars simply assume that because a verse was quoted in the New Testament from the Greek Old Testament, that is the Holy Spirit’s approval of the Greek text over the Hebrew at that point.  Would that it were that simple.  The problem is that in those cases where a verse is quoted in the New and differs from the Hebrew (some 175 times), to take the Greek as the original reading would undermine all textual critical procedures.  It will be better to deal with the Old Testament textual problem first, and then deal with the theological issue of intertestamental quotations from the versions.



1.                  Analyze the verse from the Hebrew text: “You will smash them with a rod of iron, you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”  (Do not rely at this stage on your English Bible (like the NIV), but make sure you know what the Hebrew text actually has.


2.                  The verb in question must be parsed.  What is the parsing of tero‘em?  Most importantly, what is the verbal root?  (Review of parsing: the suffix has caused the reduction of the prefix vowel from qamets to shewa; a qamets prefix vowel for the imperfect would limit you to two types of irregular verbs). What is the root?


3.                  Now you need to go to the apparatus and see what the variant reading is.  There in this case they give you a lot of help (enjoy it).  They give you the Greek form poimaneis, and the reconstructed Hebrew tir‘em.  Normally they give you the Greek, and you have to reconstruct what Hebrew the translator was actually looking at.  So you can parse and translate either the Greek or the Hebrew.  Note in Hebrew the prefix vowel is a hireq.  That will tell you a good deal about the choices for the root.  What did the translator think the root was?


4.                  Recall that the Hebrew manuscripts had no vowels written this early.  So the Greek translator is looking at the manuscript with the four Hebrew characters:  T - R - ‘ - M.  What do you think prompted him/her/them to assume the verb was from one root and not the other?


5.                  Now try to argue the case.  Remember that you have to reason from both sides.  If the form was what the MT had, why would the Greek scribe choose another?  Or, if the form was what the Greek translation assumed it was, what would have prompted the Hebrew scribe to choose another verb?  In short, you will be asking which reading is the more difficult, and therefore which reading best explains the origin of the other.  Keep in mind that the scribes in the tradition of the Masoretic Text had a very solid oral tradition and were more knowledgeable of Hebrew in general than the Jewish scribes living in Alexandria.  That does not mean the MT reading is always going to be the right one, but on rare and difficult forms it does have to be considered.  In discussing this verse you will have to take into consideration the parallelism of the verse.



6.                  Now you can take a look at the New Testament use of the verse.  What tradition is the New Testament using?  Is that unusual of common?  Now think it through theologically: What does the doctrine of inspiration require for the use of sources or versions in the writing of the New Testament text?  Can the citation be completely precise when it is from a different language? And what was the primary goal of the writers in citing the Old Testament?  Remember, the principles you draw up here will have to work for all the citations.  Do not take a great deal of time with this now, but begin to think through the issue or inspiration and the text.


7.                  Both readings fit the context, and the theology of the psalm, and so both harmonize with the truth of the Bible (scribes ten d to do that).  What, then, would be the main difference between the two readings.









We now focus on syntax for a while (although textual problems certainly require a knowledge of syntax as well as word study procedures).  You will be surveying the different parts of the grammar to see the various ways that they can be interpreted.  Grammarians drew up the list of possible uses from the Bible, named or categorized them, and explained the differences.  They tried to keep the list short, and so would classify uses with these options where they could.  Sometimes uses did not fit the categories, and so “rare” uses were added to the list.  If one is called “rare,” it may be that it only occurs a couple of times for sure, and therefore would not be your first choice in classification.  Always try to work with common uses first. 


So for this assignment, start with a literal translation of the clause, then classify the point of grammar or syntax, and then explain what that means and how that would influence the meaning of the line.  You may find it helpful to make a paraphrase when possible to show the precise meaning. Do not simply rely on a smooth English translation (although you certainly may read them), because they may smooth the text out too much, or they may make a slavishly literal translation, and you may not think about the words enough as a result. 


These classifications are helpful, because when you teach or preach from a passage, you want to be able to explain clearly and briefly the meaning of the text.  For example, “prince of peace” in Isaiah 9 was left without interpretation.  You may call “peace” an objective genitive and say the title means the prince will establish peace.  Short, to the point, clear.  So you can see the answers do not require lengthy discussions, just a couple of clear sentences.


For syntactical work you will sooner or later need access to a good resource.  The simplest one to use, and the one on which the class notes were based, is Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax (Toronto).  The work is basically an outline with a sample or two for each point, but not much detailed explanation.  For that you may consult a more thorough work on the subject, Biblical Hebrew Syntax, by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990).  This will provide a detailed discussion on any subject in Hebrew syntax.  For the quick classification in regular preparation it may be more than some can handle; but when there is a need to understand the specifics of syntax, this is the resource to have.


1.                  “The word of Yahweh came to Jonah” in verse 1.


2.                  “Because their iniquity has ascended before me” in verse 2 (do not limit yourself to “possession”).


3.                  Tarshish” in verse 3 (the word occurs three times, all with the same classification; the spelling on two of them might help you decide).


4.                  “Now Jonah had gone down into the lower part of the ship” in verse 5.


5.                  “And the captain of the crew drew near” in verse 6.


6.                  “And they said, a man to his neighbor” in verse 7.


7.                  “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven” in verse 9 (classify and explain all three words).


8.                  “And the sea ceased from its raging” in verse 15  (do more than “possession”).


9.                  “And the men feared Yahweh with a great fear” in verse 16 (classify both).


10.              “And they sacrificed a sacrifice in verse 16 (explain precisely what this construction is saying).










The Book of Psalms is one section of the Bible where a precise understanding of the Hebrew verb is important.  The obstacle is that we have all grown so familiar with a particular version of the psalms that it is hard to hold that in check until we know the precise interpretation.   This assignment will give us the opportunity to work with tenses in a lament psalm.  Along the way, we will also review a figure or two.


A lament psalm, as we will see later in the study, usually starts with a cry to the LORD and a lament about one’s plight (enemies, suffering, etc).  It will then have a section of confidence, followed by the actual prayer (the petition section).  The psalm usually closes with a word of praise, which is a vow of praise, in which the psalmist rehearses what he will say when the prayer is answered.  In psalm 3 the parts break down this way: Cry and Lament (1,2), Confidence (3-6), Petition (7,8), Praise (8).  This will help in working with the verbs.


For each word listed below, classify the verb’s nuance, or the type of figure, and then either offer a clear translation or an explanation.


1.                  “You are the one who lifts my head” in verse 3 (just the figure).


2.                  “To the LORD I cry (eqra) aloud” in verse 4 (this is the NIV translation, put here for convenience; you may disagree with it).


3.                  “And he answers me (wayya‘aneni) in verse 4 (again, the NIV, but parse the form, and then determine if that should influence the way you look at the verb before this).



4.                  “I lie down and sleep” (shakabti and wa’ishanah) in verse 4 (again, this is the NIV translation; parse the Hebrew verbs and classify them in context).


5.                  “I wake up because the LORD sustains me (heqitsoti and yismekeni) in verse 5 (again the NIV translation; parse and classify the two verbs.  You are beginning to see that the choice will be either something in the present time for all these verbs that would be making general statements about God, or some past time reference where the psalmist is reporting what happened.  I am not that concerned which view you take, only that you know how to classify the verbs in either case).


6.                  Arise, O LORD” in verse 7 (just the figure of speech).


7.                  “For you have struck (hikkita) all my enemies on the jaw” in verse 7 (This is NIV again.  Parse and classify the verb form).


8.                  Now deal with the figures of speech in verse 7b.  The psalmist says God will strike his enemies on the jaw, and break their teeth.  First explain the verbs.  Will God actually do this?  What figure, then, do we have here?   Then deal with “jaw” and “teeth.”  Only the jaw and the teeth?  Or is more meant here?  Classify the figures.  Now try to put in your own words what these clauses have in mind.










This assignment will give us the opportunity to work with the volitional mood in one very important passage, the Call of Abraham.  Here we will have to be precise on the parsing before we can classify the verb forms.  The main focus will be on the imperative, jussive and cohortative; but we will work with the other verbs as well to see the contrast.



1.                  “And the LORD said (wayyo’mer) in verse 1.  The Bible says that Abram received the call in Ur (Gen. 15) before he went to Haran.  How do translators reflect that in their translation of this verb? 


2.                  Get you out (lek)” in verse 1.  Parse the form, and explain its force in this line.


3.                  “And I will make you (we’e‘eska) . . . and I will bless you (wa’abarekeka) . . . and I will make great (wa’agaddelah) your name” in verse 2.  Parse these three forms.  Be careful, the first two have suffixes, and so have two possibilities; the third does not, and is very precise.  Should they not all have the same parsing?  Now, explain how they are being used in view of the fact they all begin with a waw and follow the preceding imperative.


4.                  What is the basic meaning of barak, “to bless.”  Take a brief look at the usage of the form and some of the material available so you can explain what it means “to bless.”


5.                  Parse wehyeh in verse 2 (usually translated “and you shall be a blessing”).  With that parsing with the waw, how should it be interpreted following the previous volitives?


6.                  Parse and classify “and I will bless” (wa’abarakah) at the beginning of verse 3.


7.                  Parse the form u-meqallelka in the same verse.  There is a textual problem on this word.  What does the apparatus tell you the variant reading is.  You do not need to solve the problem, just state clearly what it is, and how it differs from what is in the text.


8.                  Now parse “I will curse” (a’or) in verse 3.  Is this a cohortative too?  If not, why has there been a change, and what would be the best classification and interpretation of this?


9.                  Why is there a change of vocabulary words?  What is the difference between arar and qalal?  Both are translated “curse” in the line.  Which is the stronger word?



10.              Parse wenibreku, usually translated “and will be blessed” (in verse 3).  What verbal stem (system-- qal, niphal, piel, etc) do we have here?  What are a couple  of ways this form could be translated?  What support is there for each?









The last three verses of Psalm 126 employ verbal forms and figures of speech that are well-known to a lot of Bible readers but not clearly understood.  You would do well to get in mind the general idea of the psalm, its setting and main concern, before trying to answer these questions.


1.                  Verse 4 is a petition for the LORD to restore the captives to Zion.  It uses a figure of speech, “like streams in the desert.”  Classify this figure and explain it in the context of the psalm (you will need to know something about streams in the desert).


2.                  Verse 5 gives us the summary statement, and verse 6 elaborates on it in more detail.  First, parse and classify hazzore‘im (usually translated “those who sow”).


3.                  Analyze the figures of this line.  First, sowing and reaping.  Are these literal, or does he mean something else by comparison?   Second, tears and ringing cries.  Are they crying all the time they are sowing, or do these words represent something more.  Now say something about the arrangement of the verse, the parallelism and the reversed word order in the two halves.


4.                  In verse 6a we have “he may indeed go forth while weeping” (different versions translate it differently).  Parse all three verb forms: yelek, halok, and u-bakoh.  What is the classification of the main verb?   How do the other two forms work with this main verb--classify and explain them.



5.                  Parse nose’ (“carrying”) in the same verse.  How does this form function in the line syntactically?   And, do you think the author has in mind a pouch of seed, or is he comparing it to something else?  If so, classify the figure and explain what he means (and how you know).


6.                  Now we have “he will surely return,” or as one version has, “doubtless he will return” in verse 6b.  Parse and classify bo at the beginning.


7.                  What is the basic meaning of rinnah (from the root ranan) in the Psalms, and particularly in this verse?


8.                  Now comment on the structure of verse 6 as a whole.  Note the parallelism between the halves with nose’  beginning the last part of each.  But comment on the contrasts between the two halves.


9.                  Now that you have in mind the meaning of the “seed,” what is the meaning of the “sheaves”?


10.              What New Testament passage was influenced by this imagery?  What does seed mean in that passage?









Read through the passage in a couple of good English Bibles to get a sense of what is going on in this story about David and Bathsheba.  Now analyze some of the points of grammar and the meanings of some of the words, using these questions.


1.                  Cultural Question: What time of year was it and why was it a time when king’s go to war?


2.                  At the end of verse 1 we have “and David stayed in Jerusalem.”  Classify the waw (“and”) on “David.”  How do you know it is that type of waw?  And what is its use in the verse? 


3.                  Geography Question: Who was on the rooftop?  Where was David and where was Bathseba when David saw her?  What do you know of the situation of the city of David?


4.                  At the end of verse 3 we have the report, “and the woman was very beautiful of appearance” or the like.  Classify the waw (“and”) on “the woman.”  What use of this type of waw do we have now? 


5.                  Concordance Question: Where else in the Bible do we have this kind of description of women?  What is that saying about David in this context?


6.                  In verse 4 we have “and she washed herself from her impurity.”  This clause also begins with a waw on a non-verb.  What kind of a waw do we have?  What is the function of this clause if it is not in sequence?  If it had been in sequence (i.e., the washing came after the sin), how would the clause have been written?  S. R. Driver on Notes on Samuel is very helpful here if you get stuck.


7.                  In the same clause we have the word for washing as mitqaddeshet.  Parse the form.  What is the root, and what does it mean?  What was the verb for “washing” in verse 2?   There it reports what David saw; here the writer tells what she was actually doing.  What is the difference?  So, was Bathsheba “flaunting the flesh” on the rooftop, as many have preached this?


8.                  “And she sent” word to David (verse 5).  The verb “send” seems to be a linking verb through this whole section.  Trace where it is used in chapters 11 and 12.










This first assignment in Biblical Theology will get us into one of the key sections of the Bible for theology--the self-revelation of God to Moses.  You should read through Exodus 1-6 just to get a feel for the argument of this section.  You are free to read in commentaries if you wish, but they do not always give the details needed for this kind of analysis.  You might find it helpful to read some of the Jewish works: Segal, The Pentateuch, Cassuto, Exodus, and Benno Jacobs, Exodus.


1.                  First, we need to look at the first revelation of the LORD in Exodus 3:14.  From the context and the historical setting, why did Moses ask God to identify himself by name?  And, did God actually do that (why did he not answer “Yahweh”)?  Analyze the Hebrew of “I am that I am.”  What are some of the explanations possible for these verbs and their intended meaning?  If these forms mean “I am,” what does the name Yahweh actually mean? 


2.                  How did the Greek LXX translate the name, and the explanation given to Moses?  Is this a valid translation, does it reflect the Greek mentality, does it harmonize with later biblical expositions of the name?


3.                  Now let’s go to Exodus 6:2, 3.  On the surface it sounds like the text is saying that the patriarchs did not know the name Yahweh.  Does the data in Genesis support this idea ( you might look at passages like Genesis 4:26, or 12:8, or 22:14)?  If this was a totally new name given to Moses, how would the elders know if he was sent by their God? 


4.                  In verse 3 God said he reveal himself as El Shadday.  Parse the verb wa’era and then classify the preposition on El Shadday (a rare use).   Where did God use the name El Shadday in Genesis, and what do you think the name meant to them (evidence).  Is El Shadday a name, or a description?


5.                  The text then says, “But my name Yahweh I was not known to them.”  Here the contrast carries the nuance of the preposition over from El Shadday, so it would be “but as Yahweh.”  Parse the verb noda‘tiWhat is the basic meaning of the root, and are there different levels of knowing?  (Note verse 7, “Then you will know that I am Yahweh”).   So, in what sense might the patriarchs have known the name, but not known it?  For a similar situation, see Isaiah 52:6, where the people of Israel were about to be delivered from the captivity.


6.                  So now we need to take another look at the holy name Yahweh.  What are some the ways you would describe the significance of this name in the Old Testament?  In other words, if the text uses “God,” or “El Shadday,” or “Yahweh,” what would the difference be? 


7.                  Now say a few things about the development of God’s covenant program in Exodus (which is at the heart of Old Testament theology).  Note in Exodus 6:4 that when God says he did not allow himself to be known as El Shadday, he also says he established a covenant with them.  How will that now develop?









Now we want to look at a piece of poetry to see that there is also a clear theological message to poems as well.  Psalm 33 is a descriptive praise psalm.  In this type of psalm there is usually a short call to praise (1-3), then an extended cause for the praise (4-19), and then a conclusion (the last few verses).  We will focus on the cause, or reasons, for the call to praise.


1.                  Verses 4 and 5 begin this section.  True to Hebrew style, they form a summary of the entire section: verse 4 focuses on the word and the work of the LORD, and verse 5 speaks of righteousness and loyal love.  These sections will help you sort out the section, for first he deals with the word of the LORD (4-9) and then His work (10-12), and then he treats His righteousness (13-15) and His loyal love (16-19).   And it is on the loyal love of the LORD that the psalmist finishes with his closing prayer.



