Bible Study 101 Part 2: Key Terms for Reading, Interpreting, and Teaching the Bible

In basic logic, the validity of an argument (claim) is determined by the validity of its premise (assumption).  The entire argument is invalid even if only one premise is false. One example to consider is the game of Jenga where players systematically remove one block at a time without causing the tower to fall.  Think of each block as a valid premise; at some point the tower’s support is compromised by the elimination of each “premise.”
 
In the same way, valid Bible study involves a recognition of several premises including the accurate definition and application of key terms.  Today’s focus is hermeneutics, exegesis, and eisegesis.
 
Before discussing each term, I’d like to offer an important premise.  Authentic Bible study consists of an expositional approach.  In other words, we should imitate the careful, contextual, and Christ-centered methods exemplified by Paul’s admonishment to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15) and the habits of the Berea Church (Acts 17:10-12).  God’s Word is too important for random or self-serving interpretation. We shouldn’t stumble into studying or hope for the best. To read more about this, I encourage you to review my blog series Handle with Care.  
 
So what’s meant by hermeneutics and how does it impact our Bible study? This term comes from the Greek word,  “hermēneuō (‘interpret’), [and] is used to denote (a) the study and statement of the principles on which a text—for present purposes, the biblical text—is to be understood, or (b) the interpretation of the text in such a way that its message comes home to the reader or hearer.” 1  Stated differently, Biblical hermeneutics refers to the philosophy and science of interpreting scripture and requires tools necessary to answer questions such as the Who? What? When? Where? of scripture.  Effective tools for hermeneutics include a study bible, bible dictionary, commentary, and manners and customs reference book.
 
Biblical exegesis refers to the process of drawing out the meaning of scripture through interpretation and analysis. It is “the practice of discovering the meaning of a text in its original cultural, historical, literary and theological contexts” (emphasis added). 2  Think of exegesis as the techniques we use to answer the How? and Why? questions of scripture through observation, interpretation, and application. I go into this much further in a blog called Handle with Care Part 2: Introduction to Observation, Interpretation, and Application of Scripture; Observation of Scripture.   
 
The antithesis of Biblical exegesis is worldly eisegesis which refers to the preconceived expression of one’s biased, and self-serving interpretation of scripture.  Statements laced with eisegesis include “In my opinion..I was taught that..That’s what it means to me…You can believe whatever you want…” Here, we fraudulently attempt to alter the content or intent of scripture in order to justify our preconceived views.   This is something we should avoid at all costs!  It’s the flawed premise which ultimately leads to invalid, untrue, and deceptive Bible study we see today as people apply situational ethics or cultural relativism to God’s objective Truth.   
 
Woe to us for dismissing the warnings of Ephesians 4:11-16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21.  We must do better!
 
1  Bruce, F. F. “Hermeneutics.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996: 467. Print.
Reid, Daniel G. et al. Dictionary of Christianity in America 1990: Print.

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