How do exegesis and eisegesis differ?
Exegesis and eisegesis are two opposing views to the study of the Bible. Exegesis refers to an explanation of the biblical text based on an investigation of the language, history, culture, and context of a passage in its original setting. Eisegesis refers to interpretation of a passage of Scripture based on a subjective understanding of the text.
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Exegesis is the approach to Bible study that does the text justice and seeks true understanding of God's Word. It looks at what the text says in appropriate context, wanting to learn from the text rather than wanting to use the text to support a preconceived notion. Second Timothy 2:15 teaches, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." Those who follow Christ are called to study His Word with diligence and to handle it rightly. Exegesis is a method of study that promotes this.
Eisegesis is often associated with postmodern culture and literary study. While every person brings some level of personal bias to his or her understanding of the Bible, eisegesis focuses on using this bias as the basis for interpretation. Instead of asking, "What does this biblical passage mean?" eisegesis asks, "What does this verse mean to me?" or "How does this passage make me feel?"
This subjective approach to Scripture is concerning in many ways. First, a subjective focused approach to Scripture reads into the Bible what the reader wants to hear rather than what the Bible wants a person to hear. Second, eisegesis takes meanings from the biblical text that were never intended. These could include false teachings or harmful applications.
For example, a person could read the account of Peter walking on the water with Jesus and subjectively "eisegete" that this means he can jump out of a boat and walk on water. When it fails to happen, much harm could occur. Another reader could "eisegete" this passage to mean that God wants us to attempt the impossible no matter the odds and then spend an entire paycheck attempting to win the lottery, making an unwise choice that could hurt himself and others.
To exegete this same passage, a person could look at the context of the narrative and discover that Jesus provided a miracle of nature to show He is more powerful than the wind and waves. Another insight is that Peter was a leader among the apostles and the only one to walk on the water with Jesus, yet he was still one who had "little faith." A more objective look at the account reveals the power of Jesus as Lord, reveals the lack of faith even among His closest followers at times, and inspires readers to fully trust in the power of Jesus during difficult "storms" in life.
In discussing the problems with eisegesis, however, it is important to point out that there is a subjective element to studying the Bible. Following good exegesis that seeks to understand the Bible in its original context, a reader can seek to determine in what ways this original understanding can apply to life today. This will include how a biblical passage can relate to emotional areas of our own lives. However, accurate application must be based on accurate interpretation. Exegesis often takes more time than eisegesis, yet is certainly the approach to Bible study the Scripture affirms.
What principles are used in biblical exegesis?
Why is context so important in studying the Bible? What is wrong with looking at verses out of context?
Is there a proper way to study the Bible?
Biblical hermeneutics – What is it?
Which parts of the Bible apply to us today? How can we know?
Truth about the Bible