Thursday, December 6, 2018

Exegesis Vs. Eisegesis

I used a term a few months ago, and suddenly realized nobody in the room knew what I was talking about.  The term was exegesis.  It's an interesting word.  I thought I'd write a little about it.  It may prove of interest to you, especially those of you that are interested in the study of history or theology.

When you're studying theology in particular, there's a term used to describe a particular discipline in interpreting Biblical texts.  Exegesis.  Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning of a particular text by putting it into proper context--keeping in mind the time period in which it was written, understanding the meanings of different words and the culture during the time period in which the text is believed to be written.  It's a discipline of strictly factual based interpretation.

And then there's the opposite--eisegesis.  Eisegesis is when a reader imposes their own ideas, emotions, or beliefs onto a text when they interpret it.  You'll see this often when Biblical text is taken out of context and used as "evidence" to support facts that the text quoted doesn't actually support.

I saw a discussion recently on social media that was talking about the Biblical commandment, " thou shalt not kill."  One comment said that the text was self-explanatory.  It's kind of hard to misinterpret that text.  That would be the exegesis interpretation "it is what it is."  Another participant in the discussion went on a long rant saying that the text was written so that men were allowed to beat their wives to the point of death.  As long as they didn't kill their wife, it wasn't a sin.  This is an eisegesis interpretation--there's nothing at all there to support that interpretation (or anywhere else in the Bible that I know of for that matter).

By far the more superior method of interpretation is exegesis--a strict interpretation based on all related facts.  But we seem to use eisegesis in just about everything today.  If you look at the media in particular.  The meaning of facts don't matter so long as they support our feelings about things and our belief structure.  It's why when one President does something, it's fine with us, but when another President does exactly the same thing it is not.   One President we like, and the other we do not.  The fact that they both did exactly the same thing does not matter to us.

Unfortunately, we don't seem to recognize the difference between the strict interpretation of facts, and facts that are tainted by our own beliefs or biases.  Until we learn as individuals to begin applying that telling lens of exegesis to the "facts" we're consuming, I'm afraid we may never get to the real truth of anything.

~Todd E. Creason  


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