As D.A. Carson has said, “exegesis” is simply “reading the text to find out what’s there” or finding out “what the text is saying.” It is as simple as that. It is something all Christians do and must do. Here are two examples of bad exegesis I have come across recently, that are both a result of honest people not doing the hard discipline of exegesis (correctly), which is really a practice of putting yourself under the text, rather than over it:
1. Acts 4.12- “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved.” Some Christians take that to mean God includes some among His elect, even if they do not put conscious faith in Christ. They say it is still Jesus’ blood that saves them, but they are simply included by God’s grace and in response to their genuine desire to worship the true God. They would not deny the sinfulness of man, nor the exclusivity of Jesus, nor the necessity of the atonement, nor the need for missions. It is not as bad as pluralism or any type of liberalism. But it is bad exegesis. What is there in the text? Peter is answering the question: by what power did you [heal]? His answer: by Jesus’ name, the one name you must claim to be saved. Inclusivists are thinking Peter is addressing a question that is not even an afterthought of the text (i.e., does God include some who do not put their faith in Jesus?).
2. Ephesians- this one is not as bad, but an example of what seems harmless, and even insightful, yet is bad exegesis. In thinking through this book, one brother asks “Why did Paul choose to reveal so much about God’s vision for the church to Ephesus, and not Jerusalem or Antioch?” That is also not a question the text is asking. Plus, do we know for sure that Paul did not write similar things to other churches? We do not know for sure, and do not need to know for sure. God reveals in the texts exactly what God wants to reveal in the text for our life and godliness.
These are just two recent examples. But the point is, when doing biblical exegesis– which is the only way to know God fully– figure out what questions the text is actually addressing. Look at what is there in the text to figure out the meaning of texts. Do not rely on outside sources before you dig into the text. If you do not get this step right, forget trying to apply the Bible to your life. And do not forget God has given teachers to the church to teach. God never promises that all Christians will be able to figure out the meaning of all passages without the help of teachers.