2.                  What you need to do first now that you can see the layout of the psalm is to make a theology chart of the passage.  On a single sheet of paper, make three sections: God, Creation, and Covenant.  In the top section on God, make three columns: names, attributes, and works.  Now go through the psalm a time or two and jot a brief note under each section (and the verse) from the psalm.  Then in the section on creation, you can have a column on nature, then one on humans, how they are described, what they do, etc.  The categories will be dictated by what is in the passage.  You may divide humans between the righteous and the wicked, if they are contrasted in the passage.  Then you go through the psalm again and jot down the few ideas in each column to get a survey.  Remember, you are just making a brief note, not writing paragraphs.  This is a one page chart.  For the third section you want to deal with the covenant.  Here your categories will have things like God’s part or the establishment of the covenant, or God’s protection of the covenant, whatever the passage has, and then a section on mankind’s response or requirements, such as faith, or obedience, or if it is sin or rebellion, that would be a separate column.  The point of the chart is to pick out the key theological ideas in a passage, because that will help you articulate the theology. 


Remember, you will have to define theological words precisely, and clarify figures of speech as well.


3.                  Now you need to develop the theological idea of the psalm.  Your goal is to write one clear propositional statement, a principle of theology.  The sentence could be complex, or compound, but one sentence only.  This forces you to be precise.  In short, if you only could have one sentence to say what God is telling us in Psalm 33, this would be it.  (Doing this will help you think clearly in the development of an exposition later). 


To do this you have to study your findings on the chart and see where the emphasis of the psalm lies.  Here it will be overwhelmingly about God’s person and work.  That will then be the basic statement.  But, the statement will have to account for the effect of the truth on the people.  This step is long on thinking and short on writing.


4.                  Now offer a few ideas on how the introductory call to praise and the conclusion  assist the communication of this theology.  You might need to comment on what the psalmist means by “sing a new song,” or, “wait on the LORD.”


5.                  Finally, do any New Testament passages come to mind where the same truth or truths are presented together?  Do not list a series of passages on every detail; find the one, two, or at the most three passages where the major themes of this psalm are confirmed and taught by the New Testament.









What we want to do on this assignment is discover how the New Testament carries the theology of a passage forward into its revelation.  In other words, the New Testament writers were not merely “proof texting” from the Old Testament, but were seeing how the Old was fulfilled, or found its fullest meaning in the New.


1.                  First, we want to determine the theology of Genesis 22:1-19.  Here you will follow the same steps as those for Psalm 33.  Chart the theological ideas of the passage, and then summarize the theological point.  There will be two new wrinkles in this passage.  First, whatever the whole passage is teaching theologically, the occasion was a test.  So you will have one activity of God as testing people’s faith, and another the main theological message of this passage.  Second, we have a commemorative naming and a parable at the end of the story.  These capture and preserve the main message of the text, and so should be seen as very influential in the articulation of the theological idea.


2.                  Now we need to look at Romans 8:32.  What is the message of the context of this verse?  And how does the apostle tie in Genesis 22?  And what main point is Paul making on the basis of his analogy?  How does God’s provision in Romans fulfill the provision noted in Genesis?


3.                  What does this analogy tell you about the other details of the story?  How far can we push the parallel?  Who does Abraham represent in the typology?  Who does Isaac represent?  Where is Moriah according to the Chronicler?  What rule lor rules would you give for keeping the parallels made within bounds?








The purpose of this assignment is to take the last point a step further, that is, to see how the New Testament writers bring the Old Testament forward to its fulfillment, or use it for a spiritual homily.


1.                  The first step is to study the two sections thoroughly.  Make a list of the parallel themes in the two passages, and for each one explain briefly the similarities or the differences in the meanings of them.


2.                  The second step, and much less involved that the first, is to articulate how Paul is using the Old Testament.  If he does not think the Exodus material is a prophecy, or a type, what then would his use of it be?  Does Paul do this frequently in the New Testament?  Can you find samples where Jesus used the Old Testament in a similar way?


3.                  In the chapter Paul is saying that the unbelieving Jew does not understand Scripture.  To make his point, he uses a clear Jewish method of using the Scripture.  Was it the method of reading the Bible that was the problem, then?  Or was there something more spiritual that was at fault?  In other words, would Paul have thought that there way of reading the Law was a valid alternative to Christianity?


4.                  Can you set down some guidelines for this use of Scripture that will be useful as you expound the Old Testament in the future?  What will keep us from making illegitimate links between the Testaments (or, how can we know that our theological application from the Old Testament is in harmony with the divine intent)?









Our focus in this assignment will be on forming legitimate applications.  On the one hand the assignment will be a little difficult in that you have not done the thorough exegetical preparation; but on the other hand I have chosen a prophetic sermon, which will make the assignment a little easier than trying to draw applications from, say, the Law, or a genealogy.



1.                  First, get the facts.  Who was Malachi’s target audience?  Who were those folks influencing?  What was the occasion of this sermon (two things they were doing wrong?  How did these violate the Law of God?


2.                  To whom and to what today do these things correspond?   Try to find the corresponding situation in our world, and the corresponding participants.


3.                  How do the sinful acts that the prophet is denouncing “despise His name?”  Here you will need to look at what the “name” of the LORD means.  Did Malachi’s audience think they were despising the name?


4.                  What does the prophet tell them to do, specifically?  


5.                  Does the prophet really want the sanctuary shut up so no one could worship, or is this expression in verse 10 in some way rhetorical? 


6.                  What does God declare that He is about to do (vv. 11 and 14).  Why would this be significant in a passage rebuking Israelite leaders?


7.                  Can you think of a New Testament parallel to verse 14?


8.                  If ministers find the work a drudgery and do not offer the best to God, how can they change?  Here you have to do some serious thinking apart from the text, for it only hints at what they might do.  What practical steps would you devise for people to get their commitment and their zeal back?  Be sure to show how your suggestions might be hinted at in the passage, and how they are backed up by other Scripture.  










We now have the opportunity to work through a wonderful piece of narrative literature.  You will discover that Hebrew narrative is very different than, say Greek.  It does not give endless details, but sufficient details to understand the story.  The unit of a narrative works through an arc of tension: there is a bit of background or description to start with, then there is the development of a crisis and its resolution, and then the aftermath.  In this case the resolution lays the foundation for other problems--it is not a proper resolution.


1.                  First go through the story and mark or indicate the clauses that advance the story line, distinguishing them from those that do not.  Classify the clauses that do not advance the story, either as to use (like a purpose clause) or nature (like direct quotation).  Decide who is the main actor in the passage (who is the subject of the most clauses).


2.                  How does the story contrast Cain and Abel (one way is by clause arrangement, and the other by repetition of terms)?


3.                  What was right with Abel’s offering and wrong with Cain’s--or was it the offering at all that was the problem?  What is a minkhah?  Could it be either animal or vegetable?   What does the Book of Hebrews say was the difference?  How does the description of their sacrifices help you to see this?


4.                  Now analyze the LORD’s speech to Cain in verse 7.  Are God’s questions in the verse literal, or is there a rhetorical element to them?   The NIV has “If you do what is right you will be accepted.”  What is the literal meaning of that clause?  What do you think God is saying?   How close is the last clause of verse 7 to the last part of 3:16?  Why is this?


5.                  In the second round of communication, we begin with a divine question (verse 9); is this rhetorical?  Explain what was intended by it. 


And Cain’s response is almost universally known: Am I my brother’s keeper?  What is the answer to Cain’s question?  Why?


The oracle of the LORD in verses 10-12 is quite an advance on the curse oracle in Genesis 3.  Note some of the advances or intensifications that occur here.



Analyze Cain’s response to this in verses 13 and 14.  “My punishment (NIV) is too great to bear.”  What is the word rendered “punishment” here.  What are its categories of meanings?  If it means “punishment” here, what figure of speech got you to that meaning?  So what exactly is Cain saying?


Then we have God’s response in verse 15.  How does this verse relate to the problem of blood avenge?  In the Law, what took the place of the “mark” on Cain?


6.                  Why was it called the land of Nod?


7.                  Now, decide what the story is about.  To do this you take into consideration the story line and how the narrator’s descriptions and the quotations interpret what is happening.  You should be able to see here a gradual unfolding of Cain’s unbelief, step by step, so that in the end it is clear that he is not in the faith.  But try to state in a sentence or two what you think the theme of the story is in all its development.  To help you with this, you must ask how this story fits the context of Genesis 2-4.


8.                  To make a contextual application first, what was God’s instruction for Cain?  What would it have meant to “do well”?


9.                  The New Testament alludes to Cain in a couple of places, but John in his epistle turns the story around to make a positive application.  What is that?  How is that derived from the passage?  Can this work with “doing well”?


10.              Theologically, what does this story reveal about the person and work of the LORD?  What does it tell us about human nature?  Does it provide a glimpse of what the righteous have to look forward to in the world as they try to worship the LORD?










Now we will try our hands at legal literature.  Here Leviticus 19 will give us the opportunity to work with some specific laws in order to see how they are to be used in exposition today.


1.                  Briefly sketch the nature and purpose of the Law of Israel.  Be brief, but to the point, and clear.


2.                  Now lay out the guidelines you would give to people for applying the Law to the Christian life.  What procedure would you follow to decide if a law was to be taken literally for today, qualified in some way, or done away with in Christ?


3.                  Now we have a number of laws in the chapter where we may test these ideas.

For each of the ones selected here, state the law, explain what it meant and why it was there, and then state how it should be applied by Christians, why, and what New Testament passage might support your point.


A.                 Verse 3                        Respect father and mother


B.        Verse 3                        Keep the sabbath day


C.                 Verse 5                        Eating the Peace Offering properly


D.                Verses 9, 10                 Leave the corners


E.                 Verse 15                      Perverting justice


F.                  Verse 19                      Mixing animals, seeds, and cloth


G.                Verse 20                      Sex with a slave girl


H.                Verses 23-25               Fruit trees


I.                   Verse 28                      Cutting and tattooing the body


J.                  Verse 31                      Mediums and spiritists


4.                  Finally, what is the theme of the chapter, the constantly repeated refrain?  With what kind of texts is that self disclosure associated in the Old Testament?  What does this tell you about the instructions of the chapter?









This assignment will help us think through how we are to use the wisdom literature in our exegetical exposition.  The famous Proverbs 31 passage will be our passage for the assignment.


1.                 First, we need to lay out the descriptive qualifications of wisdom literature.  What are the different kinds of wisdom literature?  What are the main features of wisdom literature?  What is wisdom literature designed to do (what questions does it address)?


2.                  Wisdom literature is characterized by specific vocabulary, at least a more extensive use of certain words than the rest of the Bible has.  At the heart of the vocabulary is the word “wisdom.”  Briefly define or describe the meaning of the two main words used for “wisdom.”  Then do the same for “folly.”  Put your descriptions in very practical terms.


3.                  How does the Book of Proverbs use personification?  Note the several chapters where it occurs, and briefly describe each.


4.                  Finally, what is the structure of the book?  Briefly sketch an outline for the book (obviously not giving 375 points for the proverbs themselves).   Since chapters 1-9 are usually taken as a different form than proverbs proper, you will need to explain what a proverb is.


5.                  Now we are ready to pull our section together.  First, you need to make some observations on the text.   Explain the alphabetic arrangement, the use of military or harsh terms, and the parallel structure with hymns.  What do you make of all this?


6.                  Now make an outline of the passage to trace the different features, and for each entry state a principle that is taught by wisdom literature.



7.                  What is missing from this passage?  Why is that?










We now will work with a psalm, a fairly short psalm but a complicated one if you do not know your way around psalmic literature.  The psalms have central themes or messages, and should not be seen as disconnected meditative thoughts.  Our task is to determine the message of the psalm and how it applies today.


1.                  This psalm has a historical superscription.  What is it?  You may want to come back to finish this question later, but the contents of this psalm are rather disturbing, and do not seem to fit the superscription very well.  What was the sequence of events in David’s life that led up to the dedication?


2.                 This is classified as a declarative praise psalm.  What are the parts of this type of psalm?  Make a brief outline (but use full sentences, not topics); in your outline, verses 1-3 obviously go together, and then verses 4 and 5 are inserted with eager enthusiasm, calling for praise and providing the basis for it.  Verses 6-10 go together as the report of the dilemma and the deliverance--it is important to get this right since he is now praising, and not still praying.  Then verses 11 and 12 have the praise proper. 


3.                  In the first part David says he was lifted out of the depths, healed, and brought up from the grave or pit.  Are these literal or figurative.  Explain.  You may want to come back and adjust your answer after you get further, so do not take too long now.



4.                  In verse 5 we have a number of figures of speech to deal with.  We have “anger” and “favor” and “moment” and “lifetime.”  Then we have “weeping” and “rejoicing” followed by “night” and “morning.”  We have a mixture of figures of substitution and comparison.  So classify each, and explain them.


5.                  Now in verse 6 we find the report of the dilemma.  David obviously did something wrong, and God was angry, but now God has restored him.  Verse 6 is the poetic description of it.  To what is he probably referring?


6.                  There are different ways to translate verse 7.  Compare the NIV and some of the others.  Is “mountain” being used in a good sense or a bad sense?  What is the figure of speech in either case?    And what does it mean when God hides His face (what figure and what meaning)?


7.                  Verses 9 and 10 tell us what he prayed when in that mess.  What does he mean when he asks if the dust will praise God?  What figure of speech is this, and why does he use it? 


8.                  Now we come to the praise itself.  Here we have more figures to deal with.  We have “wailing” being turned into “dancing.”  What does he mean by these?  And so what figures are they?  Likewise, he says God took off his sackcloth and clothed him with joy.  What did God actually do?  So what figures are these?


9.                  Why would you ant to write a praise psalm about being forgiven for sin and restored to the fullness of health and joy as a psalm of dedication for the temple?


10.              What are the key theological motifs in this passage (what you learn about the nature and acts of God in relation to sin) and how are they expressed in the New Testament?











Prophetic literature makes up an enormous portion of the Old Testament, and so must be understood.  But it will take more than an assignment to make you feel at home with this body of literature.  However, we have to begin somewhere, so a Messianic passage in Isaiah is a good place to begin.


1.                  What are some of the ways that you would describe the distinctive features of prophetic literature?  You may have to say a word or two about the nature of the prophets in Israel as well.


2.                  What is the setting of Isaiah 11?  You will not have to get into the higher criticism of the Book of Isaiah to answer this, for this is in the first part of the book.  But what was going on at the time and therefore what would have been the impact of this so-called “Book of Immanuel”?   And, how does this chapter fit in the sequence: chart what chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 say in leading up to this point (be very brief).


3.                  The section has three parts, the nature of the Messiah (1-3a), the nature of Messiah’s reign (3b-5), and the nature of Messiah’s kingdom (6-9).  In the first part we have a description of his humble origins.  What is the image of a “shoot” and why does it come from Jesse and not David?  Is this description of “shoot” and “branch” found elsewhere in Isaiah, or the other prophets?  And does it speak to a New Testament fulfillment (hint: in Matthew)?


4.                  In verse 2 we have a series of descriptions.  Most English Bibles have not interpreted and translated the genitive relationship smoothly.  So you get to do that.  “The Spirit of the LORD” is a common expression.  But what kind of genitive do we have?  Then for the rest of these, e.g., “the Spirit of wisdom,” what kind of genitive do we have?  Offer a smooth translation to show this.


5.                  Now we need to define and clarify words.  Is “spirit” used one way or two ways in this section?  In other words, is “spirit of wisdom” still referring to the Holy Spirit? 


Now we have the three couplets: wisdom and understanding, counsel and power, knowledge and fear.  Why are these paired as they are (define the words and explain how they work together)?


6.                  Before we go further, what would be the New Testament fulfillment of verse 2?



7.                  Now in the second part we have Messiah’s reign.  We need first to have clearly in mind what we mean by “righteousness” and “justice.”  Give a specific definition for each and show how they differ.  


Can you improve on “he will judge the needy”?


8.                  Verse 4 tells of striking the earth with the rod of his mouth; what figure of speech is “rod”?  What will actually happen?  When will this happen? 

And verse 5 says that righteousness is his belt; what figure of speech is “belt”?  What does this mean?


9.                  Now we come to the nature of Messiah’s reign.  Are “wolf” and “lion” and “calf” and “goat” and the other terms literal?  Do they represent something more then these individual animals?  If so, what figure do we have. Or, do you thin they do not refer to animals at all?  If so, what figure would be involved?  


If these words refer to kinds of animals, what would the passage say about the Isaianic vision of peace in the world to come?  Are there other passages that come to mind that fit that vision?


10.              What is the holy mountain in verse 9?  And what does he mean that the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the LORD?  Explain this very precisely but very briefly.




