EXEGETICAL FALLACIES: BY D.A CARSON 


I have been trying to read this book for some time but have often found myself laying it aside amidst the ever-present pressures of priorities. Finally, I did it! I have finished Carson’s book and have now sat down to type my thoughts about this writing into my IPad.

I assume that many of you know who D.A Carson is, but I insert this brief bio from the back of this book for those of you who don’t.

“D.A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (book written in 1996, 2nd ed.). He has written or edited a variety of contributions, including commentaries on both Matthew and John and The King James Version Debate.”

This book is well written and easy to read, but I would have to read through it possibly two more times thoughtfully to grasp all the wisdom in it. If you are a pastor or teacher, I strongly recommend reading this 148-page paperback. I say that because correct hermeneutics, including but not limited to word studies, grammatical studies, and correct or incorrect presuppositions, are extremely important in faithfully expositing the Word of God accurately.

Honestly, I know that I have made many mistakes in my approach to exegesis over the years in my attempt to “rightly divide the Word of truth.” D. A.’s book reminded me of several. Sadly, many of those were from trusting some commentator’s conclusions, which may not always be wise, as this book points out. Everybody has a theological structure they work from, and sadly, some have to make sure everything lines up with what they believe, thereby falling into some of the fallacies that D.A Carson is writing about.

D.A includes a small but comprehensive index of subjects, authors, and scriptures cited.

In the introduction, the writer clarifies how vital a study like this is for those who want to understand God’s Word and relate it clearly and accurately to others. “Exegetical fallacies are painfully frequent among us-among us whose God-given grace and responsibility is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God.” He rightly opines: “A critical interpretation of scripture is one, that has adequate justification-lexical, grammatical, cultural, theological, historical, geographical, or other justification” for our interpretation of the text.

The writer states that this book has limits: “this is not a highly technical discussion.” However, it was designated for seminary students who take their responsibility seriously. So, since it is not a “technical” study, the writer has not provided extensive bibliographical information. 

This book studies exegetical fallacies, not historical or theological ones. I did appreciate his attempt at even-handedness when he used examples of other’s fallacies. D.A included his errors as well. One I quickly remember is on page 41 relating to his careless appeal to background material. 

Under the heading “word study fallacies” he includes:

  1. The root fallacy
  2. Semantic anachronism
  3. Semantic obsolescence
  4. Appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings
  5. Careless appeal to background material
  6. Verbal parallelomania
  7. Linkage of language and mentality
  8. False assumptions about ethnically meaning
  9. Problems surrounding synonyms and componential analysis 

10. Selective and prejudicial use of evidence

11. Unwarranted semantic disjunction and restrictions

12. Unwarranted restrictions of the semantic field

13. Problems relating to the Semitic background of the Greek New Testament

14. Unwarranted neglect of distinguishing peculiarities of a corpus

15. Unwarranted linking of sense and reference

Chapter one, by far, is the longest chapter in the book. For example, chapter two is only half as long as chapter one, 22 pages.

Chapter two is a discussion on “grammatical fallacies,” Chapter three “logical fallacies,” and chapter four “presuppositional fallacies.”

The book closes with D.A’s “concluding reflections on what he has just presented. I appreciated his encouragement as he completed his writing. I was encouraged because such writing can lead us to the false conclusion that we are wholly inadequate and may want to sit down and shut up. Perhaps we should if it weren’t for the Lord Jesus Christ and His effectual calling upon our lives; first, in our salvation, second, in our service! Listen to D.A:

“but I do not want to end on so negative a note. There is a danger that readers will conclude their perusal of this little book enslaved to deep fears about their own inadequacies for the task of exegesis. A little self-doubt will do no harm and may do a great deal of good: we will be more open to learn and correct our mistakes. But too much will shackle and stifle us with deep insecurities and make us so much aware of methods that we may overlook truth itself.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma. But we will not go far astray if we approach the Bible with a humble mind and then resolve to focus on central truths. Gradually we will build up our exegetical skills by evenhanded study and a reverent, prayerful determination to become like the workman “who correctly handles the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15).

With that encouragement in mind, I commend this book for your reading list. I have had this book in my library for several years, but I recently saw it on Amazon, the second edition, for $13.79.

This book has been helpful to me in three ways:

  1. D.A reminded me how important humble discernment is in my attempt to interpret scripture correctly. Sometimes we can fall into the pitfall of “just going through the motions,” which is detrimental to our well-being and others as well. 
  2. No matter how blessed we may be with the many theologians, commentators, and professors available to us today, no one is more important to inquire of than the Holy Spirit. You have heard the quip, “discernment is key;” well, the Holy Spirt is the One who gives wisdom to those who ask for it. Much more time in prayer will allow greater interpretation accuracy than much more time in our inquiry of others.
  3. I am inadequate. Left to myself and my wisdom, I will not be able to divide His Word rightly. I need help, His help, and an abundance of it! Preaching and teaching God’s word to others is holy work. It is a heavenly work; it is a work that we who are called to preach and teach are compelled to do: “for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). I want to get it right in so far as His Spirit leads me, and I trust you do as well.

This book can help in more ways than just meditating on exegetical fallacies! 

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