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The Interpretive Circle
Transcript of The Interpretive Circle
This step seeks to arrange and identify the details of the text in order to see how they fit together and contribute to the larger picture.
Words do not have meaning on their own, but take on meaning in a sentence or phrase.
Identify the types of sentence in your text: (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory.)
Diagram a key sentence!
What are the key terms/images and what do they mean?
What do the details mean in the big picture and how does the big picture affect the meaning of the details?
Are there any references to tradition and why? (stories, OT passages, well–known historical figures, laws)
What types of sentences are found in the passage and is their order significant?
This step seeks to pull the various elements together into some kind of unified whole. It is not simply a summary. You are drawing a conclusion about the text.
Don't forget that a passage is not simply meant to inform but to transform.
Synthesis is not just one step at the end. You should seek synthesis throughout the whole process.
What is the main point (the punch line)?
What response does the author hope to get from his hearers?
What claims does the passage make about the original audience?
Contextual Analysis Cont'd.
considers how the passage fits with the story of the whole canon of scripture.
Canonical Context Questions:
What is the relationship (if any) between this passage and texts in other Testaments (Old or New)?
Does your passage share any themes with other books of the Bible?
Does your passage stand in tension with certain themes found in other books of the Bible?
3. Formal Analysis
This step seeks to understand the kind or type of writing of the passage (genre).
Remember that the Bible is not a single book, but a collection with many genres.
Each genre follows its own distinct set of rules, i.e. poetry has different rules than narrative.
Is the passage prose or poetry or both?
What is the genre of the passage? What is the genre of the book?
What are the general principles of interpretation for this kind of writing?
1. Survey (First Impressions)
The first step of interpretation is to read the passage several times using several translations.
Read the passage aloud
Create your own section title
Write down observations and questions that come to mind
Read a brief introduction on the book
What is the topic of the text?
What role might this passage play in the context of the whole book?
The Interpretive Circle
Tips for Context
Make your own outline to get a sense of the context of the book.
Compare your outline to online sources like Bible Gateway/NET Bible
Formal Analysis Cont'd.
Formal analysis also seeks to understand the
of a passage.
Structure (Organization) Questions:
What are the main divisions and subdivisions of a passage?
How does the text progress through the main divisions.
Common Structural Patterns:
Repetition (Genesis 1)
Parallelism (John 17)
Contrast (Ephe. 2:11-13)
Chiasmus (Psalm 51:1)
This step seeks to understand the meaning of the text for the hearers today.
This step is more about the goal of interpretation than the method.
Read the Bible as a word addressed to us, the ongoing community of faith.
The goal of interpretation is a deeper love of God and neighbor.
What does the text urge us to believe, hope, and do?
How does this text call us to be both different from and involved in the world?
What does this text claim about God, humanity, and creation?
How does the text invite us to imagine or envision our world? (i.e. What is the worldview of the Bible?)
2. Contextual Analysis
Contextual Analysis cont'd.
This step considers the historical, rhetorical, and canonical context of the text.
Historical Context Questions:
What ancient events, political realities, places, customs, values, and beliefs are mentioned in the passage?
What kind of relationships are alluded to in this passage? What do we know about the audience or the characters of the story?
What circumstances, or situation, may have prompted the author to write this text?
examines how the passage fits with the ones before and after it and with the book as a whole.
examines why the author placed a passage in a certain section.
In what ways does the surrounding text connect to my passage or help explain it?
How does this passage serve the agenda of the entire book?
Why this and why here?
Tips for Structure and Movement
Look for key words that indicate relationships between parts of a text (next, then, therefore, because, but, although, so that)
Print out your passage on paper and start circling and underlining key words and phrases.
Key Sentence Markers:
Conditional Statement: "If"
Purpose Statement: "so that," "in order to"
Result or Consequence: "Therefore"
Means or Instrument: "by," "through"
A passage's ability to have multiple but limited interpretations.
The Word of God is "living and active" which means that God continues to speak to us through scripture.
This does not mean that a text can mean anything, but in many cases several interpretations are possible or a passage may be intentionally ambiguous.
7. Expansion and Refinement of Exegesis
This should be the last step in the process. This step checks your thesis against scholarly sources in order to avoid incorrect conclusions.
Good Bible Commentaries:
Word Biblical Commentary, Sacra Pagina, The Anchor Bible
School's online resources (EBSCO, JBL, Oxford)
Do I need to reevaluate my working thesis based on the scholarly evidence?