My wife, Wendy, and I enjoy long trips. We’ve taken a few, but the most memorable one was during a Christmas break a few years ago.
As we were driving through various states on our way to visit the naval base in Norfolk, VA we would listen to sermons, music, books and lectures we had set aside beforehand to occupy our time.
So, there we were: holding hands, singing, praying, talking, listening, praising, crying, and reading the Bible together when I had a realization that rocked me to my core. I suddenly realized that for most of my life I had been involved in an eisegesis of the Bible.
At the time I had no idea there was actually a word that described my study habits – I only found out later about the word eisegesis.
Here is how I would study:
1) Choose a topic to study … maybe … going to church … or prayer … or taxes … or the death penalty.
2) Read scriptures I was already familiar with to refresh my mind on what I already knew about the topic.
3) Use a concordance or guide to find other verses that talk about the topic.
4) Study the new verses (word studies, Greek dictionary, history, context, etc) to see how I can add this new information to what I already know.
5) If I didn’t quite understand how a verse could fit with the other verses, then maybe consult a commentary or dictionary or tract or web search to find a possible explanation.
6) If no explanation is found, that is okay. God has revealed His thoughts in the Bible and this verse is simply something I don’t understand yet.
7) Be confident in the fact that those “unexplainable” verses are so so few and far between that as I studied more and more – a light would happen that cleared things up.
8) Also, rejoice that my studies were so thorough that, while my conclusions may not be the same as someone else, I could rest in the confidence that EVERYTHING I believed was based in deep Biblical study and not some man-made doctrine.
THAT, my friends, is called eisegesis.
Eisegesis is a wonderful tool to use if you want to strengthen your faith in regards to your positions on almost any topic. It is an awesome approach to the Bible if your goal is to solidify your ability to explain why you believe the way you do. It is unbeatable in its unerring skill of creating an unwavering and singular understanding of the Bible.
I found eisegesis to be very useful when justifying to my friends why I did – and did not do – certain things while I was growing up.
“Hey Bobby, why don’t you wanna be my friend if my parents drink wine at dinner?” – That one was an easy one.
“Hey Bobby, why won’t you participate in the square dance in music class?” – Ha! Too simple to show book chapter and verse for that.
“Hey Bobby, why don’t you sing certain religious songs?” Seriously – there have to be harder questions than that.
“Hey Bobby, why do you rarely go to a public beach or pool.” Again – so easy to answer.
As I grew older, the questions and answers grew more intricate – but were still able to be answered without problem because of eisegesis.
“Hey Bob, why are you okay being in the Army and possibly killing other Christians?”
“Hey Bob, why don’t you tithe?”
“Hey Bob, why are only people who believe what you believe going to be saved?”
Eisegesis answered all of those questions.
Eisegesis helps us answer every question.
Eisegesis is the answer if you want to cement into place what you already believe.
Eisegesis is going to the Bible believing you already have the answer (or you already have an opinion) and then – MAGIC – everything you read mysteriously supports what you already believe or think.
Eisegesis is superimposing your predetermined conclusions into the text.
Eisegesis is wrong.
So, why do people use eisegesis when they read the Bible? Honestly, I don’t think it has anything to do with dishonesty. It’s human nature. We generally just accept what we are told if that information comes from someone or something in authority.
I come from a Christian background with deep beliefs about the importance of going to the Bible (and only the Bible) to determine how to worship and conduct ourselves in an assembly of the saints. I love that! I cherish that. I yearn for the comfort of knowing that “I’m doing it right.”
Yet, I also know that if the men who spearheaded this movement 200 plus years ago were transported in time, they would not recognize what it has become today. In fact, they would probably not be welcome because of many of their beliefs.
Why? How? Is that even possible?
Think about it. Let’s say some guy named Jim invited 15 coworkers into his home where they worshipped God. In a few years it had grown to 100 people and they were meeting in a school gym. A few more years go by and there are 300 people in their own building. Let’s say this group initially took the communion only in the evening because that was the most convenient time for the original 15 people – and this just stayed the practice as the group grew. A few generations later – can you see someone justifying to someone else that communion is only to be taken in the evening because of everything they read? I can totally see that: no examples of breakfast communion, patterned after Passover, called Lord’s “Supper”, etc.
That is eisegesis.
I’m not saying it is sinful. But, I am saying that it is going to the Bible to prove your doctrine instead of going to the Bible to get it.
Better yet, maybe we should concentrate on following Jesus instead of proving what we already think is better than what someone else already thinks.