Typically, exegesis is used when interpreting scripture, so that value, meaning, and instruction is derived from the words.

When is eisegesis, or reading-into scripture, a valid interpretational technique?

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    Isn't this asking "when is it right to misinterpret scripture"? – DJClayworth Aug 7 '12 at 18:19
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    My first thought was, "When you are more interested in making a point than in discovering the truth..." – Affable Geek Aug 7 '12 at 22:14
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    Unfortunately this is too subjective (opinion-based) and broad for this format, but here is an entire book that proposes an answer to this question that you may enjoy. – Dan Feb 13 '17 at 16:09
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    Unfortunately @warren - as no specific Christian perspective is requested, different Christian groups will reasonably disagree on this question and thus I still believe it is opinion-based for this site. – Dan Feb 13 '17 at 19:29
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    Warren, standards on this site have been shifting for quite some time – there are hundreds of questions from 2011 and 2012 that were only closed in 2015 or later. Because there are so many "Christian" groups that disagree with each other on practically everything, questions asking for the "truth" rather than a particular group's view are likely to be closed when they are noticed. If you don't agree with that assessment, and the reopen effort fails, I'd encourage you to post about this on meta if you'd like further review. – Nathaniel is protesting Feb 15 '17 at 19:06

This seems like an odd question. The only answer that seems reasonable would be that you read into Scripture the meaning you want it to have when you disagree with the actual meaning.

To read into Scripture what is not there is to put oneself as somehow over Scripture as more of an authority on the matter than the Scriptures themselves. There are definitely two distinct approaches to the Scriptures.

Two people will see in the Scriptures something that differs from either their own ideas or their own deeds. One person will conclude, The Bible must be wrong, and then misinterprets it to make it agree with him. Another will conclude, I must be wrong, and changes his ideas or his life to agree with the Bible.

I would argue that only one of these is a true follower of Jesus and of His teachings. Eisegesis is never appropriate.

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The answer would depend on who you were asking. One man's "eisegesis" is another man's "orthodoxy," and it's not altogether uncommon to hear the former term levied as an accusation against any that disagree with a speaker's stance on any particular theological issue.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, which many Christians believe to be entirely consonant with Scripture, is one example of a document that seems, in articles 1.9 and 1.10, to state a very clear position wholly against eisegesis, in favor of a Sola Scriptura-style "interpret-the-Scriptures-by-the-Scriptures" exegetical approach.

WCF, Chapter 1:

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

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Peter says pretty clearly that that's not ever a good idea:

2 Peter 1:20-21

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

So the scriptures should not be interpreted through eisegesis, but by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which is the same power by which they were originally given.

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I don't know that I've ever heard the term "eisegesis" used in anything but a polemical tone, so I suspect you aren't going to have anyone telling you that it's a good practice.

That said, the exegetical approach that most Christians typically espouse (cf. Fee & Stuart How to Read the Bible for All its Worth), "The text can never mean what it never meant" has serious flaws. Hermeneutics are intrinsically tied to epistemology—and the truth of the matter is that we cannot ever know for sure what any text meant, and therefor have no way to verify whether we are in fact committing [that most grievous of sins] eisegesis.

Furthermore, while most moderately informed Christians try to pull meaning "out" of a text (hence "exegesis"), the NT authors and most early Christians had no such sensibility. This is why so many OT texts are re-appropriated as prophecies about Jesus. The locus classicus is Isa 7:14. Who is Isa 7:14 about? Hezekiah. What does the NT say? It's about Jesus. Or better: Isa 40:3 was re-appropriated by both early Christians (referring to John the Baptist), and also by the Qumran community as a reference to themselves.

My own personal worldview values very highly a historical–critical approach to the Bible. That said, if we say that an exegetical approach is the only faithful way of interpreting the Bible we exclude all those who interpreted the Bible for the first 1500 years of the Church. This is not acceptable in my opinion.

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  • This is a first - having Isaiah 7:14 reference anyone other than Jesus: who else would be called "God with us"? – warren Aug 10 '12 at 3:35
  • @warren,I don't even know how to respond to that. Read all of Isa 7 and explain to me how that is about Jesus. – jackweinbender Aug 10 '12 at 15:29
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    Hear, hear! This is a wonderful, well-balanced, and helpful answer. One of the most popular hermeneutical methods used by Christian preachers (the Christological approach) is eisegesis par excellence. – Jon Ericson Jun 11 '13 at 17:06

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