Ever heard the terms Exegesis or Eisegesis?
They come up a bit when discussing Biblical study, and put very simply, Eisegesis, meaning “to lead into” is when someone essentially approaches a text with their own notions, and makes that text fit their point of view. Exegesis, on the other hand, is when you interpret the text with careful, interpretive analysis, and the word essentially means “to lead out of”.
Why does this matter?
Well, eisegesis is extremely easy to fall into, without realizing it, and not just when it comes to Biblical study (though it’s particularly common here as well). You may have heard of a similar practice called “proof texting” where an individual picks and chooses passages out of context that directly support their point of view in order to justify belief, behaviour, or position. This is why context is extremely important! Many times, particularly when Jesus is speaking, the whole of the message cannot be captured in just one or two passages, and really requires the full context of the entire exchange to comprehend and grasp what’s going on!
Eisegesis is directly avoided by following a couple of simple guidelines:
Consider nearby passages. Do they agree with your understanding of the passage?
Here’s an example. Let’s say you read the following sentence:
“Running is good” he thought to himself, “Running is good.”
Seems innocuous, right?
Consider it again with the following context:
Ralph was in trouble. His mother was going to come home soon and see the mess he had made of his grades. He didn’t know what to do, just knew that he had to get out of there before his whole world came crashing down. Dashing out the door, he began to run.
“Running is good” he thought to himself, “Running is good.”
Not so great after all is it? With just a limited view of the context surrounding the sentence, we can’t get a full picture of what is really happening.
Is your observation groundbreaking? Then it’s probably not.
This is not always true, of course! Martin Luther essentially staked (ha!) his life on a ‘different interpretation,’ but that was after careful consideration and noted abuses by those in power. If you think you’ve truly come up with something new, it’s best to discuss this observation with peers and experts (elders, pastors, etc) before nailing your own 99 on someone’s door.
Are you studying exclusively on your own?
One of the best ways to avoid prooftexting or eisegesis is to be engaged in a Bible study or small group with other believers where you are comfortable sharing your experiences and point of view. Not only will you grow in your own study, you’ll be able to help others who might find themselves thinking about things incorrectly as well!
Can you show me an example in the Bible?
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”, NASB
A rallying cry, right? I mean, doesn’t that just get you fired up to go take on that sporting event/triathlon/big test/job interview? HE strengthens me, and I can do this! Except…
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be acontent in whatever circumstances I am.
12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
is coming from a standpoint of contentment – being content in all things, even things as bad as being stuck in a prison, having lost everything, and getting by on the day to day. Paul is speaking directly to the fact that he is OK with where he is and that he can get through it because God strengthens him. He is not saying “I will break out of this prison, because God’s strength is behind me” he is saying “I will endure, and be content, because God’s strength is behind me. There is nothing that can take that away from me.”
And in this author’s opinion, that is so much better. Knowing that amidst the bad, there’s a loving Father standing by, caring for me, making sure that all things work together for my good, because I love Him…
Yea, that one’s wrong too =D
That is one condensed nutshell!
So there you have it – a basic overview of Exegesis, Eisegesis, and how to avoid the second. I’d like to challenge you to give extra consideration to what you read in the future in order to limit your own cross-interpretation of the Word! What are some other passages you’ve found that are commonly interpreted incorrectly? Share them in the comments below!
Excellent album of the moment: The White Album (Remix Project) By Hillsong
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We are justified through Christ
… and through no action or work of our own.
It’s true: you can’t work your way into heaven. No amount of ‘good works’ will present you as righteous before God; the nature of our sin is too great. “But,” you ask, “what of Mother Teresa? She did a great many good works! One could even go so far as to argue that she had done nothing except good works! Surely one who lives a life such as hers would be guaranteed a spot in heaven?” to which I would reply “You have a very eloquent and unique manner of speaking.”
I would also express that it’s not her that’s doing those good works, rather, it’s Christ in her that gives her the ability, desire, and motivation to do the things she did. Without God we are powerless to do anything outside of our own selfish desires. It’s Christ’s death on the cross that justifies us before the Lord.
You see, back in the day, when we were created (this is not a place for arguments about 7-day, 4k earth, or just general ‘genesis interpretation’), something in us became corrupted, sin was introduced into us, and redefined us. Where once we existed with the ability to sin or not to sin, we now are able to sin and only sin. Our very nature is to be selfish and self-serving, Anything which is not done for the glory of God is sinful (, ), and we are not capable of being truly righteous in our own actions.
Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? Seems pretty hopeless; we know that the ‘wages of sin are death’ (, ESV) and if you consider that along with the knowledge that we are at our very core sinful then there’s really not much that we can do, right?
Ephesians gives an example of the hope we have in Him: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (). If left to our own devices and desires, we will absolutely be ‘swimming in sin.’ When we find that there is something greater to be had in life – a life change that is given to us – we will find ourselves doing those good works – as a response to that grace, not in order to earn it!
Do you seek to do good works as a way to curry favor, or as a response to grace?
Killer Album of the moment: Zion by Hillsong
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (ESV)
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (ESV)
Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.’
What Does it Look Like to be Content in Everything?
At first read, we tend to side with the laborers don’t we? I mean – we’re out there, working hard through the day, and when it comes time to receive the wages for the work we’ve done, we find out that the bossman is paying a bunch of lazy, good for nothing, barely-workers the same amount! It’s just not fair, and we want what is rightfully ours.
It seems applicable to just about everything, though, doesn’t it? Someone at work with less experience and skill gets a promotion. A fellow parishioner who does essentially the same thing as you – every day – earns more. Or maybe you’re a freelancer, and it just seems like you can’t get traction – you’ve got the skills, you have the work ethic, but you’re just not making enough money to buy that Tesla or 55 inch 4K TV. Sometimes, without even realizing it, I become jealous of those whom I ‘perceive’ to be ‘lesser’ than I because I deserve what they are getting and they don’t.
A denarius, in this context, was a day’s wage for a laborer. It was what was generally accepted to be what was owed to someone who you had hired to complete menial work, and when these individuals were hired, they went in with that understanding – that they would receive a days wages for a days work – regardless of when it started or what they did. Of course, the alternative was to not receive any work – and therefore no wages – but they weren’t happy with the fact that they were paid the rate that they agreed to. I mean, sure the employer could have been more forthcoming with his communication regarding wages to the employees (we don’t see anything in the passage indicating that they were told specifically what they would be paid), but the employees, upon comparing themselves to others, decided that what they received was no longer a fair wage.
The employer is not in any way obligated to explain himself – yet he does so – in an exceptionally loving yet firm manner! And so it is with our own lives – we follow Christ, and we should choose to accept that which He has given us as a result. It is not our place to complain that what we receive is not enough for what we do – we should look to Him and be grateful for that which He gives us – we should be content in what we have been given. It is by comparing our own selves to others that we find ourselves lacking contentment with our own status in life, with our own ‘belongings’ and with our own accomplishments.
What would it look like to be content where you are, rather than seeking contentment in the things, recognition, status, or prosperity that you don’t have?
14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” (ESV)
20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” (ESV)
13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? (ESV)
At least, isn’t that often how we seem to approach life?
Have you heard the song “Always Been About You” by fellowship creative? (Here’s a 30 second sample on Amazon if you’re curious: Always Been About You). In the song, Fellowship Creative extolls how much everything is about God:
And it’s always been about love
It’s always been about grace
It’s always been about hope
And it’s always been about faith
It’s always been about peace
It’s always been about truth
Everything that’s ever been before
It’s always been about you
Unfortunately, I could simply rewrite every ‘it’s always been’ line in the whole chorus with the following: “It’s always been about me.” It is so much ‘easier’ – at least in the short term, to just think about myself. What I want. What would serve me. What I can get.
Let’s take a look at Imaginary Jim:
Jim’s driving home from work, and he observes two cars involved in what seems like a fairly serious accident. He thinks to himself: ‘oh – that’s happened already, someone has surely called 911’ and continues to drive on, perhaps saying a ‘little prayer’ for those involved before letting his mind wander back to what’s going to happen in the next episode of Once Upon the Walking Dead in Broadchurch or whatever show he’s currently watching.
The next day, at work, the internet goes down, and everyone’s gotten frustrated – apparently there’s something wrong with the ISP and IT can’t do anything about it, and they’ve sent out notice that they are working on the problem. Within 10 minutes of downtime, Jim is joining everyone else in the office with texting the help desk with requests for updates and status as to the network. “Hey – I need the internet!” “When’s the internet coming back up?” “I can’t get any work done, what are you people even doing?!” Later, when the network is restored, no one sends a thank you to IT for working to get it fixed, and the help desk staff continues execute their routine duties without any affirmation or acknowledgement.
