Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers. Revised and expanded edition

By Michael J. Gorman
Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson (2009). xxii + 286 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 113-115

Gorman is professor of sacred Scripture and dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. In this revised and expanded edition he pays greater attention to what he terms “theological interpretation” (1). Also, he adds a sample exegesis paper on an OT text (2, 264-75). Gorman also edited a companion volume titled Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (Hendrickson, 2005).

“Part One: Orientation” (7-59) introduces the reader to the concept of exegesis. The first chapter (“The Task,” 9-33) describes exegesis as an investigation of the many details of the text of Scripture (10-11), a conversation with past and present readers of the biblical text (11), and an art requiring intuition, imagination, and sensitivity (12). Gorman selects an eclectic employment of synchronic, diachronic, and existential approaches (23-24). Seven basic elements comprise his exegetical process: survey (overview and introduction), contextual analysis (historical and literary), formal analysis (form, structure, and movement), detailed analysis, synthesis, reflection, and expansion together with refinement (26). Gorman rightly declares, “Wise exegetes prepare a careful initial exegesis of the text on their own before consulting the experts” (31).

The second chapter (“The Text,” 34-59) asks two questions: “How is a text selected for exegesis?” and “Which translations and editions of the Bible are best for exegesis?” (35). Gorman prefers the NRSV, NAB, TNIV, and NET Bible (44-46). He advises caution with useful translations like RSV, NIV, NASB, REB, ESV, and HCSB (46-49). He classifies the NLT, NJB, CEV, GNB, and The Message as unacceptable for basic exegesis, though useful for some study (49-51). Lastly, he identifies KJV, NKJV, and LB as unacceptable for exegesis (51). Summarizing the benefits of a variety of study Bibles (52-57), Gorman settles on The Catholic Study Bible, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2006) as the best (57).

“Part Two: The Elements” (61-172) consists of seven chapters presenting each of the seven elements of Gorman’s exegetical process. The first element (survey) involves reading the text, getting first impressions, making a provisional translation, and writing a brief introduction (63-68). The second element (contextual analysis) looks at the historical, cultural, literary, and canonical contexts of the text (69-81). Formal analysis comprises the third element (83-100). In this step the exegete looks at the literary form, the structure of the text, and how the text moves from one unit of the structure to another. He notes that special literary devices such as repetition, antithesis, parallelism, inclusio, and chiasmus sometimes demarcate structural patterns (91-94). Narrative follows much the same type of pattern that exposition exhibits (94-96).

Element four (detailed analysis) stands at the heart of the exegetical method (101-25). By means of bullet-pointed lists, Gorman identifies the basic questions involved in performing a detailed analysis of the biblical text (103-4, 112, 113-14, 118, 119-20, 122). This approach to the task enables the student to walk through the process question by question—a very effective pedagogical technique. Detailed analysis includes lexical analysis (word studies) and syntactical analysis. It is at this point that the author recommends some form of diagrammatical analysis (113). Gorman inserts various aspects of the historical-critical method (source, form, tradition, and redaction criticism) into this element of the exegetical process (116- 19). The position he takes regarding such methods recognizes their value while being cognizant of their limitations and problems (117). Intertextuality (both textual/canonical and cultural) also finds a role in this fourth element of the exegetical process (119-21).

The fifth element (synthesis) occupies the seventh chapter of the volume (127-38). Synthesis consists of seeing the forest rather than focusing on the trees (129). In this section Gorman handles the issues of plurality of interpretations (129- 31) as well as ambiguity and polyvalence (131-36). He relates these issues to authorial intent, sensus plenior, reader response, and evocative communication (as compared to propositional communication).

Chapter eight, covering the sixth element (“Reflection: Theological Interpretation”), fills a significant portion of the material (139-66). The process focuses on the exegetically significant question, “So what?” (139). Five possible interpretive postures represent the attitudes potential in exegetes: antipathy, appreciation coupled with non-commitment, discernment or inquiry, suspicion, and consent or trust (140-43). Gorman takes the last posture. He then presents eight principles for the theological interpretation of Scripture (148-55) before discussing a potential ninth principle, the missional hermeneutic (155-58). Throughout this chapter the author emphasizes the biblical exhortation for the reader to become a doer of the Word (Jas 1:22) or, as he puts it, “a living exegesis of the text” (160; cf. 163-65).

The seventh element of the process (expansion and refinement) involves a brief statement about the use of exegetical tools (167-72). This general introduction precedes the final section of the volume, “Part Three: Hints and Resources” (173- 232). The tenth chapter offers suggestions for students preparing exegesis papers (175-79). Gorman briefly explains the errors to avoid and what a student needs to accomplish for each of the seven elements of the process. The final chapter lists resources for exegesis, arranged under nine headings corresponding to the first nine chapters of the book (181-232). Gorman’s choices reflect theological ecumenicity. Though he does list some conservative or evangelical sources, he avoids directing students to resources like the following: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., From Exegesis to Exposition (Baker, 1998); Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics (Kregel, 2002); Robert L. Thomas, How to Choose a Bible Version (Mentor, 2000, 2004); Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., A History of Israel from the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars (Broadman & Holman, 1998); and Eugene H. Merrill, A Kingdom of Priests (Baker, 1996). About The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1976-1992), Gorman writes, “This classic set by conservative evangelical scholars based on the NIV is responsible work but somewhat predictable in exegetical and theological perspective. It should therefore be used with some caution and balance from other perspectives” (225). He provides an informative description of all major CD-ROM resources (192-95).

At the end of each of the first nine chapters, the author provides a summary, some practical hints, and suggested assignments for practice (e.g., 31-33, 58-59, 66- 68). Four beneficial appendices round out the book: “Tables of Exegetical Methods” (233-40), “Practical Guidelines for Writing a Research Exegesis Paper” (241-46), “Three Sample Exegesis Papers” (247-75; examples from John 11:45-53, 2 Cor 12:1-10, Psalm 84), and “Selected Internet Resources for Biblical Studies” (277-81).

Unlike Chisholm’s From Exegesis to Exposition, Gorman does not deal with the biblical languages or with the specific details of original language exegesis. Despite this lack, his ecumenical approach, and depreciation of evangelical sources, evangelical students will find Gorman’s volume useful. He provides a practical page-by- page outline of what a 15-page exegetical paper should look like (29, 241-46), gives good pointers on constructing an outline (90), and literally walks the student through the process with key questions, summaries, and hints. The three papers in the third appendix also faithfully replicate the author’s process.