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What is the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics? Are they the same, is there overlap, or does one pick up where the other leaves off?

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What is 'hermeneutics'?

Hermeneutics is the field of study concerned with the philosophy and science of interpretation -- especially the interpretation of communication.

"Biblical hermeneutics" is specifically concerned with the philosophy and science of interpreting the Biblical text. So Biblical hermeneutics would cover all of the following sorts of inquiries and more:

  • (Theory:) What role does Divine illumination play in the interpretation of Scripture? (cf.)

  • (Methods:) What process can we follow to determine whether an apparent chiasm was intentional by the author? (cf.)

  • (Principles:) What are the limits of the Christocentric Principle? (cf.)

What is 'exegesis'?

Exegesis, as indicated by its etymology, is the act of critically interpreting a text in an attempt to "draw the meaning out" of the text. (This is in contrast to what has come to be know as eisegesis, where one reads his own meaning into the text.)

"Biblical exegesis" is the act of drawing the meaning out of a Biblical text. So Biblical exegesis would cover all of the following sorts of inquiries and more:

The relationship between hermeneutics and exegesis

Basically the distinction boils down to this (as it pertains to the Bible*): Hermeneutics is the field of study concerned with how we interpret the Bible. Exegesis is the actual interpretation of the Bible by drawing the meaning out of the Biblical text.

The distinction is not quite as simple as "theory vs. application," though, since hermeneutics is not just concerned with the philosophy of exegesis, and exegesis is not merely the application of hermeneutical theory -- even if we restrict our comparison to Biblical hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this:

  • Hermeneutics also studies the role of eisegesis in interpretation, which is by definition not part of exegesis.

  • Hermeneutics considers the role of church doctrine and theology in interpretation -- both of which are (often) irrelevant to exegesis.

  • (Ray explained the challenges with seeing exegesis as "applied hermeneutics" in this meta post.)

So we are sort of comparing apples to... ontology here. In a sense there is no overlap; The focus of exegesis is the text. The focus of hermeneutics is stuff like exegesis... why do we do it? how do we do it? how should we do it? As far as sequence, I suppose it could be argued that since exegesis is "critical" in nature, it implies some scientific method, which implies some prior hermeneutic. That is as far as I think we could go in relating the two sequentially, though.**

*Given the scope of this site, I am assuming the question is specifically about the distinction between Biblical hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis.

**Gordon Fee and Dougless Stewart, in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) say that exegesis is Step 1 and hermeneutics is Step 2 to emphasize that what we think about the text should be based on what the text actually says. (But they essentially had to redefined their terms in order to make this point.)

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After a chat discussion, this is my understanding:

Hermeneutics is the theories and methods for studying text. Exegesis is the interpretation of text.

The difference is in theory verses practice.

For example, hermeneutics has techniques available, such as contextual analysis, or lexical-syntatical analysis. Hermeneutics is the theory behind translating text.

By comparison, exegesis is the application of interpreting and translating text. There are no "exegesis techniques" (that would be hermeneutics). Instead, there are commentaries regarding the text, which are entire books of exegesis.

Example qeustions here on the site (the examples better suited for meta):

"What does 'water' mean in 5 Timothy 127:33?" - Exegesis
"What are the steps of Specific Infallibility Analysis?" - Hermeneutics
NOTE: both of those questions are totally made up, as should be obvious

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So basically rather than just the ~1/4 of the total I've actually technically asked the vast majority of the actual hermeneutics questions around here and everybody else is asking for exegesis? Does this mean we basically have Programmers and SO rolled into one here without even including Christianity.SE? These sound like things for our meta :) –  Caleb Oct 6 '11 at 21:04
It kind of is for meta. But the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics is actually exegesis itself. So... I'm not sure where that leaves it! –  Richard Oct 6 '11 at 21:08
The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is none but in practice there is. :) –  GalacticCowboy Oct 20 '11 at 13:10
It wouldn't be right to +1 for "5 Timothy 127:33", would it? ;-) –  Niclas Nilsson Jan 22 '13 at 21:40

I completely agree with Richard's great answer, but would boil it down to this:

  • Exegesis: interpretation (the process)
  • Hermeneutics: rules of interpretation (the principles which should guide the process)
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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Good summation. –  Jon Ericson Nov 10 '11 at 17:56
I agree. Short and sweet. Exegesis - the interpretation; hermeneuetics - rules for interpretation. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 22 '13 at 16:13


the study of the principles and methods of textual analysis and interpretation


the critical explanation and interpretation of a text

In common use you would employ hermeneutics to study the text before expounding on it through exegesis.

