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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

An Interview with Simon Gathercole

On this edition of the program, Michael Horton talks with Cambridge New Testament Scholar Simon Gathercole about his various books and articles. Right at the outset, they discuss the contemporary debate concerning “theories of the atonement,” and then they move to a discussion of the views of N.T. Wright and whether his recent book on this topic has under-emphasized the traditional substitutionary view of Christ’s work on our behalf.


“So, one of the things that I sought to do in the book is to examine reasons why scholars might think that substitution is not a Pauline idea, not an idea taught by Paul’s epistles, and really to show that there’s no reason to conclude from their observations that substitution is absent. So, for example, some of the reasons why people think that Paul doesn’t believe in a substitutionary death of Jesus is that they primarily think of Jesus’ death as a representative, that is, to say that Christ’s death is not in our place, but in Christ’s death we died with him and we participate in Jesus’ death as he dies. So, in that sense, Jesus doesn’t die alone. We go through death with him. But it seems to me that while that’s clearly a Pauline idea, that’s an idea that comes out very prominently in Romans 6, for example, there’s no reason to conclude from that that Paul doesn’t teach substitution. The fact that Paul teaches X doesn’t mean that he doesn’t teach Y as well.

“So, one of the things that I try to show is that Paul’s teaching is very varied on the atonement. There are themes of liberation where Jesus sets us free from powers that enslave us, and the theme that Jesus dies as a representative, but that’s also the theme that Jesus dies in our place.”

Simon Gathercole


“Exegesis vs. Eisegesis”

Exegesis is an explanation. In the NT, therefore, exegesis is the explanation of a given text. Theologically, exegesis establishes the meaning of particular statements or passages….Exegesis may be understood…to be the practice of and the set of procedures for discovering the author’s intended meaning.” Thus, by yielding an understanding of the language, grammar, and syntax of a passage, exegesis provides a solid basis for exposition and application.

This means that exegesis must never deviate from confronting the text of Scripture to determine what it says and means. The historic Protestant principle of exegesis is that the text of Scripture has one sense, so that it is the job of the exegete to uncover what the writer meant when he wrote the passage under examination. Nowadays, it is popular to speak of meanings, plural….Those who contend for multi-layered meanings effectively abandon exegesis and descend to eisegesis, “a reading into” the text of what the reader wishes it to mean. This new system would have us understand a text not in terms of its syntactical or semantic structures, but in the variety of ways in which that text is “actualized” in our minds. To state it briefly, we are instructed that we should be reading ourselves as much as the text. Thus, all efforts to find the “real or single meaning” are considered fruitless for most modems, since in their view, texts generate a variety of meaning structures.

To deal honestly and reverently with Scripture we must adopt the historic Protestant emphasis on the intention of the writer of a Scripture passage. “What saith the Scriptures?” must be our watchword as we prepare to expound God’s word.

(Adapted from A Dictionary of Theological Terms, s.v. “Exegesis.”)