When we do exegesis the most important question we have to answer is this: "What did the author intend his original readers to understand?”
Before we can figure out what a text means for us today, we must understand what it meant for the original audience. Following these 5 rules will go a long way to helping us do that.
5 Rules for Exegesis
1 - Words
Consider the words that are used and how they are used. Different sentence order, punctuation, and verb tense are all things that could make a difference in meaning.
The basic meaning of words is also extremely important. If a word or phrase has several possible meanings, allow the context to decide which is correct.
2 - Author
The time & place the author wrote will often help determine the meaning of the writing. The way they wrote their message was influenced by their situations and cultures. Knowing history and culture open up meaning. For example, understanding the Jewish sects and the government that ruled Palestine in New Testament times increases understanding of Scripture. And understanding the connotations of positions such as the "high priest" or "tax collector" helps us know what others thought of the people holding these positions. Avoid reading the text as if it were written by a 21st century American.
Another thing to be aware of is that many words, phrases and even images had a different meaning 2000, 4000, 6000 years ago than they do now (e.g., idioms). Everything must be understood according to the grammar and meaning of the language in which it was originally written. For example, if a speaker of old English said you were "cute", he would actually be saying you are bow-legged. (And isn't that adorable!!)
A writer’s goal determines the character of his communication. We should always ask ourselves, why did the writer put the time & effort into the writing? What did the writer want us to take away from the text? Sometimes it's obvious (like when John tells us the purpose of his gospel is that we might believe in Jesus) - but often it's not.
3 - Style
Interpret words and phrases by the common meaning - not the philosopical or "spiritual". Do not try to read between the lines and find some "hidden meaning". Interpret words & phrases literally - unless the context gives reason to look for other meanings. Each genre of Scripture must be read differently in order to understand it. If you try to read poetry as history - or history as poetry, it will make no sense. We understand that we would be foolish interpret a menu, an advertizement, a street sign, a novel & a newspaper article all in the same way. We must understand what is said in terms of how it's said. For example, when Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, He was wrong. It's not. But was relative seed-size really the point of what He was saying? (Hint: No.)
4 - Context
A verse, passage, concept or entire book taken out of context can easily be interpreted in a way the author never intended. Don't isolate one text and force it to speak on its own. This is one of the most powerful weapon cults have - they take Truth out of context and make very believable Lies.
5 - Comprehensiveness
The Bible is one book, and there is an unfailing unity throughout. If understood correctly, the Bible will never contradict itself. If two statements seem to contradict each other, look deeper. A good example of this is when Mark 15:25 places Jesus before Pilate at the third hour, while its parallel in John 19:14 states it to be the sixth hour. We will not understand how they could both be true until we realize that Mark used Jewish time (counted from 6:00 am), while John used Roman time (counted from midnight). So actually, both record the event at 9:00 am. If your understanding of one passage is correct, it will fit with all others. You can think of the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle - when all the pieces are in the right place, the picture will be clear, consistent, comprehensible, and meaningful.