I would agree with Mark that exegesis can be (and probably should be) conducted in the language of the text being exegeted. I certainly do not think that "the be-all-and-end-all" of learning Biblical Greek is the ability to formulate a perfect English version (for that matter, I'm inclined to be skeptical about the concept of a "perfect English version"). On the other hand, Mark seems almost (but not quite) to envision exegesis as an exercise in Biblical Greek pedagogy more than as an exercise in Biblical Greek scholarly interpretation -- but, of course, Jonathan's question was originally posed in terms of how the practice of exegesis is taught in seminaries, and there's at least a vague notion that the successful practice of exegesis ends in a "perfect English version." I would guess that the seminary curriculum includes exegesis with the intention that the seminary graduate should be able to interpret the Bblical text intelligibly and intelligently to others. That does seem to me to be a meaningful objective to be aimed at in pedagogy, but it raises the question: "How are we to interpret the Biblical text intelligibly and intelligently?"
In past B-Greek discussions on the old mailing list as well as on the Forum, we have endeavored to draw a distinction between "understanding a Biblical Greek text as a Greek text: and "elucidating the broader background and doctrinal interpretive implications" of the text under investigation. While that distinction involves a fine line that is not perfectly discernible in every case, interpretation of those broader "background and doctrinal implications" involves assumptions and presuppositions about which exegetes themselves may be considerably at odds. For that reason we've tried to draw the line in our B-Greek discussions between what can be said about the Greek text as a Greek text and what is to be said about the implications, especially the doctrinal implications, of the text.
What troubles me about Mark's account of an alternative mode of "exegesis" is that it seems to depend wholly upon what the participants in the process already know and to eschew -- deliberately -- the employment of a grammatical metalanguage, whether linguistic or traditional, and reference tools, such as lexica, grammars, and background information. While there's something to be said for that as a preliminary step ("Let's be sure we're all on the same page: can we agree about what we all think this text means prior to any investigation of background and broader context as well as how this text is formulated?"). That's what is done in testing reading skills in elementary school or on an SAT exam. But is that as far as exegesis can and should go? I doubt it.
I think that traditional exegesis rightly endeavors to ascertain the precise intended sense of Greek words in context and to employ good lexical tools and a broader, chronologically relevant textual corpus in the process. I also think that questions regarding persons, places, things, institutions, etc. to which the text refers or about which it makes a statement need to be raised and answered as best they can be by means of any useful reference resource. And I think that the syntax binding the elements in the text into a discourse as well as the rhetorical structure and intent of the text are legitimate matters to be investigated in the exegetical process. To the extent that these elements are involved in the exegetical process as taught by the seminaries, I don't think they're doing it wrong. There remain the assumptions and presuppositions that will have much to do with the different end-results of exegesis in different sectarian institutions, but I continue to believe that these elements of analysis should be in play wherever exegesis is well taught and practiced -- even before we get to those matters of broader understanding of implications.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ἄτοπον, ἔφη, λέγεις εἰκόνα καὶ δεσμώτας ἀτόπους.
ὁμοίους ἡμῖν, ἦν δʼ ἐγώ. Plato, Rep. 7 (515a)