Worth Reading: Deep Exegesis


I finished reading Peter Leithart’s book Deep Exegesis last week, and it rocks. If you are interested in learning how to read your Bible well, I highly recommend this book as a place to start.

Leithart’s method is not universally accepted, but I think it makes sense. Without the book in front of me (I lent it to Kerry), let me try to explain his thesis. In fact, let me just trace his argument by chapter, since there are only six, and I think they’re great. I’m not going to discuss each chapter, but just try to whet your appetite.

The Text is a Husk– in Chapter One, Leithart explains what he believes to be the modern exegetical method, which arose shortly after the Enlightenment and depends on separating the spiritual truth of the text from the method in which it is communicated. Never mind talking about poetry or history or any such linguistic or literary features of the text- what nugget, what kernel of truth can be derived? Leithart thinks this is a bad idea.

The Text Is An Event– in this chapter Leithart argues that because texts are written in time, they have to be read in time. In other words, because John is written after Isaiah, which is written after Deuteronomy, we need to read John with Isaiah and Deuteronomy in mind. Just as we read Virgil with Homer echoing in the background, so we need to read more recent texts in light of earlier ones.

Words Are Players– Leithart argues (and I’ll do some arguing of my own here in a later post) that words in texts have a sort of life of their own. They dance around each other, giving context and layered meanings to other words. It is up to the insightful and imaginative exegete to see the dance for what it is and interpret it thusly.

The Text Is A Joke– I already wrote about this chapter, so I’ll sum up- because texts are events, and later texts refer to earlier texts, much of what is intended in these later texts depends upon what is not said, in the same way that jokes depend upon what is not said, but inferred or called to mind. Responsible exegetes diligently follow the unspoken trail of words not said.

Texts Are Music- Just as music is unique among art-forms in that it cannot be taken in at one glance, but must be listened to over a period of time, so the text must be read to discern the melody out of the flow of words. And just as music has repeated themes and interwoven melodies, so the text has repeated themes and interwoven meanings and stories inside a single passage.

Texts Are About Christ- The text always bears witness to Christ in some form or fashion. Not all texts speak of Christ to the same degree or in the same way, but all speak of Christ. The task of the exegete is to see Christ in the text.

I have some questions about the book, and some reservations as well, but all in all, I think this is a must-read.


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