Since the last Old Testament book was written hundreds of years before the first New Testament book, it actually makes little sense to claim that any of the OT writers had specifically Jesus in mind when writing such passages. But there are many passages that Christians will point to as prophetic about Jesus. Some of these seem to be as simple as "That's about the messiah and Jesus was the messiah." But others are a little more stretched and there's disagreement on whether they are even prophecies about the messiah. Naturally, the Jews have other interpretations entirely.

So is it correct to call this practice, reading the OT with prophecy about Jesus in mind, a study in eisegesis? If so, can this be extended to the NT writers? Where they also "reading into" the text?

  • This seems like it should be on-topic, but I'm not sure. I also expected to find better tags, but that's all I could get. – 2055 Mar 24 '15 at 10:27
  • Fred - can you focus on some particular passage? Our website is not intended to provide a fishing expedition of general questions (no matter how interesting such as the one you presented), because we focus on interpreting passages. If we opened the doors to generalized questions, the "noise" level (not to mention immediate doctrinal interference) would drown out the "signal" of hermeneutical interpretation. Can you restructure your question so that the question is "pegged" to a particular verse or passage of Scripture? Questions then are tied to the texts, and not the other way around. Thanks! – Joseph Mar 24 '15 at 11:54
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    @Joseph This isn't a passage specific question, it's about terminology used in connection with the field of hermeneutics. I don't see a problem with that in general (see most of the stuff in the hermeneutical-approaches tag, and related meta posts (e.g. this one and this one, etc.). – Caleb Mar 24 '15 at 12:26
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    This isn't really a full answer so I will put it in the comments section - the question seems to be based upon an assumption that the human writers understanding determines the meaning of the text - in most books that would be a valid premise but the bible claims to be the word of God and he knows the end from the beginning - so did he have Jesus Christ in mind when he gave those prophecies to the OT writers. All this is to say that the answer to the question is driven by one's presuppositional framework – Jonathan Chell Mar 24 '15 at 12:47
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    Potentially, even if tangentially, related (worth a cross-reference anyway, I think): "How do Jewish scholars differ from Christian scholars in their approach to the Tanakh?" – Dɑvïd Mar 24 '15 at 19:29

Wikipedia defines eisegesis as the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text. Randall Price puts it a little differently in The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, page 83, where he describes eisegesis as meaning interpretation according to our own historical and cultural context or controlled (even unintentionally) by our own subjective concerns, relational goals or philosophical presuppositions. I propose that in at least some instances, the term eisegesis could apply to the interpretation of Old Testament passages as prophecies specifically of Jesus.

Isaiah 7:14

A famous and controversial, but easy example is in Isaiah 7:14, used by Christians to prove that it was prophesied that Jesus would be born of a virgin hundreds of years before his birth.

(Isaiah 7:14 - KJV): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The Hebrew manuscripts that we have for Isaiah 7:14 say: לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֨ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם אֹ֑ות הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמֹ֖ו עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃ The Jews of the second century AD did not interpret העלמה ('almah) as a virgin, as St. Justin Martyr's dialogue with Trypho demonstrates. Therefore, the text probably should be read in a neutral way, the young woman will conceive and give birth to a son as intended by the surrounding context of that text without excluding a possibility that the young woman might be a virgin.

The Septuagint (LXX) version translated this incorrectly into Greek as 'virgin'. Then Matthew's Gospel, written in Greek, used the Septuagint passage as evidence of a prophecy that Jesus would be born of a virgin:

(Matthew 1:22-23) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

I would use the term 'eisegesis' in this case because:

