All Roads Lead to the Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry Into the Bible

All Roads Lead to the Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry Into the Bible

by Dean Deppe


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In All Roads Lead to the Text Dean Deppe offers a user-friendly guide to biblical exegesis and interpretation. Far from a dry, theoretical handbook, this book's example-based approach enlivens the exegetical task and offers immediate payoff by constantly applying concepts to specific texts. Deppe focuses on eight methods that biblical scholars use, from analyzing literary, grammatical, and structural elements to investigating historical and cultural backgrounds to exploring the history of interpretation. Deppe explains each approach using several concrete examples from both Old and New Testament texts, and every chapter concludes with practical, text-based questions for study and discussion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802865946
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 412
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Dean Deppe is professor of New Testament theology at CalvinTheological Seminary. Prior to 1998 he served for twentyyears as pastor of four Christian Reformed churches.

Read an Excerpt


Eight Methods of Inquiry into the Bible A Template for Model Exegesis with Exegetical Examples Employing Logos Bible Software
By Dean B. Deppe

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Dean B. Deppe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6594-6

Chapter One

The Infrared Lens of Literary Analysis

Form and Genre Criticism

Just as the human eye cannot see "everything that's out there," so our exegetical eye has not always been trained to perceive indications of when a passage begins and ends, the particular genre of a section of Scripture, or literary devices that subtly offer the meaning of the text. Through a series of biblical examples in this chapter the reader will develop literary skills in discerning clues to the delimitation of a pericope, distinguishing the genre and its principles of interpretation, and identifying the literary techniques employed by the author such as inclusio and chiasm as well as understanding their significance for exegesis.

A. Pericope Delimitation


Perceptive readers can establish the limits of a pericope under study by noting a number of "tells" in the text. Transition devices like statements of introduction or conclusion are certainly the most obvious as, for example, the use of disjunctive clauses in Hebrew. In narratives, a change in the setting, time frame, or characters regularly introduces a new section. Literarily, the substitution of alternative genres as well as the presence of repetitive grammatical features signal a new beginning. Finally, the reader should always attempt to perceive an alteration of theme.


1. Matthew 1:18–2:23: The Fulfillment of Five OT Texts

Discerning readers of the text are on the alert to spot literary devices like repetition as an indicator of pericope delimiters. For instance, in Matt 1:18–2:23 one discovers the repetition of five OT texts as fulfilled prophecies (Matt 1:23; 2:6, 15, 18, 23) indicating five short paragraphs that call attention to Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy. This section is preceded by a genealogy of Jesus where the Greek verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("begot, fathered") is repeated 39 times with a change to the passive form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in 1:16b in order to climax the genealogy with Jesus. In our section the genre changes to a narrative of Joseph's three dreams (1:20-21; 2:13, 19-20) interspersed with the violence of Herod, who attempts to manipulate the magi into revealing the location of this new king (2:4, 7-8) and who finally viciously massacres innocent children to protect his throne (2:16).

Throughout this pericope the five OT texts stand out prominently, highlighting each subsection, so that Jesus' name as Immanuel (Isa 7:14 at 1:23), his birth in the city of David (Mic 5:2 in 2:6), his exodus out of Egypt (Hos 11:1 in 2:15), the lament over the slain children (Jer 31:15 in 2:18), and Jesus' identification with Nazareth (Isa 11:1 in 2:23) all become fulfilled OT prophecies in the history of salvation. This division is captured by several English versions such as the NRSV and the ESV, which divide Matt 1:18–2:23 into five distinct sections. Logos Bible Software contains a helpful tool to visualize the structuring of pericipes. Under the "Tools" menu and the "Passage Analysis" bar, choose "Compare Pericopes" at the bottom of the screen. Then you can choose which Bible versions you want to compare and easily visualize the pericope delimitation of the various translations. Through discerning the literary devices of repetition and a change in genre, we have discovered how Matthew structures Jesus' birth narrative as his prologue to the Gospel. The fulfillment of OT prophecies is crucial to the message that Matthew intends to deliver to his audience.

