Exegeting or Speculating?

January 9, 2009

There are many loose ends in Scripture. All too frequently in my preaching I feel gravely tempted to tie some of those ends together: or at least to make educated guesses regarding ‘unknowns’ beyond the text. I was interested, then, to read of John Calvin’s attitude to these “One might imagine….” comments:

“There were…necessary safeguards to [Calvin’s] reasoning process. In dealing with any biblical text, Calvin purposed not to exceed what Scripture itself taught. The Reformer was careful not to enter the realm of speculation. As Calvin said, ‘Where the Lord closes His holy mouth, let us also stop our minds from going any further.’ In other words, he would say no more than Scripture.”

(Steve Lawson, “The Expository Genius of John Calvin”, p 79)


  1. […] Exegesis: A Mark of Humility Posted on January 9, 2009 by viaemmaus Colin Adams, at Unashamed Workman, posts a thought-provoking nugget this morning about the faithful exegesis and the example of John […]

  2. Good word, Colin. It prompted further ruminations on the matter, viaemmaus.wordpress.com.

  3. I usually at least dip my toe, maybe an ankle, into the waters of speculation when I get to spots where Scripture doesn’t fully explain something. I preface it with “Now I don’t think that this passage is saying this, but…” Hmm, thanks for the quote – something to think about.

  4. Dwayne,

    Yes it is something to think about, isn’t it?

    While I’m not fully convinced that its ALWAYS categorically wrong to make an educated conjecture about something, I suspect that many preachers spend an unproductive amount of time wading around in the maybes (is this really to inform, to sound clever, or merely to assuage curiosity? What does it add to the exposition when we finally say: “…in the end, we don’t know for sure”?).

    I guess our job is to give an exposition of what IS there and IS clear. Put another way: we’ve been called to preach the gospel, not preach the Gaps.

  5. I am coming at it not form a preachers point of view, but just any saint who stumbles across a passage. Tossed out some more thoughts on my site. Thanks for making me think sir.

  6. I am curious as to whether you think that many times pastors delve into this area of speculation, perhaps trying to come up with something “new and exciting”? The challenge is a good one – not to go beyond what is in Scripture.
    God bless,

  7. I think many times that is the case, though not always. Sometimes there is genuine curiosity.

    Last night in our readings, arising from Genesis 22, my wife wondered how Isaac felt during and (maybe especially) after the incident of his father attempting to sacrifice him?! Its a natural question to raise. And from a human perspective, most interesting. The cold fact remains though: Scripture doesn’t tell us anything regarding how Isaac felt. That could have been part of the re-telling. Its not. Therefore God has other things to teach us which don’t involve how Isaac was feeling.

    A couple more questions come to mind too upon reflection. If a preacher diverts inordinate energies to the ‘mights’ and the ‘maybes’, two further questions could be asked:

    1) Isn’t Scripture as it stands interesting enough to merit our full attention? Could it be we are bored with many of the biblical accounts, or assume we already ‘get them’ in their fullness?

    2) Could all the wasted time spent on this could better be diverted to teasing out the application more fully? Or is that what we’re avoiding?

  8. Colin –
    I like these additional questions as they too, speak to the issue. Studying Scripture takes work, hard work, and as a result, I, sometimes fail to produce the effort to give it my full attention. Sometimes I settle to tinker on the edges rather than allow myself to be satiated in it. When I settle I am never satisfied…when I dig deep, I am ultimately rewarded.

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