Old habits are hard to break. After living in Red Wing, MN, for seven years we moved to Memphis, TN, at my company’s urging (meaning, my job moved to the corporate headquarters in Memphis). After moving, I still needed to return to Red Wing periodically for factory visits. It was a bit odd staying at the local Best Western located a mile from our old home.
During one visit, after a long day at the factory, I headed to the hotel in my rental car. I drove right past the Best Western to our old house, unaware of the mistake until I drove down the street and saw unfamiliar cars in the driveway. Old habits are hard to break.
Last week I introduced the term eisegesis (ˌī-sə-ˈjē-səs), which is the reading of a text through the lens of what we already believe to be true. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” meaning we speak into the text our preconceptions. The opposite? Exegesis (ek-sə-ˈjē-səs). The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of,” meaning the reader allows the intent the text to “come out,” informing his or her beliefs.
I suspect we have been in the habit of reading scripture though the lens of our preconceptions for so long that we drive right by exegesis and end up at eisegesis. The Good Samaritan parable might be adequate proof of that reality. We have been flying upside down a long time as Dallas Willard would remind us. So, how do we get right-side up? First, we recognize we are at the wrong house, change our mind, and head the other direction (this is the definition of repent). Then we rethink how we approach Scripture. Here are a few simple questions to ask as we invite Scripture to speak into our lives:
- What stands out to me? How might God be trying to grab my attention?
- What is being said in this passage?*
- What is NOT being said? (This is a biggie)*
- What does this passage tell me about who God is?
- What does this passage tell me about who I am?
- So what? What am I to do with these thoughts? How might God be asking me to change my mind?
There are plenty of other questions we could address, but this is a good start. It takes practice. Anyone that has played a sport knows of what I speak. Changing a swing, serve, stroke, or stride takes time, effort, and thought until it becomes second nature. Same with the shift from eisegetical to exegetical Scripture reading. But when it does become second nature, Scripture comes to life, transforming our lives! (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Romans 12:2)
* Case is point: Several years ago I was meeting weekly with a group of college-age young people. We were working our way through the Gospel of John. When we arrived at the well-known John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life), I asked them to close their Bibles (or Bible Apps) and paraphrase the verse. They collectively thought the verse was about them going to heaven. None of them saw the word world. None! (And they were also a bit surprised to discover that heaven is not the same thing as eternal life, but we’ll save that topic for another time.)