In both of these situations, who is Jim thinking about? How difficult would it be to call 911, just to be sure that help gets to where it needs to go? What would it look like to be patient and wait to see what IT says about a situation before assailing them with requests? Jim is quick to seek satisfaction when it’s something that affects him, and slow to seek assistance when it’s about someone else.
We should be striving to make our lives look like that chorus above – where people can look at what we do and say, and think: “They live their life as if everything is about God” – because in the end, it’s not about us, it’s about Him.
What about you? Can you find areas in your life where you are slow to put the needs of others first, and where you demand that others serve you?
Oh – and thank your IT department right now. No one ever does – they’ll be thrilled =)
10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (ESV)
Stop trying so hard. It’s not going to make it any easier.
Have you ever had that drive to do better, try harder, do more, be better? Who am I kidding – if you’re human (and you’re reading this, so you’re human), you’ve felt that at least once in your life: “I’m not good enough. I have to try harder, or <something> won’t happen. In some cases – that’s true – you have to try hard at work, at school, or keeping your home in functioning order. There is, however, one thing where ‘try’ just doesn’t make any difference: Righteousness and salvation.
Yea – I kinda jumped right in there didn’t I? Well, the truth is, there’s really no way to dance around it. We’re saved because of God’s actions, not our own – and no amount of law following or do..gooder..y.. well, good behavior, I guess, is going to save you. Paul puts it fairly succinctly in Galatians with “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” ()
What’s this mean? It’s pretty simple: Failure to follow the Law (the Ten Commandments, not necessarily all of the Pharisee’s ‘extended version’) is punishable by death. Due to our fallen nature, it is literally impossible to follow the Law, and we should all therefore be subject to the penalty. Christ, who could follow the Law, stepped in and took that punishment for us. Because Christ took that punishment upon Himself, we are no longer bound by the penalty of the Law, and therefore our works have no effect on our salvation.
Because no matter how many “good” things we do, we will do just as many, if not more, “bad” things, and all sins, no matter how big or small have one punishment: death. It really doesn’t matter if we do a good thing for every bad, a single sin is enough.
Fortunately, we have Christ to save us.
Oh – and lest we think that just because we’re “saved” we can do whatever we want ’cause the price is paid, remember that “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” () – fruit is evidence of salvation. And through salvation comes good works.
Things to consider:
- How have I trusted in my own works, and not Christ’s, for my salvation?
- Am I willing to give up my own hold on my ‘ability’ to do good?
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (ESV)
Yea – that title needs work. There’s a good chance that, by the time you’re reading this, I’ll have changed the name of this article, but i guarantee you that it will still need work, and this sentence will still apply.
See, we are not perfect beings. Far from it! (, , for a few examples) The work we do is not perfect – it can’t be – because there is only one perfect being – God (et. al.). We humans strive to reach perfection; in some of us, even, perfectionism is such a huge issue that’s it’s crippling. When things don’t go right, our endeavors don’t perform, or events continuously deviate from our intended path, the sense of abject failure may create a desire to just… freeze, so we don’t fail anymore. It’s not that what we’re doing is wrong, or that we’re not good enough (more on that later), or even that we’re not skilled or useful… It’s just that sometimes, well, things just don’t go our way.
The answer is God, of course, but not in that trite, over-used way of “Just trust in the Lord and everything will be OK.” While that statement is ultimately true – everything will not always be OK while we’re here in this plane of existence. Life on this Earth is not supposed to be easy (). Yes – you do need to trust in God, because faith through the fires of tribulation leads to a stronger faith and perseverance ()… but that doesn’t mean that the cancer will be cured, or the job will be obtained, or the bills will be paid. Consider this:
Have you been faithful? Have you trusted Him when things were going well – or at least when they seemed to be? Did you still trust in Him when you got what you wanted?
God loves us. He wants to be near us, so draw near to Him when you find yourself lost and wandering in the desert – there’s a good chance you got there on your own, and it’s time to trust Him again to carry you to whatever that destination will be – “good” or “bad” – knowing that ultimately, our final destination, is with Him.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (ESV)
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (ESV)
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (ESV)
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. (ESV)