Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: exegesis

Echoes of invention

The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) gradually began to downplay some of the distinctive teachings of Daniel Warner, leading some of those who believed strongly in those teachings to leave the church. In 1980, Daniel Layne left the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and assumed the leadership of those who had separated from that group.

Layne accepted Warner’s prophetic revelations, adding a little more from Revelations chapter 8. The space of about  a half hour was interpreted as half a century and the starting date as 1930 when they believed the mother church had fallen into apostsy. Counting 50 years from then brings one to 1980 and Daniel Layne, when the seventh trumpet is said to have sounded.

This group calls itself the Church of God (Restoration). It may be better known to many as the Gemeinde Gottes as it has had a special appeal to German-speaking Mennonites in Canada and Bolivia.

A friend recounted observating a conversation between a minister of this group and a minister of another denomination. The Gemeinde Gottes minister stated that he had given his heart to the Lord the first time he was called and that as far as he was aware he had never sinned.  Another man, who had been silent up to that point, said: “That thought itself is sin!” That brought the conversation to an abrupt end.

The prophetic interpretations of Warner and Layne are examples of eisegisis, of reading into the Bible what you want to find there. The year for a day interpretation of Daniel’s 1260 days is generally accepted as the inteded meaning. The dates of 270 and 1530, however, have no significance in history and appear to have been picked to make things work out to the desired end. The century for a day interpretation has no support in the Scriptures, or elsewhere. It appers that Warner began with the 1880 date and worked backwards. The 50 years for half an hour interpretation of Layne is equally meaningless, simply an attempt to explain his 1980 defection.

I’m not meaning to imply that Warner and Layne were scoundrels, intentionally deceiving their followers. I think they were as gullible as their followers. Unfortuneately, gullibility is nowhere listed as a Christian virtue. It would have been much better if they and their followers had been like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). That is called exegisis, when we search the Scriptures to see what they say, rather than seeking a verse or two that we can use to support our cause.

Herbert W Armstrong was a master at eisegisis, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he was a scoundrel. The church he founded has renounced his teachings and changed its name. Nevertheless, there are ten or twelve denominations carrying on his message. It seems that when one has the persuasive skills to make a teaching based on twisted Scriptures seem credible, it takes a long time for the echoes to die awy.

Exegesis vs Eisegesis

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.

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