exegesis vs eisogesis


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Yorkshire, UK
Here's two simple definitions:

exegesis: objectivism. To explain what the Scripture says. Greek, ‘to guide out of." "ex" means "from" or "out of"

eisogesis: subjectivism. Reading into text something that isn’t there at all. Greek. Same root as exegesis with different prefix. "eis" means "into."

My query here is as to how far anyone may reach into scripture and still remain confident of exegesis, rather than eisogesis?

In other words, taking the words at face value, is it possible to ever have a truly objective view of what a particular scripture reference says and means?

I'm specifically thinking on those instances where matters of doctrine may arise - especially as interpretation can be very much an issue of denominational bias.

However, an understanding of cultural context can also come into it - in my reading I repeatedly note specific instances of information which can immediately be referred to scripture to give it clearer meaning.

For example, the famous "eye of the needle" reference apparently is a direct allusion to a gate in the temple itself, which was allegedly known as "the needle" and was for the entrance of mules - an entrance much too small for a camel - especially a fully laden one.

So...if we consider the dual matters of denominational bias and the potential lack of understanding of cultural references - then to what degree can scholars be certain of actual exegetical certainly in their enterprise?
I think someone has been learning new words.
If your question is which denomination has it most correct then there is no answer. If you are asking which authority is best used for the exploration of scripture my only answer will be your own. Of course if someone is honest in their approach to this endeavor then they will make every effort to use every necessary source. Still it may be necessary after to admit that nothing is clear and know but supposed and hoped. Pehaps that is why we require faith and not technical knowledge.
Heh, you could be quite right about that! :)

I got to reading an article on "hermeneutics" last night - but when it started making commentary on the processes of exegesis and eisogesis then I found myself unable to consolidate the difficulties involved in trying to make an objective interpretation from subjective method. That's a pet topic of mine, btw. :)

I had come across the term "exegesis" before - but "eisogesis" was the new one.
Purportedly true story: the very-Christian mother of a friend got VERY upset over that friend's apparently irreverent reference to an "eggsy Jesus."

Brian, I LOVE this board! This time, though, I'm going to exercise discipline and not ramble for ten pages because I MUST get some work done!

However, the exegetic-eisogetic tug-of-war has long been a fascination of mine. I would argue that complete objectivity is flatly impossible. Permit me, please, a favorite quote of mine, from D.H. Lawrence:

“When it comes to the meaning of anything, even the simplest word, then you must pause. Because there are two great categories of meaning, forever separate. There is mob-meaning, and there is individual meaning. Take even the word ‘bread.’ The mob-meaning is merely: stuff made with white flour into loaves that you eat. But take the individual meaning of the word bread: the white, the brown, the corn-pone, the homemade, the smell of bread just out of the oven, the crust, the crumb, the unleavened bread, the shew-bread, the staff of life, sourdough bread, cottage leaves, French bread, Viennese bread, black bread, a yesterday’s loaf, rye, Graham, barley, rolls, Bretzeln, Kringeln, scones, damper, matsen—there’s no end to it all, and the word bread will take you to the ends of time and space, and far-off down avenues of memory. But this is individual. The word bread will take the individual off on his own journey, and its meaning will be in his own meaning, based on his own genuine imaginative reactions. And when the word comes to us in its individual character, and starts in us the individual responses, it is a great pleasure to us.”

If so simple a word as “bread” can conjure such diversity of meaning, emotion, and memory in each of us, what then is the so-called objective meaning for words basic to doctrine: redemption, sacrifice, Messiah, father, love, faith, sin? We, all of us, see the world through filters. Those filters were put in place by a variety of factors: parents, stress, job, church, culture, school, temperament, birthplace, friends, death, life, and by every incident that happened to or around us throughout our lives. Just as no two witnesses can see a car accident—or a loaf of bread—in exactly the same way and detail, so no two individuals can read even the most straightforward Bible passage “objectively.”

And that is perfectly okay, because in my opinion, when God speaks to us through scripture, He speaks to us as individuals, not as a mob. The mob’s interpretation tends to put too much emphasis on squeezing every last drop of meaning from isolated words and imposing that meaning on all; therein lies the road to legalism, obsession with form over content, fanaticism, and an unjustified belief in a personal mission to save others from their own error.

One more quote, if I may, this from David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous.”

“The traditional Hebrew text . . . demanded the reader’s conscious participation. The text was never complete in itself; it had to be actively engaged by a reader who, by this engagement, gave rise to a particular reading. Only in relation—only by being taken up and actively interpreted by a particular reader—did the text become meaningful. And there was no single, definitive meaning; the ambiguity entailed by the lack of written vowels ensured that diverse readings, diverse shades of meaning, were always possible.”

. . . hence volume upon volume of margin notes and commentaries by Jewish scholars since the time of Isaiah. Greek, admittedly, is a lot less fluid in its potential range of interpretive meaning than Hebrew, especially ancient Hebrew, but even there I find myself entranced by the idea of a *living* scripture that speaks to *me.*

But I fall into error if I try to impose that meaning on anyone else!
That's a great argument for the purpose of individual meaning. :)

I especailly like the DH Lawrence reference - he really drives the point across with so simple an issue. So obviously illustrating the inherent complexities of applying individual meaning into the regions of doctrine and dogma.

