In the opening portion of his book, Here and There in the Greek New Testament (1898), Lemuel Potwin articulates the essential traits (or qualities) for exegetes of the NT.* Two stood out from the others, simply because their practicality (and dare I say necessity) is sometimes overlooked. First:
Sympathy with the writer. The New Testament was written with a religious intent. To understand it fully we must have a religious spirit. We go with the writer and put ourselves in his place. This is not in conflict with the open mind [trait #1], for with open mind we get as near as possible to the writer in order to catch his thought and feeling, which together make his meaning. . . . Indeed it is a literary axiom that a writer, to be appreciated, must have a large measure of sympathy. “Not to sympathize is not to understand.” This need of religious sympathy is emphasized by the inspiration of the writers. The reader needs the same Spirit. Further, [and this is the point I wanted to stress] as the New Testament has several authors, this sympathy must be individualized. The matter-of-fact Mark, the mystical John, the warm-hearted Peter, and the profound enthusiast Paul, cannot be read well, all with the same feeling. The ideal exegete will enter into the mental states, and even the moods of each one. . . . (p. 13)
A logical power that is flexible and adaptive. If the New Testament were a collection of orations, like those of Demosthenes, or a continuous treatise, there would be full scope for formal logic and rhetoric. As it is, there is, perhaps, equal, but different, need of logic. The book to be expounded is made up largely of familiar conversations, off-hand speeches, and letters. The course of thought is often abruptly broken; diverse topics are packed together; the feelings press hard on the intellect; the graces of style are unknown or ignored. The well-trained logician finds the logic elusive, but it is there; only it requires mental nimbleness to follow and seize it. Rigidity will fail. There is danger, on the other hand, that different subjects that are brought together simply by rapid speech, or condensed report, be forced into an artificial logical connection. (p. 15)
And a third little gem, just because of its pointedness (or, pointiness):
A knowledge of human nature and quick perception of its springs of action. A mere book-worm cannot be a good expositor, because the New Testament is full of human life. Characters must be understood in order to understand their language. The ancients are not statues in gallery of art. We see them, real and living, in ourselves and our neighbors. Yet our knowledge of human nature must be broad, so that we shall not attribute nineteenth [or 21st] century manners to the men and women of the Bible. [Here’s the pointy bit:] This is about the same as to say that the exegete must have common sense. (p. 15)
* He gives 20 +1 distinct traits, all of which are insightful. (I say “+1” because the last reflectively asks: “Must, then, one be a Meyer, or a Lightfoot, before he attempt to explain a book that, without explanation, is already plain enough to bring joy and salvation to the humblest mind?” . Don’t worry, Potwin goes on to say the traits are more like an ideal or standard).