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Exegesis Series: Part 5

Last week we looked at the ‘practical’ approach to scripture were we asked questions such as, “what advice or guidance does the text offer to the original audience regarding things they might have encountered throughout their lives?”.

As we continue our series on the interpretation of scripture, we focus this week on the ‘interpretive’ approach. Looking at scripture through this lens seeks to uncover non-literal interpretations of the text, things that aren’t said directly but that can be argued for or seen by reading between the lines. Consider two examples below:

Genesis 2:20-22 (NRSV)

The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

This passage of Garden of Eden narrative displays the creation of Eve or women. Over the millennia there have been dozens if not hundreds of interpretations drawn from this passage with many utilizing it to argue for an oppressive gender hierarchy. For example, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he cites this part of the narrative as justification for his claim that women should wear head coverings because “woman is a reflection of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). However, there are countless churches in the present day where women do not cover their heads suggesting that many, including myself disagree with Paul’s interpretive conclusions for this passage.

Luke 19:5-7 (NRSV)

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

In this part of the narrative from Luke, Jesus is entering Jericho where a tax collector Zacchaeus has climbed a tree in order to see Jesus going past. Jesus seeing him tells him he will be his guest, and others apparently in the crowd were unhappy with this situation. My personal subjective reading of this from the interpretive approach sees something more than going to dinner, but would argue this represents the holy spirit’s willingness to enter into sinners. It is a passage I hold close to my heart for those who would say that I as a gay man cannot be Christian, that the spirit would not be a guest in my own house.

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