2. 1 John 1:6–2:2: Three Pairs of Conditional Sentences

Although chapter divisions were intended to clarify the major break points in the narrative, frequently these markers misconstrue the extent of the passage which the author intended. For example, the first chapter of 1 John concludes with a negative statement whose positive counterpart was regretfully placed in chapter 2 by Stephen Langton around the year 1205. The chapter now ends, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar." To end a Bible study or homily with the thought that we have characterized God as a liar would certainly not edify the audience. This negative truth must be balanced with the greater and more gracious statement in 1 John 2:1, "But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." Certainly John intended to extend this passage to 2:2, where the reader can focus on Jesus Christ, the defense lawyer who pleads our case so that we are proclaimed righteous.

A search in Logos Bible Software of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] clauses in 1 John reveals that 1 John 1:6–2:2 consists of six conditional ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) clauses in a row which alternate between positive and negative "if" statements (1 John 1:6-7; 1:8-9; 1:10–2:2). Therefore, on three successive occasions a negative confession of sin is trumped each time by a positive affirmation of God's loving character and a corresponding human righteousness. Rather than claiming fellowship with God while we daily live a contrary lifestyle of deceit, we walk in the light and continually experience the cleansing of Christ (1:6-7). Instead of boasting of a life without sin, we confess our shortcomings with integrity because we are convinced that God is faithful and just (John 1:8-9). Finally, in the third pair we no longer introspectively search for sinless perfection within ourselves, but instead focus on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If we analyze the pericope correctly, the positive character of Christ's work shines through brightly. The correct delineation of a passage through the identification of literary repetitions enables proper exegesis.

3. John 2:24–3:21: A Positive or Negative Interpretation of Nicodemus?

As a child, whenever we read around the family dinner table Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, I pictured Nicodemus as a model Christian who was born again of water and the Spirit. But if we examine pericope markers in the Gospel of John, we perceive that John was already preparing for the arrival of Nicodemus in John 2:24 when he declares that "Jesus would not entrust himself to them ... for he knew what was in a man." The man Jesus would not entrust himself to is Nicodemus.

Throughout the Gospel John portrays Nicodemus on a journey from a frightened but searching representative of the Jewish aristocracy (John 3:1; 7:50), to a secret disciple who remains within the synagogue (19:38-39), to one who speaks out for Jesus (7:51) and finally comes out of the closet to publicly stand with Jesus in his suffering and death (19:39-40). Two characters in the story, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, represent all secret disciples who must journey into the light and become a model for a group of John's readers who, according to 12:42-43, "would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise from men more than praise from God."

Not only did our family begin the story at the wrong place, we always concluded at John 3:15-16, where Nicodemus seems to disappear. But the imagery of night in 3:2 is balanced by the metaphor of light in 3:19-21, which explains that "Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." The Pharisees represented here by Nicodemus love darkness rather than light and must be replaced in the kingdom of God by other leaders who are born again. The delimitation of the pericope determines the meaning of the incident. Nicodemus is not yet born of the Spirit in John 3.

4. John 9:1–10:21: The Extent of the Blind Man Pericope

The chapter division at John 10 likewise prohibits many readers from a correct understanding of the Parable of the Sheep Pen in John 10:1-6. Contrary to the chapter division, the story of the healing of the blind man in John 9 is not concluded until John 10:21, "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" In John 10:22 a new section is introduced by the arrival of the Feast of Dedication, whereas John 7:1–10:21 concentrates on the Feast of Booths, just as Jesus fulfils the Passover feast in John 6 and the Sabbath in chapter 5. Therefore the Parable of the Shepherd and His Flock (10:1-6) must be an application of the healing of the blind man.

Throughout chapter 9 the blind man's confession of faith gradually deepens as he envisions Jesus more clearly. In the first scene the person who healed him is merely labeled "the man they call Jesus" (John 9:11); then he becomes "a prophet" (9:17) and the "godly one" who is "without sin" (9:25, 31). Only after the blind man is thrown out of the synagogue (9:34) does he have new eyes to see Jesus as the transcendent Son of Man (9:35) and ultimately as God himself who alone deserves worship (9:38). Picturing Jesus as divine is the pinnacle of Johannine Christology.

