Thursday, September 10, 2015

Challenging Terminology, Simple Truth

Toying with the Word of God.

My last blog, Mystic Biscuits, examined the difference between the value of Scripture and the lesser significance of mystical experience. It’s only within the truth of God’s Word that we gain knowledge, become aware of our sin, of the law, and the promise of freedom from the law. We’re humbled. We’re called to salvation. We find hope. We come to know God.

But within the realm of Biblical study, another dichotomy mixes our good intentions with variably skewed results. Like the subtle edging toward mysticism, we toy with the reality of the Word until we’ve made it all about us. I’ve done this myself. I’ve learned to do it in Bible study groups and heard less-than-true sentiments repeated again and again. All of us have stretched conclusions about what the Bible teaches. We believe in our own interpretation of truth. But interpretation must begin outside ourselves. It’s only been a few years since I learned the term for pitching my own agenda into Scripture, and the term for doing the opposite—realizing God’s true intent.

Eisegesis (or isogesis) means reading something into a passage of Scripture to make it more applicable to our own situation. For instance, we can take a verse written for the ancient Hebrew people, write a song about it, and sing it as a call for American Christians to humble themselves and pray. Does the overarching principle of God’s people praying reach beyond the rule of King Solomon to modern-day churches? Perhaps it does. But how many people who can sing the song can also cite the verse and give a clear assessment of God’s original objective?

Another example: If two or three are gathered in God’s name, then He is there with them. Well, of course He is—He’s omnipresent. The passage is sometimes quoted when an unimpressive number of church members show up for a service. The verse in question (Do you know where to find it?) actually addresses the matter of church discipline. It has more to do with a gathering of witnesses who propose strong rebuking, and less to do with a few people who show up for a prayer meeting.

Now for the opposite—another funny word—exegesis. It means that instead of determining the intent of Scripture based on our own experience and bias, we extract from Scripture what God actually intended. This is where interpretation begins. With all Scripture, including the above references, we must consider the history and culture of the original audience, as well as the grammatical and literary style of the writer. Will the direct message of these and other passages apply to our lives? Possibly. Regardless, we’ll learn something of God’s unfailing character and sovereignty. Scripture expresses its own overall aim in 2Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The more I think about the eise and the exe, the more I wonder if the chasm between truth and mysticism has a direct link. Is that how we get there? By reading into Scripture what we want it to say, instead of drawing out what we need?


Understanding how to study Scripture is a key to understanding Scripture. I’m no scholar, just a disciple of the simplest kind. Another funny word, hermeneutics (the branch of theology dealing with the principles of exegesis and interpretation), has not been in my Christianese vocabulary for too long. But even before I learned that studious term, I wanted to explore God’s Word, to come to know it, to understand more about what God said. And less about what I thought He said.

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