When it comes to Biblical interpretation and hermeneutics there are two ways one approaches the Biblical text when they read it and understand it. One of them is known as exegesis (the prefix comes from the Greek word ek meaning “out of,” and “gesis” derives from the Greek word hegeomai, which means “to lead”). When one exegetes a Biblical text they are in essence “leading out” the explanation of what the author intended to communicate when he wrote the passage. This is how believers, who read God’s word, should always read the Bible: Striving to find the intent of what the author meant when he wrote the Sacred Scriptures.
The other method, known as eisegesis, should not be used at all, and yet in the Body of Christ it is all too commonly used.
Eisegesis (the prefix comes from the Greek word “eis” meaning “in” or “into” and the Greek word hegeomai, which once more means “to lead”) is when a person “leads into” or reads into the text what they think it meant, rather than what the text actually means. Let us observe why eisegesis is a bad form of Bible reading, and interpretation.
- Eisegesis does not consider the intent of the author: Allow me to establish a scenario for to highlight this point: Let us imagine I wrote an email to my friend and told him about my daughter’s dog (whose name is “Buddy Bear”), and how I was trying to train my dog to submit to me. My friend in laughing it off decided to use this as a “lesson for life” for a group that he met with later on in the week. That week he shared my story with the group and said something to the effect of, “See…this is a great example of the struggles that we all have in our life, and how we get our struggles to submit to us is we have to persevere through our struggles, and eventually we will get our problems to submit to us.”
Now although the metaphor may sound really interesting, was that my intent to communicate how training my daughter’s dog was an metaphor of how to persevere though my struggles in life? No. Essentially, he took my words, and the intent of what I was trying to tell him, and twisted my words to fit what he wanted to tell his group. Even though he was assisting his group out of a sincere heart, his explanation (or interpretation) of my email was incorrect, because he did not communicate the true intent of the email I sent to him.
The word of God tells us that the primary author of God’s Sacred word is God Himself. That God, through human authors, penned the text. Paul affirms this truth to Timothy when he writes,
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:14-17 NASB, emphasis mine)
To “read in” to the Bible is literally to take God’s word and twist it to fit your own explanation. A person who eisegetes the word of God, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is not considering the intent of the author, who primarily is God, that wrote through human authors so Christians will ultimately be equipped for every good work. Which leads me to the next point.
- Eisegesis is subjective: When ones “reads into” a Biblical text they are not reading the text for what it says. Instead, one places their own meaning (or explanation) on the text, and not telling us what the text actually says. Thus, one can come up with three or four different interpretations of the Biblical text from three or four different people. For example, the most frequent misquoted verse in all of Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11, which says,
11 ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (NASB)
Some people will interpret this passage that God promises that their bad marriage will be restored, or that they will have an abundance of financial wealth, or will reach their “purpose” in life. However the verse, when grammar and context is considered, is not what it says at all. The “you” in verse 11 is plural not singular. God is not talking to one person, but many people. This passage, in context, is discussing the promise God is affirming to the nation of Israel when He sent them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (v. 1). This promise is to national Israel, whom God is encouraging that He has not left them. Even though they are in a foreign land, they will continue to be a nation and they have a future as a nation. This is what the text teaches. However when one begins to say, “what this verse means to me is…” or when one asks the question “what does this verse mean to you?” One is engaging in a subjective explanation of the text, which again does violence to the original intent of what the author was attempting to communicate.
- Eisegesis exalts self, rather than God: When one wants to interpret, or explain, the Bible it is like one is taking a picture with their smartphone. The Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired, and they communicate the revealed plan of God to mankind. When one exegetes the Sacred word of God it is like they are taking a picture of God, and showing those all around them who He truly is. However when one eisegetes the text, focusing on what they want it to say, rather than what the text actually says, it is like one places their smartphone on a selfie stick and takes pictures of themselves. Then they show their pictures off to others claiming that God looks likes this, smiles like that, and poses like this. Is it not ironic, the God who you show off when you eisegete, at the end of your interpretation, looks just like you?
When you exegete, the anthem proclaimed is Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be the glory). However when you eisegete, the anthem one shouts out is Soli hominis gloria (To man alone be the glory).
This is why it is so important not to eisegete the Sacred Scriptures, because the person who receives the glory at the end of the day, whether you intended it or not, is you, rather than the Creator of heaven and earth. Those who proclaim they are believers in the faith, must be discipled by those who take pictures of God by way of exegesis. Those who are elders and shepherds in the universal church, it is important that you be trained to handle the Scriptures, revealing God, His awesome nature, and His glory on every page of the Bible. This is why the Body of Christ, must sharply discipline those who, for the purposes of self gain, twist Scripture and make it about themselves, or you, rather than about Jesus Christ.
There are many great resources out there, and here is one located on this link to get you started. Metaphorically speaking, if you have caught yourself doing this, by the grace of Christ I plead with you: Put the selfie stick of eisegesis down, and begin to start to take snapshots of God, as He has revealed Himself in His Sacred word, by way of exegesis, showing Him in all of His glory to those around you.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!