Old Testament Exegesis


An Outline of the Procedure


a Bibliography

for Old Testament Studies





The following outline will provide an overview of the whole process of doing exegesis, step by step, and therefore an outline of the basic parts of this course of study.  In actual practice, the steps of exegesis overlap a good deal when one gains expertise in the method, because often when researching in one area material for another is discovered.  Moreover, not every step will apply fully to every passage of the Bible.  Nevertheless, these are the basic things that the exegete should be prepared to do.

The word exegesis is actually a Greek term that we use for biblical studies.  Its basic meaning is leading out, which means that the interpretation is led out of or derived from the text.  The opposite is called eisegesis, which refers to leading in, that is, reading a preconceived idea into the text.  We try to avoid this in favor of the preceding.  But if one does not follow the procedure of exegesis carefully, it is easy to read an interpretation into the text that was not there.  And this is one of the main problems of preaching and teaching today, especially in the evangelical world: the message may be a biblical message in general, even correct theologically, but it did not come from the passage being preached.  The task of the preacher or teacher is to deliver a clear exposition of the passage, showing how that exposition came from the passage.  In this way the people will learn how they can read the Bible and derive its proper meaning.


I.           Determination of the Literary Unit to be Studied

A.                 Study the literary structure and motifs that form the unit so that the complete passage may be covered.

B.                 Take into consideration the literary genre and make comparisons with other similar passages.

C.                 Determine the relationship of the unit to be studied to its context, and to the argument of the book.

II.        Preliminary Observation of the Text

A.                 Read the passage in several English translations to see where there are major differences that will have to be explained.

B.                 Note any major textual difficulties that will need more attention.

C.                 List the key words that will need to be studied--theological words that have bearing on the message of the passage, words that are repeated, or problematic words.

D.                 Observe poetic devices and figures of speech, and mark those that will need to be explained in the exposition.

E.                  Note any unclear or difficult grammatical or syntactical expressions that will need to be studied and explained.

F.                  Mark the key verbs that have to be explained with regard to tense, mood or kind of action.

G.                 Note any motifs or patterns that build on previous passages.

H.                 Identify any lines or verses that are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament.

III.       Resolution of Critical Matters

A.                 Determine the precise and original form of the Hebrew text by the accepted method of textual criticism (lower criticism).

B.                 Settle the matters of date, authorship, composition, and integrity of the text (higher criticism).

1.                  The major critical issues will probably be settled for a book long before the individual passages will be expounded.

2.                  Give attention to the critical issues that have been raised on difficult or problematic verses.

IV.       Word Studies

A.                 Before beginning a series of lessons on a book, determine what the major theological words of the book are and study them fully.

B.                 In the regular preparation of a passage within a book, select the key words and study them to the point of being able to explain them precisely and completely:

1.                  Words that are clearly at the heart of the interpretation,

2.                  Words that are basic theological terms in the Bible,

3.                  Words that are difficult or unclear,

4.                  Words that are played upon or repeated.

V.                 Poetic Analysis

A.                 Study the structure of the passage.

1.                  Look for narrative-dialogue, repetition, inclusios, chiasms, and determine how they influence the meaning.

2.                  Compare the genre of the passage to other genres, and the details of the passage to parallel passages to determine the author’s intent.

B.                 Study the texture of the passage.

1.                  Look for the significant figures of speech, types and archetypes, and determine their meaning in the context.

2.                  Chart the narrative structural features, that is, its subjects and verbs that carry the narrative forward, repeated main verb clauses, in order to determine the central emphasis of the passage.

VI.       Grammatical and Syntactical Analysis

A.                 Poetic passages and dialogue will require the greatest attention.

B.                 Start by comparing the English versions in order to see where you must discuss the text at the outset.

C.                 Develop a knack for isolating words and constructions that will be better understood through these classifications, and be able to explain them without using the technical labels.

VII.     Exegetical Synthesis

A.                 Make a full exegetical outline of the passage, putting into your own words the contents of the passage.

B.                 Write a summary statement of the message, putting the main points together as a paragraph-sentence, so that you can easily explain what this passage is saying.

VIII     Theology of the Passage

A.                 Organize the biblical theology of the passage by observing what the passage says about God, his names, his nature, his acts, and what it says about the people, their names, natures, actions, and about the covenant.

B.                 Be able to put your findings in a theological statement, a timeless principle that this passage is teaching.

C.                 Correlate the theological idea, and any minor points, to the theology of the whole Bible, especially the New Testament.

1.                  Be sure to recall how the New Testament uses the Old Testament.

2.                  If the theological point of your passage is not directly quoted by the New Testament, find the place where the same theology is recorded.

3.                  Be careful not to read New Testament ideas into the Old Testament: derive the theology first and then find the corresponding New Testament connection.     

IX.       Development of the Exposition

A.    Work with the theological idea you have written and form it into an expository thesis statement, a propositional statement that will form the heart (not the totality) of your exposition.

1.         It must adequately account for the contents of the entire passage.

2.                  It must be worded in the form of a timeless truth, not in the form of a history lesson about Israel, or in the form that would exlude Old Testament meaning entirely.

3.                  It must be stated in a way that is applicable to the original audience, the New Testament audience (where it correlates) and the current audience.

B.                 Now develop the main points of the expository outline in the same manner, and the sub-points if possible.

1.                  The main points should add up to your major idea.

2.                  The sub-points should add up to the main points under which they are listed.

X.                 The Application

A.                 Develop a fitting conclusion to the exposition, now that you know what it is about and where the message is going.

B.                 In the conclusion put a clear, no-nonsense application, identifying your people with participants in the text or the writer of the text.

1.                  State what you want people to know.

2.                  State what you want people to believe.

3.                  State what you want people to do.

C.                 Now that you know what you want people to do on the basis of this passage, write a clear and effective introduction.

1.                  Raise the issue that the passage addresses first.

2.                  Then put historical and background material in as needed, but keep it brief.

3.                  Be sure that the introduction creates the need, captures the interest of the audience, and lets them know where the exposition is going.

D.                 Write an effective, but accurate, title for the exposition










There are so many fine books and resources available today that it is often difficult to know what to buy, especially since almost no bookstore carries an array of the finest commentaries and tools--you have to have them order things, or you have to order them through Amazon, or Christian Book Distributors, or other similar organizations.   I have listed here the books and tools that I have found most useful in following the exegetical procedure; there are others that are also excellent, and their omission from the list should not be taken to mean they are not worth having.  The expositor needs to find what is personally the most useful and then make the purchases.  The best way to do this is in a class and in an institution with a good library; otherwise, the book might have to be ordered and if not workable returned. 

I would prioritize any plan for acquiring the best tools.  Determine wich Books of the Bible should be covered first, and then which tools will be used the most. 

Here is my suggestion as a starter kit for exegesis in the Hebrew text (it would be modified for people who do not know how to use Hebrew).  You want to start with a good Hebrew dictionary (BDB), a good word study book or set (VanGemeren), a concordance you can use (I like Mandelkern), a Bible dictionary or set (Zondervan Pictorial), an atlas (Collegeville), a book on customs and manners (De Vaux), a survey of the history (Merrill), an Old Testament theology (Eichrodt), and a commentary that covers the whole Bible (Expositors), to give you at least something to start with.  








Cassuto, Umberto.  A Commentary on the Book of Genesis.  2 Vols.  Translated by Israel Abrahams.  Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961, 1964.   (Genesis 1-12)

Jacob, Benno.  Das Erste Book der Tora: Genesis.  Berlin, 1934. (German; an English summary is available, but very condensed).

Kidner, Derek.  Genesis.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1967.

Rad, Gerhard von.  Genesis, A Commentary.  Translated by John H. Marks.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Ross, Allen P.  Creation and Blessing, A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Genesis.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Wenham, Gordon J.  Genesis.  Word Biblical Commentary.  2 Vols.  Waco, TX: Word, 1987, 1994.

There are many other works on Genesis that would be of value for exegetical exposition.  I would suggest S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (15th edition), with appendix by G. R. Driver (London: Methuen & Co., 1948); Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis, 2 Vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899).  For Mesopotamian background, E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible (new York: Doubleday, 1964).  For a modern form critical approach, if used critically, Claus Westermann, Genesis, 3 Vols. (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984).  Also, see John Sailhamer, Genesis, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).




Childs, Brevard S.  The Book of Exodus, A Critical Theological Commentary.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974.

Cole, Alan.  Exodus.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Jacobs, Benno.  Exodus, The Second Book of the Law.  New York: KTAV reprint.

Umberto Cassuto's Exposition of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), is not nearly as good as his work on Genesis; it was compiled after his death.  But it still has some helpful insights.  I also like S. R. Driver, The Book of Exodus (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1911), even though it is dated in places.  Also worth consulting would be John I. Durham, Exodus, in the Word Series (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), and Nahum Sarna, Exodus, Jewish Publication Society, 1991.




Bonar, A. A.  A Commentary on Leviticus.  London: Banner of Truth, 1966 Reprint.

Harrison, R. K.  Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1980.

Hartley, John E.  Leviticus.  Word.   Dallas: Word, 1992.

Levine, Baruch.  Leviticus, The JPS Torah Commentary.  New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob.  Leviticus 1-16, 17-26.   The Anchor Bible.  Garden City: Doubleday, 1991.

 Ross, Allen P.  Holiness to the LORD.   Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002.

Wenham, G. J.  The Book of Leviticus.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.   


Several other works on Leviticus are also worth noting: B. J. Bamberger, Leviticus (New York: Union of American Congregations, 1979), and Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Leviticus (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, 5744/1983), which offers a series of excellent discussions.




Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. III, The Pentateuch.  Translated by James Martin.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans reprint.

Wenham, Gordon J.  Numbers: An Introduction and Commentary.  Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1981.

For literary and exegetical comments, Philip J. Budd, Numbers  (Waco, TX: Word, 1984); for word studies and literary analysis, N. H. Snaith, Numbers, New Century Bible Commentary  (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1976); and, if you can use it, J. de Vaulx, Les Nombres (Paris: J. Gabalda et Cie Editeurs, 1972).




Craigie, Peter C.  The Book of Deuteronomy.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Thompson, J. A.  Deuteronomy.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1974.

Also of great value for the literary and historical setting:  Meredith Kline, The Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1963); and Y. Kaufmann, "The Structure of Deuteronomic Law," Maarav 1, 2 (1978, 1979): 105-158.  For theological help: R. E. Clements, God's Chosen People (London: SCM Press, 1968); A. D. H. Mayes, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981); and Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, New American Commentary (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994).




Boling, Robert G.  Joshua, The Anchor Bible.  Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1982.

Woudstra, Marten H.  The Book of Joshua.  The New International Commentary on the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.         

To be consulted also are Trent C. Butler, Joshua (Waco, TX: Word, 1983) and Albert Soggin, Joshua, A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972).




Boling, Robert G.  Judges. The Anchor Bible.  Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.       

Cundall, Arthur E.  Judges (with Leon Morris, Ruth).  Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1968.

Soggin, J. Albert.  Judges.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.     

See also C. F. Burney, The Book of Judges (New York: KTAV Press, 1970); George F. Moore, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895); and D. W. Gooding, "The Composition of the Book of Judges," Eretz Israel 16 (1982):70-79.




Campbell, Edward F.  Ruth, The Anchor Bible.  Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1975.

Also of value are Arthur E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth, Tyndale (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1968); Ronald Hals, The Theology of the Book of Ruth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969); and P. Paul Jouon, Ruth, Commentaire Philologique et Exegetique (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1953).




Klein, Ralph W.  I Samuel, Word Biblical Commentary.  Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.

McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr.  I Samuel.  The Anchor Bible.  Graden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1980;  II Samuel, 1984.

Also very useful are S. R. Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text and Topography of the Books of Samuel, 2nd edition (London: Oxford Press, 1983);  Hans W. Hertzberg, I and II Samuel, A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964); and David F. Payne, I and II Samuel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982).




Jones, G. H.  I and II Kings.  New Century Bible Commentary.  2 Volumes.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984.

Long, Burke O.  I Kings, with an Introduction to Historical Literature.  The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, IX.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984.

Additional commentaries to consider are John Gray, I and II Kings, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964);  James A. Montgomery and H. S. Gehman, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Books of Kings, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1951).




Meyers, Jacob M.  I Chronicles [II Chronicles]: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible.  2 Volumes.  Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1965.

Williamson, H. G. M.  I and II Chronicles.  New Century Bible Commentary.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982.

For the main points of theological concern, see Sara Japhet, The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought (Jerusalem: Bialik, 1977).




Campbell, Donald K.  Nehemiah: Man in Charge.  Wheaton: Victor Books, 1979.

Fensham, F. Charles.  The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982.

Also: K. Koch, "Ezra and the Origins of Judaism," JSS 19 (1974):173-197; and Jacob B. Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah, Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1965).





Moore, C. A.  Esther.  Garden City: Doubleday. 1971.

Two articles are helpful: C. A. Moore, "Archaeology and the Book of Esther," BA 38 (1975):62-72; and William H. Shea, "Esther and History," AUSS 14 (1976):227-246.





Habel, Norman.  The Book of Job.  A Commentary.  Old Testament Library.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.

Pope, Marvin H.  Job, Introduction, Translation and Notes. The Anchor Bible, 15.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1965.

Add to this H. H. Rowley, The Book of Job, New Century Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980); N. H. Tur-Sinai (H. Torczyner), The Book of Job (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sepher, 1967); and if you can use it, L. Alonso-Schokel and J. L. Sicre Dias,  Job: Commentario teologico y literario (Madrid: Ediciones Cristiandad, 1983).  See also Francis Anderson, Job, Tyndale (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976); and Edouard Dhorme, Job (New York: Nelson, 1926).





Alonso-Schokel, Luis.  Estudios Poetic Hebrea.  Barcelona: Juan Flors, 1963.  (Spanish)

Anderson, A. A.  The Book of Psalms.  The New Century Bible Commentary.  2 Vols.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.

Bullinger, E. W.  Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint of 1898 edition.

Jacquet, Louis.  Les Psaumes et le coeur de l'Homme.  Etude textuelle, literaire et doctrinale.  3 Vols.  Imprime en Belgique sur les presses.  Ducolot, 1975.   (French)

Keel Othmar.  The Symbolism of the Biblical World.  Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms.  Trans. Timothy J. Hallett.  New York: The Seabury Press, 1978.

Kirkpatrick, A. F.  The Book of Psalms.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.  3 Vols.  Cambridge: At the University Press, 1906.  Reprinted by Baker in one volume.

*Perowne, J. J. Stewart.  The Book of Psalms.  2 Vols.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, reprint of 1878 edition.

Of the many other works on the Psalms I would suggest for theology Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, 3 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans reprint); and for general considerations, Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50. Word (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), and the subsequent two volumes from Word.




Delitzsch, Franz.  Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon.  Trans. by M. G. Easton.  2 Vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans reprint of the 1872 edition.

Kidner, Derek.  The Proverbs, An Introduction and Commentary.  Tyndale.   Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1964.

McKane, William.  Proverbs, A New Approach.  Old Testament Library.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970.

See also Norman C. Habel, "The Symbolism of Wisdom in Proverbs 1--9," Interpretation 26 (1972):131-157;  A. Cohen, Proverbs, Soncino (London: Soncino Press, 1946);  and for a brief exegetical idea/summary and analysis of each proverb, Allen P. Ross, Proverbs, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, ed. by Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).





Ginsburg, Christian D.  The Song of Songs and Coheleth.  London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1857; reprinted by KTAV, 1970. 

Also good are Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes, Tyndale (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983); and Robert K. Johnston, "Confessions of a Workaholic: A Reappraisal of Qoheleth,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 38 (1976):14-28.





Pope, Marvin H.  Song of Songs.  The Anchor Bible.  New York: Doubleday, 1977.




Motyer, J. Alec.  The Prophecy of Isaiah, An Introduction and Commentary.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

North, Christopher R.  The Second Isaiah.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.

Oswalt, J. N.  The Book of Isaiah.  2 Volumes.  NICOT.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986.         

Westermann, Claus.  Isaiah 40-66.  Old Testament Library.  London: SCM Press, 1966.

Wildberger, Hans.  Isaiah 1-12, and Isaiah 13-27.  A Continental Commentary.  Translated by Thomas H. Trapp.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991, 1996.

Young, Edward J.  The Book of Isaiah.  NICOT.  3 Volumes.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965-72.

Also to note are Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1972) for an excellent critical approach to these chapters; Roy F. Melugin, The Formation of Isaiah 40-55 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1976); Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh; and C. R. North, The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah (London: Oxford, 1929). 




Bright, John.  Jeremiah, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  The Anchor Bible.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.

Holladay, William.  Jeremiah.  2 Vols. Hermeneia.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986, 1989.

