Have you ever been confused by the modern methods of interpreting texts? I remember in high school how I was rather intimidated by the English teachers and their searching for hidden meanings. At the time I didn’t understand the difference between Exegesis and Eisegesis. In fact I suspect that many today still don’t. On the contrary, Eisegesis is taught in our higher education institutions as the proper method for interpretating any text,when in fact, it should almost never be used!
The difference could be summarized as the difference between Objective and Subjective interpretations. We could also characterize it as the difference between In-Context versus Out-of-Context interpretation. Eisegesis is the foundation of post-modernism, probably the most destructive philosophy in the main-stream culture these days!
As Wikipedia says;
Eisegesis (/ˌaɪsəˈdʒiːsəs/; from the Greek preposition εἰς “into” and the ending from the English word exegesis, Greek ἐξήγησις, which in turn is derived from ἐξηγεῖσθαι “to lead out”) is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text. The act is often used to “prove” a pre-held point of concern to the reader and to provide him or her with confirmation bias in accordance with his or her pre-held agenda. Eisegesis is best understood when contrasted with exegesis. While exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.
What we really want, when studying any text, is to understand the intent of the author. This should be our goal above all!
In Grade 11 English my class was studying John Milton’s Paradise Lost, some 40 years ago. We came to a place where our teacher began to teach Eisegesis, which was such a glaring example that it has stuck with me all these years. I had to go through Paradise Lost again, but I think I’ve found the place;
I saw when at his word the formless mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding Darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung:
Swift to their several quarters hasted then
The cumbrous elements, earth, flood, air, fire;
Or it might have been;
With dart and javelin, stones, and sulfurous fire;
What she said here was essentially that “This is a reference to the Big Bang,where the earth was formed in fire, as a molten mass”
As a quiet kid I rarely said anything in class, unless asked, but this was so obviously wrong that I had to speak-out! You see, John Milton was a Creationist, and while I disagree with some of his ideas, and especially his inclusion of classical pagan characters in the poem, there is no hint of Evolution in Paradise Lost! My teacher was reading her Evolutionary views INTO Paradise Lost!
The Big Bang was invented by believers in Darwinian evolution, in the 20th century, long after Charles Darwin died, some 250 years after John Milton! No one has any business reading evolution into the work of John Milton, because we know that he never heard the word in his life!
In case I haven’t made myself clear, it is wrong to do this to any text!
The proper way to understand any text, whether it is your car’s ownership manual, books on philosophy, or the bible, is to understand the plain-sense meaning of the words.
Some tell us that we must understand the bible’s context, by understanding the first-century context of its author’s homeland, or by learning about Jewish culture. The error of this type of thinking is that not all Jews thought alike, and the biblical authors did not write human books based on the human traditions of their time, but they wrote what God instructed them to write.
Some accuse Christians of Eisegesis when we find Jesus in the Old Testament text, but the fact is that God placed him there through the pens of its authors! Christians would, in turn, accuse many Jews of Eisegesis in places like Isaiah 53, where the servant of God, “he”, is separate and distinct from the Jewish nation “we” and “us”.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6
So, this person has borne the griefs of a group of people; “He” cannot be synonymous with the people “He” bore the griefs of! So this person is the Messiah, Jesus, and not the nation of Israel.
We also see Jesus in Psalm 22 where the crucifixion is described in precise detail;
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
David wrote this psalm, but he never experienced the events spoken of, himself. Rather David was looking through time, and through the eyes of the Saviour as He hung, dying on the cross. There is no one else in Jewish history who fits the events of either Isaiah 53, or Psalm 22, except Jesus of Nazareth!
One thing that disturbs me is the number of professing Christians who practice Eisegesis, without even knowing it. Not ony is this practiced in Catholic and Pentecostal circles, but even Baptists do it as well.
When I was a young teen, my parents were looking for a property to invest in, and to move out of the city. They found one that they could afford, and then my mother said that she had found a verse that convinced her that we should move to this property;
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; Isaiah 54:2
My mother was the daughter of a pastor, and I was a 13-year-old kid, so who was I to question my mother’s judgment? And, besides that, I wanted to move there!
The truth is, however that she was reading her own ideas into the text. She told us that it meant that we should buy the property, and add on to the house, but the text actually says to enlarge where your tent is, now! Besides this, if she had read the verses before and after she should have seen that this passage is specifically about Israel, in the last days!
1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
3 For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.
4 Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. Isaiah 54:1-4
I love my mom, but taking verses out-of-context like this is dangerous. It turns the bible into a book about you, rather than a revelation of God! It also makes it subject to your will, to be used as your tool, where God becomes a genie who grants us our carnal wishes!
She didn’t have to do this; If buying a property is a good business decision, you don’t have to twist Scripture out of shape to make it seem that your decision has God’s stamp of approval on it! Just buy it and use the principles found in the Word of God to work it! Pray that He will make you wise to make good business decisions.
There is no place in Scripture where we are told that we must have God’s personal stamp of approval on everything we do. He gives us principles, and when we follow them, and work hard he will bless us.
The Contemplative Prayer proponents take another verse out-of-context;
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10
They take the phrase “Be still, and know that I am God” to mean that we should practice emptying our minds, to make them open for spiritual contacts. What it actually does is make us susceptible to demonic contacts!
They teach the saying of a word or a phrase repeatedly, as a mantra, as a way of emptying the mind, and the result is that you induce an altered state of consciousness where you can be contacted by spiritual entities. The problem is that God and His angels never come when summoned this way! The only spiritual beings that will come are fallen angels! God is sovereign, and not subject to commands of mere men!
When you read the context of the passage you get a very different understanding from what these people want you to believe;
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
You see, God was saying that they should sit back and watch Him work to save them! To relax and put their trust in the Lord!
Here is a passage frequently abused by the Word of Faith movement and the New Apostolic Reformation;
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. Romans 8:18-19
This passage is a reference to the coming of Christ with His glorified saints, the Church, at the end of the Tribuation period, but these groups teach that they themselves are here to take dominion over the earth, now, and to manifest themselves as the Sons of God, through signs and wonders! Their claim is that they will do this in this life, and they frequently go as far as to say that Jesus can’t return until they take over the world and hand it to Him!
This is actually a variation of the old Catholic Eschatology of A-millennialism, dating back to the arch-heretic, Augustine of Hippo. Ultimately I believe these people will unite in the Tribulation, in Babylon, Iraq, to form the Harlot of Revelation 17! After this God’s judgment will fall on them!
Here is a Catholic leader kissing the feet of N.A.R. Leader, Lou Engle (at about the 5:28 point)
…And, here is Lou Engle kissing the feet of a Catholic Priest!
Taking Scripture out-of-context can be very dangerous! It is one of the worst habits one can get into!