In light of the charged debate over homosexuality, one would think the Bible has a lot to say on the subject. It does not. There are only five or six verses in the entire Bible that have been interpreted as addressing or condemning homosexuality. They are verses that are often removed from their historical, cultural and religious contexts to proof-text the Bible’s alleged stance against homosexuality and homosexual relationships.
One reads these texts more responsibly by applying the common-sense and scientific rules of biblical exegesis. Though that may sound like a scary term, the word exegesis comes from the Greek verb which means “to draw out”. Simply put, exegesis is about drawing out from the text the true meaning of a Bible passage. Or to phrase it a bit differently, it means getting out of the text what it originally meant to the author and original intended audience — without reading into the text the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it.
Exegesis then is an investigation. As one of my seminary professors used to say, the question we always have to be asking is: What’s going on here? The reader today must somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying. If we fail to pay attention to the world in which the Bible was written, we will simply read biblical texts, infuse them with meaning from our social and symbolic world and conclude that the Bible speaks directly to us.
But instead of responsible exegesis, what many do instead is what some theologians refer to as “frontloading”, i.e., they read their own personal, political or ideological beliefs back INTO the Bible instead of reading OUT FROM the Bible what the original writers were saying. This process of reading one’s own ideas INTO interpretation of the Bible is called EISegesis. Exegesis and Eisegesis are conflicting approaches to interpreting the Bible.
Why are they conflicting?
— EXegesis is about reading OUT FROM the Bible what the original writers were saying.
— EISegesis is about reading one’s own ideas or prejudices back INTO the Bible.
— EXegesis is the process of GETTING OUT of the text what is truly there in the first place.
— EISegesis is the process of PUTTING INTO the text something that was not intended by the author.
— EXegesis is drawing out the true meaning of a Bible passage.
— EISegesis is at best unwise and at worst extremely dangerous!
But exegesis is not an easy task. Like many laudable things it requires some work on our part. It also behooves us to be aware that we are all guilty of eisegesis to some degree, because we all read the Bible with modern eyes. We all have our own beliefs, worldviews and biases and letting them influence our interpretation of the Bible is an ever-present danger. So whatever we can do to leave our assumptions at the door before we approach the text will only help to not color what we are going to come out with. It is respectful of God’s gift to us to go after the author’s intentions and meanings before arriving at our own.
W.C Fields was visited on his deathbed by a friend who caught him reading the Bible. “What are you reading that Bible for?” the friend asked. Fields tersely replied, “I’m looking for loopholes!” Those of us with respect for Bible interpretation and biblical authority do not look for loopholes. What we seek is harder and infinitely more important to find than easy outs. We search for the intention of the original writers. Who was the writer and to whom was he writing? What was the cultural and historical setting of the writer? What was the meaning of the words in the writer’s day? What was the intended meaning of the author and why was he saying it? What should this mean to me in my situation today? To an extent, careful study can open those meanings to us if we are humble enough not to presume we already know. We try hard to get past what we think we already know to find out what we are looking at.