Somewhat brief exegetically and theologically but still of use is John A. Thompson's The Book of Jeremiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984).  For inspirational ideas, see Eugene H. Peterson, Run With the Horses (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983); and for a specific theological focus see Thomas W. Overholt, The Threat of Falsehood, A Study in the Theology of the Book of Jeremiah (Naperville: Alec R. Allenson, 1970).




Hillers, Delbert.  Lamentations, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  The Anchor Bible.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

When available, J. M. Roberts, Lamentations, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), is among the best.  For sermon ideas, Norman K. Gottwald, Studies in the Book of Lamentations (London: SCM Press, 1954), if you can find a copy.





Eichrodt, Walther.  Ezekiel, A Commentary.  Philadelphia: the Westminster Press, 1970.

Feinberg, Charles L.  The Prophecy of Ezekiel.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.

Zimmerli, Walther.  A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979;  A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48, 1983.

For textual data, see G. A. Cooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936); for theology, see Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20, Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983); and excellent, though small, is John B. Taylor, Ezekiel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1969).   Fairly new is the two volume set by the conservative scholar Daniel Block, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).




Montgomery, James A.  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel.  The International Critical Commentary.  Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1927.

Baldwin, Joyce G.  Daniel, An Introduction and Commentary.  Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

For critical matters, try to obtain a copy of D. J. Wiseman and T. C. Mitchell, et. al., Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale Press, 1965).





Chisholm, Robert B., Jr.  Hosea in The Bible Knowledge Commentary.  Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985.

Macintosh, A. A.   The Book of Hosea.   Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.  1998

Wolff, Hans Walter.  Hosea.  Hermeneia Series.  Translated by Gary Stansell.   Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

Also useful are James Luther Mays, Hosea (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965); and Derek Kidner, Love to the Loveless, The Message of Hosea (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981).




Allen, Leslie C.  The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, NICOT.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1976.

Wolff, Hans W.  Joel and Amos.  Hermeneia Series.  Translated by W. Janzen, et al.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.





Mays, James L.  Amos, A Commentary.  The Old Testament Library.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

Wolff, Hans W.  Joel and Amos.  Hermeneia Series.  Translated by W. Janzen, et. al.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

See also J. A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion, The Message of Amos (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1974), for homiletical and applicational ideas; and for textual problems, William Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1905).




Allen, Leslie C.  The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans, 1976

Watts, John D. W.  Obadiah: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967.

See also Obadiah, Jonah, Micah in the Tyndale Series of InterVarsity Press, written by David Baker, Desmond Alexander, and Bruce Waltke, respectively.




Allen, Leslie.  The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.




Allen, Leslie C.  The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Goldman, S.  Micah.  In The Twelve Prophets.  Edited by A. Cohen.  London: The Soncino Press, 1948.  Pp. 151-189.

Mays, James Luther.  Micah, A Commentary.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.




Maier, Walter A.  The Book of Nahum.  St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959.

The writings of Kevin J. Cathcart are very helpful since this was the area of his doctoral research: Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), and, "Treaty Curses and the Book of Nahum," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35 (1973):179-187.  See also R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Wycliffe (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).




Eaton, J. H.  "The Origin and Meaning of Habakkuk 3."  ZAW 76 (1964):144-171.

Gowan, Donald E.  The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk.  Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1976.





Hilber, John W.  "A Biblical Theology of Zephaniah."  Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1984.

Kapelrud, Arvid S.  The Message of the Prophet Zephaniah: Morphology and Ideas.  Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1975.





Baldwin, Joyce.  Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.   Tyndale Series.   Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press.    

Pusey, E. B.  The Minor Prophets, A Commentary.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966 reprint of 1860 edition.

.Smith, George Adam.  The Book of the Twelve Prophets.  Volume II.  Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1929.

Smith, Ralph L.  Micah--Malachi.  Word Biblical Commentary.  Waco, TX: Word Books, 1984.

For solid Hebrew exegesis, still use Carl F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1949 reprint);  also, a general work: David L. Peterson, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984).





Baldwin, Joyce.  Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.  Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1972.

Unger, Merrill F.  Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah's Glory.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963.




Baldwin, Joyce.  Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.  Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1972.

See note under Zechariah.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr.  Malachi: God's Unchanging Love.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.

Smith, Ralph L.  Micah--Malachi.  Waco: Word Books, 1984.









Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament, A Christian Survey.   Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.

Dorsey, David A.  The Literary Structure of the Old Testament.   Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.

Harrison, R. K.  Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969.

Kitchen, Kenneth A.  Ancient Orient and Old Testament.  Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1966.

________.  The Bible in Its World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978. 

LaSor, William Sanford, David Allen Hubbard, and Frederick William Bush.  Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.

Other works of importance include the following: for the interesting but overworked canonical approach, Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979); for another moderately conservative text, Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994);  for a classic liberal approach, Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, An Introduction (New York: Harper and Row, 1965); and for an up-to-date, non-conservative, Catholic approach, J. Alberto Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament: From Its Origins to the Closing of the Alexandrian Canon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980.





Eichrodt, Walther.  Theology of the Old Testament.  Two Volumes.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Hasel, Gerhard.  Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate.  Third edition.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975.

.Oehler, Gustave F.  Theology of the Old Testament.  Translated and edited by George E. Day.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan reprint of the 1874 English edition.

If you want a good study of the history and the development of biblical theology, John Hayes and Frederick Prussner, Old Testament Theology, Its History and Development (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985).  To balance Eichrodt, Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 Volumes (New York: Harper & Row, 1962); this work is excellent for textual discussions of individual themes, but of questionable value for its understanding of the origins of theology.





Moscati, Sabatino.  Ancient Semitic Civilizations.  New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1957.

Wiseman, D. J., ed.  Peoples of Old Testament Times.  Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973.

Also of value are William W. Hallo and William K. Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History  (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc., 1971), which is a popular textbook; and for a more thorough investigation, J. E. S. Edwards, et al, eds.  The Cambridge Ancient History (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970-- [still in revision]).





Bright, John.  A History of Israel.  Third edition.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.

Merrill, Eugene H.  Kingdom of Priests, A History of Old Testament Israel.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987

Other helpful resources include:  John H. Hayes and J. Maxwell Miller, eds., Israelite and Judean History (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977) for a collection of studies on the subject;  Martin Noth, The History of Israel (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) for a clear presentation of the (unproven) view that is a major force in Old Testament studies.





Aberbach, Moshe, Labor, Crafts and Commerce in Ancient Israel.  Jerusalem: At the Magnes Press, 1994.         

*de Vaux, Roland.  Ancient Israel.  Volume 1: Social Institutions.  Volume 2: Religious Institutions.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965.

Noth, Martin.  The Old Testament World.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.


Also to be recommended are:  W. Corswant, A Dictionary of Life in Bible Times (Bungay, England: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960);  M. S. Miller and J. L. Miller, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1955), considered by many the best; and still F. H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), though somewhat superficial.




Aharoni, Y.  The Archaeology of the Land of Israel.  Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982.

Albright, W. F.  Archaeology and the Religion of Israel.  5th edition.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.

Avi-Yonah, Michael and Ephraim Stern, eds.  Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land.  4 Volumes.  Jerusalem: Massada Press, 1975-1978.

Currid, John C.  Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible.   Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.

Kenyon, K.  Archaeology in the Holy Land.  4th edition.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.

Lance, D.  The Old Testament and the Archaeologist.  Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.

Further works:  P. Lapp, The Tale of the Tell, PTMS 5 (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1975) for a treatment of how archaeologists work; for current discussions, subscribe to journals like Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review;  and for topical treatments, e.g., water systems, walls, town planning, etc., see S. Paul and W. Dever, eds., Biblical Archaeology (Jerusalem, Keter, 1973).






Mullen, E. T.  The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature.  Harvard Semitic Monographs, 24.  Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980.

Oppenheim, A. L.  Ancient Mesopotamia, A Portrait of a Dead Civilization.  Revised and completed by Erica Reiner.  Chicago/London, 1977 (1964).

Pritchard, J., ed.  Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.  3rd edition with supplement.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Also of value, and perhaps more affordable (but in no way complete) are the following works:  Helmer Ringgren, Religions of the Ancient Near East (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973);  John Day, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985);  J. Gibson, ed., Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, Ltd., 1977); and, if available, especially New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (New York: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1968).




Blackman, Philip, ed.  Mishnayoth.  6 Volumes.  New York: Judaica Press, 1973.

Bloch, Abraham.  The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies.  New York: KTAV, 1980.

Cross, Frank Moore, Jr.,  The Ancient Library of Qumran and Biblical Studies.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980 (New York: Doubleday, 1961).

Doeve, J. W.  Jewish Hermeneutics in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts.  Assen, Amsterdam: Van Gorcum Press, 1954.

Lightfoot, John.  A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica.  4 Volumes.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint of the 1859 edition.

Patai, Raphael.  The Messiah Texts.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979.

For the best history of the period, S. Safrai, et al, The Jewish People in the First Century (Assen, Amsterdam: Van Gorcum Press, 1974); still the most exhaustive work is the multi-volume commentary on the New Testament by Strack and Billerbeck; and for an introduction to the literature in general, Hermann L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (New York: Atheneum, 1974).  One of the more reliable works, if you can find it, is Thomas Robinson, The Evangelists and the Mishna (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1859); he uses the material carefully, not making it say what it is not saying.  Also, for a very practical and critical use of Jewish sources, Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979).




Chisholm, Robert, Jr.  From Exegesis to Exposition, A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.

Stuart, Douglas.  Old Testament Exegesis: A Primer for Students and Pastors.  2nd edition.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984.

See also John H. Hayes and Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982); and The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, pp. 296-303, s.v. "Exegesis" by K. L. Keck and G. M. Tucker.




Bright, John.  The Authority of the Old Testament.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.

Caird, G. B.  The Language and Imagery of the Bible.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980.

Goldingay, John.  Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981.




Barr, James.  Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament.  Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1968.

________.  The Semantics of Biblical Literature.   Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1961.

Botterweck, G. Johannes and Helmer Ringgren, eds.  Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.  12 Volumes.  Translated by John T. Willis.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974--

.Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds.  Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.  2 Volumes.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Jenni, Ernst and Claus Westermann, eds.  Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament.   Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.

Richardson, Alan, ed.  A Theological Word Book of the Bible.  New York: MacMillan, 1950.

Van Gemeren, Willem, ed.  The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis.  5 Volumes.   Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House. 1998.




Buttrick, George A., ed.  The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.  4 Volumes + Supplement.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.

Douglas, J. D., ed.  The Illustrated Bible Dictionary.  3 Volumes.  Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1980.

There are a number of other works that are useful too.  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible put out by Zondervan, of course, as an excellent resource, and more conservative than the above, filled with good charts and photographs.





Even-Shoshan, A.  A New Concordance of the Bible.  Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sepher, 1977.

.Hatch, Edwin, and Henry Redpath.  A Concordance to the Septuagint and the Other Greek Versions of the Old Testament.  2 Volumes.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897-1906, reprinted by Baker, 1983.

Lisowsky, G. and L. Rost.  Konkordanz zum Hebraischen Alten Testament.  Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1958.

*Mandelkern, S.  Veteris Testamenti Concordantiae: Hebraicae atque Chaldaicae.         4th corrected edition, 1958.

Wigram, George V.  The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament.  London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1890.  Many reprints.





Aharoni, Yohanan.  The Land of the Bible.  A Historical Geography.  Revised and enlarged edition.  Translated and edited by A. F. Rainey.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979.

Aharoni, Y. and M. Avi-Yonah, eds.  The Macmillan Bible Atlas.  Revised edition.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1977.

The Collegeville Atlas of the Bible.  Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998.





Baker, D. L.  Two Testaments, One Bible.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

Bruce, F. F.  New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968.

France, R. T.  Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission.  London: Tyndale Press, 1971.

Johnson, S. Lewis, Jr.  The Old Testament in the New: An Argument for Biblical Inspiration.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Longenecker, Richard N.  Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975.

Moo, Douglas J.  The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives.  Sheffield, England: Almond Press, 1983.







Part One


The Study of Words







The study of words in the Bible is foundational to accurate exegesis and crucial for rich exposition.  Much is available but often the expositors are unaware of the correct procedure and best tools.


It is doubtful that a complete word study has ever, or will ever be done.  There are books on individual words, but even these do not include all the data.  Periodicals, word study books, and commentaries are all helpful in gathering materials; but it all must be carefully evaluated.  One must be satisfied that studying words will be a continuing process.  Nevertheless, with a few good tools and a little practice the expositor will be able to study words easily and quickly to be able to understand and explain their meanings and theirs uses.


There are three areas to be studied in this process: tracing the usage of a word, researching its etymology, and surveying its translations in the ancient versions.  Most word study books will give the etymology first, and then deal with usage and the versions; but we will work with usage first, because it will be the step most frequently used by students of the Bible.    The study of etymology is the most difficult, but since it is necessary for studying the many rare and problematic words in Scripture, it cannot be avoided.  The study of how a word is used is the least complicated; and it is how we proceed on the common theological words.  The study of how a word was translated in the ancient versions (and modern versions) is also a little complicated because it involves languages; but because the commentaries and expositions use them so much, we must know how to use them correctly.







For the study of words that are fairly frequent, especially for the solid theological

terms of the Bible, the basic word study procedure will require learning how a word was used in the literature.  In fact, it is well to keep in mind that when dictionaries of Hebrew or the other Semitic languages list a meaning for a word, they are listing it on the basis of their study of how that word was used in its contexts.


For the basic exegetical work of the expositor, most of the effort will be spent in looking up words in their contexts in the Old Testament and attempting to articulate their meanings in such passages.  While it is true that there are many words that have frequent uses (800 terms occur 25 times or more in the Old Testament), there are many more that occur under 25 times (some 7000).   So most of the time the exegete can look up all the references for a given term.  If the tem is a very common word, the work will have to be selective.  The dictionary definition and the etymology will provide the basic concept, but its range of meanings and specific emphases will come from a survey of how it was used.



Tools for Studying Usage


To do accurate and excellent work in a reasonable amount of time, you have to have a few good tools.  Consult the bibliography for the course for the details on any of these works.


For a Hebrew word study you will have to have a good Hebrew lexicon or dictionary.  The basic work is Brown, Driver and Briggs (BDB); although old, it is still very useful.  The other major one that is complete is by Koehler and Baumgartner (KBL). 


The exhaustive dictionaries or word study books that are available include the two volume set edited by Harris, Waltke and Archer, the five volume set edited by van Gemeren, or the larger Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by Botterweck and Ringgren.


Note: For people who do not know Hebrew, then the set edited by van Gemeren is the one to have.  The words are all keyed into the English translations so that the relevant discussions can be found quickly and easily.


The good Hebrew concordances that are helpful for the study of usage are: Solomon Mandelkern, Gerhard Lisowsky, Abraham ’Eben Shoshan, and Englishman’s.  These arrange the references in the Bible in accordance with the Hebrew term.  The fact that some of these do not use English phrases from the verses should not be a problem, for the purpose of a concordance is primarily to give the references in the text.  Many students opt for Englishman’s because under the given Hebrew word it will list the verses of the Bible and beside each verse the pertinent phrase in English in which the term occurs.  The problem with this is that too many students rely on the meaning given in the phrase without looking at the context of the passage.  Mandelkern may be a little better investment because it can be used for grammatical, textual, and lexical studies.  It lists under each grammatical form of the word the respective verses.  All the verses for the term being studied will be on the page‑‑just not in consecutive order in the Old Testament.  Lisowsky offers a straight listing of references under the Hebrew term and may be faster for word studies, Eben Shoshan is the most up-to‑date and may be the better all‑around purchase‑‑but you will have to get used to Hebrew names of Bible books and Hebrew designations for chapters and verses.


If you do not know Hebrew, you can actually use a concordance based on the English translation, but it involves a couple of steps.  Young’s Analytical Concordance, for example, lists the English word, and then for each passage where that English word is used, gives the specific Hebrew word.  In the back of the book, then, he lists all the English words that that Hebrew word translated.  Each of these would be looked up to get the full list of passages where your word occurs--and that is all you are using a concordance for.


Besides a good concordance and word book, one tool that many have found helpful in doing word studies is the English‑Hebrew Old Testament, or an Interlinear (Kohlenberger).  The English in the column Bible may not be the best translation, but as you look up the passage to skim through the story or verse to find the sense of the context, it is helpful to have the Hebrew right beside the English in order to check the exact Hebrew expressions.  The inter‑linear Bibles have been used by some in this way, but they are more cumbersome since the Hebrew phrases and the English phrases have to be grouped together due to the different directions of the writing.



