Updated: Feb 10
Why do you study the Bible? For many of us we have asked or been asked this question. It can be overwhelming starting a journey to delve into something that is as magnificent as an ancient book of Scriptures. So, here is a good beginning to see how to study The Bible for the proper meaning, application, and discernment.
Let's start with some terms, definitions, and what does that look like for us today.
:|: Exegesis :|: [ < Greek exègeisthai (to interpret) < ex- (out) + hègeisthai (to lead). Related to English 'seek'.] Definition: To interpret a text by way of a thorough analysis of its content. When you do exegesis, you are an exegete who is exegeting the text. What you are doing is described as being exegetical. In its most basic Bible-relevant meaning, exegesis means finding out what the Spirit originally was saying through its author in that Bible passage.
Exegesis is what you get out of the Bible, as opposed to what gets read into it. A personal reflection of oneself like looking in a mirror. Of course, the ways we use to find out "truth" from the Bible are often merely just ways to put something we think is wisdom into our own ideas, something more like reading ”between the lines“ for our lives.
In a more theological setting, exegesis means what comes out from the use of certain methods of studying the Bible are what is applicable. Just about every imaginable method already has a name, and there are all sorts of mixes, but the main types are :
:|: historical :|: using the historical context to find what it meant back when it was written or when it happened
:|: canonical :|: treating the Bible as a whole document designed to be what a specific community shapes its life by
:|: symbolic/allegorical :|: figuring out what each story, character, and event represents
:|: literary :|: using the literary forms, word choices, editing work, main themes or narratives, etc., to understand what was written
:|: rational :|: thinking it through using logic and deductive techniques
Nearly all Bible students use most exegetical methods in their own way at some time, even if they don't know that they do. It's best to see all exegetical methods as tools for the Bible student to use prayerfully, rather than as rules to follow or conclusions that one must accept.
There are many angles and facets to most passages of Scripture, and the different ways to exegete the text can help you get more from passages, concepts, and what you have been taught. What other passages of Scripture say is not the only relevant thing. What is true about a world view around any section of Scripture also affects what is meant by that section of Scripture. Just for examples: the behavior of Babylon and the characteristics of the rule of Nebuchadrezzar, known to historians, are relevant to the fall and exile of the Kingdom of Judah. And, everything that happens in the Gospels must be held in the context of the Roman Empire's rule over the region.
If you aren't doing some kind of exegesis, you are not finding out what the writings themselves are saying. But what good is knowing spiritual truth if it doesn't matter to the way you live?
:|: Eisegesis :|: [ < Greek eis- (into) + hègeisthai (to lead). Definition: A process where one leads into study by reading a text on the basis of pre-conceived ideas of its meanings. Historically, it is rare for someone to be called an 'eisegete', because eisegesis has a well-earned negative reputation.
Eisegesis is what's being done when someone interprets the Bible according to notions that were born outside of the Bible. How many times have you been in church or reading the Scripture and think...oh my goodness Dehliah needs to read this because... Well, how about you read it and deal with yourself first? Matthew 7:3-5. In eisegesis, we read stuff into Scripture.
For instance, the idea of the United States as a "Christian Nation" is the creation of egos who gloat over being powerful. It has no basis in history or fact, but more important, it has no basis in the Bible. Thus it arises from eisegesis. Yet some leading US politicians and pastors interpret the Bible through this notion.
To some extent, eisegesis is unavoidable. We don't come to the Bible with a blank slate. A lot of living and learning went into each of us. If we really bring our whole selves to the study of the Bible, all that stuff in us will and should have an impact on how we learn from the Bible.
Here's where prayerful guidance and spiritual practice come in, when we are in honest prayerful reflection The Spirit rewards our honesty with truth. The hard work of exegesis uncovers what Soul Story the Bible is telling us, along with us letting go of "our interpretation" to cherish what the vision of the Story is revealing.
Something to be cautious of "well the Bible says...God is saying here...I believe/think. God means..." When these words are used for teaching the bible you can very much consider that what you are about to hear is actually human opinion, and most likely a distorted perception at best.
My opinion is to read it for yourself! Living and learning instead becomes the raw material for re-visioning our lives and thoughts (through hermeneutics) in the light of what the Spirit reveals in Scripture (exegesis.)
:|: Hermeneutics :|: [ < Greek hermeneu(te)s (interpreter). ] Definition: The science of interpretation of a story or text, and the methods used in that science.
For Bible study, hermeneutics is about the ways you discover meaning in the Bible for your life and your era, faithfully taking its contents into today's world view. The Bible is not meant to be a lazy read, as I can guess you feel me on that. When you read it, you use ways to figure out what it means and how to live out what you've learned. There's a science and an art to that: hermeneutics. Most hermeneutical methods are done often from inside a religious community.
