The following except is taken from Interpreting the New Testament Text (Darrel Bock and Buist Fanning eds. (Crossway, 2006), p. 156). David Lowery, New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes about the importance of validating our studies. I don’t think I have ever read a finer exhortation concerning the integrity we must possess when pursuing truth. While this is written specifically to exegetes (those who interpret Scripture), it applies to those who seek truth in any area of study. Please read it carefully.
“This process may be better understood by clarifying what it is not. It is not a matter of coming to a conclusion about the interpretation in question at the beginning of the process and arguing the case for that point of view by citing the data that seems supportive of it. In other words, an exegete is not an advocate, like a lawyer representing a client. A good lawyer will try to put his client and his case in the best possible light. He knows what conclusion he wants to reach before the trial begins and will seek to discount (or exclude) the relevance of any data that may prove problematic for winning agreement on the point of view he is putting forward.
Most of us would welcome a lawyer like this arguing our case in a trial. However, many biblical interpreters are confused about their proper role, and function for all practical purposes like lawyers arguing a point of view. They decide at the beginning of the process what view they regard as most compatible with their theological or ecclesiastical or personal conviction and then work to demonstrate the reasonableness of this interpretation against all competing interpretations. If certain data are problematic for their interpretation, they are ignored or discounted. It is a regrettable fact that many sincere (though misguided) people carry out research and writing as theological lawyers rather than biblical interpreters. Please do not be one of them
I hesitate to belabor this point but want to say as clearly as possible that manipulating the data of the text to support a particular point of view is not authentic exegesis or interpretation, and it is not validation that has any integrity of method associated with it. When you as a researcher detect this bogus approach to exegesis in the writing you are reading (or the lecture you are hearing), regard it as the wishful thinking of its author that it is. If you own writing of this sort, the only reason to read it is as an example of what not to do (libraries, by virtue of their role, routinely find shelf space for work of this sort and must be excused). Let no one say of you that you made up your mind about your conclusion before you started the process of validation. Instead, aim to follow the data to the most probable conclusion. Practice integrity of method. Your conclusion may be unsettling to you and may create more than a little personal tension (a circumstance that may never be resolved for some issues: welcome to life in an imperfect world). But you (and those you minister to) will be better for it if you treat the data with integrity (and you will not be a phony exegete).”
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