With this as background, Jesus speaks a parable (10:1-6) where God as the watchman of Israel opens the gate of the sheepfold only to the true shepherd, Jesus Christ. Then Jesus as shepherd walks ahead of his sheep and leads out of the sheepfold the ones who hear his voice (10:3). In other words, Jesus is directing his sheep out of the synagogue just as the blind man was thrown out of the synagogue. Only outside of the synagogue could Christians without fear of reprisal and persecution proclaim that Jesus is God.

This split between Christianity and Judaism was a very traumatic and difficult experience for all involved. Culturally it seemed to the Christians that they were being thrown out of their house of worship by their former brethren, but in reality John is saying that Jesus himself is leading them out. The disciples remain blind to Jesus' true identity until they renounce being secret disciples and proclaim, as Thomas does in the climactic pericope of the book (20:28), that Jesus is "my Lord and my God." The commitment demanded of a disciple is the radical confession of Jesus as God himself, a confession more important than any allegiance to a group of people, even if they are your own family and heritage. The cost of discipleship is great. Yet this theological conclusion only becomes clear when we ignore the chapter divisions and read John 9:1—10:21 as one unit.

5. Markan Intercalations

The evangelist Mark loves to sandwich two narratives together (also called a Markan Intercalation) in order to equip the reader to understand properly the purpose of an event. By positioning the cleansing of the temple within the story of the cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-26), Jesus proclaims that the time of temple worship is ended just as the fig tree is destroyed from its roots. Traditionally, we have entitled Jesus' action as a temple cleansing, but for Mark the event is a prophetic action of the destruction of the temple. Jesus shuts down the temple activities for a short period of time by prohibiting the selling of sacrificial animals and not allowing anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts (11:15-16). Just as the season for figs has passed (11:13) and no one will eat fruit from the fig tree again (11:14), so the temple will be destroyed and no longer serve as the life fount of Israel. Mark clarifies this theological interpretation by encapsulating the temple action with the cursing of the fig tree. Together these two events constitute a single pericope for Mark.

At first glance Jesus' family and the Jewish teachers of the law don't seem to have much in common. However, Mark sandwiches the two groups together in 3:20-33 with Jesus' family proclaiming that Jesus is insanely out of his mind and the Pharisees claiming that he casts out demons by the devil himself. His family arrives to retrieve him from this new fanatic lifestyle (3:20-21), and the scribes conclude that Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons (3:22-30). Jesus' family end up outside the circle of disciples (3:31-33), just like the Jewish leaders. By framing this passage with the calling of the twelve disciples in 3:13-19 and the description of Jesus' true family in 3:34-35, the Gospel of Mark powerfully demonstrates that those expecting to be inside the kingdom (blood relation and religious leaders) may in reality be outside. Again the two stories must be read together. The reader discerns the extent of the pericope through the presence of a literary device.

6. Vocatives in the Epistle of James

Frequently, a direct address (like "brothers and sisters") introduces a new section. Performing amorphological search of the vocative in a book like the Epistle of James yields a series of meaningful transitions. Those who prefer visual indicators can employ the visual filter in Logos Bible Software and place a visual marker around all the vocatives in the text. To perform this procedure, click the "File" menu, go to "Visual Filters," specify a "morph" search rather than a basic or Bible search, and choose "Logos Greek Morphology" in the fourth option on the search line. Now place a @ symbol in the first box and choose "Noun" and "Vocative" and then in the formatting box highlight the text with something obvious like a double box or a yellow glow. Then, in all your Bibles, the vocative will stand out. A second option is to perform a morphological search of all vocatives. You can even search an English Bible like the NIV with Logos Greek Morphology and repeat the above procedure so that all the vocative nouns in the New Testament will appear. Simply scroll down to the Epistle of James and you will discover the vocatives in this book.

Performing this procedure we discover that Jas 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 14; 4:13; 5:1, 7, 12, 19 employ vocatives like "my brethren" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and "my beloved brethren" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to introduce new sections. These addresses divide the Epistle of James into distinct sections. Since this book could be entitled "The Paraenesis of James," I like to divide the exhortations into the sub-genres of extended paraenesis (1:2-15; 1:16-18; 1:19-27), treatises or diatribes based upon one theme (2:1-13, 14-26; 3:1-12), prophetic denunciations (4:13–5:6), and general paraenesis crafted into a primitive church order (5:7-11; 5:12-18; 5:19-20). The perceptive reader will pay close attention to this literary device in discerning the structure of documents.

