On Biblical Exegesis

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Constantly confronted with what I believe to be poor interpretations of Scripture, people often take it personally when I disagree with them. This essay will, I hope, present what I believe are the most reliable methods for interpreting the Bible, and reflect the methods that I have endeavored to employ in my translations, my essays, and all of my studies.

All too often, interpretations of Scripture are offered where it is obvious that verses are taken out-of-context, meaning that the related statements in the rest of Scripture have not been thoroughly considered when an opinion concerning a passage in question was first formulated. If we can accept Scripture as the inspired Word of Yahweh our God, then we must realize that no passage of Scripture can be taken out of context and understood apart from all of the others, and also that no two passages of Scripture can conflict with one another. Where two passages seem to conflict, it is evident that the understanding of the person who notices the conflict is at fault, and not either of the passages of Scripture.

But what is Scripture? Firstly, Scripture is not the King James Version or any other translation. All translations are effected by men, and all translations contain errors, because all men are fallible. This, of course, I even admit to be true of my own translations. So to examine Scripture, if one aspires to be an elucidator of Truth and a commentator on the Word of God, it is necessary that one acquaint himself with the original languages of Scripture, which are indeed Greek, Hebrew, and in some Old Testament and Apocryphal books, Aramaic.

Secondly, manuscript evidence and support for passages of Scripture must be established. The Biblical books have for many centuries been passed down from scribe to scribe, and not always accurately copied. In some cases, interpolations appear which simply did not exist in earlier manuscripts. Some of these were purposeful elaborations or added tales, and others were simply marginal notes that eventually became incorporated into the text. Word variations also appear in many instances upon comparing the ancient copies of the manuscripts of Scripture. While they are never welcomed, most often these word variations are harmless, and reflect an updating of the language to replace obsolete words, or differences in dialect since even Koine Greek had some regional variations. Others are plain scribal errors. To sort all of these out, we must rely upon the preponderance of witnesses among the oldest and most reliable manuscripts, which cannot be determined unless we first examine all of the manuscripts which we have. This is the art of the textual critic, and it is a necessary one as long as the critic is conservative and fair in his estimations. Some textual critics indeed had their own agendas, and they all must be scrutinized.

In my own translation of the New Testament, I have not relied upon any textual criticism but my own, and have examined the readings of only the oldest of the Great Uncials and recorded papyri fragments in order to make them. Generally, my translations follow the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (which each represent independent textual traditions), along with the papyri, where in comparison the Authorized King James Version generally follows the later Codices Bezae and Alexandrinus (which along with the Codex Ephraemi Syri and other later codices represents the so-called “Alexandrian tradition”). An example of the result of this is that the King James Version contains the verses found at Mark 16:9-20, which come to us through the Codices Bezae and Alexandrinus, but which are completely wanting in the older Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and are therefore not included in my own translation. If there is no ancient evidence for a passage, it cannot be safely included in Scripture. Therefore, to this writer, New Testament Scripture is that which is found in the oldest Greek manuscripts. And as better manuscript evidence comes along, primarily through sound archaeological research and discovery, we must be willing to evaluate it objectively and even then upon its acceptance, to emend our canon in order to reflect the new evidence once it is esteemed to be of value.

However, new discoveries must be thoroughly evaluated in their historical context. An example of controversial material in this regard is the discovery at Nag Hammadi. We cannot simply accept something because of its antiquity. Rather, the Nag Hammadi manuscripts themselves conflict with much of the Scripture handed down to us. But fortunately, we have historical testimony from early Christian writers, which enable us to determine that the Nag Hammadi writings were in fact creations of the sect of the Gnostics, a faction of the Judaean community at Alexandria which in the second century sought to corrupt Christianity by fabricating its own versions of the Gospels and related documents. Arriving at these conclusions through an examination of the historical evidence and the documents themselves, I have therefore excluded these materials from my work.

For an understanding of the Greek language, one cannot rely primarily upon “New Testament” lexicons. A proper understanding of a language cannot be acquired if one’s vocabulary is limited to the 5600-plus unique words contained in the New Testament, understood as the organized religions would like to present them: defined in a manner which often supports a particular theology. Rather, the same lexicons must be used which have been developed by scholars in order to understand the large body of historical, philosophical and other ancient writings which the Greeks have left us. The Scriptures were written in plain language for everyday people to understand, and not in some specialized theological babble. Every word of the Greek New Testament, except where a few Aramaic words appear, was used in a manner that the common Greek-speaking people understood (cf. I Cor. 14:9).

The Old Testament is far more problematic in interpreting, since there are no extant Hebrew manuscripts of any great antiquity. We have several versions of the Old Testament Scriptures available, and it may be asserted that all of them are important, since not any of them can claim to be an authority by itself. They all have their unique and particular problems in addition to the many problems that they share in common with one another.