Categories of Meanings


The procedure is basically to find the references in the Bible in which the word occurs, look up each (or as many as possible) to determine how the word is used in the context, and group the precise meanings into separate categories.  Before this work is begun, it may be helpful to scan through BDB to see how they labeled the categories.  Often they will simply arrange the word under grammatical sections (Niphal, etc.) or under subjects (Used of Man, Used of God).  These give the exegete some direction for the study, but they should not be considered the categories of meanings, for they tell little about how the word is to be understood.


So the categories of meanings provided by the exegete should be meaningful expressions of the basic nuances of the word.  To say that God is the subject, or that it is always used in military contexts, or various other descriptive comments, will certainly be helpful in the general understanding of the word, but will not tell much about the meaning of the word.  We should strive for categories that will reflect the kind of action or situation that the term portrays.  This may require the exegete to determine what is being produced by the verb, what is described, what is the mood in the context, whether the word is literal or figurative, and how it relates to the other Hebrew words from the same root.


For example, consider the word study of bara’, “to create.” The etymology provides very little help for the understanding of this term.  Usage will show its range of meanings, for seldom can one definition, such as “create”' in this case, adequately provide an understanding of the term for exegesis.  We wish to know more about its range of meanings, how it is used in the Bible.  When you look up the passages in which this term occurs, you will find that most of them are in Genesis and Isaiah.  The categories may include some of the following: the term is used for God’s supernatural creation of the universe (heaven, earth, mankind, creatures, wind, air, etc‑‑all these passages would be grouped together); the term is also used for the formation of a new spirit and a new heart in a penitent sinner, a sort of revitalization; the term is also used for the formation of the nation of Israel, etc.  In each of these categories you would have to study the passages to see exactly how God did the creating or forming, what means He used, and what was the desired result in the action (see the sample paper for the development).


When a word is studied in this manner, the expositor may not be able to define its usage by only one word, but will have a far better understanding of its range of meanings. Another benefit of this study will be finding the literary allusions and correlations that the writers make with other portions of Scripture.



Criteria in the Classifications


Several qualifications must be kept in mind when looking up passages to group  them into denominations:


Circles of Contexts.  When a term is being studied a great deal of concern should be given to the contexts in which it is found.  It would be most significant to observe how a term is used in the immediate context‑‑if a word is used 6 times in a story, for example, that is primary in the study.  The next circle of uses would widen to the book‑‑not just  a chapter now, but the entire book in which the study may occur (assuming the book was written by one person--Psalms and Proverbs were not). The next circle would take in the other literature that an author may have written‑‑the Pentateuch, for example.  It then would move to other literature written at the same time period, and then finally to the entire Old Testament.  These stages may not always be followed easily because of the difficulty in dating some of the material of the Old Testament.   But certainly how one author used a word (e.g., David, Isaiah) will receive primary consideration.


For example, teshuqa, “desire,” occurs twice in Genesis (3:16, 4:7) and once in the Song of Solomon (7:2).  The meaning of the word in 3:16 should be more akin to 4:7 than to Canticles‑‑but commentators often skip the reference in 4:7 and assume the meaning in 3:16 is the same as that in Canticles.  The word means “desire” in all three places, but its connotation will be different in the books.  The English gloss “desire” has several categories of meaning itself, either good or bad.


Type of Literature.  It is important to consider the literature in which a term is used: narrative, poetic, legal, wisdom, prophetic, etc.  Form critical studies have contributed much to the cautious observation of common vocabulary used in the different types of psalms and stories.  The example of “desire” used above could be used here as well, for two uses are in the Torah literature and the other in the exquisite Song of Solomon


Just because words show up in different types of literature does not mean that they must have different meanings.  Many times the psalms or the prophets, for example, clearly used terms from the Torah in precisely the same way that the Torah used them.  At other times, they turned the expression and used it figuratively or ironically.  The exegete must be alert when moving into different types of literature to be sure of how that literature uses the term.


Date.   I should think that if the first two considerations (listed above) have been made, this one will have been made in the process.  The Hebrew of the Old Testament covers centuries.  A term can change its meaning rather quickly in such a period of time.  Consider an example from English: when St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the great fire, King George described it as “amusing, artificial, and awful.”  By those words, however, he meant “pleasing,” “a work of art,” and “awesome,” respectively.  It is possible that in the Old Testament such changes in meaning have also developed.  For example, saris, is defined as meaning “eunuch.”  In Genesis, Potiphar is a “eunuch”‑‑but he had a wife as everyone familiar with the story knows.  It can be demonstrated from Akkadian that the cognate word for Hebrew saris at one time meant “court official,” and later came to mean “eunuch.” It is plausible to suggest that the same development took place in Hebrew, so that the reference in Genesis is confirmed as correct in usage.


Figurative Language.  Words can be used figuratively; some of the figurative uses change the categories of meanings.


We need to make a distinction here between “high figure” and “low figure.” By “low figure” we mean an idiom.  A term has its basic denotative meaning, but by some figurative usage is extended into another semantic field.  If that figurative usage becomes a fixed expression, an idiom, then it more than likely will be entered into the dictionary as one of the meanings of a word.  In English, “shepherd” is a good example. It basically means “to herd sheep” if it were broken down etymologically.  Its normal range of usage would be in the area of animal care.  But through biblical influence it came to be used for spiritual leaders (and “flock” for the congregation). Hence, the dictionary will likely offer a second definition, mentioning it is an ecclesiastical usage.  In religious circles, in fact, this meaning may be the first thing that the listener may perceive.  When figures become idiomatic, they are often called “dead metaphors.” The low figure is important for word studies because it will be a new category.


“High figure” will refer to a word that is used outside of its normal semantic range, but not consistently enough to become idiomatic or be listed as a dictionary entry.  An expression such as “he was dead by foul subtraction” illustrates this.  A mathematical term is used for death.  The term “subtraction” does not mean “death”; it would not have that definition in the dictionary.  But in this line it has been transferred to that semantic range and conveys an emotive sense.  High figures are important because they vary from the categories and have to be dealt with separately.


In studying words you need to be alert to this.  If you come upon a usage in a given passage that seems to be out of its normal semantic range, you will have to 1) understand the basic meaning of the word, and 2) articulate the figurative usage made of the word.


So then, in organizing categories of usage you will be more concerned with the idiomatic usage.  The dictionaries use the term “metaphorical” in a general sense for “figurative.”  Actually, very few of the items they offer are metaphors in the strict sense. We shall have to think in terms of “figurative” for the time being when such a term is used. The two broad groups of figures of speech that have an impact on categories are 1) figures of comparison, and 2) figures of substitution (we will study these in greater detail later).  For comparison the basic idea of metaphor will serve as an example; for substitution the metonymy will serve.


When a word is used as a metaphor, a comparison is being made (this is an oversimplification, but it will do for now).  When a metaphor becomes idiomatic, the meaning of the word is broadened.  For example, “shepherd” in the Bible is used metaphorically: “Yahweh is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1).  A comparison is being made between a shepherd and Yahweh‑‑both words being at home in different settings.  When this is used enough to became a fixed, dictionary meaning, then the dictionary meaning of “shepherd” would be broadened to cover the usage of the term in both semantic fields.  It will probably say that the verb means “lead to pasture, feed, graze” or the like, and then divide the categories of meaning between literal leading or feeding of animals and the figurative usage of a spiritual or governmental leader or teacher.  When you define a word, your one word definition (“shepherd” in this case) is only a starting point; you must clarify how it is used.   Idiomatic usages that came by way of figures of comparison broaden the basic meaning to uses in different semantic fields.


When a word is used as a metonymy, a substitution is being made.  “The pen is mightier than the sword” uses “pen” for what is written, and “sword” for military force. This figure is very common in language, and especially the language of the Bible.  “They have Moses and the Prophets” is not meant to say that they actually have Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.  It means they have what those men wrote‑‑the Bible.  The author has been substituted for the work.  Now when metonymy is used frequently enough to become a dictionary entry, the categories describing each usage will show a closer connection between the basic meaning and the figurative meaning.  In fact, dictionaries often do not name these usages as figurative‑‑but it is helpful to do so when explaining the connections between categories.  For example, !A[;(, ‘awon,  means “iniquity,” but it can also mean “guilt” and “punishment” for the iniquity. These meanings are metonymies, the guilt for the iniquity and the punishment for the iniquity are substitutions of the effect for the cause.  All three meanings could be made subdivisions of a broad definition, for they all remain in the same semantic field of “sin.”  But they are all different categories of meaning.  When  Cain said “My ‘awon is greater than I can bear,” it makes a lot of difference whether that is “my iniquity,” “my guilt,” or “my punishment.”


Verbal Themes or Stems.  Part of the procedure of classifying words into their categories of meanings will involve your understanding the verbal stems, i.e., qal, niphal, piel, pual, hithpael, hiphil, hophal, and the lesser stems.  You should review the basic grammatical material covering these stems whenever it becomes important

in a word study.


On occasion you may find this grammatical classification helpful.  For example, ’aman, essentially involves two stems, niphal (“to be firm, sure, confirmed, faithful”) and hiphil (“to believe”).  The study will necessarily keep the hiphil uses together to determine what was involved in believing.  The connection to the niphal (and perhaps thereby qal) may prove helpful, but a caution is important at this point‑‑we cannot be certain that the Hebrews were aware of etymological connections between the stems.  It is one thing to say that we understand the word better by seeing the relationships between the words; it is quite another to say that they understood and implied this connecting meaning.  I think it is safe to say that if the ideas between stems of a verb are transparent, and there is evidence from usage that they knew the connections in meanings (that is, word plays, contextually clear usage) , we are safe in using the connections to help elucidate the idea.  My point here is to caution you against a simplistic etymologizing approach without confirming the ideas by usage.


Non-theological Usage.  In all your looking for categories of usage, you will come across non‑theological usages of the word.  For example, rekhem, as we have seen, was used for “mercy” as well as “womb”; khata’, was used for “sin” as well as “missing” a target. You will have to determine what connection, if any, existed between these terms.  Did the Hebrew‑-does the modern American‑‑know what words were etymologically connected (for example, how many would know “ligament” is connected “obligation”; the etymologist would see the connection, to be sure, but if you heard a person use “obligation” in a message, could you conclude that the speaker intended the connection)?  Here, too, we are safe to say that if the connection is transparent, and if there is support from usage for the connected significance, we may use the evidence to help our understanding.  I would say that the expositor should withhold this kind of material until the usage of the word has been studied to see what its contextual evidence would suggest.


This raises an academic question as to the origin of the one over the other.  It is impossible to say that a word like aj;(h;(  originally meant “to miss the mark, a goal, the way” and then was transferred to the theological realm to mean “to err, sin.” It is equally impossible to argue that the theological meaning preceded the non‑theological.  One might suspect that God would reveal Himself in human language that was understandable, and that the non‑theological is basic.  But that is speculative; there is no firm evidence for a historical study like this.  What I would say, however, is that if the usage of the non‑theological meaning is substantial, then that is instructive for understanding the theological meaning.  The non-theological is usually a local and concrete meaning, (for example, “miss a mark” for khata');   the theological is more often broad and abstract ( “sin” for the same word).


Synonyms and Antonyms If it is possible to find good synonyms or antonyms for the word you are studying, these may serve to enhance the understanding of the word.  A survey of the major synonyms of a word is an important part of the procedure, because you need to consider how the word differs from others in the same semantic field, and why the writer might have chosen the word he did over the others.


How do you discover synonyms and antonyms?   It would be my guess that if you had studied through the usage and used tools mentioned in this discussion so far, you would be on to some of them already.  For example, when you look at words in BDB , say under ratsakh, “to kill,” there will be listed verses in which the Hebrew poetry uses a synonym in its parallelism, and these verses will often have in parentheses two parallel lines and the Hebrew term: ( // tymihe, hemit).  This says that in such and such a verse the word in parentheses is parallel to the word being studied.  Exactly how it is parallel demands your looking at the passage; most of the time it will be synonymous, but sometimes loosely synonymous or even antithetical.  “Put to death” is clearly synonymous with “kill” (other words will be more helpful--this is just an illustration).


As you look up contexts in studying usages, be alert to other words in the context.  For example, a passage may be about “holiness” (qodesh)  and discuss it at length; but in the discussion it might be contrasting it with “common”or “profane” (khalal ).  In fact the text may even say that so and so has “profaned” that which is “holy.”  An antonym such as “profane, common” helps our understanding of “holy” by contrast.


If you cannot find synonyms from your survey, then there are other means of finding them.  A concordance like Young’s Analytical Concordance will serve nicely.  Look up your Hebrew (or Greek) word in the back to see how it was translated in the English (AV).  If you looked up ratsakh, you would find several words: “kill, murder, or manslaughter.”  You then must begin looking up each one of these in the regular part of the concordance.  Under “kill” you will find a collection of several Hebrew words which were translated with “kill.”   After just a couple of places in the concordance, you should gain a sampling of the common synonyms. (You would also see New Testament Greek words as well, and these could be noted for later studies).


In addition to these methods, reference tools will be helpful.  Dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms (in English) will get  you thinking of concepts that might be checked in Hebrew dictionaries, Hebrew word study books might provide general discussions on how the words fit into their semantic field.  Commentaries and Old Testament theologies also are helpful.  Synonyms are easier to find than antonyms; do not be disturbed if little can be found in this step, but evaluate what you can find for the purpose of understanding your word more precisely.



Summary of Usage


Here I should like to review briefly the main concepts in tracing usage before going to the next part.


1)       Scan through the categories given in the dictionaries to see how they have arranged the usage.

2)       Look up the references in the Bible to see how the word is used in the contexts.  Do not rely on the phrases given in the concordances‑-you need more context to work with (and their English definition might mislead you). If the word has too many references, be selective‑‑check first the references given in the same category first, then problematic references, and then spot check the common usages.

3)              Start to group similar meanings together and write headings for them.

4)   If you come across non‑theological usages, pay close attention to them for they might serve as supportive or illustrative evidence, but do not simply read the meaning into the theological usage without validation,

5)   If you came across synonyms and antonyms, try to determine how your word differs from them.

6)   Consult the basic word study books to see if those writers mentioned something that you may have overlooked.  Do not go to these too soon; if you have surveyed usage already, you will be better equipped to evaluate their suggestions, If you have not, they will influence you more,

7)   Put word studies in their proper perspective: they provide the meanings and range of meanings of words--used in statements.  The statements will form the substance of theology.  For example, you do not prove the doctrine of the virgin birth from the word study of Hebrew ‘alma, “virgin/young woman”; you learn the possibilities of this word by usage, and then carry those as options to the context being studied. (The doctrine is taught by the clear statement of Scripture.) You would then need to justify your choice by contextual exegesis.  If you were to ascribe a contextual meaning to the word that was not found in Scriptural usage, your interpretation would be insupportable and questionable.






Understanding Etymology


This section of the notes will establish certain guidelines for etymological (or philological) studies of Hebrew words.  This is the more technical aspect of the study, usually the work of the specialist.  But we still have to learn the basic resources and methods just to be able to use the etymological findings effectively.


A great deal of work has been produced that calls attention to the misuse of etymologies in biblical studies over the past centuries (and this is important because students are still buying those books that were not always done well); we may learn from such careless and dangerous practices how important valid method is.  The most helpful discussions include: P. F. Ackroyd, "Meanings and Exegesis" in Words and Meanings, ed. by Ackroyd and Lindars (Cambridge University Press, 1968); James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968); James Barr, "Did Isaiah Know About Hebrew `Root Meanings'?" ExT 75 (1964); James Barr, "Etymology and the Old Testament," OTS 19 (1974); James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961); R. Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis," JQR 61 (1960):93‑118; Max L. Margolis, "The Scope and Methodology of Biblical Philology," JQR NS 1 (1910, 1911):5‑41; D. F. Payne, "Old Testament Exegesis and the Problem of Ambiguity," ASTI 5 (1967):48‑68; S. Ullmann, The Principles of Semantics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957).


The article by Barr is most helpful in separating the various disciplines that may be called "etymology."  The following is a list of the results. (See also Yakov Malkiel, Essays on Linguistic Themes [Oxford, 19681], pp. 199‑227).


Etymology A: Prehistoric Reconstruction.  The first type of etymological operation is the reconstruction of the form and sense of the so‑called proto language.  By its own nature, Proto Semitic (PS) lies anterior to historical documentation.


Hebrew        ’amar         “say”

Arabic         ’amara        “command”

Ethiopic       ’ammara     “show, know”

Akkadian     amaru         “see”                     PS “be clear”?


This sort of reconstruction involves two aspects:  phonology and semantics.  Once we have established the corresponding phonemes, we observe that the meanings in the historical languages may suggest what the meaning in the ancestor language may have been, and this in turn may suggest what was the semantic path, in our case the semantic path from a pre-Hebrew stage to the evidenced meaning in biblical Hebrew.


The comparison that we carry out, the operations in which we align an Arabic or an Akkadian word with a Hebrew word, all imply that these languages and the words in question have a common prehistory.


