I've noticed quite a number of religious professionals of late have used phrases such as "let's exegete this text" or "we need to exegete Paul's meaning here." Of course, an exegete is one skilled in exegesis, but I have never heard of "to exegete" being in accepted usage. Wiktionary included it as a possibility, but I would hardly consider that an authoritative source. Roger Wibberly critiqued a book titled Medieval Music as Medieval Exegesis in Music and Letters 82.2 (2001): 291-293 and argued that "the often-used verb 'to exegete' strikes a note of literary discord within a generally elegant text."

Is the verb "to exegete" becoming accepted usage? Obviously, it has been used consistently in at least one published source and is currently being widely used in religious circles.

  • 1
    to exegete = to hermeneutize
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 15:09

4 Answers 4


I'm afraid it's nothing new. In 1900, a review of A Problem in New Testament Criticism by Prof. Melanchthon Williams Jacobus closes:

The author’s learning, fairness and catholic spirit commend his book to the most favorable cnsideration desite occasional excursions beyond the generally recognized English vocabulary and usage denoted by such words and expressions as “misexegeting,” “sanctificate completion,” “as though,” “to exegete” and “outrounded.”

It’s not acceptable to me, and it’s apparently not acceptable to Prof. Wibberly; but we’re old men and will just have to suck it up. After all, we (or at least I) have managed to come to terms with “as though”.

  • Nice. I guess language marches on.
    – parap
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 5:02
  • 1
    Wow. Using "to exegete" is just as bad as using "as though"...
    – GEdgar
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 15:01
  • @GEdgar: yeah, it's bad if you use 'as though' as though it were a noun. Or verb. or pretty much anything. WTAT.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 15:08
  • To say nothing of "contact," "implement," and "process."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 21:05
  • 1
    @Mitch I actually poked around in late 19th century grammars, but found nothing to indicate why the reviewer objected to as though, which seems to have been pretty standard by then. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 23:29

Making nouns perform double duty when they were not meant to is not a new phenomenon, and who am I to say "Halt!" to the evolution of words via that route. Nevertheless, we "sticks in the mud," or just sticklers, cannot help but take umbrage at the trend. (Let's be honest, sometimes our umbrage says more about our need for recognition, approval, attention, not to mention our feelings of inferiority/superiority, our critical spirit, our perfectionism, ad infinitum, than it does for our concern for better communication.)

People today use impact (impacts, impactful, impacted) as a noun, a verb, and an adjective. What don't they say the following?

A. The news of the Newtown tragedy affected me deeply (not impacted me deeply).

B. The news of the Newtown tragedy had a powerful impact on people around the world (not powerfully impacted people).

C. The news of the Newtown tragedy affected people around the world powerfully (not was impactful on people).

Getting back on point, then, an exegete is a person who engages in exegesis. In other words, one performs exegesis on a scriptural passage, but one does not exegete a passage. One can also engage in exegetical analysis.

An important part of exegesis, particularly when analyzing a passage that has been translated from one language into another, is to pick apart the construction of the passage in its original language. You are aided, of course, by being able to read the original language!

  • "Impact" can be used as a verb. In the above example, wouldn't it mean the same as "the news hit me hard"?
    – parap
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 4:59
  • Yes, in a way . . .. You've simply made explicit the implicit metaphor in the word "impact" and what it denotes. An impact implies that something hit something else, hard. The end result of that hitting is called an impact. Make sense? By the way, impact can be used as a verb, as when something is packed firmly together. You can also describe something as impacted, if it's been packed firmly together. Impacted can also be used as an adjective, as in "an impacted bowel" or "an impacted wisdom tooth." Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 7:11

I'm not really familiar with the term at all, but I would point out that OED doesn't currently list exegete as a verb at all - just a noun:

1: Ancient Greek Hist. At Athens, one of those three members of the Eumolpidæ, whose province it was to interpret the religious and ceremonial law, the signs in the heavens, and oracles.
2: One who explains or interprets difficult passages; one skilled in exegesis; an expounder.

The first citation for #2 there is 1854, but as this NGram shows...

enter image description here

...there's no doubt it's now being used as a verb. Personally, I think if they understood the word at all, most people would think it pretentious in contexts too far removed from priestly interpretation of arcane religious texts. Unless it was obviously facetious, I'd certainly cringe if I heard it used in the office in reference to, say, something someone had said in a meeting, that needed "explaining".

  • There has been a rise in "exegetical commentaries" in the past couple decades. I wonder if that hasn't sparked a demand for verb "to exegete."
    – parap
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 4:55
  • @jcoat: It's not as if we have a shortage of equivalent words (explain, decipher, explicate, interpret, deconstruct, elaborate, elucidate, clarify, exposit, etc.). The only real purpose of this new one is to sound even more high-falutin than some of those. I don't object to nouns being "verbified", but I don't have a lot of time for "pseudo-scholarly" usages leaking out into mainstream speech. It just sounds ignorant to me. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 5:09
  • 1
    @jcoat the word "exegesis" carries with it a connotation of properly drawing out of Scripture only what is there rather than reading into it what is not there. No other english word immediately brings to mind that specific meaning. For some it may merely be a matter of using scholarly terminology; but for some, it is truly a matter of using a word that conveys one's intent.
    – Sarah
    Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 23:05
  • 1
    @Sarah: Yes, in that specific context I think it's not unreasonable for those concerned with such matters to have their own dedicated term. They know exactly what they're talking about, and since they probably often do talk about it, a well-defined term is obviously useful. But outside that context, it's pretentious. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 1:10
  • @FumbleFingers, Does this chart indicate that it is already too deeply ingrained in the English language to remedy?
    – Sarah
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 5:56

According to Webster's New World Dictionary, 4th ed., the probable origin of this word is the Greek noun exegesis, "explanation", which, interestingly, appears to come from the Greek verb exegeisthai, "to lead, explain".

If the misuse of the word exegete arises from the lack of a verb form of this word, then perhaps the scholars could use this Greek source to introduce a proper verb, i.e. exegisthai. That is difficult to say; but, if there are other Greek words that have the same verb ending one could see how that verb ending comes over into English and provide the same verb ending for our word. Then you would have a proper verb to introduce!

I posted a question in effort to search out a proper verb form for this word.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.