Exploring the Texture of Texts by Vernon K. Robbins:
I want to say how much I love this book, but the truth is that for me it is an extremely difficult book to read and use. In Exploring the Texture of Texts, Robbins tries to teach the novice how to conduct a basic exegesis of Biblical passages. It served as my introduction to the discipline, and I met it with wild-eyed confusion and angst.
If it weren’t for my university professors guiding me through the steps, I never would have made it. However, with a significant amount of patient assistance, I have learned to perform the five different types of socio-rhetorical interpretation of the Bible described by Robbins:
Inner-Textural: typically the logical starting point for exegesis because all of the material required to study is conveniently gathered in one location. However, this translates to a herculean task of plotting and coding each individual word of the pericope you are examining. This method is best employed when you are trying to gather a deep and intimate understanding of the heartfelt message of the author.
Intertextual: understanding how the texts of the Bible interact with each other leads to a deeper understanding of their meaning. Robbins warns against relying too heavily on this approach due to the exegete’s possible misunderstanding of all the relevant cultural, social, and historical phenomenon surrounding different texts in the Bible. However, the greatest Intertextual exegete of all time was Jesus himself, who frequently refers to Old Testament passages to explain current events.
Social/Cultural: recognizes that the interpreter of scripture has a perspective that is likely different from the author’s perspective. This approach seeks to separate the two views to gain better insight into the Biblical author. To facilitate this process, Robbins describes a taxonomy of seven types of religious responses to the world; Conversionist, Revolutionist, Introversionist, Gnostic-Manipulationist, Thaumaturgical, Reformist, and Utopian; and then adds yet another dimension cataloging eight common social and cultural topics ranging from honor and guilt to purity codes. Implied is the responsibility of the interpreters to first understand their own location on the spectrum of these dimensions so that they can more accurately interpret the sacred texts.
Ideological: seeks to form an intimate connection between the writer and the reader (or several readers) of the text. Robbins states succinctly that “the primary subject of ideological analysis is people” (p. 95). He then provides tools to categorize those people into five distinct systems; dominant culture, subculture, counterculture, contraculture, and liminal culture. Here again, we see the implied task to the interpreters is to first identify their own cultural perspective.
Sacred: is concerned with holy persons, spirit beings, human redemption, deity, divine history, ethics, human commitment, religious community, and ethics.
As I said, there is a lot contained in Robbin’s skinny little book. And while I do not consider myself to be a skilled exegete by any means, I have diligently applied myself to the task on numerous occasions. The result is that my mind has opened to a whole new world contained in the Bible, and it has enhanced my walk with the Lord in profound ways.
I understand now that most Americans only think they know the Bible but tend to have only superficial knowledge. Even worse, this level of ignorance allows those who vilify and criticize the Bible to get away with spreading wild disinformation about it. I think scholarly training of this type should form the central foundation for Christian education and leadership.