Exegesis and Eisegesis

bookshelfI’ve been studying the Scriptures a lot lately, particularly the Old Testament. I’ve also been studying about the study of Scriptures. Side-note: I’m finding that I had to repent of some overly negative perspectives on some Christian denominations. There are a couple of terms that I seem to run into at every turn, and I thought maybe some of you have run into these terms a time or two. Any discussion, writing, speech, sermon, etc. of the Word of God that goes beyond reading the texts will fall under one of two categories exegesis or eisegesis (sometimes written “isogesis”).

  • Exegesis [ek-si-jee-sis] — noun, plural ex·e·ge·ses [ek-si-jee-seez] critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible.
    • Origin: 1610–20; < Greek exḗgēsis an interpretation, explanation, equivalent to ex- ex-3 + ( h ) ēgē- (verbid stem of hēgeîsthai to guide) + -sis -sis
  • Eisegesis [ahy-si-jee-sis] — noun, plural eis·e·ge·ses [ahy-si-jee-seez] an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.
    • Origin: 1890–95; < Greek eisḗgesis, equivalent to eis- into + ( h ) ēge- (stem of hēgeîsthai to lead) + -sis -sis

As stewards of God’s Word, we should endeavor to keep our interpretation of Scripture fully within the realm of exegesis and we should avoid Eisegesis. The simplest example is what happens when false prophets predict the return of Christ despite Matt 24:36, Acts 1:6-7, and the clear warning in Rev 22:8, they put their own ideas, bias, calculations into the texts to come up with a date. Most of the time its far more subtle and usually involves taking a passage of scripture out of context. Eisegesis can be done in ignorance, fear, or for selfish gain. The motives are not for us to discern, but the Holy Spirit for only God knows the heart of man. We are, however, to discern sound doctrine (Titus 2) and Biblical teaching.

As always, our focus should be on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not on seeking out false-gospels or false-prophets. We don’t need to study false teaching to identify that which is false. It is far better to devote yourself to the study of Truth, so that anything that contradicts Truth is false.  We would do well to guard our hearts so as not to give the devil an opportunity. Our zeal for the preservation of the Word of God must not become an occasion for sin. We must teach the word correctly, and we must endeavor to correct others in keeping with Galatians 1:6-9, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 1:3-7 while also keeping with Matthew 18:15-20, Galatians 6. For those teachers who are beyond our reach (sphere of influence, authority, etc.), we make every effort to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ (as indeed we should regardless of the presence or absence of false teaching) and trust in God to deal with those beyond our reach. When it comes to the leaders in your church, remain humble in your demeanor and tone.

Hebrews 13:7-9 (ESV) 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

We must bring correction to the leaders (elders, pastors, overseers, deacons, etc.) when we feel they are in the wrong, in humility and appropriately according to scripture, so as not to be a burden to them. That submission does not mean that we are to accept everything they claim to be the Word of God. Hopefully, understanding the differences between exegesis and eisegesis will help identify warning flags.

So, how do we do this? Well, the first recommendation I have is to devote time throughout the week to read the Word of God. If the only time you open your Bible is when you are told to “open your bibles to…” on Sunday morning, I’m sorry to say that you will be ill-equipped to catch scripture being presented out of context. What’s worse, is that if eisegesis goes unchallenged for a long time, there will be less and less emphasis on the “open your bibles to…” and possibly some extra-biblical references or personal revelation presented as substantiation. By that point, many will be attending several sermons without ever opening the Bible, even within the sermon. If you are in such an assembly, you are fully reliant upon the teacher to be correct in all of his ways. So, step one is to read the Word of God. I also recommend taking notes, or taking the notes your Church gives the congregation home. During the week, explore the scriptures and see for yourself the context of the passages used, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. I promise you that He will show you things, even if the sermon was perfect… because you are giving the Holy Spirit time to speak to you through His Word. Finally, if there is something that you find troubling, reach out to your leadership in private (Matt 18) and ask the questions. I find that most of the correspondence Pastors receive are either antagonistic, accusatory, or solicitation… rarely is it the result of careful study of Scripture. You may find the ensuing discussion very encouraging.

I pray the Lord God bless and keep you,
In Him,
FS

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