7. Repeated Phrases in 1 Corinthians

Finally, sometimes the author himself directly reveals that a new section is beginning. Notice in 1 Corinthians how Paul clearly lets the reader know the next theme by means of certain phrases such as "now about food sacrificed to idols" (8:1), or "now about spiritual gifts" (12:1), or "now about the collection for God's people" (16:1). In this case the chapter divisions have picked up the intended transitions in the text (but notice 7:25 and 16:12). Paul is directly responding to issues for which the church at Corinth sought his advice and discernment (see 7:1), and these form the sections of 1 Corinthians 7–16. Although in this case the author clearly specifies his transition points, frequently the reader must perceptively detect the literary devices that reveal the author's directives.

B. The Identification of Genre

The determination of genre is crucial to detecting the meaning of a literary text, since like an infrared lens it offers a photo that we do not always observe in normal light. Dan Via defines genre as the "hidden or unconscious structure" of the whole that is "beyond the text from which the latter draws its meaning." Genres trigger different expectations and thus demand divergent reading strategies.

In reading the daily newspaper, I am sure you peruse sections of the paper differently without even realizing it. You expect trustworthy facts and true-to-reality reporting when you study the front page news, while you place a filter over your mind while digesting editorials because you recognize the writing as only someone's opinion. You would never scrutinize the horoscopes as if they were tomorrow's weather page. Certainly, you would not understand the stock market reports as if they were the events of science fiction. When you read the comics, you expect to laugh or else you are disappointed, which certainly varies greatly from your response to the obituaries. You would never fill in the crossword puzzle as a secret code to tomorrow's sports page scores.


Excerpted from ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE TEXT by Dean B. Deppe Copyright © 2011 by Dean B. Deppe. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Abbreviations viii

Introduction: A Sample Exegetical Method xii

1 The Infrared Lens of Literary Analysis: Form and Genre Criticism 1

A Pericope Delimitation 1

B The Identification of Genre 7

C The Identification of Literary Techniques 25

Study and Discussion Questions 35

2 The Grammatical Route: Using an Exegetical Microscope 38

A Textual Criticism 38

B Word Study 43

C Analysis of Phrases 51

D Clausal Analysis 57

E Examining Word Order 71

F English Translations 75

Study and Discussion Questions 85

3 The Structural Analysis Route: Employing a Skeleton Snapshot 89

A The Structure of Various Biblical Books 89

B Grammatical and Literary Structure 105

C Clausal Outlines 115

Study and Discussion Questions 127

4 The Literary Context Route: Employing a Wide-Angled Lens 131

A The Context Surrounding the Pericope 131

B Redactionary Activity 141

Study and Discussion Questions 154

5 The Cultural and Historical Background Route: Using a Telescopic Lens 158

A Historical and Cultural Elements 158

B The Old Testament as Background 171

C Basic Background Information for Biblical Books 178

Study and Discussion Questions 190

6 The History of Interpretation Route: Using a Motion Picture Exegetical Camera 194

A The Major Commentators 194

B Different Periods in Church History 213

Study and Discussion Questions 224

7 The Theological Exegesis Route: Developing the Finished Photo 228

A A Theological Analysis of the Biblical Text 229

B An Investigation of the Reader's Presuppositions 245

C Exploring the Canonical Meaning 249

Study and Discussion Questions 259

8 Exploring Spiritual Exegesis: Using an Exegetical X-Ray Camera 262

A The Insufficiencies of the Historical-Critical Method 263

B The Dangers of Spiritual Exegesis 267

C The Disciplines of Spiritual Exegesis 268

Study and Discussion Questions 292

Conclusion 294

Appendix I Genres 296

I A Morphology of Genre 296

II Canonical Examples of Controversy Dialogues 333

III Principles of Interpretation for the Main Genre Types 345

Appendix II Literary Techniques 353

Literary Devices As Organizational Techniques 353

A Glossary of Literary Techniques and Grammatical Terms 364

Select Bibliography 369

Index of Names 376

Index of Scripture and Other Ancient Literature 381

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