Exegesis = The process of discovering what the text says in its context and what the original author meant when he wrote it, and accepting that as its meaning.
Eisegesis = The process of imposing one’s own views, interpretations, and preconceptions onto the text making it mean whatever one wants it to mean.
Narcigesis = “Narcissistic Eisegesis”, The process of inserting oneself into the passage to make it mean something related to oneself or one’s own personal journey of faith.
The only correct approach to Bible study is exegesis; the other two lead to false interpretations and, therefore, false applications.
It Can Never Mean What It Never Meant
A good rule of thumb when trying to find the meaning of a passage is, “It can never mean what it never meant.” If you want to know what a passage means, and therefore how to properly apply it to your own life (if there is a direct application to you), is to ask what the original author meant when he wrote it and, secondly, how the original audience would have understood it. This takes study and effort and there’s no shortcutting the process. Sadly we have become very fond of our lifestyle of fast food and quick-acting pills to cure our ills, and we’ve allowed that mentality to affect our study of Scripture. Consequently, we grab a verse, rip it from it’s textual, historical, and cultural contexts and make it say what we want it to say. Or we allow our preconceived notions to dictate its meaning. It’s a much easier and quicker process, but it will almost always lead to a wrong interpretation.
If we want to find the true meaning of a passage, we have to do the hard work of applying sound study techniques and allowing the text to speak for itself (exegesis) within its textual, historical, and cultural contexts.
What are these sound Bible study techniques? I’ll be talking more about those in future posts.