Puzzling the Bible 1

This week with my exegesis students I have been using the metaphor of a puzzle to show how we need to understand a piece of Scripture in its context before we can fully understand it. This metaphor has succeeded and failed on a large scale. First, the failure. None of my students knew what a jigsaw puzzle was. In Portuguese it is called a quebra-cabeça, that is a “head breaker.” It’s the same word used for riddles and any type of puzzle. None of them had ever seen or heard of a jigsaw puzzle.

I ripped a page out of a magazine and glued it on to construction paper and then cut it into nine pieces. Below is one of the pieces. I will ask you what I asked my students: What does this picture represent? And then I’ll ask you a question that has to do with Better Bibles: What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with the discussion on Psalm 51 that Suzanne has been facilitating?

puzzle piece

Tomorrow I’ll give you the rest of the puzzle pieces.

In the meantime, please share your guess about this piece.

6 thoughts on “Puzzling the Bible 1

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    I can’t make much of the puzzle yet. But the problem with quite a lot of exegesis is that in obscure passages we have about this much of the puzzle in all and on that basis various exegetes jump to conclusions which they then defend as their own lives.

  2. Richard A. Rhodes says:

    Amen to that, Peter!

    The problem is that the exegetic ground has shifted dramatically in just the last few decades, based on ever increasing knowledge about the phenomenon of human behavior in general, coupled with new insights from archeology, and about the phenomenon of human language and communication in general, coupled with ongoing work on the various varieties of Ancient Greek up to the Middle Ages.

    So a lot of those tiny (and not so tiny) pieces all need a fresh look. and that’s the LAST thing any of the current stakeholders want.

  3. Paul Larson says:

    With all the “modern” exegesis going on we must be careful not to get too enamored of the exegesis on small fragments for the sake of exegesis, without taking the immediate context into consideration. This immediate context also needs to take place as essentially Middle Eastern culture in the nature of its reasoning and “world” outlook and not Western.

    We also need to keep in mind, that while the Old and New testaments are very different things, that context must be kept in mind.
    And ultimately we must keep in mind the context of the remarkable fact of the uniqueness of a servant God.

    As a typical self centered American male I am most concerned with myself moving closer to God. Yes, this is selfish, but that is, to me, the way Christianity works. The closer I get to Him to closer I get to being service to my fellow, in the manner that he has loved me.

    This to me is the purpose of Bible study, not to create a better book but to create a better relationship.

    I think the puzzle is a cartoon rendering of something I have seen, Abraham or something from a parable book I have seen perhaps.

  4. David Ker says:

    Reading about relevance theory and its emphasis on communication gave me a lot of new perspectives on exegesis. I will publish the next installment in a few hours but I’ll give people a little bit longer to make guesses about the image. (NB: Next image is the pieces but not assembled.)

  5. J. K. Gayle says:

    Reading about relevance theory and its emphasis on communication gave me a lot of new perspectives on exegesis.

    David,
    Our good friend Th.C. set me up a crash course meeting with one of the leading relevant theorists recently. When I started poking around and at all that that “new” leaves behind, he exclaimed: “Tagmemics?! Now there’s a word I haven’t heard in a long time.” Then I headed down the hall and spent a wonderful hour with Tom Headland, who is just claims he’s Kenneth Pike’s favorite fan. As he told story after tagememic story, I was almost persuaded. Except he was telling those great stories to me. Anyway, somehow I thought that story might be puzzling enough to be relevant here.

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