New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors

Book Review
  • Approximate Time Commitment: 10 minutes

NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS: A Handbook for Students and Pastors by Gordon D. Fee focuses on how to create a sermon. This book review was written by Hank Griffith of South Suburban Evangelical Free Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. This book is good for students and pastors.

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Full Review:

“We have been studying cheerfully and seriously. As far as I was concerned it could have continued that way, and I had already resigned myself to having my grave here by the Rhine! … And now the end has come. So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the Word, to the scripture that has been given to us.” (Karl Barth in his formal farewell to his students in Bonn)

The goal of New Testament exegesis is to determine the meaning of the text in light of its original intent. Whether you are a pastor, a missionary, an evangelist, or a Sunday School teacher, it is incumbent on you to properly interpret the Scriptural text before you, and of course, your assignment doesn’t end there – you must then relevantly apply it to the lives of your listeners. Therefore, even though New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors is a textbook written at a fairly high level by a seminary professor for his students, I believe it contains a number of important lessons that any Bible teacher can profit from. (By the way, some have defined “exegesis” simply as “careful reading.”)

The Author

Now a word on the author: Gordon Donald Fee, Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, is an American-Canadian theologian who has taught at several leading institutions including Wheaton, Gordon-Conwell, and Regent College in Vancouver.

How to

New Testament Exegesis is really, in my opinion, a how-to book. It’s the clearest and most succinct study of New Testament exegesis that I’ve ever seen. At 150 pages long, it has many pages of valuable resources. Though short, New Testament Exegesis is a scholarly book. Fee is aware of the best in New Testament scholarship, and he by no means limits his references to works by evangelicals. He covers the gamut of the best in New Testament studies whether written in German, French, or English. However since it was written in 1983, it is now somewhat dated, but this fact does not at all affect its usefulness.

The core of the book is comprised of four very valuable chapters: (1) Guide for Full Exegesis, (2) Exegesis and the Original Text, (3) Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis, and (4) Aids and Resources for the Steps in Exegesis.

Fee fleshes out the following steps to write a good exegesis paper on a New Testament passage. These steps can serve as the basis of a sermon or Sunday School lesson:

Step 1: Survey the historical context in general.

Step 2: Confirm the limits of the passage.

Step 3: Establish the text.

Step 4: Make a provisional translation.

Step 5: Analyze sentence structures and syntactical relationships.

Step 6: Analyze the grammar.

Step 7: Analyze significant words.

Step 8: Research the historical-cultural background.

Go to Steps 9-11 on the basis of the literary genre of your passage.

—-If the passage is in the epistles:

Step 9: Determine the formal character of the epistle.

Step 10: Examine the historical context in particular.

Step 11: Determine the literary context.

—-If the passage is in the gospels:

Step 9: Determine the formal character of the passage or saying.

Step 10: Analyze the passage in a gospel synopsis.

Step 11: Consider possible life settings in the life of Jesus.

—-If the passage is Acts:

Step 10: Research the historical questions.

Step 11: Determine the literary context.

—-If the passage is in Revelation:

Step 9: Understand the formal character of Revelation.

Step 10: Determine the historical context.

Step 11: Determine the literary context.

Complete the exegesis by going through Steps 12-15.

Step 12: Consider the broader biblical and theological contexts.

Step 13: Consult secondary literature.

Step 14 (optional): Provide a finished translation.

Step 15: Write the paper.

Fee is realistic that a pastor does not have the time to do all of this preliminary study in great depth. He suggests ten hours of preparation for a sermon – five hours for the exegesis and five hours for the actual writing of the sermon. He goes on to present in some detail a step-by-step process to follow in preparing a sermon.

Throughout the pastor’s preparation, he should constantly have two goals in mind:

“(1) to learn as much as you can about your text, its overall point, and how all the details go together to make that point (recognizing all along that not everything you learn will necessarily be included verbally in the sermon); and (2) to think about the application of the text, which especially in this case includes the discriminating use of all that you have learned in the exegetical process.”

Fee’s reminders to the pastor

“What you have been doing to this point is not the sermon itself. You have been discovering the meaning of the text in terms of its original intent.” He also reminds him of the importance of making the sermon his own, based on his exegesis, and delivering the sermon to his congregation which he knows the best.

At this point in the preparation of the sermon, Fee suggests that the pastor spend some time in reflection on the text and in prayer. “Preaching is not simply an affair of the mind and study; it is also an affair of the heart and prayer.”

I appreciate Fee’s insistence that the preacher must actually write out three things: his main points, the purpose of the sermon, and the response that he hopes it will achieve. (I’ve learned from personal experience that it’s IMPERATIVE that I have in mind both the purpose of my sermon and the desired response to it, if it is going to be sharp and effective.)

In addition,

I resonate with the three points Fee makes on constructing the outline: (1) it does not necessarily have to follow the outline of the Biblical text itself; (2) it should not include everything that the pastor has studied in preparing the sermon; and (3) he should decide early on where the exegesis itself will fit into the sermon.

A couple more comments:

Fee’s insights on how to do a word study are excellent. The book includes hundreds of Greek words written in actual Greek letters. This might seem intimidating at first if you don’t know Greek, but I think you can profit from the book even without much knowledge of Greek. (By the way, in my opinion every Bible teacher should at least know the Greek alphabet so he or she can look up words in a good lexicon and use many of the best commentaries.)

An important final thought by the author: “Exegesis is not an end in itself, but always must be applied.”



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