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A Latin Bible handwritten in 1407 AD.

Exegesis (from the Greek: ἐξηγεῖσθαι, exēgēisthai; "Name means::to lead out") is a critical exposition, commentary or interpretation of ancient literature especially religious books such as the Bible or Qur'an.[1] The opposite of an exegetical reading of Scripture is eisegesis and instead of reading out what the text plainly presents it reads into the text what the reader is influenced by.

In order to understand a given passage one must reconstruct as much as possible the world of thought in which the NT writer lived. Since the NT frequently quotes the OT (hundreds of times) or alludes to it (thousands of times) and everywhere presupposes its language, concepts, and theology, exegesis should be particularly sensitive to its presence and careful to reconstruct the exegetical-theological context of which a given OT quotation or allusion may have been a part. A comparative approach is essential.[2]

Philological criticism studies the writing style and grammar, where many critics develop a misleading eisegesis from. It arises usually from not applying the necessary spectrum of the criticism when they disregard different types of grammatical structures (such as literary figures of speech) that still intend to convey truth. Literary criticism tries to conclude original authorship and intended audience. There is also redaction criticism of author narrative structure and whether it assumes formal theology. Inevitably influencing systematic theology if the exegetical influence is allowed to flow to and from the other lines of criticism. And finally form criticism presupposing the Bible was written after the culmination of oral culture coalescing with writing.[3][4] Jewish reverence for their songs and stories, proverbs and folktales that precede their written culture is in center view when approaching form criticism.


The terms exegesis and interpretation are generally used interchangeably but there does remain variation in accordance to the same end. Exegesis and hermeneutic are considered academic in nature bringing with them methodology and theory respectively for reading ancient literature. The word interpretation should not be used in place of exegesis, firstly because interpretation is usually assumed in lay conversation as anything other than an honest representation of the originally intended meaning. Critics generally assume that it is just a personal reading, compared with every other person that picks up the Bible there is no difference in the means or the end. This line of argument though attempts to project onto the critical reader that which they are trying to prevent. Critics claim eisegesis essentially, without even knowing the term or the method of interpretation in the first place that they are questioning. No intellectual weight is allowed when just the interpretation is given, if not in the proper context of exegesis because there is no highlight upon the process or method. A Christian apologetic involving the presentation of theology for example founded in exegesis should be quick to point out the rigor put into interpretation. If not then being a well-informed interpretation is lost because the person who hears the interpretation does not grasp the full spectrum of knowledge bases. Also if the reader or interpreter does not engage in exegesis then the possibility of a far deeper understanding of what is being read through the most scientific of means is lost. Secondly, exegesis is considered a method to interpretation while interpretation itself is more often than not the publicly articulated end-point. The public method of interpretation within the works of major authors like Bart Ehrman and some of the New Atheists is usually non-existent or if elaborated on it is in a lackluster manner with usually no interaction on the other side of the argument.[5] Exegesis should have been conducted if not presented already before the interpretation is given. Thus interpretation often assumes more simplistic and modern language and phraseology than what the text itself actually says on the page. How that text written on the page should get interpreted by Christians and creationists is by the filter or grid of exegesis, sometimes called a plain reading of scripture.

A professional exegete or learned student of scripture demands awareness of diverse criticisms and authorial contexts. This background information of the text is brought forth by careful study through a set of rules and criteria, or methodology, to inform the reading.[6] The criticisms or knowledge bases are interdisciplinary and should cross-pollinate hypotheses, interpretations, conclusions and the like. When reading a biblical text under historical-critical exegesis thus guided by sound hermeneutics originally intended meanings can be realized if pursued diligently and prudently.


Main Article: History

Scholarship sees the Gospels as ancient biography not just fictional legends of the gods (See: Mythology).[7] Other NT books touch upon the very early history and doctrines of the developing Christian church. When reading the Bible historically the reader becomes aware of his own contemporary setting and context, contrasting it to the socio-historical contexts of the author of the text being read. Essentially adopting what is called the horizon of the author staying shy of an introverted eisegesis. What ends up as a result of this type of specific reading is an intimate relationship of author and reader, as well as history and the reader.

The Bible as historical narrative reveals substantive history of Israel and even the greater ANE. Supernatural design of the origin of life and the universe being created in six-days is also realized. The historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is also best explained by the supernatural. Natural processes for the appearances of the risen Jesus fail to maintain adequate plausibility and explanatory power within a critical historical method.


Main Article: Literature

Literary criticism is the study and evaluation of literature. It usually includes literary theory which is more the philosophy of literary criticism analyzing the methods of interpretation. Modern literary criticism begins with the communication theory of Roman Jakobson consisting of sender, message receiver. For there to be successful communication between sender and receiver they must both be using the same code. In the greater context of rhetoric during classical antiquity, and ancient biography though not only rhetorical, a robust literary criticism is necessary for successful interpretation.[8]

Literal and figurative modes of writing

Focused exegesis cannot deny that figures of speech (type of grammatical structure) are used, what is denied is that forms of speech are unrecognizable, isolated without context or inherently cover-up and disqualify any truth intended as many critics unreasonably assume. Authors of the biblical canon used literal and figurative language to convey intended truth. Figures of speech attempt to do so, in what is called the modern mode of historical narrative. Recognizing where the traditional mode (base level literalism) of the historical narrative literary genre differs from a modern mode of writing is essentially what taking the Bible literal means. This distinction however is usually lost in public discussion upon biblical scriptures in general, but in a literary framework the Bible can be taken literal when deemed appropriate. This base level understanding either stands alone or more layers build on top when context determines. The modern mode of historical narrative such as biblical types, parables, formal metaphors, prophecy, poetry and idioms is all differentiated from what is categorized as written by a traditional mode of historical narrative.[9] The either or of literal or figurative grammatical structures are the traditional or modern modes of writing within the historical narrative literary genre. It is an exercise of philological criticism used extensively to pinpoint types and layers of not only grammatical structures, but also what truth was intended by the grammatical structure realized.