Seemingly this is often the overt way of "preaching the gospel" in our modern world view. While, this can be an effective type of discernment process, what it looks like is closer to exploring what is endless and beyond our ability to comprehend. So there is some practical use of these tools (like trying out ideas or using 'rules of thumb') in order to live it.
Or better yet, my favorite (insert sarcasm) is when we believe the Preacher's take on the Scripture as the truth to understanding The Bible. At the time of the Reformation the "church" had become the "authority" on the Scripture diminishing The Spirit of Truth as the real authority, since God is Spirit according to the Master himself in John 4:24. See here is a great example of my take on Scripture.
We need to have our own theology, simply put. This belief still stands today when we have questions about God. Often our first inclination is we think we should go to a person in the church rather than reading it for ourselves. What I have found for myself is practicing contemplative prayer is a real time application of being still and listening.
Reading the Scripture for ourselves is known as Sola Scriptura a basic meaning is that we get to understand and learn the Bible as a personal spiritual discipline. This is dangerous for the church because when people know what the text actually says for themselves what authority does the church have? Better yet, the church's function would be altered if we have our own autonomy, and authority of our spiritual selves to be still and know.
We hold the Light, the Kingdom of God inside of us. We, the people are the church. Worshipping in The Spirit and in The Truth can be done any where, at any time.
John 4:24 For The Spirit is God, and it is fitting that those who worship him worship in The Spirit and in The Truth.”
"The institutionalized church held a monopoly on theology. No one was allowed to “do” their own theology. People were indoctrinated with the “truth” in order to protect the “truth.” The institutionalized church had seen enough scandal in the early church where people were “doing” theology on their own. There was a heresy on every corner. Which corner was one supposed to go for truth? So, to put the matter simply, the church decided that the only true doctrine comes from within the already established Church. But once this “within” had narrowed to the institutionalized church, there were only a select few within the hierarchical structure who were given permission to interpret doctrine.
In the later middle ages, we see the structure develop so much so that no one could contradict a dogmatic decree from the bishop of Rome (the foundation for the infallibility of the Pope that would come in the nineteenth century). The church’s desire was noble, but the outcome was tragic. The common person may have known what they believed, but they had no idea why. It was sort of drone theology, where everyone had the same confession, but there was no true intellectual conviction about the confession. For most, the commitments to their beliefs became purely emotional, being based on fear and folklore.
The common man did not have the right to wrestle with theological issues on their own. There was constant fear of excommunication if rebellion of mind were to occur. Even if one defended their beliefs from Scripture, they had no right to violate the outsourcing paradigm that was in effect. Not only were people not able to defend their faith to others, this type of theological outsourcing made it difficult to defend their faith to themselves. This naturally caused much disillusionment and emotional turmoil.
This was the case with Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk, who lived in constant fear of God’s wrath. But Luther did the unthinkable . . . he read the Scriptures for himself. In his reading, he did not seek to confirm the traditions which he was taught (for these had caused him great fear); he sought to understand the Scriptures on their own terms. Thus came the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
The Scripture was not there to conform to the traditions, but to create the traditions."
This Is Where I Find Myself
I am in a place of no longer being willing to "worship" God in a building with walls especially if I am the church. Worshipping God in Spirit and Truth can't be contained to man's wisdom. We still run after wisdom wanting to be "knowing" this for me is a farce. Certitude is the opposite of faith.
If we are not willing to listen to other's when we disagree with them is exactly the problem. Our own desire to learn more of what God tells us in the Bible can become well rounded, rich in meaning, and have a depth that is intrinsic seeing many sides by letting go of the need to be right.
Like other forms of discernment as we have already talked about, hermeneutics is a task that's best not done alone, but with a Spirit-led community. Here is the grit for me, most people don't even read their Bibles let alone research the Scripture yet wanna tell me what to think and know about it.
However, interpretation is not something you can just slough off to the Spirit-led community and leave it there. It is also your responsibility, your task, to shape your faith through the means and convictions that grow you toward God. Sure the help of a community can shape your faith with love and care but, ultimately it is your faith alone.
Just as no exegesis is fully free of eisegesis, no hermeneutic is fully free of the thought frameworks, cultural presumptions, and hidden intents that already exist within us. That's bad news when it blocks the Spirit (for example, when we use it in order to find ways to harm or demean others especially those who believe or think differently). My experience is the Spirit can change anyone's direction and long held belief systems.
The Spirit is fully able to speak through Scripture to make us aware of our frameworks, assumptions, and intents, and hopefully cause us to be puzzled or repulsed by own own attitudes. When that happens, the Spirit can then change our path, healing us in ways we never dreamed possible.
My Soul Practice is to trust the Spirit in your life as I hope friend you can trust the Spirit in mine.
*some references were from spirithome.com