And the living Torah - I imagine that, perhaps, part of the ascribed "wisdom of the Rabbis" was a constant need to be aware of, and practice for others, the nature of that very individual meaning in the first place. Which strangely enough brings us around to a young tradesman in the rough-and-tumble world of 1st century Galillee, who railed against the strict literalism and legalism of the Pharisees...
excellent topic and good points made.
Our reality constructs are formulated by means of symbolism known as language.
Language is all about communication; and there is no communication unless we each understand the language and its codes.
It is the fundamental foundation of communication; contextual, relative to frames of reference.
Words have meaning; denotative and connotative, literal and figurative, conceived and perceived. If we are not each applying the same definitions to the same words in the same context, then miscommunication-- misunderstanding-- results. The meaning of a word depends on the definition interpreted and the one intended.
Communication equals language, but language does not equal communication. Misunderstanding occurs at the point where definitions become divergent; causing disagreement as perspectives differ, unless the variance can be reconciled. Constructed in a hodge-podge of arbitrary consensus, words-- like pictures-- are merely representations of things and ideas... not the things and ideas themselves.
A picture is worth a 1000 words, while a word is worth a 1000 pictures.
A word can only mean what we understand it to mean.
It is inevitable that people will (mis)interpret things as they expect them to be, rather than as what is actually there. Multiple perspectives may or may not be consistent. So be prepared to be misunderstood, and to misunderstand.
If people do not speak the same language--- do not apply the same definitions, there is going to be miscommunications... misunderstandings. Especially if people solipsize the material; inserting their own assumptions and biases onto the words of another to see what they think it should say instead of accepting it for what it actually does say.

I like the points made then, especially
Words have meaning; denotative and connotative, literal and figurative, conceived and perceived. If we are not each applying the same definitions to the same words in the same context, then miscommunication-- misunderstanding-- results.
This can only be especially true when dealing with so complex a series of different writings as within the Bible. Yet to the fundamentalist only literal renditions of the English can be true! It is a ridiculous preposition.
objective schmobjective

In other words, taking the words at face value, is it possible to ever have a truly objective view of what a particular scripture reference says and means?
answer one: NO.

the reason for this is because of the philosophical problem of human limitation. we cannot be sure that what janet perceives as 'red' is the same as what john perceives as 'red', because the act of perception takes place within one's private experience - the most that can be done is for both of them to agree that it is 'red' and for both of them to agree that it can be put into category of other things that both of them also agree are 'red'. obviously, disputes may arise as a result of janet and john disagreeing about whether a specific thing can in fact be included in this category, if their perceptions happen to disagree in that case. and how much more so in the case of something intangible like what a piece of religious text actually means!

answer two: what's the real question?

i can only really speak about my own tradition of textural interpretation, which has very clear rules. for example there are a set of 13 rules by which laws implied by the Torah may be expounded, set out in a passage known as the "baraita of rabbi ishmael". these are used when the halacha (law) is unclear. but just to give you a taste of how we do things, the basic idea is *majority* rules, as in the famous case of the "oven of achnai" (BT bava metzia 59b) where one of the rabbis was correct as far as G!D was concerned, but was overruled because he was in the minority and "[the Torah] is not in heaven", ie human interpretation is to be followed rather than waiting for messages from the Divine. furthermore, it is said that G!D found this funny, saying "My children have defeated Me", but also maintained that the viewpoint of the minority should be preserved, in case it ever became that of the majority.

similarly, for three years there was a dispute between the school of shammai and the school of hillel, the former asserting "the law is in agreement with us" and the latter that "the law is in agreement with us". then a bat kol (a voice from heaven) announced, "eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim khayyim" - "these and those are the words of the living G!D, but the law is in agreement with the rulings of hillel." (BT eruvin 13b) in other words, G!D likes a good argument, you've got to have a decision at some point but all points of view are important.

beyond that, there's the question of who is bound by what - now we are bound by our sages and the fact that our ancestors made the covenant with G!D at sinai, but that's just us. however, we like to know what the terms of that are - and part of that is an approach rather similar to dh lawrence's quoted above. in other words, "what does it mean by 'bread'?". this very approach is precisely what is criticised by the people (i must get my friend quietmystic in here, she'd love this forum) who consider that jesus "railed against the strict literalism and legalism of the pharisees". now, the "mefarshim" [pharisees] are precisely the same rabbis of the talmud that came up with these 'legalistic' rules - yet, as it says, "chai bahem" - 'you shall live by them' by which the rabbis say 'in other words, you need not die because of them' - Torah laws (apart from three) can be broken to save a human life, which jesus would surely have approved of. the "pharisees" get a very bad press in the NT, yet to me, coming as i do from this tradition, it seems not only unjustified but inaccurate! at some point in the history of the early church, it was decided to jettison the Law which was the thing that more than anything else kept the jewish people together - and still does. it is from then that you see all the "love versus law" debates, in which love always wins. the idea is basically that law is somehow a bad thing, yet without a law there is no society. consequently the church ended up developing its own set of laws, which IMHO i don't think worked nearly as well - we're still using ours.

there's more to say here but i can't think of it right now.