FIYH 25-26: Exegesis

Let’s keep on rolling with Sunday homilies in the US, okay?

Last post we looked at the principle of rooting homilies in prayer. Prayer first, as it were, then go to the intellect for harvesting ideas. This next section of FIYH is titled, “INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES.” Let’s read what the bishops say:


[25] Let us begin with the second requirement first, since that is somewhat easier to describe. The interpretation of texts is the science of hermeneutics, and in order to accomplish its end, hermeneutics relies first of all on exegesis. For exegesis to be done at the highest professional level, the exegete must have knowledge of the original languages, access to the tools of textual criticism, extensive historical and archeological background, a comprehensive knowledge of the development of biblical faith, and a familiarity with the history of the theological interpretation of texts in both the synagogue and the Christian churches. Obviously few preachers have the training or access to the resources for exegesis of this kind.

In some circles, the intellect gets a bad rap these days. Like anything else, these exegetical methods are tools, not the end to themselves. When lensing the Scriptures through considerations of Judaism, original languages, and text criticism, it should be obvious that the preacher is not preaching Judaism, original languages, or text criticism. The homily is rooted in prayer, remember, as well as the lived experience of the listeners. One might find an interesting intellectual tidbit to share, something like the last cashew in the mixed nut dish. One doesn’t brush aside one’s hosts and go scouring through their pantry for more cashews.

For the ordinary parish preacher what is needed? An ability to tap into professional exegesis, some language ability, some critical methods, and maybe some of the contexts of the original passage, especially if it ever related to Jewish or Christian liturgy:

[26] Exegesis for preaching need not always be done at the highest professional level. Our seminary training and our continuing education provide us with tools and resources to tap the best of contemporary exegesis in a fruitful way. Even a smattering of Hebrew and Greek is helpful in capturing the flavor or nuances of certain words. An acquaintance with the methods of scriptural scholarship enables us to understand, for example, why the sayings of Jesus can appear in such different contexts, and therefore with such different meanings, in the Gospels. Or again, knowing how the biblical author used a particular passage as a building block in a larger literary context can help us appreciate how the church of succeeding ages found it important to set the passage in contemporary contexts, a task which is ours in the liturgical celebration today.


(All texts from Fulfilled in Your Hearing are copyright © 1982 USCCB. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to FIYH 25-26: Exegesis

  1. Tony says:

    Sure, I’ll share my thoughts…

    Scriptural exegesis is critical, both to an accomplished homilist (as our current pastor is) and one reading Scripture for personal enrichment.

    In order to apply a relevant passage of Scripture to an important issue of the day, you have to understand the passage. This means you need to intimately understand the culture of the day in which the particular passage occurred.

    For example, when Jesus met the lady at the well in the middle of the day, why was that significant?

    I have, on many occasions, told people that my pastor’s homilies are like a walk through the Holy Land with Jesus. He brings scripture to life and ties it to an issue or issues of the day. Unlike the prevous priest who seemed to either ignore scripture, or tie it with the thinnest of threads to his liberal political ideology.

    I sit in the front to cantor. There are no sleepers, and my teenaged daughter can remember what father’s homilies were about.

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