What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?

It crossed my mind that some people do not know the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. So I thought I’d take the time to define each term for my readers.

Exegesis is defined by  Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, on Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exegesis accessed: March 30, 2009), as “Exposition; explanation; especially, a critical explanation of a text or portion of Scripture.” The word means to “lead out of”. 

Eisegesis is defined by Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on Random House Dictionary  (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eisegesis accessed: March 30, 2009), as “an interpretation, esp. of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.”. The word means to “lead into”. 

These are two very distinctly different ways of examining scripture. Exegesis is a grammatical, historical, cultural, contextual approach to understanding and teaching Scripture. It involves critical examination of the context, setting, grammar, syntax, and style of the writing. Exegesis does not try to read into what is written. Instead, exegesis tries to read out from the text what was written, addressing the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the matter. Exegesis looks at the chapter(s) of the passage in question. It also looks at the chapter(s) before the text in question, and those following it – to ensure a proper understanding of everything involved in the passage, to get a fuller understanding of the context of the text in question. The intent is to determine what the human author was saying, and why – looking at the human author’s style, word choice, audience, language, and problem being addressed.  The general principle of what was being written is also looked for, once you find the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the matter. This gets to the meat of the matter, looking for what God is saying in the passage. To ensure you do not get this wrong, you have to look at how the text in question correlates to what the rest of the Bible says concerning the principle. Finally, you find how this passage and the principles being discussed in it apply to our lives, or those of our audience.

The web site GotQuestions.org (http://www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html) defines the process of exegesis as involving four steps:

1) observation: what does the passage say?

2) interpretation: what does the passage mean?

3) correlation: how does the passage relate to the rest of the Bible? and

4) application: how should this passage affect my life?

On the other hand, eisegesis involves reading into a passage of Scripture what is not there. Eisegesis is concerned with making the point the teacher (or preacher) is trying to make, not with what is actually being said by the human author.  This happens when the teacher (or preacher) tries to make the passage say what he wants it to say – to the point of ignoring the meaning of words, or even ignoring whole verses. I once heard a preacher giving a verse by verse description of a chapter of a book in the Bible. He was doing well until he skipped one passage. Then he made a conclusion that was not in the passage, and had he read the one passage he skipped, he would have totally negated his message. That is an example of eisegesis. 

One difference between eisegesis and exegesis can be seen in how people handle the description of creation in Genesis 1. No where in the Bible is it ever mentioned of millions or billions of years. No where is it ever mentioned that man came from monkeys. However, people who use eisegesis will try to make the Bible match what the majority of scientists want to teach – that the universe is billions of years old and man evolved from lower life forms. On the other hand, exegesis requires the observation that the word day is used when describing the length of time it took God to create the universe and world and its inhabitants- including mankind. The Bible tells us man was created from dust by God. Exegesis requires the observation and description of what is actually written, not what we want it to say.

In short, exegesis is the opposite of eisegesis.


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