One of the major differences in my mind between good exegesis and great exegesis is the “why.” Good exegesis will enumerate different views on a passage and the evidence for and against a view, but great exegesis will bring the argument up a notch by explaining exactly why one view is to be preferred. It does not even have to be an extensive explanation, but it must be present and offer a cogent argument explaining why the choice is made in a particular direction. It’s really there that exegetes can discuss how evidence is weighed and get into the nitty-gritty of what evidence is more valuable in a particular problem. As an example of this, take Thomas Schreiner’s recent commentary on Galatians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. (I’m reading through this in advance of my own commentary work on Galatians, so perhaps I better tread carefully! Even so, here goes.) On pp. 163-166, he has a short “In Depth” section on the meaning of the phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” in the context of Galatians 2:16. He quickly discusses the two major views, “faithfulness of Christ” vs. “faith in Christ,” with seven evidences for each. He states clearly that he prefers the latter view. This is good and helpful information, but as a reader I’m pretty interested in why he chose this view. The seven evidences given for each view do not match each other exactly, and some of them are simply tit-for-tat, which exegetical evidence often is. As the discussion of the passage continues he does offer various reasons why he prefers the objective view, but I would loved to have seen something here addressing that fact, since this “In Depth” section addressed the problem directly.
Consider, in contrast, the subtle difference in the next verse. When discussing the meaning of v. 17, Schreiner again clearly states the two views: (1) Paul is discussing a charged leveled against him by his opponents that he was a sinner because he abandoned the law, vs. (2) Paul recognizes that he truly is a sinner because he has found justification in Christ. Schreiner also states that he prefers the second. But here he states the why: the verb εὑρέθημεν, usually translated as “we have been found,” “has a legal and forensic meaning, denoting one’s standing before God as Judge and Lord of all” (p. 168). This simple explanation of why he prefers the second view is what I need to evaluate his argument and engage with him intelligently on his interpretation.
It’s important to note that there’s not much difference between these two scenarios. Both present views and evidence. The latter, however, shows that evidence has been weighed and evaluated. That is very helpful for exegetes to show so the discussion can continue in the minds of their readers.