Wikipedia - Hermeneutics

Wikipedia - Exegesis

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Just to clarify the point, Am I right to say that hermeneutics is "objective" and exegesis is "subjective observations based on hermeneutics" ? –  Pacerier Oct 5 '11 at 0:57
Yes, to a point. From my point of view, many theologians pack some subjectivity inappropriately into their hermeneutic work, but yes your comment is correct (to my level of understanding). –  blundin Oct 5 '11 at 14:42
Hermaneutics refers to the methods of interpretation. Exegesis is the act of interpreting and explaining the text. –  sep332 Oct 8 '11 at 3:11

Hermeneutics: Is the study and the right application of scriptures make man knowledgeable, acceptable, truthful, and serviceable.

Purpose of Hermeneutics

  • To avoid Biblical controversies.
  • To correct Biblical heresies (if any)
  • To establish the right knowledge to the hearer (Hos. 4:6)
  • To equip the hearers with the right knowledge about the scriptures
  • To avoid childish behavioural pattern of members (Eph. 4:12)

Exegesis: Refers to deeper explanation after Bible studies. It explains each text taken with deeper analysis. It explains beyond the Hermeneutics explanation.

Goals of Exegesis
To help achieve the ultimate goal of scripture - its contemporary significance for faith.

Biblical exegesis should be the intellectual enzyme that transforms the stupor of our worldly and futile affections into a deep and glad and living hope .

Procedures of exegesis

  • Finding reliable text
  • Coming to Terms with an author
  • Understanding the propositions
  • Relating the propositions to each other

By Maxwell Kobina Acquah (YEFULKAY) www.sbpra.com/Yefulkay Author of - THE CHURCH (IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK)

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Thanks for this answer. I've edited it slightly so that it is formatted better for our site, but I've hopefully left all your content intact. –  Soldarnal Mar 13 '13 at 22:23
Hey Maxwell, thanks for the answer. Please note that a 'signature' is not necessary as your username is always shown with your answer. –  Dan Mar 14 '13 at 14:34

Am I underlying a misunderstanding if I think of (the art of) exegesis as application of hermeneutics?

Regarding texts:

hermeneutics as the techniques of understanding and exegesis as the art of explaining

Both are serving interpretation:

hermeneutics more on the side of the text and exegesis more on the side of the audience

When hermeneutics are being applied for the interest and benefit of an audience, how can it help but fall into one with exegesis?

It may not matter as long as the exegesis is being checked by reason, which is nothing but the hermeneutical understanding of an author's mind and intention.

What if an author makes reference to a higher source of knowledge beyond his own understanding (at the time of writing)?

Biblical hermeneutics as I understand it will always touch and sometimes transcend any human rule. Good answers will (and they already do!) check the error better than rules alone ever will.

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The explanations already supplied approximate the theological reality. In practice there is sometimes confusion between hermeneutics and exegesis, since one cannot separate theory and practice, while doing (or especially when teaching) practice. I think it is also necessary to add that exegesis is a quasi-scientific approach to the Biblical text, to find the meaning intended by the human author in his historical and philosophical context. Hermeneutics, on the other hand, answers questions about the relevance of that basic message for our faith and practice today. Conservative Biblical hermeneutics considers the "authorship" of God and His broad and deep intentions for the readers, not only the basic exegetic meaning.

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Are you sure you don't have your terms cross-wired in part of this answer? –  Caleb Feb 5 at 8:57
Since biblical hermeneutics is a special case of hermeneutics, how does (biblical) hermeneutics answer questions about the relevance of that basic message for our faith and practice today, and yet still be a form of hermeneutics in the broader sense? –  Dick Harfield Feb 5 at 20:08

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