Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Exegesis vs. Eisegesis

Do you ever wonder if you are reading the Bible through the Holy Spirit's eyes or your own eyes?  Have you ever wondered as you were reading, "Am I reading this correctly?" Do you ever question why something seems just a bit amiss but because you've been taught one way for so long, you just let it lie and move on to the next thing?  In my 20 years of reading and studying Scripture there have been numerous times where the text has made me go, "Hmmmmm," and several times where I just assumed  that I was missing something.  In recent years, I've become more diligent about my reading in order to more fully understand and correctly handle God's Word.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

There are a couple of ways to examine and interpret Scripture.

Exegesis is defined as "critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible."--Dictonary.reference.com

Eisegesis is defined as "an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter's own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text."--Dictionary.reference.com

Eisegesis is a dangerous way to interpret Scripture, but, I'm afraid, far to many modern-day Christians do just that.  They have either been taught a certain way and nothing they read will dissuade them or they are just to lazy to do the work of determining whether a preacher/teacher is truly doing proper exegesis of a passage.  We are, as believers, to hold our teachers accountable.  Let's look at one little verse.

Acts 17:11 (NASB)
11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

They received the word with great eagerness....they were excited and challenged by it.  It was obviously touching their hearts and stirring their consciences!  So...what did they do?  They examined the Scriptures to see if what they were being taught was true.

Most modern-day Christians stop right there.  They think to themselves, "they studied the Words of Jesus, maybe they studied Romans or Hebrews, just like we do."  However, and here is the kicker, they didn't have those things to study!!!  They didn't have those letters.  Some did, the people who they were specifically written to might have had them by this time, but the majority of unbelievers/seekers/new believers did not have anything but what we call the Old Testament, what the Jews call the Tanach.  The Bereans were going home and studying the Tanach to see if what Paul and the others were teaching was true.

See how easy it is to read something with an unknowing bias?

Let's think about something a bit more challenging.

Mark 7:1-23 (NASB)
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem,
2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed.
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders;
4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)
5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked* Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"
6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS , BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
8 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."
9 He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
11 but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),'
12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;
13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that."
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:
15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
16 ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."]
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.
18 And He said* to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him,
19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
20 And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.
21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.
23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

We tend to look at this passage and simply see Jesus supposedly making all foods clean, but is that really the case?  Is the passage really about food at all?

Verses 2 & 3 lay out the real problem that the Pharisees were talking about-eating with impure hands, hands that weren't ritualistically washed according to the Rabbinical traditions (which also included the washing of cups, pitchers, and copper pots according to verse 4).  They decide to try to trip Jesus up because His disciples didn't keep the ritual, but Jesus has a few choice words for the Pharisees in verses 6-9.

"Teaching as doctrines the precepts of man." vs 7
"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." vs 8
"You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition." vs 9

All 3 of these things are important for us to consider when we are walking this journey with Jesus.  Are we holding onto traditions and doctrine that come from man or all we clinging to Jesus and following hard after His Word solely?  The Rabbi's were constantly putting more and more burden on the people, claiming that it was to keep them from breaking God's law, but in reality, it kept people to coming from Him in faith and it loaded them down with burdens they could not bear.  To call something sin that God did not call sin is wrong and Jesus points that out numerous times!  To call something not sin that is sin is also wrong.

So, if Jesus is chastising them for setting aside the commandments of God for the traditions of men, why does it seem that in verse 19, He does just that.

19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 

Did Jesus really declare all food clean in this passage?  Is food ever mentioned in this passage? If He was truly setting aside a commandment of God, wouldn't He have been more specific?  Wouldn't have been straight-forward, as was His usual way (i.e. The Sermon on the Mount)?

Which leads me to another passage that has been weighing on my mind.  Isaiah 65 and 66 (especially 66, given it's promise of the new heaven and the new earth).

There are a couple of verses that weigh heavy on my mind....

Isaiah 65:1-4 (NASB)
1 "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name.
2 "I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts,
3 A people who continually provoke Me to My face, Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks;
4 Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine's flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots.

Isaiah 66:3 (NASB)
3 "But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog's neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine's blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations, 

Isaiah 66:15-17 (NASB)
15 For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For the LORD will execute judgment by fire And by His sword on all flesh, And those slain by the LORD will be many.
17 "Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens, Following one in the center, Who eat swine's flesh, detestable things and mice, Will come to an end altogether," declares the LORD.

If Jesus made all food clean, if Jesus is the Word of God, the entire Word, and if we believe that the prophecies of the Old Testament are for us, then shouldn't we be taking heed regarding "swine's flesh".  It seems to me that God takes it very, very seriously and since He points it out so distinctly in prophecy about end times (and the passage in Isaiah 66 is very specific about it being all nations, not just Israel) then shouldn't we be thinking critically about some of the passages in the New Testament that we seem to take for granted?

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know that I am enjoying the search through God's Word to find them!

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