In order for a pastor to preach effectively from a given passage, he must know, at the very least, what that passage is saying. This is why in almost every semester of our three senior years at seminary we’ll be assigned an exegesis (exa-jeez-iss) paper. Like the names of many other theological fields of study, including the word “theological,” we get the word “exegesis” from Greek. In John 1:18, we read that “no one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” That italicized part is a single pretty word in Greek: εχηγησατο, or, exegesato. In other words, John 1:18 is telling us that Jesus Christ has come to exegete, or make known, the Father. So when ministers, and theological students, go about doing exegesis, what they’re doing is simply “making known” the passage; revealing it. We write so many exegesis papers because this is so foundational a skill.
This semester we’re writing one on an Old Testament passage. And not just any old passage either; but the ever popular, ever mysterious, and ever so hotly debated first chapter of Genesis. The way it works is that Dr. Smith divides the chapter into smaller passages, and assigns two students to a single passage. Each pair of students have to present their papers in class, and defend them. They have the entire class to do so. Since there are eight pairs of students, eight of our eleven Old Testament exegesis classes this semester will be devoted to paper presentations. We had the first presentation on Friday, where two students defended papers that discussed the overall genre of Genesis 1. This coming Friday two students will present on the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2; and the Friday after that we will start getting into the verse by verse exegetical details of the chapter. Fourth-year Gerritt once suggested to me in passing that using a conch may not be such a bad idea in class. After the discussion we had in Friday’s class, #Wisdom.
My passage is Genesis 1:14-19, which is the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. And no, I didn’t pick that passage; I was assigned it. If you know me well, you’ll understand the significance of that. If not, see here. I will be presenting it in class on November 8, and my sparring partner is second-year William. Potential sparring partner, I should say. We don’t often disagree with each other, but when we do, I lose. More to the point, when you disagree with someone who’s thirty years old and has a PhD., you lose by default.
You may be asking yourself, as my mother asked me, just how it’s possible to write a 20+ page paper on the fourth day of creation. Here’s the assignment description as I have it in the syllabus:
“How does the creation of the me’orot birqia (lights in the firmament) relate to God’s work on the first day? What were the functions of these lights? Why is this important? Is there a difference between the way that this passage portrays the role of the lights and the way 21st-century society would regard them today?”
The glaring detail in this passage is that God created light on the first day, but did not create the sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day. Exploring that issue alone will take up a lot of space. Further, Dr. Smith also gave us a short guide to writing exegesis papers, and the first step there is to read the passage repeatedly and come up with all sorts of questions. The idea is to open up different avenues of research, so the more comprehensive the question, the better. Here are a few of mine:
– what is meant by “signs” (v.14), and how does that relate to astrology?
– the sun and moon are to have dominion, so is hierarchy a key component to understanding these verses?
– could “light” on day 1 be the light of wisdom, connected to Proverbs 8?
– on day 1 God separated between light and darkness, but on day 4 He created the heavenly lights in order to serve this purpose; how do we explain that?
– why is the first mention of “separate” (v.14) between day and night, but the second mention (v.18) between light and darkness? Is there significance in the use of different terms?
Some of those questions are connected, but they will all require careful research and subsequent explanation in my paper. And those are only a handful of the questions/comments that I have so far. I spent a lot of time today doing background reading, and that brought up more questions as well. I hope, although I can’t promise anything, to post some interesting tidbits here as I do more research and make more discoveries. That does depend on how much time I have.