Eisegesis and Exegesis
The Proof-Text Method
First of all, let us consider the proof-text method of study. Many Bible scholars today say this method is a faulty way to study the Bible. We dispute this charge, but not without warning -- there are conditions. If these conditions are not met, then the 'proof-text method' is not recommended. In fact, it becomes dangerous.
This method has been used by Seventh-day Adventists since the beginning, and it is a method that will prove the truths of the Bible. It is an excellent way to study Scripture, and even necessary. If we do not use this study, we would need to read the whole Bible for every subject we wish to understand. It is the method used by the apostles when writing the New Testament -- they drew from the Old Testament according to the subject they were writing.
If the subject we want to study is controversial, we must go through every verse on the subject. Otherwise we will only have a partial picture, which could make it appear altogether different from the truth. It might even be error.
If we read every verse on the subject of our choice, there will be some verses that appear to contradict the others. It is then we take the weight of evidence. We may prefer the information contained in the few verses, but to hold to them, we must dismiss the larger portion. In a court of law, it is the weight of evidence upon which the judge makes his decision. We must do the same.
A very difficult subject will take much study and prayer, but so long as we are diligent on our part, the truth will be made clear.
Now to consider the danger.
Eisegesis or Exegesis
These are theological words with a vast difference in their approach.
Exegesis interprets a text based on a careful, objective analysis, being led to a conclusion by following the text itself. (Exegesis means ‘to lead out of’)
On the other hand, eisegesis is the interpretation of a text based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. If there is a theological bias, the text will say exactly what the reader wants it to say. (Eisegesis means ‘to lead into’)
Eisegesis reads into the text something that may not be there. If we look at a text and it does not say what we believe and we manipulate our minds to see that it does, our method of study is eisegesis. Every text chosen in this way will make our proof-texts give error from beginning to end.
If the texts are read according to eisegesis, the proof-text method will prove false.
True exegesis will “rightly divide the Word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:15.
Of course, context is important, but at times it does not matter why a statement has been made by the Bible writer, so long as it is relevant to your chosen subject. Often Bible writers made comments about the Messiah quite suddenly and it does not seem to fit into their current message. We do not ignore the text simply because we cannot figure out why they said it. They may do so in other subjects too.
As we study we must think as to whether it is a symbolic statement. Be very careful. We will need to have a good reason for thinking it to be so. Is it Bible prophecy, which does use symbols?
For instance, Daniel uses symbols for nations. "And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another." Daniel 7:3. What do beasts represent? Daniel answers. "These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth." Daniel 7:17. There is no doubt on its meaning.
Some people look at the bear in Bible prophecy and immediately say it is Russia. What does the Bible say? If you study Daniel 7 you will see it refers to the kingdom that came after Babylon, Medo Persia.
Always identify symbols from Scripture.
Another danger is to see many passages as poetry, then dismiss the information. Many do this for the creation account. Poetry still speaks the truth, but watch if it is a poem of contrasts, as there will be opposites, but this will be clear from the context.
Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. The parable itself may be fiction, but the lesson is spiritual. Again, we must allow Scripture to interpret the parable from how its main subject is interpreted in the rest of Scripture.
When studying certain doctrines, our interpretation must wait until we have carefully analysed every verse on the subject; only then will the true meaning be seen.
For instance, when studying the doctrine of an eternal-burning hell, the words ‘eternal, everlasting, for ever, evermore, ever and ever,’ will come into play.
There is no conflict between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, but the Hebrew sets the standard for the rest of the Bible.
Eisegesis looks at the text with a strongly-held belief, and places that thought into the text. As Adventists we understand this subject and know that other texts give a true understanding, even though certain texts appear to contradict the rest.
In the study of the Trinity, many brethren and sisters are using eisegesis. They are forcing the Bible to agree with them. This is being done unwittingly no doubt, but it is 'proving' a doctrine that even our own theologians say is not clearly stated in the Bible. Sadly, many are making text after text say 'trinity', when there is not the slightest suggestion of it.
We need to interpret the text by what it says, not what we think it says.
A verse that once told an important fact about the birth of Jesus, is today used as a proof text for the Trinity.
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. (The Hebrew word for ‘everlasting’ is olam)
What is this verse saying about the One to become Ruler in Israel? “His goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.”
How long is ‘everlasting’ in this verse?
With a Trinitarian mindset and an eisegesis method of study, it will be ‘for all eternity, without beginning’. But an exegesis approach will say – I don’t know. A Greek mind will see those words to mean ‘without end’, but a Hebrew mind will understand them to mean ‘as long as it lasts’.
The Hebrew word olam in the text means ‘to veil from sight, to conceal from sight, vanishing point, time out of mind, so far back no one can remember, beyond the horizon, a very distant time.’
A common phrase, l’olam va’ed, is usually translated ‘forever and ever’. In Hebrew it does not mean ‘for eternity’, but ‘to the distant horizon and again’, meaning ‘a very distant time and even further’, either the ancient past or the distant future.
Another important Hebrew word that deals with time and distance is qedem. It has diverse meanings, yet all are in harmony to the Hebrew mind. Qedem is the word for ‘east’ or ‘the direction of the rising sun’. It also means ‘to project oneself, to precede, beginning, earliest time, from aforetime, ancient’, or ‘of old’. It has also been translated ‘eternal’, but must be understood as the Hebrew sees it.
The word qedem has been used for ‘old’ in the text -- “his goings forth have been from of old…” This parallels olam, confirming that Christ’s pre-existence has been from ancient times, but it does not tell us how far back.
It could be eternity. It could be from a point in eternity. As this is a controversial issue, our interpretation must wait until we have studied further.
Some brethren use the text, "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" to prove the Trinity, simply because it says holy three times. Isaiah 6:3. They believe the three stands for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity.'
This is pure eisegesis, reading into the text that which is believed in the mind.
Instead of using eisegesis, we must use exegesis which allows the text to speak. The information comes from the text. Exegesis of the above text is as follows: One being cried to another being, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, and the earth is full of his glory. It says no more and no less.
Of course our minds may know more than the text reveals because we have read other texts, however, the text itself does not give any more information. But to add that information to this text changes it to eisegesis.
If all our texts are chosen by exegesis, our proof-text method of study will reveal truth.
Using exegesis, we will put our own ideas aside and ask: What does the text say?
A set of proof texts by this method will give the truth. It might end up the same as we already believe, but it might not. If not, we must be willing to accept what God has revealed.
Dear Reader, are you willing to use exegesis when you study the Trinity?
We are praying for you.