The relationship between theology, history, philology, and exegesis, is a complicated one and has become more and more the focus of discussion in debates about how to read and interpret the Bible. That historical critical interpretations are insufficient has become axiomatic for those interested in reading the Bible theologically. Deep Exegesis represents Peter Leithart’s contribution to this discussion. In this engaging volume, Leithart demonstrates how readers need to be trained in specific disciplines of reading, not simply philological and historical analyses, in order to understand properly the biblical texts. Discipleship to Jesus names the specific disciplined training which is a prerequisite for deeply reading Scripture. The two goals he has for the book is to show how “reading Scripture has to do with attending to the specific contours of the text,” and also to emphasize the importance of learning “to read from Jesus and Paul” (vii). Leithart’s succeeds marvelously well in reaching his goals through his six chapters which are not only incredibly insightful and penetrating, but also exceedingly well-written.
In his first chapter, “The Text Is a Husk: Modern Hermeneutics” (1-34), Leithart surveys the history of modern biblical criticism—which is at once theological, philosophical, and political—showing how such methods, wedded invariably to hermeneutics of suspicion, severe the bonds which unite the message to the medium, and thus theology and tradition from Scripture which becomes dissected into literary fragments. In this survey, pride of place goes to modern thinkers like Lodewijk Meyer, Benedict Spinoza, and Immanuel Kant. Kant becomes especially important for Leithart because he influences both modern biblical critical hermeneutics as well as evangelical Protestant hermeneutics. Two key moves Kant made were to detach “Christian faith, Jesus, and the gospel from the Old Testament,” and, at an even more basic level, “he strips away the temporal husk from the philosophical kernel” (29).
The second chapter, “Texts Are Events: Typology” (35-74), is a spirited defense of the traditional typological exegesis found among the Church Fathers, precisely as exegesis and not mere eisegesis. Through numerous examples taken from the history of Europe, the history of the development of language, the Bible itself, and music, Leithart emphasizes how “stories can be told only by those who know the end” (41). In his third chapter, “Words Are Players: Semantics” (75-108), Leithart examines how words function in texts, in both prose and poetry. The very words of Scripture, when understood from such multi-dimensional players in the drama of interpretation, have a rich potential to the Bible’s message in ever new ways. The fourth chapter, “The Text Is a Joke: Intertextuality” (109-139), is, in my mind, the most creative, insightful, and enjoyable read in the entire volume. In it, Leithart uses the example of humor to highlight how, in order to “get it,” the reader must know sufficient background material from outside of the text, but, moreover, she must also know “what information from outside the text is relevant” (113). Texts remain impenetrable without the necessary reservoir of background information, and the precise skill of drawing upon that reservoir to make sense of the material.
The fifth chapter, “Texts Are Music: Structure” (141-171), likens texts to what Leithart calls “musical jokes” (144). Via repetition, arrangement, multiple levels of structure, etc., Leithart describes reading as a way of making sense of the rhythm and melody of texts. In his final chapter, “Texts Are about Christ: Application” (173-206), Leithart uses the specific example of John 9 to show how interpretation works following the discussion in the rest of his book, retaining a Christological focus. Leithart’s book provides an important contribution to the discussion about how to read Scripture, especially for those who have a concern for reading the Bible theologically.