The Septuagint is a translation, effected by fallible men, and therefore it has the same problems that many modern Bible translations have. It contains many translations which reflect the biases of the time in which it was written, and it often also reflects a poor understanding of Hebrew, history and Scripture. Since all translations are to some extent also interpretations, this is especially true in the prophetic books, where the Hebrew of the Masoretes is especially valuable. Also, through the science of archaeology, we have a much better understanding today of remote antiquity than the translators of the Septuagint had. Yet in many instances the Septuagint is much more valuable than the Masoretic Text, since apparently it was translated from far more reliable Hebrew manuscripts than the Masoretes have presented to us. For the most part, the Septuagint also represents a text that the apostles knew and used where they themselves quoted Old Testament scripture. Yet because both the Septuagint and the Masoretic texts contain obvious flaws, both must be employed when examining Old Testament passages, and other important witnesses just as old exist to further assist us with that endeavor.

The historian Flavius Josephus wrote his Antiquities of the Judaeans as a summary of Scripture with the more recent history leading down to his own time appended to it. This work, while it reflects the learning of the first-century Pharisees, is nevertheless crucial to Biblical studies since it reflects the Hebrew manuscripts which Josephus worked from. Another viable source is the Dead Sea Scrolls, which although while they are indeed sectarian, contain many books and passages of Scripture in Hebrew and Aramaic and are therefore an important witness, predating the Masoretic Text by several centuries. While most often the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Septuagint readings of Scripture, in some instances they instead verify readings from the Masoretic Text. One rather crucial passage which illustrates this predicament is Isaiah 9:6, one important Messianic prophecy which the Septuagint reads quite differently, but the Masoretic jews rather surprisingly maintained. But the most important tool which we must employ in order to understand the Old Testament writings is the New Testament. Since Yahshua Christ and the apostles were much closer to the original meanings of Scripture than we can hope to be, then in interpreting the Old Testament we must also examine their words wherever they can elucidate Old Testament passages for us. An obviously important example of this is the reading of Genesis 4:1, which is obviously corrupt in its current Hebrew form, and suffered that corruption at an early time, even before the Septuagint translation was created. Furthermore, there are apocryphal books which are supported by New Testament citations or other evidence, which refute the Septuagint and Masoretic readings of passages such as Genesis 4:1, and they must therefore be given merit and considered. It must also be understood that the Septuagint and Masoretic texts are both “official” versions of Scripture and a reflection of the religious authorities of their respective times and sects, and therefore must be treated accordingly – not blindly accepted or patently despised, but examined and treated objectively.

In summation, we must not dismiss any ancient witness to Scripture: whether it be the Septuagint, the Masoretic Text, the Aramaic Targums, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the writings of Josephus or the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are all important witnesses which may help us arrive at a more accurate understanding of Scripture, yet they must all be examined through the lens of New Testament truth. And in that regard, certain “apocryphal” books, such as the original portions of I Enoch, must also be considered as Scripture since the New Testament writers quoted from them and they certainly regarded them as Scripture. Yet the Apocrypha and related literature cannot be accepted or rejected without discretion, but must themselves be examined individually in their own historical context and from the best evidence of ancient manuscripts.

The Hebrew language, its vocabulary and idioms, must also be interpreted, whenever possible, through contemporary secular writings. John Lightfoot in his Commentary on the New Testament From the Talmud and Hebraica, and Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon are probably among the most valuable tools for the exegesis of Hebrew as understood in its ancient context. A knowledge of Greek also helps us to understand how the Septuagint translators understood the Hebrew language. However there is another advantage that we have now which the translators of the King James Version and other early Bibles, commentaries and lexicons did not have. Today we have a huge corpus of ancient inscriptions and tablets which have become available through archaeology and which were not only written in quite similar Shemitic languages such as Akkadian and Aramaic, but which were also contemporary with the original writing of the Old Testament itself. These offer invaluable insight into the vocabulary and idioms of ancient Hebrew, and must be considered whenever possible. An example of such consideration is found with my own comparison of passages from the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh with certain language found in genesis Chapter 3, in a paper called Shemitic Idioms and Genesis Chapter Three, available at Christogenea.org, One cannot rely solely upon Strong’s Concordance for Biblical exegesis, since while it is often a valuable tool, by itself it is entirely deficient in language studies, and contains no indications from the original text concerning grammar, which is beyond the original intent of the work.

Walking through the entire collection of Biblical books, it can clearly be demonstrated that sixty-five books of the common Biblical canon are indeed inspired. Good argument can be made to exclude only Esther, and none of the other books of those found in the King James Version may be excluded. All of the evidence and assertions of the critics fails, and upon scrutiny is seen to be little but the calumny of the jews and assorted other anti-Christs and scoffers. Additionally, many of the so-called apocryphal books also belong in our canon, but each of them must be evaluated independently. I Maccabees, Susanna, Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, the Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and especially I Esdras all come to mind in this regard.

