Suzanne Nicholson on “What Makes a Good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

I always tell my students, “Context is everything!” Without understanding
the historical and literary contexts, it is impossible to interpret the
passage well. Words have different meanings in different contexts, and it
is very difficult to understand irony or the overall tone of a passage
without knowing the situation that the author addresses.

You can’t be a good biblical interpreter without looking at the text
closely and seeing what is really there. Take time to suck the marrow out
of the text! But be careful not to read 2,000 years of Christian theology
into the passage; see what THIS author says. Every word matters. Ask why
the author made the choices that he did. Sometimes asking why something
ISN’T in the text can be helpful: why did the author choose this word and
not another? Look at the structure of the passage; why is it organized in
the way that it is? How does the structure highlight the meaning? Consider
the book as a whole: how does a single passage reinforce the themes of the
book? When looking at a text, don’t jump straight to application. Make
sure to observe and analyze the passage in its own historical/cultural
setting before trying to apply it to the 21st century–often adjustments
need to be made to apply the universal principle to our own cultural

For preachers, remember that the Holy Spirit is involved in the
preparation of the sermon, not just the delivery. Good exegesis is the
most important part of a sermon. It doesn’t matter if you speak well;
without preaching the Gospel, you’re just giving another TED talk.

~Suzanne Nicholson, Professor of Biblical Studies, Chair of the Department of Bible, Theology, and Ministry, Malone University

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