Etymology B: Historical Tracing.  This operation traces the forms and the meanings within an observable historical development. If we cannot carry this out to the full in Hebrew, it is because of the lack of adequate information.  This process overlaps with usage.


In case B the operation is less hypothetical and less reconstructive in character: it works within one known language and traces the development of a root/word through different stages, all of which are extant in historical documents.  There still may be some reconstruction involved.  Although we may have stage one and stage two of a word, the path from stage one to stage two is seldom known with absolute objectivity.


How then do we assess the probability of various explanations of changes of . Two ways: 1) by noting the contemporary developments in thought and culture (development of sacrifice, codification of laws, etc,); 2) some sort of preliminary classification, based m our previous linguistic experience, of ways in which meanings may be found to change and develop.  We shall return to this also.


Etymology C: Adoptions from Other Languages.   The third type of operation concerns the tracing back of so called “loan words.”   For example, Hebrew hekal may be traced to Akkadian ekallu, which is from Sumerian E.GAL, “big house.”  Biblical Hebrew has a good number of foreign words, but no where  near as many as English (See M. Ellenbogen, Foreign Words in the Old Testament).   In later Hebrew, adoptions from Persian, Greek and Latin became more common.   In this operation, the task is to identify that words are in fact adoptions, to identify the language from which they came, their meaning in that language, and, if there is sufficient information, the date of their adoption into Hebrew.


Beyond this, however, there is the further study of the development of the word in question within its own language. The question over the word hekal is really quite complex.  But the fact that it was used in Ugaritic suggests that it was brought aver to the Canaanite branch quite early.  But over against this is the question as to why the word is never used in the Pentateuch or Joshua and Judges, and is rare in Samuel and the early prophets.  Any discussion must also recognize that in Akkadian it means “royal palace” mostly, whereas in Hebrew it is “temple.”


Accepting that the derivation of hekal is correct, we should observe that this information, however true, is entirely irrelevant to the semantics of the term in the Old Testament , since there is no evidence that any Hebrew knew that the word came from Sumerian or what it meant in that language; nor does the sense in that language give a proper impression of its sense in Hebrew.  Other words, with foreign derivations, may carry more weight in their usage in Hebrew.  Each must be studied on its own merits, but insignificant trivia about each may be left out of the exegesis.


Etymology D: Analysis of Morphemes.  Here “etymology” designates a separation and identification of the constituent parts of words. The beginning of such an operation is usually to cite the lexical morpheme, the root.   What commonly happens is that people quote the simplest form, i.e.,  the one which is most common and best known, or the one which in the grammatical tradition is the usual citation-form (qal perfect).  What passes for etymology in is, then, the citation of the simpler, more familiar or more elementary form.  But it may be that the word is from a derivative of the simpler form.


Compound words are uncommon or of slight importance in Hebrew, except for special cases of names.  But Hebrew words can be compound in another sense, that is,  a lexical morpheme and infix pattern.  When people say that mispar is derived from  s-p-r,  that is a sort of etymology.  But this is not a historical process; there never was a time when s-p-r existed before, or independently of, the words that include it.  The “root” is an abstraction from words comprising the same radicals and forming a semantic field (see Sawyer).


The word “derivative” is therefore an ambiguous term.  It can refer to the historical process, working with categories of before and after.  It can also refer to a relationship which may rather be called generative.   The relation between s-p-r and sepher, “book,”  is therefore a generative one.


The question whether a root meaning can usefully and meaningfully be stated for a Hebrew word or group of words will depend on the semantic history of the individual group of words concerned.  Where words having a common root have also remained within the same semantic field, there seems to be no good reason why a meaning for this root should not be assigned; but where they have not done so, then the semantic relation between root and formed word may differ for each word and the relationship of the word meanings to the root meaning is definable only in historical terms.  If this is so, then (contrary to tradition) all Hebrew words cannot be given a uniform treatment in this respect. 


If the identification of the root is accepted as a form of etymology, this will be a mixture of historical and non‑historical processes, with the non‑historical probably predominating.


Etymology D: Cognate Comparisons.   We now come to the heuristic process through which the sense of obscure words is elucidated by reference to words of apparently cognate form and of known meaning in other languages such as Ugaritic, Arabic, and Akkadian.  For a thorough treatment of this, see Barr, Comparative Philology. 


In case A, the Hebrew sense functions along with Arabic and Ugaritic, etc., as base evidence from which the prehistoric state can be projected; in case E the Hebrew sense must be discovered.   Sometimes new identifications of this kind imply not words of comm proto‑Semitic descent, but loan-words,  and in such cases they depend rather on the methods of case C.


Conclusions.  There are really four types of operations listed here: A‑D;  E is not really a new case, but only an application of either C or (more often) A.


We may generalize and say that there is no single, clearly marked entity which is etymology.  Etymology is the traditional term for several kinds of study, working upon words as the basic units and interested in the explication of them in relation to similar elements which are historically earlier, which are taken within the scope of the study as “original,” which appear to be more basic as units of meaning, or which appear to have a prior place in sane generative process.



Etymological Procedure



Etymology is then the study of the history and the development of a word, using one or more of the above procedures.  The following suggestions will provide a practical framework for such studies.


Dictionary Definition


First, scan the lexicons for the basic definitions.  These definitions are the recorded results of the lexicographers; they provide a working base for our research.  The standard lexicon used by Hebrew students is that of Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, commonly referred to as BDB.  The work lists all related terms of a word under a tri-radical root.  Many of these etymological connections have since been shown to be incorrect, so that critical evaluation is necessary.  Moreover, its interpretations are not always acceptable of the theological bias of the authors.


The other major work is the lexicon by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (KBL).  This may differ in its meanings since it is more up to date in the cognate relationships, notably in listing Ugaritic.  It also has material in it that needs to be tested because it came from a method that has been challenged.  And so caution is needed.




While you have the dictionaries open, survey the derivatives, that is, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and names that are listed as derived from the verb.  But keep in mind that this designation is not meant to suggest that the verb, the qal perfect tense, existed before the nouns or adjectives‑‑it is simply a convenient way to describe words that are cognate (from the same root) in Hebrew.


Listed after the discussion of the verb will be all the nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and particles that appear to be  etymologically related.  Caution is needed here, because not all the entrees belong under these verbs.  Each one has to be evaluated to verify that it is indeed cognate to the root.


If the related words have the same Hebrew letters in their proper order, and there is a generally related meaning, then they are probably cognate.  There should be some connection in the meanings that may be helpful in exposition.  This is not to say, however, that the Hebrews themselves understood the inner workings of their language.  As with English speaking people, only the common root connections would be recognized.  The more subtle connections would be the lot of the specialist.


Cognate Language Studies


The fact that the languages of the Fertile Crescent have such similar vocabulary and grammar strongly suggests that they developed from a common source.  It is the interrelatedness of these languages that is helpful for lexical studies.  So without attempting to reconstruct the connecting links in the languages, we may compare the lexical stock in the cognate languages to help our understanding of the words.


A very general survey will be given in the first paragraph of the Hebrew dictionaries.  BDB, for example, will list the basic words that appear in these languages, except for Ugaritic which was discovered later.  This survey will give an idea of what languages have the word.  If all the cognates listed have the same basic

meaning, it may be concluded that the word was a well established term that had not changed much over the centuries.


If the meanings of the word in the languages differ widely from biblical Hebrew, or if the biblical Hebrew word is rare or problematic., then further study in the etymology may be essential.   The following survey will provide an introduction to these languages and their dictionaries.


Akkadian.   This language, also called Babylonian and Assyrian (especially in BDB) depending on the literary center of the tablets (in Akkad , Babylon and Nineveh respectively) , was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets.  It was primarily the language of the eastern Semitic families,. but spread across the Fertile Crescent as the lingua franca for centuries.


Akkadian derives its name from the city of Akkad, the capital of Sargon.  Old Akkadian dates from 2500‑2000 B.C.  The material is limited, but the picture is rapidly changing due to the affinities between Old Akkadian and Eblaite discovered at Tell

Mardikh (in Syria).


Babylonian is the dialect of the southern region.  Old Babylonian dates from 2000‑1500 B.C.,   Middle Babylonian from 1500-1000, and New Babylonian from 1000 B.C. to the Christian era.  Literary Babylonian (called Later Babylonian) was used between 1400 and 500 B.C.  All these show dialectical variations.


Assyrian is the dialect of the northern part of the region; it is divided into Old Assyrian (2000‑1500).  Middle Assyrian (1500-1000) and New Assyrian (1000‑600).


At times it is helpful to know at what date a word may carry a certain meaning, for to refer to the Assyrian meaning of a word is rather a general reference.  The most thorough dictionary to consult is the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD).  What has been completed to date is exhaustive, providing samples of meanings  from the various

texts.   However, it has not yet been completed; for words in the latter part of the alphabet, the lexicon by Wolfram von  Soden (AHW) will have to be checked.


These Akkadian dictionaries are very expensive; very few will acquire them.  However, it would be wise to use them when it is possible (while here with access to the library), in order to gain a better understanding of the lexical data from Akkadian and thereby begin to understand the information given in the dictionaries


BDB usually lists any and all Akkadian words as Ass. (Assyrian).


Ugariitic.  Ugaritic is the language of the texts discovered in Ugarit in Syria, They probably represent a Northwest Semitic dialect.  The literature dates from the 14th and 13th century B.C.  So because of the historical, geographical and linguistic connections with biblical Hebrew, the Ugaritic material has great importance for biblical studies.


The Ugaritic  tablets were discovered (in 1927) after BDB was written (1907), and so the data is not included in it.  KBL does, however, list the basic meaning of the comparable term. For more thorough work one should check Cyrus Gordon’s Ugaritic Textbook for the glossary   Also helpful may be the series of articles on Ugaritic lexicography written by Mitchell Dahood in Biblica;  J. Aisleitner’s book, Worterbuch das Ugaritischen Sprache (WUS) could be checked. as well as I. Cohen’s Hapax Legomena in the Light of Akkadian and Ugaritic..


Aramaic.  Old Aramaic is the language of Aramaic inscriptions of the  tenth to the eighth centuries B.C.   Classical or Imperial Aramaic is the language used under the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires (seventh to fourth centuries B.C.).  A type of Classical Aramaic is represented by Biblical Aramaic (BA) found in Gen. 31:47; Jer. 10:11; Ezra 4:8--6:18, 7:22‑26; and Dan. 2:4--7:28.  The dating of this material has been disputed by critics.


Aramaic later divided between eastern and western dialects.  West Aramaic is represented by Nabataean, the language of the Arab population of Petra (first century B.C. to the third A.D.); Palmyrene, the language of the Arab population of Palmyra from the same period; Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine during the time of Christ, represented in the “Genesis Apocryphon” (Dead Sea Scrolls [DSS]) and the Palestinian Targum (as well the Jerusalem and Targumim Onkelos and Jonathan).


East Aramaic is best represented by Syriac.  It was originally the language of Edessa, but later developed a rich Christian literature from the third to thirteenth century A.D.  Babylonian Aramaic is the language of the Babylonian Talmud (fourth to sixth centuries A.D.).  Mandaean is the language of the Gnostic sect of Mandaeans  (third to eighth century A.D.).


For biblical Aramaic, BDB, as well as most dictionaries, includes a comparable section in the back with definitions and references.  For later Aramaic, the two volume set by Jastrow (mentioned earlier) is indispensable.  For early inscriptions (only occasionally helpful), a three volume set by Donner and Rollig includes a glossary of terms.  For Syriac, Payne‑Smith is the tool to check.


Arabic is the linguistic complex embracing all the tongues of the Arabian peninsula.  Ancient or Epigraphic South Arabian (ESA) is the language of the ancient South west Arabian city states (dating anywhere from the eighth century B.C. to the sixth A.D.).   Its dialects are Sabaean, Minaean,  Qatabanian, Hadrami and Awsaniian.


Pre‑classical North Arabic inscriptions range from the fifth century B.C. to the fourth A.D.; they are Tamudic, Lihyanite, and Safaitic dialectics.   But Classical North is usually what is meant by “Arabic.”   It attains its full realization in pre‑Islamic Arabic poetry and later in the Qur’an (seventh century A.D.).  Its diffusion and survival is due to the expansion of Islam.


Arabic is important grammatically since it has been so conservatively guarded.  However, it may not always be as important etymologically and lexicographically as the languages closer In time and geography to biblical Hebrew.  If used with caution, however, some insight may be gained. The most thorough work for Arabic is the voluminous lexicon by William Lane.  To use this, one may have to have some knowledge of the Arabic language, at least a working knowledge of the alphabet. Another dictionary that may be consulted is Han’s Wehr’s Modern Arabic Dictionary.  This may be easier to use because the Arabic is transliterated.  However, one must remember it is modern Arabic; before making interpretive decisions based on this information, other qualifications will have to be sought.


Ethiopic.   Ancient Ethiopic (or Ge’ez) is first attested in the first few centuries A.D.  Above all in the great Aksum inscriptions of the fourth century. It later developed an external  predominantly religious, literature reaching up to modern times (represented by Tigrina, Tigre, Amharic, and Gurage).


There are many other books available on lexical material from the Semitic languages, but they are not as consistently helpful as these mentioned already.  Franz Rosenthal’s Aramaic Handbook  has a brief glossary for vocabulary fpm texts of Achaemenid times, from Syriac writings, Samaritan, or from Palmyrene, Nabatean and various other branch.  Frequently it may be helpful to trace a word into early inscriptional materials such as  Palaeo‑Hebrew or Old Aramaic.  In addition to Donner and Rollig’s work, the Dictionary of Northwest Semitic Inscriptions by Jean and Hoftijzer will be helpful.



Later Hebrew Definitions.


One of the most common errors in studying words is to ignore later Hebrew, Here we have all the literature of Rabbinical Hebrew, which stands in cultural and linguistic continuity with Biblical Hebrew.  Moreover, there was an attempt by the Rabbis to use the biblical words in exactly the same way they were used in the Bible.  One of the benefits of  studying in this area is that the usage of the term may be in a discussion about one of the biblical passages.


The standard work for this material is Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli  and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature.    This work includes discussions of both Mishnaic Hebrew (MH, what BDB calls NH).and Aramaic, for the literature covered is written in both. The way to tell which is being discussed (if this is all new to you) is to watch for the abbreviations.  Pi. is Hebrew’s Piel, but Pa.. is Aramaic’s equivalent to it.  Other Aramaic terms are Pe (= Qal), Af. or Hap.  (= Hiph).  For the discussion, see Moscati’s Comparative Grammar,  or Rosenthal’s A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic..


The Mishnah records the teachings of the early Rabbis from B.C. 300 to A.D. 300.  This material covers a wide range of biblical topics, mostly of legal or legislative importance. It is written in Mishnaic Hebrew (see Segal, Mishnaic Hebrew).  References to this material follows a tractate--chapter--verse format: Sanhedrin 3:5.


The Talmud incorporates the tractates of the Mishnah and adds for each section a Gemara in Aramaic.  The Gemara is the record of the later Rabbinical explanations of the Mishrmh.   References to the Talmud will be different: Sanhedrin 23a (referring to page and column in the tractate).


The Midrash is essentially the Jewish exposition ( haggadah more than halakah, that is, exposition rather than legal teachings.   It is difficult to date.  Its value for word studies may be less than its value for the exposition of the passages.  The references to collections of midrashim differ, but for the basic Rabba collection, references will be with the name of the book: Genesis Rabba 15:1.   For other collections consult the abbreviations in Jastrow, or in Danby (The Mishna).


The Targum is a translation, often paraphrastic, of the Scriptures, written in Aramaic.  This represents the official reading of the Scripture in the Synagogue.  Its value for word studies depends on how carefully the targumic translation was done for the book or at least the context where the word is found.




Practical Steps in Tracing Etymologies


Before we survey the procedure for studying the usage of a word, which is more important and less involved, we should summarize the procedure for doing etymology.  As you can see, etymological studies can be very involved and detailed.  However, in a large number of cases a rare word is being studied (and it is here that etymology is so important, because there is not enough usage to trace)--it will not appear in any of these languages or cognates, and so the step may be limited to one or two places to check, say an Arabic dictionary, or a Rabbinic Hebrew dictionary.


1)       Determine whether or not you need to trace the etymology of a word.  If the word you are studying has a good number of usages in the Old Testament, the etymological background of the word need only be surveyed to see if the word was a stable word down through its history, or if it seemed to change its meaning from culture to culture, or century to century.  The only other reason to use etymology for a frequently used Hebrew word would be to find some similar use in a cognate that helps illustrate the meaning‑-but meaning will be determined by usage.