With all of this in consideration, there are certain errors which rather unscholarly men often make in Biblical interpretation that are absolutely beyond the limits of intelligent, rational thought and honesty. For instance, there is a sect today which insists that Yahshua (Jesus) Christ came to us through the line of Ephraim. However the New Testament Scriptures clearly state, in both Hebrews and in the Revelation, that He was of the tribe of Judah (not to be confused with today’s jews). Without any proof except for unfounded accusations, this sect refutes both the Revelation and the writer of Hebrews, along with many of the Old Testament Scriptures, in order to maintain its argument. To this writer, such an endeavor which is not based on any truly ancient knowledge is sheer buffoonery. In blindness and arrogance, it is quite easy, in this writer’s opinion, for a man to become the fool.

A premise, as defined by The American Heritage College Dictionary, is “a proposition upon which an argument is based or from which a conclusion is drawn…. One of the propositions in a deductive argument…” My contention would be that, in any exposition concerning history, Scripture, science, or any other field of study, when presenting an argument, if your premise is wrong, it only naturally follows that your conclusion is wrong, unless you happen to be a very fortunate individual.

When I read an idea put forth by another student (and we are all merely students), as soon as I realize that the person’s basic premise is wrong, I have no need to proceed further. I address the premise, and explain why it is wrong. From there, I would hope that the person investigates further, adjusts his conclusion if necessary, and only then engages in further debate. But from my own experience, many of the people that I have observed developing false doctrines from errant interpretations of Scripture would rather become insolent and return criticism, rather than reevaluate their vested positions. They often do this because, their pet theory being attacked, they then take it personally. Rather than enquiring further as to why their basic premise may be wrong, a more frequent reaction for many people is to jump up and down and scream.

The ideal attitude for me is not to claim any personal authority. The ideal attitude is that the Word of Yahweh our God alone is the authority. If one has a theory concerning Scripture, and wants to turn it into a doctrine, then one better have Scripture – or at least a very good exposition from demonstrably valid alternative translations or alternative sources of Scripture - in order to support their theory. And the apocryphal books cannot be used to refute Scripture, but may indeed be used to clarify it. An example of this is found in my paper, The Problem with Genesis 6:1-4.

In one recent example, a (probably former) contributor to the Christogenea forum made the claim that Noah’s wife was “serpent seed”. His contention is that the whole globe was flooded, with all planetary life except that on the ark being destroyed, and that the “serpent seed” was preserved on the ark through Ham and his union with Noah’s wife. Yet nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that there was anything wrong with Noah’s wife. In fact, Noah was chosen by Yahweh to survive the flood because he was perfect in his descent. The flood was brought upon Adam-kind because of their race-mixing, and Noah survived because he was not a race-mixer. Yet this contributor’s interpretation basically accuses Noah of being a race-mixer, and, by extension, accuses Yahweh our God of being a hypocrite!

The bottom line is that this individual was forced into concocting a situation by which the seed of the serpent could survive the flood, since he insists that the flood destroyed the entire globe and all life on it except for those on the ark. Rather than take Scripture for what it says, and look at how it would be possible for the serpent seed, the Rephaim, and the other non-Adamic races to survive the flood of Noah, he emends Scripture to fit his own personal theory concerning the flood. In doing so, he blasphemes both Noah (since the race-mixing accusation cannot be avoided) and even Yahweh Himself! Rather, God is True, and this contributor is a liar. He has made himself a fool.

It is one thing to disagree on what certain obscure words or verses mean, or to disagree on the meaning or impact of certain obscure events. However it is quite another thing to invent your own Scripture out of thin air in order to support your interpretations of those passages or events. One may get away with this in other venues, but one may not get away with it when offering it to people who have actually read their Bibles. Doing such a thing, Scripture itself will always expose the contrivance as a foolish invention. I alone am not calling such a person a fool: Scripture is making them into fools, because Yahweh is True and every man a liar. It is merely my duty to point it out.

If one wants to offer interpretations of Scripture, whether or not they fit the mold, so to speak, that we in Christian Israel Identity have carved out through hard work and much study, one is more than welcome to do so. If one wants to honestly enquire, or even disagree, one is more than welcome to do so. But if one is making up his own Scripture, and ignoring the greater Biblical context which refutes it, in order to push some pet interpretation of Biblical prophecy or events, then that person is simply wasting his time, the time of other readers, and he should expect to be treated critically, and even harshly. We know that Christian Identity is the true Christianity, yet it is ridiculed enough by the mainstream so-called clerics and scholars as it is. Therefore it behooves us to maintain the highest level of scholarship possible, so that when the critics assail us, they themselves are found wanting. We cannot ever maintain the appropriate level of scholarship by inventing our own scripture and history. We must aim at being overcomers, not novelists.

Below is a 2009 presentation on Greek Grammar and Exegesis: