Often among Bible scholars, one might hear these five-dollar words spoken in the same conversation: hermeneutics, eisegesis, and exegesis. Although they may seem similar, we need to draw a clear distinction between all three. We’ll dive into the definition of exegesis and how it differs from eisegesis and hermeneutics. We’ll discuss why we need to follow exegesis instead of eisegesis and finally, ask ourselves why it matters.
Definitions: Exegesis, Eisegesis, and Hermeneutics
Before we go any further, we have to define these three concepts.
Exegesisessentially means using the words of the text in Scripture, through the lens of their original context, to determine their intent. In other words, if one analyzes Scripture exegetically, they won’t come to the text with any conclusions. They let the text itself reveal the what the writer is revealing to the reader. By doing this, we don’t read anything into Scripture that wasn’t there before, and we study the meaning of the passage that was intended for a specific audience.
Eisegesismeans reading into the text with a pre-conceived notion we may have. This can often mean coming to the Scripture with a biased cultural lens that didn’t exist during the time the Bible was written. Of course, theologians frown upon this approach because it isn’t rooted in Scripture. At its worst, it can be used to twist Scripture to assert a certain belief. Politicians or other leaders may take a Bible verse out of context and interpret it using their own biased perspective to justify implementing a policy.
Hermeneuticsgoes somewhat hand in hand with exegesis. Hermeneutics is more concerned about how you interpret a passage (if you choose to do one process versus another), and exegesis means actually researching and discovering the meaning behind the text. Usually theologians pair hermeneutics with exegesis because you cannot have one without the other.
The rest of the article will cover the reasons for pursuing exegesis and avoiding eisegesis.
What’s the Difference between Exegesis and Eisegesis?
Let’s think about these two conflicting approaches to studying the Bible in the form of an illustration.
Anecdotal Example: Exegesis vs. Eisegesis
Say you’re trying to solve a mystery of some sort. Someone stole your $25 gift card, and you want to find out who.
Exegesis would analyze all the clues presented before drawing a conclusion about who took the gift card.
Eisegesis, on the other hand, would draw a conclusion about who took that gift card based on your own bias. Maybe you just simply don’t like the tone in which your teenager speaks to you, so maybe she took it. Or you’re just mad at your spouse that day, so they obviously stole the card from you.
You blame them, only to find out later that they probably weren’t the ones to take it. Even if they had, you didn’t use the right or most correct approach to discovering the truth.
Eisegesis often leads to wrong conclusions and can lead many astray.
Biblical Example: Exegesis vs. Eisegesis
Take Philippians 4:13 for instance: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” As RelevantMagazine.com pointed out, we may try to read into the text that God will give us the strength to win that tennis match we have on Tuesday or “(close) a business deal.” This and other verses are often quoted, using this misinterpretation.
In the original context of Philippians 4:13, as mentioned in the article, Paul was on house arrest, ready to go on a trial that may end his life. But despite all those difficult circumstances, Paul showed how Christ gave him strength during a dire season.
The right method matters because we cannot take God-breathed Scriptures lightly (2 Timothy 3:16). Not only do we run the risk of harboring false beliefs if we apply an eisegetical method to Bible study, but we can lead others astray by teaching others in this way.
BibleStudy.org, "Exegesis Definition."
GotQuestions.org, "What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?"
LogosTalk.com, "What Is Exegesis & Why Does It Matter?" Andy Naselli, 2017.
SpiritHome.com, "What Is Exegesis?"
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 400 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.
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