2)       Check the first paragraph of the dictionary for a brief listing of the cognates for

the words.  The dictionaries need to be used with caution because they attempt to make etymological connections in all the words, even when they are not sure of the accuracy.


3)       If the meanings of the cognates do not seem to harmonize well, or if you feel you need further evidence for understanding the listings, then you will have to go to the various dictionaries for information.  Of course, this procedure will be difficult for many after they leave Seminary and find themselves away from libraries.  One can either buy the books, or buy software with these books included, or simply rely on the secondary sources to have done their research (always uncertain).  If the latter is the case, then in Seminary you need to test these books as much as possible to get a sense of how reliable they are for you to use later. 


4)       Try to put the attested cognate usages into a historical and cultural framework.


5)       If you find a good meaning in the cognate languages that seems to be consistent,  do not assume that that is the meaning in Hebrew.  You must verify it by usage in Hebrew,


6)       Study the inner Hebrew cognates, called derivatives.  See what other words are used in the Old Testament that are from the same root (that is, that have the same sequence of letters and have an apparent connection in meaning).  Be careful with this, though.  The dictionaries list words as derivatives that they think are related.  They may not be at all.


7)       Be sure to add the study of Rabbinic Hebrew, for this provides the cultural continuity for the word.  This is important because the Rabbis tried to use the words in as close a sense as they could from the Bible, especially since their literature had the purpose of explaining the Bible.




The Evidence from the Versions



The Ancient Versions


Of the ancient versions the Greek translation of the Old Testament is the most widely used.  Modem expositors simply cannot control the information from the Aramaic Targums, Syriac Peshitta, or Latin Vulgate, to name the most important.  In fact, from surveying the work done with the Greek, one wonders whether they can handle that either.  Essentially, this discussion to follow will be concerned with the Greek Old Testament, one of the thorniest problems of exegetical studies.


Modern scholarship caters to popular terminology in calling the Old Greek the Septuagint (LXX, “seventy,” based on its tradition). This will be done in this paper as well; but remember, the “Septuagint” never existed-‑if  by “Septuagint” one means an edited, unified translation of the Old Testament.  Textual criticism with its theories of textual transmission have to be understood before much use can be made of the Greek.


We often read in commentaries and papers that “the LXX reads” such and such, Technically speaking, we have no way of knowing what the LXX actually read.  What this statement is meant to say is that if we translated the Greek word we have back into Hebrew, we might suspect that their original might have had that Hebrew form. In actual practice, however, people will suggest what the LXX read, or what some other  version read, and then select the reading that appeals to them mostly and reconstruct (rewrite) the Hebrew text (or its meaning).   This procedure is usually followed where the Hebrew is difficult.


What we know about the LXX (and the other main versions) is that they saw certain signs in their text that they were translating, and they created new signs (their language) in their manuscript.  We only have access to this latter evidence, and then only by manuscripts that are copies and recensions from the original version.


But the value of the versions in the philological treatment of Hebrew is great. Often they provide a different understanding of the same text, an understanding that must be evaluated.  Even if they have the wrong translation,, they show us how the translators were apparently understanding the words.  For example, Micah 1 is translated very badly.  The passage includes a number of word plays on the names of the cities and towns of the Shephelah (“lowlands”).  But the LXX translator apparently did not know many of these were names of towns and so simply translated them out. This blunder is helpful, though, for understanding the meanings of the words as they apply to the word plays.



Cautions in the Use of the Old Greek


1)       Keep in mind that it is possible that the LXX may have been translated from a Hebrew text differing from the MT.  This has ramifications for textual criticism as well as philology.  But this is only one explanation of why the LXX may have a different and unexpected form for the Hebrew, so do not overuse this as some have done.


2)       Keep in mind the history of the versional text itself and its possibilities of corruption.  Later recensions of the Greek attempted to bring the text into line with the Hebrew, and these bits of evidence must be investigated as part of any use of the LXX. You cannot say such and such a Greek word is the equivalent in meaning of such and such a Hebrew word if other Greek recensions were dissatisfied enough to change it.


3)       Be aware of the methods of translations used in the versions.  Of course, this is only if you are studying a Hebrew word.   If you are doing a Greek word study and want to know how it was used in the LXX, the context of its usage is what needs to be seen.  What Hebrew it may have translated is another matter entirely.  When you look up the use of a Greek term in a passage, you must scan the context a bit to see how the translator did with the common and clear Hebrew of the passage.  This will help you to determine his skill and literalness.  Barr ( Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament,   pp. 249ff.) surveys the characteristics and methods used in the LXX:


a)       There are imprecise translations.  The LXX often makes use of general words to cover more technical words (they may be in the same semantic field but not as precise).  Here especially one must survey the context to see the skill of the translator (as well as know something of the general quality of the book itself).


b)      There may be the use of favorite words by the version.  The Greek Psalter will use one word freely for a number of Hebrew words.  For example,  some Greek words are used to translate 15 or 20 different Hebrew words.   Obviously, the value of knowing this Greek word was used for a word you might be studying would be minimal.  The warning in all this should be clear: be cautious.  Hatch and Redpath will list the Greek words and Hebrew correspondences in the LXX, but a closer look at the book and the context in which the word is found is essential. You must determine if the Greek word was a carefully chosen and precise rendering of the Hebrew before you make much of the Greek idea.


c)       There may be etymologizing.  Words may be interpreted by reference to the meaning of another word (usually better known) in Hebrew which had a certain similarity to it, and could be taken as the root.  This procedure is common in the later Greek recensions.  For example, Aquila attempted to use consistent Greek words in relation to the Hebrew words of the particular description.


d)      There may be a free rewriting of the text.  At times the translator was at a complete loss as to what the exact Hebrew reading was, but knew from general knowledge, or from context, the kind of thing it should say.  This approach then produces a sentiment that is the translator’s idea, connected here and there with words in the original Hebrew.  Proverbs and Job do this frequently.  For example, Prov. 17:14 in the MT has: “The start of strife is one who lets out water / so let go before a dispute breaks out.”  This is translated in the LXX as “The beginning of righteousness gives authority to words but quarrelsomeness and fighting lead to poverty.”


4)       Weigh all the evidence.  The material from the Greek will be a support to a philological treatment if it rests on evidence from more than one source (version or cognate).  Often the study of the versions in research over a rare or difficult word will overlap with textual criticism in the evidence gathering stage.  When evaluating the philological evidence, be careful:


a)       There is the possibility of interdependence among the versions.  The LXX may have been influenced by the Targum; or the Peshitta and the Vulgate may just be following the LXX.


b)      Several versions might be following a Jewish interpretation of the passage.  So if they agree, do not assume they came to that by separate tradition or research.


c)       Evidence from later Hebrew (Rabbinic literature) may be a support in that it existed in biblical times; or, it may not be a support in that it may record late usage that merely displaced biblical Hebrew.


5)       Remember that the meaning of the Greek text is not always clear and free from ambiguity.  Do not assume that where the Hebrew is obscure the version will bring you out of the dark.  The translators of the ancient versions more than likely had a hard time with the same words.  But in evaluating LXX translations, note the following:


a)       The Greek meaning is far from simple.  It will not simply overlap with

your New Testament studies.  There is no grammar and no lexicon for the LXX, per se.  You must use a dictionary like Liddell and Scott (if there is one like Liddell and Scott) for the meanings.


b)      Some of the Greek words may be hybrid forms of earlier Greek, Semitic, or Egyptian; or, they may be specially coined expressions (as with Aquila).  The use of the dictionary may not be helpful here.


c)       Some of the Greek words have special senses that differ from normal Greek.  For example, dunamis in the LXX carries the meaning of “army,” and not just “power.”   Do not assume the “triangle reasoning” for words in the Bible, i.e., such and such a Greek word in the New Testament is equal to the same word in the LXX, which is a translation of such and such a Hebrew word, which is thereby equal to the NT Greek word.  This could be in error on all three equations.


d)      Aramaic and Syriac may at times try to imitate the Hebrew original.  There may at times be a calque from the original.


6)       Versions will not normally give reliable guidance on the grammar of the original, which may at times have bearing on word studies (although more often affects textual work).  To say the LXX understood such and such a word as a perfect tense (because it used a perfect or even aorist) is misleading. That “tense” could be expressed by a  perfect, preterite, or infinitive.


7)       The quality of the translation varies from book to book.  You will need to know at the outset which books have been considered careful and accurate translations, and which are free and paraphrastic.   The Expositor’s Bible Commentary offers a brief survey of the findings of Septuagint scholars who worked on the individual books: “Swete concluded that the majority of the translators learned Hebrew in Egypt from imperfectly instructed teachers, and Barr concluded that these translators invented vowels for the unpointed text.  However, translations of individual books vary with the background and skill of each translator.  Except in passages such as Gen. 49, Dt. 32, 33, the Pentateuch is on the whole a close and serviceable translation of a smoothed Hebrew recension.  The Psalter is tolerably well done, though Ervin concluded that the theology of Hellenistic Judaism left its mark upon it.  About Isaiah, Seeligman concluded: ‘The great majority of the inconsistencies here discussed must be imputed to the translator’s unconstrained and carefree working method, and to a conscious preference for the introduction of variations.’   He added, ‘We shall not, however, do the translator any injustice by not rating his knowledge of grammar and syntax very highly.’  Regarding Hosea, Nyberg found: ‘It is overly composed of gross misunderstandings, unfortunate readings, and superficial lexical definitions which often are simply forced into conformity to similar Aramaic cognates. Helplessness and arbitrary choice are the characteristic traits of this interpretation.’  Albrektson said of Lamentations: ‘LXX, then, is not a good translation in this book.  But this does not mean that it is not valuable for textual criticism.  On the contrary, its literal character often allows us to establish with tolerable certainty the underlying Hebrew text; it is clearly based on a text which was in all essentials identical with the consonants of the MT; indeed, the passages where it may have contained a variant are notably few.’ Gerleman said of Job:  ‘. . . the translator interprets the text as well as he can, and, with the aid of his imagination tries to put an intelligible meaning into the original which he does not understand.’  He added, ‘The numerous deviations between the Hebrew and the Greek Book of Job are not due to the fact that the original of the LXX had essentially differed from our Hebrew text.  They have arisen in the course of the translation, and in short are the results of a translation procedure in which the difficulties of the original have not been mastered.’   Swete concluded that the translation of the minor prophets is often unintelligible.  In the case of Jeremiah, the text represented by the LXX deviates so considerably from the MT as to assume the character of a separate edition.  But the LXX of Samuel, parts of Kings, and Ezekiel, is of special value because the text preserved by the Masoretes of these books suffered more than usually from corrupting influences.  Shenkel concluded that the Old Greek preserves the original chronology from Omri to Jehu.”


This survey will show that there is not a uniform translation known as the Septuagint, but rather individual translations of sections of the Old Testament.  This survey will give you a general idea of the major sections; you will still need to survey the context to see how precisely each section was done.



Concluding Remarks


1)              Remember that the passages difficult for us were difficult for them.  They had

to work from an unpointed text in a context.  It should not be surprising that at times they generalize, paraphrase, or etymologize.  But at times they may be correct and precise.  So evaluate the evidence cautiously.


2)   The LXX translators used Hebrew as they had learned it, and that learning was in Egypt from imperfectly instructed teachers.  They had few opportunities for getting the traditional interpretation from Palestinian Jews.  They did surprisingly well, but their grasp of the language was often just that--a grasp.  They knew the normal, average, common Hebrew.  But on the unusual and rare they often leveled the vocabulary and treated the unusual as if it were usual.  So be careful in using it to determine rare and difficult words, unless the book and the context did exceptionally



3)   Be alert to recensions and revisions.  The Greek translation was changed by later revisions to harmonize more readily with the Hebrew text.  The compilation by F. Fields of the Hexapla material is very helpful in seeing what Greek words were changed.


4)   While you may feel more comfortable with the Greek Old Testament than the other versions, do not conclude automatically that the LXX is the pre-eminent witness. If there were rare words, the knowledge of which was already dying out in ancient times, is it not more likely that this knowledge survived among Aramaic speaking Jews in the Synagogues  than Greek speaking?  For those who have had an introduction to Aramaic, the Rabbinic literature offers a great amount of interpretive information.


5)   So in dealing with a rare or difficult word, after you have studied whatever etymological material there is, survey as many of the versions as possible. Try to evaluate the choice of words in the versions and why they might have used them.  If you are working entirely with the Greek, use Liddell and Scott, and then be careful not to assume that the meaning of that Greek word was unchanged in New Testament times.


6)   If you are studying a common word in the Old Testament, the consultation of the versions may not be as crucial a step.  But survey, if possible, the Greek words used to translate it (Hatch and Redpath) .  See which Greek words might have been used in the books known to be good translations.  Then perhaps spot check the passages that are non‑theological , problematic, or crucial in the word study.  For example, in doing the word study on kabod, probably the standard words for “glory” and “honor” will show up in the Septuagint.   But on  Sinai when Moses asks to see Yahweh’s glory, the LXX used a pronoun: “Show me Yourself”--the real You.  This clearly represents a contextual interpretation within the range of the meanings of the word.





There is no need to summarize the WORD STUDY procedures that have been presented above.  But I need to say a word about the careful selection of an English equivalent for the Hebrew term.  Too often an exegete will spend a tremendous amount of time studying a word in all its uses, and then weaken the point by communicating the findings in a carelessly chosen English word.  You need to consult English dictionaries to be sure of the precise meaning of the word selected, both in its etymology and current usage.  The American Heritage Dictionary is by far the best because of its index to Indo-Germanic roots behind the English words which helps correlate related words.  Naturally, use in another country would a study of appropriate terms so that all the work might be communicated precisely.





The Study of Poetics







        The literary analysis of the text has been the major interest of all the predominant approaches to the study of the Bible, beginning with the old Literary Analytical Approach (also known as the Documentary Hypothesis) through to the Form Critical Approach.  But even though those approaches made great contributions to the study of the text, they were tainted with too much skeptical bias against the unity and integrity of the text.  Frequently the literary interests were made to serve diachronic studies in which the origin and development of the text was traced from its alleged sources; or literary studies were used to distinguish the historical and non‑historical parts of a passage.  Gunkel's well-known analysis of Genesis 1-11 is a good example; he argued that it was poetic, and since poetic not historical.

Very recently there has been a new emphasis in the literary analysis of the text, coming from various theological perspectives all at once.  It should come as no surprise that Form Criticism, with its emphasis on literary genre and compositional analysis, should have led to an even greater emphasis among scholars on the literary features of a text.  But in this new wave of scholarship, people are less interested in tracing the origin and transmission of narratives, psalms, or oracles, than with the literary shape of the final form of the text.[1]   This shift toward the straight literary analysis (synchronic study) of Scripture probably reflects an impasse in the debates over source criticism (diachronic study).

This is not to say that the literary analysts today endorse the historicity of the text.  On the contrary, modern scholars with this pursuit are more inclined to treat the Bible narratives as fiction, creative story-telling, or paradigmatic narratives.  They may grant that back of the story lies some kernel of truth, some event that gave rise to the tradition, but over the years as it was handed down it was  reshaped and embellished for other purposes.  Some writers, then, still attempt to speculate on what the original story or poem was, and what its function might have been.  But others are more interested in studying the material as it exists, as a piece of literature. 


Rhetorical Criticism


The phrase “Rhetorical Criticism” was first used by James Muilenberg in an address to the Society of Biblical Literature in 1968.[2]  His address called for study in the nature of Hebrew literary tradition as an extension of Form Criticism.  This would involve the analysis of structural patterns in a literary unit and the poetic devices that unified the whole.  This new synchronic emphasis would be primarily concerned with matters of structure and texture.[3]

In the recent examples of what may be generally called Rhetorical Criticism,[4] certain features of the literature are employed in the analysis of structure: acts, scenes, episodes, strophes, speeches, discourse, and the like.  The literature can therefore be broken down into its constituent levels.[5]

The analysis of texture concerns sounds, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences.  This study observes the repetition of thoughts, key words, or motifs; word plays or paronomasia; repetition of sounds such as assonance or alliteration; or adumbration; inclusio; and a host of other literary devices.[6]

This approach to the text as literature has opened up the study for theologians as well as literary critics.[7]  Rhetorical Criticism enables the theologian to understand the theological ideas of the text more fully, because the analysis is concerned with the final, fixed form of the text - the canon.  It is clear that the structure and the texture are not merely ornamental; they are the means of directing the reader's focus in the story.

The structure and the texture do this persuasively by arousing an emotional response in addition to an intellectual reaction to the narrative.  For example, repetition, the hallmark of Hebrew rhetoric,[8] centers the thought and gives unity and continuity to the narrative.  But it frequently does this in a way that makes a lasting impression on the reader, for the repeated element carries forward the emotional and intellectual connotations of the previous use.  For example, note the allusion to Genesis 25:23 in the words of Laban the deceiver to Jacob: “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn” (Gen. 29:26).

