Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Exegetical Fallacies

This post isn't really going to be a full blown review in the sense that I'll be breaking down some aspects and drawing on the purpose of the book. Rather I simply want to recommend the book. In a second I'm going to tell you why and, yes, I'm going to give a good example (or two) that Carson uses in the book that should pique your interest enough to purchase it (or just borrow it from one of your theological buddies).

Let me start off at the outset for our more lay readers that this book isn't geared toward those who have little knowledge of bible interpretation. However if you'd like a good place to start I'd suggest you begin with (surprise, surprise) R. C. Sproul's book called Knowing Scripture.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is its simplicity. That is not to suggest that the book is outright simple. Rather what I mean is that the book isn't overly technical so as to confuse the reader. As the title suggests, Carson's aim is to expose some of the most common mistakes students of exegesis encounter; to this I feel he does an excellent job. I can remember first reading this book about 3 years ago after I first began to delve into the more meatier aspects of interpretation and feeling so convicted afterward. In the beginning, all people learn to interpret the Bible by somebody; whether it be their preacher, Sunday school teacher, or seminary professor. I know the first lessons on interpretation I learned was listening to my Pastor's sermons. That helped me focus on how and what was important when I was reading Scripture. However while this may end up being a good thing if you happen to be Shepherd by Charles Spurgeon, but it can be detrimental. While I am fully aware that not all degree laden Pastor's have solid interpretation skills, it does help to be cognizant as to how your interpretation is being communicated and would behoove the Pastor to qualify themselves more regularly.

Nevertheless, let me take one example from Carson's book to give you a taste of what you'll encounter. The very first common fallacy that many interpreters face is what Carson calls The root fallacy. This error...presupposes that every word actually has the meaning bound up with its shape or its components...meaning is determined by etymology (p.28). One of the examples he gives surrounds the word translated apostle. Here Carson talks about how by simply taking the root of a word in its original linguistic usage may not offer us the best meaning; and it doesn't. Carson says, "It is arguable that although apostolos (apostle) is cognate with apostello (I send), New Testament use of the noun does not center on the meaning the one sent but on "messenger." Now a messenger is ususally sent, but the word messenger also calls to mind the messgage the person carries, and sugest he represents the one who sent him. In other words, actually usage in the New Testament suggest that apostolos commonly bears the meaning a special representative or a special messenger rather than 'someone sent out.'" This good example, for me at least, serves as a good reminder when doing exegesis not to place too much emphasis on the root of a word, but rather to place it more in its contextual usage.

Another great example is what Carson calls the uncontrolled historical reconstruction. This might be a good chapter to review entirely in light of my co-blogger Matt Wilcoxen's most recent post. This fallacy in its most basic form is the ability to trace a network of theological trajectories to explain how the church changed its thinking from decade to decade and from place to place. In other words, thinking that speculative reconstruction of first-century Jewish and Christian history should be given much weight in the exegesis of New Testament documents. (p. 131). Carson's major problem with this concept is that we have almost no access to the history of the early church during its first five or six decades apart from the New Testament documents [themselves] (my addition).

I believe that this book should be the companion of any sober student of biblical interpretation. I have read this book twice and both times I read it I found tendency after tendency which I had utilized in one way or another. Other fallacies which Carson tackles in this book are Grammatical, Logical, and Presuppositional fallacies. I'm convinced that we all exhibit at one time or another a proclivity toward one of the five fallacies which Carson speaks to. It would be to the benefits of our more astute readers to grab a highlighter and pick up a copy of this book and begin having your fallacious affinities exposed...I know I did.

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