Exegesis vs Eisegesis

(First posted six years ago)

I know some people will see this title and will already have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say. Others may wonder why I am using such fancy words. I hope you will all bear with me, read the post and feel free to comment.

In layman’s terms, exegesis is what is happening when we search the Scriptures to find out what God is saying to us. Eisegesis, on the other hand,  is what is happening when we come to the Scriptures knowing already what we want them to say and search for verses to bolster our position. I hope I don’t have to tell you on which side I want to be.

There are several reasons why we might want to read into the Scriptures the beliefs we already hold. One is that we have been taught certain things in our denominational tradition and we very much want them to be true. Thus we select verses that seem to support this position, most likely taking them out of context, and ignore those verses that seem to say something else.

Another, more subtle, reason is that we may be afraid of being deceived if we just open ourselves to what we read in the Word of God. Much better to have a pre-established framework of belief and read only those portions of Scripture that seem to be in accord with that framework. The danger is that, even if that framework is completely true, we will not be fed by reading the Bible in this way.

I don’t believe that we will be deceived if we come to the Bible with an open mind and heart, genuinely desiring that God would reveal to us the truth that we need to know at each stage of our spiritual journey. It is important to read the whole Bible and to read it prayerfully. The things that seem to be contradictory will all make sense if we do not isolate one passage of Scripture from the rest.

Years ago, a man I worked with would often approach me with questions about Bible passages. As we discussed them, it was clear that he  understood clearly what the Bible was saying. He told me that he had been converted in his later youth and had been fearful of being deceived when reading the Bible, as he was hearing so many contradictory views. So each time he picked up the Bible he would pray that God would protect him from deception and reveal His truth to him. It was evident from our discussions that God had answered his prayers.

The sad part of the story is that he had fallen into sin and was no longer following what he knew to be true. One day he did something at work that got him fired. He moved far away and I never saw him again.Still today I believe his approach to the Bible was right. So much of the religious confusion of our day could be resolved if Christians everywhere would just open their hearts and minds to what God is saying to them in His Word, and then be obedient to what is revealed to them.

3 thoughts on “Exegesis vs Eisegesis

  1. Great thoughts.. Unfortunately must people do not use this method..I have found the most trustworthy way to truth, is when I find some new “idea” in the Bible, I spend a lot more time trying to find all the verses that teach the opposite. In this way I don’t just run with my pet ideas..

  2. Excellent thoughts. A number of years ago I somehow caught this vision of reading the Bible with an open mind. But what I found was just as you described, I found some differences in understanding then I had understood before. This has proven to be both a blessing and a trial. On one hand the Bible became more alive and on the other hand it seems as though many of my fellow believers are not experiencing this way of approaching the scriptures and so this can bring one into experiencing times of cognitive dissonance.
    Do you have any advice?

  3. Arlo, I hear what you are saying. I’ve tried arguing; that comes a little too naturally when someone expounds a view that is more folklore than Scripture. But I always regret it. When a discussion generates heat, then you have lost, even if you may be right.
    Asking questions is a better way – “What do you think about this other Scripture?” There is an art in being able to ask questions that will spark a thoughtful discussion, I’m just at the beginning stage of learning that.
    This blog is an attempt to lay out the things I believe in as plain a way as possible, and in as non-argumentative a way as possible. My hope is that people will then read and consider what I have written.
    Many people have gotten into a rut of believing they know just what the Bible has said, even though they have not read it for themselves in the Bible, or considered the whole story. Be patient with them and try to gently jog them out of that rut so they can consider the whole story.

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