There are weaknesses in the use of rhetorical criticism, and the exegete will have to be alert to them in reading the literature.  First, if the study of the passage ignores altogether the origin, transmission, and original purpose of the text, it may arbitrarily ascribe meanings that go beyond the intent of the passage.[9]  While Scripture may have levels of meanings (different connotations) for different generations, the basic meaning of a text must be tied to its historical setting and purpose.  So the biblical scholar cannot work exclusively on the synchronic level.  Naturally, people who study the Bible generally have their ideas settled on these matters before beginning exegetical work.  The critical scholar is apt to accept that the conclusions of higher criticism are correct, that is, that much of the material is late but projected back to the earlier times; and the conservative scholar is apt to contend that the material is much older.

Second, Rhetorical Criticism has not always coupled the investigation with Genre Criticism.  But this is where the correlation with Form Criticism should be the strongest.  It is one thing to study the structure and texture of a passage; but it is another thing to relate these findings to the literary form of the text, for the form is related to the function.  For example, it will make a difference in the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 if the section is classified as a collection of myths comparable to other ancient Near Eastern literature.[10]

Now the expositor faces another hurdle in working with the Bible as literature, one that has been inculcated in the thinking of Christians for decades, namely, that the Bible must be interpreted “literally.”  In the over-simplistic use of this idea, if the book of Job says that Job said such and such, or his friends said such and such, then that is exactly what they said.  Or, if the text says that God said at the building of the tower of Babel, “Let us go down . . . . ” then that is what he said - in classical Hebrew!  On the other end of the scale, many modern literary studies view the biblical accounts rather differently; they are basically pieces of literature, and the writers were able to use literary devices in telling the stories or recording the oracles. For some this means the stories were made up; for others it means some event was used and in the re-telling embellished.

Here are several considerations that have bearing on this matter.   First, how much interpretation did a writer give by what he chose to include or exclude in the reporting of the traditions?  For example, the Chronicler, by omitting the story of David's sin, gave a picture of David that was rather different than the one in the Book of Samuel.[11]  Second, how much freedom did the writer have in rearranging narrative exposition and dialogue in order to get a poetic balance?  For example, was the dialogue in Job originally delivered in 2200 lines of Hebrew poetry?  Or, did God call Abram by using classical Hebrew poetry.  Or, did the events of the Book of Ruth naturally fall into patterns of parallel repetition and inverted repetition.  Third, how much linking of stories and foreshadowing of events did the biblical writers suggest by their choice of words and phrases.  For example, did Esau actually use the words ’edom ’edom, or did the narrative choose to use those words to foreshadow the nature of the Edomites? (Gen. 25:29); or, did Abraham actually have laws, statutes, and precepts (Gen. 26:6), or did Moses use those words to foreshadow the giving of the Law?

These, and other issues like them, are the kinds of issues that you will be sorting through in the future when dealing with the text.  Conservative expositors naturally will insist that the events in the Bible actually happened in essentially the way they have been reported.  Jesus did die on the cross, did rise from the dead, did ascend into heaven; or David did reign as king, commit adultery with Bathsheba, did move the ark to Jerusalem; or Esau was a hunter, he did trade his birthright for lentil soup, and Jacob did make him swear to it.[12]  But in accepting the facts. the conservative scholar also must give greater attention to the literary art used in the text.  When used within the framework of the doctrine of inspiration, literary art adds much to the meaning and focus of the text.  A belief in the historicity of the events need not exclude literary art in the telling of those events; and a literary analysis of the stories need not deny that the events occurred.

It has been suggested for some time that one of the reasons for literary art in the Bible is that the material was handed down orally before it was committed to writing.  The discussion of oral tradition is a major one, and the student will have to consult the literature on that.[13]  Suffice it to say that it is certainly possible that much of the material existed in oral form and so the repetition, chiasms, and word plays could have been an aid to memory.  However, it is fairly well known that writing was in common use from the earliest periods, and that things that were important were committed to writing almost immediately.  Probably oral transmission and literary texts existed side by side in Israel, the texts preserving the material, and the oral transmission aiding its memory.

The only way for you to become familiar with this entire area is to read the literature and study samples of how the method is used in the analysis of the text.  If you spend time doing that, you will see that there is much to be gained from this approach.  This course will draw some of the material together in studying the psalms; but the different aspects of literary studies go far beyond the formal poetry of the psalms, to the entire Old Testament.  What you learn in this study of the Psalms will be equally applicable in all Scripture.


Rhetorical Critical Method

It is not my purpose to give a detailed discussion of all that literary analysis of the text can provide in the exegetical process.  I propose simply to survey some of the predominant things that can be done, in order to whet your appetite for such a study.  Needless to say, it is not possible to work within this area (with any satisfaction) without being in the Hebrew text fairly frequently.  Some things can be picked up from an English translation, to be sure; but they became much clearer with even a brief glance at the Hebrew words or the Hebrew constructions.



Structure is the arrangement or the organization of the text.  This is to be distinguished from “structuralism” in the technical sense of the word, for that is an entirely different approach that carries the study to very different dimensions.  Some students incorrectly use the latter designation to describe their compositional analysis.

When we study the structure of a passage we are concerned with the higher levels of a work.  The following are some of the things to use in analyzing structure.

1.  Pericope Indicators.  It is commonly recognized that the unit to be studied must be identified at the outset.  This is not always as easy as it may seem.  Many times to determine where the pericope begins and ends calls for a close examination of the text, to look for indicators.  For example, a study of the Hebrew organization of Genesis will lead the exegete to realize that 37:1 belongs with chapter 36, and 37:2 (“these are the generations of Jacob”) marks a new section.  The English chapter divisions have concealed this point.  A re‑division of the narratives means that Esau’s vast prosperity (36) is to be contrasted with Jacob's sojournings (37:1).  Delitzsch caught this, and explained the message of the unit to be that secular, worldly greatness is swifter than spiritual greatness.[14] If the unit is not extended to 37:1, then Genesis 36 is almost unpreachable (which may be why nobody preaches from it).

The units of Scripture often have fairly obvious indications.  In prophetic oracles it may be repeated calls or imperatives, introductory formulae, or parallel motifs.  In the Law it might be repeated motifs, like “I am the LORD your God.”  In Psalms we will be looking at the patterns of different types of psalms, and that will assist in dividing the passage into its parts--although the psalm is the basic unit by itself.

2.  Framing, or Inclusio.   Another device of literary art is framing, that is, using a similar or identical phrase, motif, or episode to begin and end the unit, or a section of the unit.  You can see this very clearly in poetry such as Psalm 8, which begins and ends “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth.”

But it is used in other biblical literature as well.  For example, in Genesis 9, the first section of the narrative about the Noachian covenant, we have the divine instruction that says: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth”(v. 1).  This is repeated in part in verse seven.  So the first section which prohibits shedding blood, that is, taking life, is framed by the repetition of the instruction to produce life.

Larger complexes of literature also use framing.  For example, the Jacob stories can be divided into the Jacob‑Esau cycle and the Jacob-Laban cycle. The Jacob-Laban cycle is framed by nocturnal visitations from the LORD, the first at Bethel (Genesis 28) as Jacob was leaving his land, and the second at Peniel (Genesis 32) when he was returning to his land.  The immediate observation is that these were placed there because that is when they took place - and that is essentially correct; but on closer consideration we must consider what the framing contributes to the meaning of the written text?  The writer is obviously trying to make the reader aware of the relation between the framing and the intervening material.

Sometimes we must approach the framing from inside the narratives.  For example, Genesis 38 reports the account of Judah and Tamar.  Why was it placed within the Joseph stories?  It follows the account of the sale of Joseph and precedes the account of Joseph's temptation by Potiphar's wife.  The writer, by arranging the material, has framed the Genesis 38 account in order to convey its significance.  In other words, you have to consider the context in order to understand the meaning and impact of the chapter.  In the first place, Judah led his brothers to sell Joseph, their younger brother, to end his dreams of becoming their leader (37).  And then in his own family, and in spite of his own indifference and sin, Judah's younger son, Peres, pushed through to become the leader (38).  The story forms a rebuke on Judah's previous attempt to hinder the will of God.  But how does this story develop?  Tamar played the prostitute and seduced Judah so that she became impregnated.  Now in chapter 39, Joseph resisted the seductive appeal of  Potiphar's wife, showing why he, and not Judah, was the proper choice for the leadership of the people of God.

3.  Chiasm, or Inversion.   Chiasm is the arranging of the material in an inverted parallelism in order to show the mirroring of the first half of the narrative with the second, and in order to show the turning point of the story.  This is a favorite device in rhetorical critical writing; but it was not discovered by them.  Bullinger has pages of samples of this literary feature. You will have to be careful with some of the suggestions for this arrangement; some of the chiastic arrangements are contrived, leaving out items in the text that might spoil the arrangement.


But note the following chiastic structure of Genesis 11:1-9:

A   All the Earth had one language (1)

  B   there (2)

    C   one to another (3)

       D   Come, let's make bricks (3)

          E   Let's make for ourselves (4)

             F   a city and a tower (5)

               X   And the LORD came down to see (5)

             F'  the city and the tower (5)

          E'   that the humans built (5)

       D'   Come, Let's confuse (7)

     C'   everyone the language of his neighbor (8)

   B'   from there

A'   confused the language of the whole earth (9)


This kind of chiastic structure was used for entire narratives as well.  Note the pattern of motifs in the Flood story:

A   God resolves to destroy the corrupt race (6:11-13)

  B   Noah builds an ark according to God!s instructions (6:14-22)

    C   God commands the remnant to enter the ark (7:1-9.)

      D   The Flood begins (7:10-16)

        E    The Flood prevails 150 days, covering the mountains (7:17-24)

          X    God remembers Noah (8:1a)

        E'  The Flood          recedes 150 days and the mountains are visible (8:1b-5)

      D'   The earth dries (8:6-14)

    C'   God commands the remnant to leave the ark (8:15-19)

  B'   Noah builds an altar (8:20)

A'   God resolves not to destroy mankind (8:21, 22)

4.  Symmetry and Order Variation At times the writer will use a variation of previous motifs and expressions in order to parallel sections of the text, thus adding to the meaning.  For example, Genesis 13 records how Abram offered Lot his choice of the whole land, and how Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the circle of the Jordan, and journeyed east, pitching his tent next to Sodom.  But then the last part of the chapter records the word of the LORD to Abraham, telling him to lift up his eyes and look in every direction, for all the land he saw would be his; and then reports that Abram removed his tent and came and dwelt in Hebron.  Undoubtedly, the writer is contrasting the two parts to show that what Lot instinctively did, the LORD sovereignly granted to Abraham.

Another passage that illustrates this is Exodus 13:1-16. Verses 2 and 3 give the summary overview of the chapter: sanctify your sons to me and remember this day by keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  But then note the parallel development of the two sections:

  this day you came out (4)

     when the LORD shall bring you into the land of the Canaanites (5)

        you shall keep this service: seven days eat unleavened bread (6,7)

           show your son that this is because of the LORD's victory over Egypt (8)

  it will be a sign on your hand, and memorial between your eyes (9)

      for with a strong hand he brought you out (9)

  you shall keep this ordinance year by year at this time (10)

      the LORD shall bring you into the land of the Canaanites (11)

        you shall keep this service: set apart all males (12,13)

           tell your son that this is because the LORD brought us out of Egypt (14)

  it will be a token for your hand, and frontlets for your eyes (16)

      for with a strong hand be brought us out (16),

5.  Repetition of MotifsAlthough this heading could apply to same of the previously mentioned items, it is worth mentioning separately.  There are times in the literature that a motif will appear again and again in the text, giving organization to the passage.  For example, within the text of the Laws of Holiness, the motif “I am the LORD” is placed to show the organization of the material.

Leviticus 19 exhibits a present (or original) structural division by the repetition of certain expressions throughout.  It appears that the chapter is composed of two sections, both dealing with responsibilities in daily lives.  Section one seems to deal with responsibilities toward God (1-10) and section two responsibilities toward people (11-37).  Sixteen paragraph divisions are marked by “I am the LORD your God” or “I am the LORD.”  The first change from one to the other corresponds to the division between verses 10 and 11.  In verses 11-37 these paragraph endings note changes of emphasis:


1-2                        “I am the LORD your God”

3                           “I am the LORD your God”

4                           “I am the LORD your God”

5-10                      “I am the LORD your God”

11-12                    “I am the LORD”

13-14                    “I am the LORD”

15-16                    “I am the LORD”

17-18                    “I am the LORD”

19-25                    “I am the LORD your God”

26-28                    “I am the LORD”

29-30                    “I am the LORD”

31                          “I am the LORD your God”

32                          “I am the LORD”

33-34                    “I am the LORD your God”

35‑36                    “I am the LORD your God”

37                          “I am the LORD”


But even within larger narrative complexes do we find recurring motifs that show the unity and development of the story from one episode to another, giving greater meaning to the motif each time it appears in the text.  For example, when Joseph's brothers deceived their father into thinking Joseph was killed, they put the blood of “a kid of the goats” (she‘ir ‘izzim) on the tunic and sent it to Jacob, asking him to “recognize” (hakker) whether or not it was Joseph's coat (Gen. 37:31-33).  Back in Genesis 27:9 Jacob had used “two kids of the goats” (shene gedaye ‘izzim) to deceive his father.  So the recurring motif of deception ties the stories together and calls for comment.  But then also in Genesis 38, after Judah had been deceived by Tamar, he sent “a kid of the goats” (gedi ‘izzim in v. 17) in payment for the prostitute's services.  Later, when Tamar was revealed as the woman, she produced Judah's signet, bracelet, and staff, asking him to “recognize” (hakker) whether or not they were his (v. 25).  Judah and his brothers had asked their father to recognize Joseph's coat in order to deceive their father; Tamar asked Judah to recognize his things to uncover her deception and rebuke Judah.

6.  Quotations.   At the heart of biblical narrative is the use of direct and indirect quotations, and sometimes imaginary quotations (to represent a person's thinking, or explain a person's action).  Genesis 18:16-33, for example, is constructed largely by speeches separated by narrative reports.  Verse 16 reports that the angels rose up and looked toward Sodom.  But then verses 17-20 record a divine soliloquy, and verses 20-21 a speech to Abraham.  Verse 22 is a narrative report again, breaking the speeches: and the men turned and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stayed with the LORD.  Then, verses 23-32 record the dialogue between Abraham and the LORD over the destruction of the righteous with the wicked.  This dialogue is noted for its repetition, repetition that is important to the meaning, for he could have simply gotten to the last number without working down to it.  The narrative closes with the report that the LORD went on his way (v. 33).

Dialogue and speeches form a critical part of narrative literature.  Of course, they form the substance of prophetic oracles.  But in a narrative the dialogue or speech usually gives meaning to the entire narrative.  For example, in the above passage, the three verses that give the narrative reports would carry almost no meaning were it not for the soliloquy, speech, and dialogue.

7.  Subordinate Clauses and Parenthetical Descriptions Editorial comments form an important part of Hebrew narrative; they provide the writer's interpretations, explanations, or comments.  Everyone is familiar with the literature of the Book of Kings in which the writer is constantly telling the reader whether a king did righteously or not.  That naturally supplies the reader with the proper response to the narrative.

But in Hebrew exegesis there are many times when the parenthetical clause, or a description, provide a more subtle interpretation.  For example, when Lot chose to settle in Sodom, the narrative explains, “now the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked sinners against the LORD” (Gen. 13:12).  The implication of that comment in the story is left up to the reader.  While it does not form a major part of the structure by advancing the narrative, it does contribute to the meaning.  Or, when Simeon and Levi began to make a covenant with the Shechemites in Genesis 34, the narrator explains that they answered them deceitfully, reasoning that Schechem had defiled Dinah (v. 14).  This little explanation alerts the reader to the nature of the agreement to follow, and gives the narrator's opinion of it.  Or, throughout a piece of literature, such as the Book of Jonah, the writer is constantly using the subordinate clauses to give meaning to the structure.  For example, in something so simple as the report that Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish (the narrative), the clause “to flee from the presence of the LORD” and the repeated phrase “from the presence of the LORD,” serves to explain the main clause (1:2).  So being able to discern the subordinate and parenthetical material enables us to isolate the structure, and interpret it more precisely.







                                            I.  COURSE DESCRIPTION

A practical study of the procedures for doing sound exegesis in the various portions of the Old Testament.  The method will include the study of words, poetics, textual criticism, syntax, biblical theology, and practical exegetical exposition in the different genres of the Hebrew Bible.