An incorrect literal meaning is usually achieved by isolating figures of speech and unreasonably assuming that there is no truth intended. To adopt either extreme and say that no portion or all of the Bible is to be taken literal is inappropriate. However cherry-picking verses and not considering immediate and overall context as critics often do enforces irrational views of the biblical text. Alleged contradictions then arise making the Bible seem inconsistent and inaccurate. Attempts are made sometimes to determine the true nature of a verse through a correct exegesis, however critics then will often use those correct means to then show manufactured inconsistency elsewhere by eisegesis.[10][11]

Textual Criticism

Main Article: Textual criticism

Textual criticism is the attempt to piece together surviving fragments of copies of manuscripts, in order to represent accurately the original manuscript or what is called the autograph.[12][13]

Translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek creates variance not only from construction of the text from original languages of extant manuscripts, but also from different types of English translations. Some are strictly literal renderings from the original languages word for word while others maintain a popular tone giving paraphrasing a substantial role. For instance, the New International Version (NIV) or King James Version (KJV) differ not only between each other but the word choice and by extension definitions derived will also differ sometimes from the more literal New American Standard (NASB).[14][15] Continuous lack of interaction with original languages can devolve from appropriate exegesis into common eisegesis very suddenly. It is vital to consistently include the original language context of word definitions into the exegesis of the English biblical text. This awareness and scrutiny is a tool of the critical reader sitting not at the periphery but active at the forefront allowing juxtaposition of the words and definitions of both translated and original languages that makeup the verse or verses in question. Highlighting linguistic differences of original and translated during exegesis can open up incredible depth of study and insight into the Bible. Unaware critics often take advantage of the incongruity between competing English translations to show internal contradiction of the biblical text, often not realizing a proper exegesis that would dictate the superiority of interpretations derived by original languages. An interpretive method lacking linguistic or grammatical consideration immediately commits eisegesis, reading into the text without historical methods.


Main Article: Theology

Christian theology concerns itself with building theological models articulated by exegesis of the Bible (revealed theology) and by scientific or philosophical investigations into nature (natural theology). Contrast is an important analytical element but contradiction is generally non-existent so that a coherent case for Christian theism and accompanying truth claims can be presented within the context of an overall Christan theology.[16] Theology in the proper or classic sense of its use means the intellectual discourse upon the nature and characteristics or attributes of the divine, be it one god (theism) or many gods (polytheism). The English word theology is derived from the Greek word theologia (θεολογία), theos (θεός) meaning god and logos (λόγος) meaning reasoning.[17]

Jewish exegesis

Pardes, Jewish exegesis involves four modes of reading the Old Testament literature. Pardes covers the extended meaning, following a rule that it should never contradict the so-called base meaning.

  1. Pesha refers to a plain or simple meaning.
  2. Remez goes beyond the literal meaning bringing out deep allegory, what are essentially figures of speech. Which grammatical structure is determined upon context.
  3. Derash A mode of Jewish exegesis dividing into Midrashic homiletics.
  4. Sod refers to the mystical or secret and hidden meaning.[18]


Literature that expounds on the classic Jewish Scriptural interpretation methods and the challenges it presents.

Early creationist exegesis

The principle of giving credibility to contemporaries or who are assumed to be the generation or generations historically closer to the subject help attain a more consistent reading that was originally meant. The young age view was held by the early church as well as early Jewish religious leaders. Some individuals take issue with the views espoused by early church fathers and Jews because it is alleged that their idea and understanding of critical scientific thinking was primitive.[19][20]

See Also

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  1. exegesis. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved August 4 2011 from [1]
  2. Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Hendrickson Publishing 2005), pg. 6
  3. EXEGESIS, n. Columbian cyclopedia, Volume 11. Published by Garretson, Cox & Company, 1897
  4. "exegesis". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. pg. 649
  5. Apologetics 315 interview with Dr. Tim McGrew
  6. THE CHALLENGE OF CANONICAL CRITICISM TO BACKGROUND STUDIES By Randy W. Nelson. Journal of Biblical Studies. 6/1 (June 2006) 10-34.
  7. Richard Bauckham Lectures – What Sort of History are the Gospels? Richard Bauckham on the Gospels as (Reliable) Historical Biography
  8. Stanley E. Porter, Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C.-A.D. 400 (Brill Academic Publishers 2001), pg. 372
  9. Narrative History By Wikipedia
  10. Biblical Literalism By Steve Falkenberg, professor of religious psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. 2002
  12. "textual criticism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 26 July 2010 <>
  13. M-A-P-S: To Guide You Through Biblical Reliability by Hank Hanegraaff
  14. Bible version debate By Wikipedia
  15. New American Standard Bible - Readable, Trusted, Literal, & Timeless By The Lockman Foundation
  16. What is Natural Theology? By Gifford Lecture Series
  17. Charles H.H. Scobie, “New Directions in Biblical Theology,” Themelios 17.2 (January/February 1992): 4-8.
  18. Pardes By Wikipedia
  19. The Early Church & the Age of the Earth by Robert I. Bradshaw. 1998
  20. Genesis - Chapter 1 (Parsha Bereishit) Genesis chapter 1 with Rashi commentary

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