  1. Once we know the original text does not say 'virgin', we should cease to rely on a mistranslation.
  2. If the Bible is inspired, it should be the Hebrew original that is inspired, not the LXX.
  3. Even if we rely on the LXX, the prophecy does not identify Jesus. Isaiah 7:14 (LXX) could just as easily be a prophecy of modern in vitro fertilisation, allowing virgins to give birth.
  4. Because Jesus was born of a virgin, this introduces a presupposition that Isaiah 7:14 must be a prophecy of his birth, and it therefore becomes that prophecy. This is the process of eisegesis.
  • I argue that your proofs of "eisegesis", are a great example of eisegesis. (1.) Regarding "Virgin" I LOVE that debate--but it is sufficient to say, that there have always been different views, and Justin's Tarphon debate is hardly dispositive. (2.) There is no historical evidence, (from that time), that claimed inspiration of any Hebrew textual variant or corpus. Judaism considered the Targum Jonathan, (Aramaic), and the /original/ Greek Septuagint as authorative--and still does. (3.) . (4.) The Presupposition of that presupposition relies on bad presuppositions ... ;) – elika kohen May 30 '15 at 4:20
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    Moreover, if you read all of Isiah 7 (about the Syro-Ephraimite War) instead of just that one verse, it's clear that this was a short-term prophecy. The promise of Jesus' birth centuries later wouldn't have been much comfort to King Ahaz. – Daniel ben Noach Oct 12 '15 at 4:49

The term eisegesis has a negative and pejorative connotation. The matter of NT usage of applying OT passages is matter of haggadah or exposition; comprising hermaneutics approaches. In short if you disagree with my interpretation you might call it eisegesis; I might call yours as eisegesis or biased and forced interpretation. Michael Vlach has written a nice book "NT use of OT" to explain various ways how Christians approach to it; the book is freely available on internet. If you want to seriously study the veracity of Christian or Messianic position with respect to Tanakh then read Dr. Michael Brown's 5 vol book series Answering Jewish objections to Jesus. For a concise explanation with various quotes from Brown's books see this website http://www.biblestudying.net/rabbinic1.html

  • Haggada. (Sometimes spelled Aggada) Nonlegal (i.e., nonbinding) Rabbinic stories, sermons, and commentaries relating to the Tanakh and Jewish life.

    a legend, parable, or anecdote used to illustrate a point of the Law in the Talmud.

    Origin of the term mid 18th century: from Hebrew Haggāḏāh ‘tale, parable,’ from higgīḏ ‘tell, expound.’

  • (from wikipedia) Pardes refers to (types of) approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism (or - simpler - interpretation of text in Torah study). The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:

    Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — "plain" ("simple") or the direct meaning. Remez (רֶמֶז) — "hints" or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense. Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: "inquire" ("seek") — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences. Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in 'bone') — "secret" ("mystery") or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

[additional note] on the comment- Yes, as the definition of the word implies it is necessarily a pejorative term. So the Christian hermaneutics of the OT can be said as eisegesis only if you prove it is wrong. It is dependent upon the veracity of interpretation whether ones interpretation is exegesis or eisegesis.

  • Okay, so you're saying eisegesis is not the right term, but perhaps all these other terms are? – 2055 Sep 18 '16 at 14:21
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    Also, is eisegesis necessarily pejorative? I don't really think it is. – 2055 Sep 18 '16 at 14:26
  • Yes it is by definition pejorative. – Michael16 Sep 21 '16 at 9:21
  • I Wouldn't say it is pejorative, just often used pejoratively - I think true prophecy is meant to remain mysterious until the appropriate time - at which point it will become clear what the prophecy was talking about. Revelation is a great example of this. We will always need eisegesis in order to understand prophesy and for it's meaning to be revealed to us. – James Shewey Sep 23 '16 at 20:31
  • @Michael16 Maybe in historical textual contexts, perhaps, however, in literary contexts, the reader is encouraged to find his own meaning, rather than determine the author's. This now leads to the question of whether any given portion of the Bible should be read historically or literarily, which as I'm sure you know is a very big argument. – 2055 Sep 28 '16 at 18:01

Question Restatement: Is it correct to call the interpretive practice of injecting "Jesus" into old Testament prophecies, (after the fact), "Eisegesis"?

Question 2, (#1 Reworded): Were New Testament author's practicing "Eisegesis", by injecting Jesus into prophecy?

Catholicism & Judaism's Eisegetical Interpretation of Prophecy

Anyone who has ever read Radak's commentary on Psalms 110, "the Psalm ABOUT David ...", would immediately understand that Judaism relies on Tradition, and therefore Eisegesis, to Interpret Prophecy.

Answer: Controversially, in Catholicism, and Judaism, Tradition, and therefore a Rabbi, are both necessary to interpret prophecy--which is certainly Eisegesis. See Maimonides' Introduction to the Talmud, (Chapter 1 & 2, Prophecy). (I cannot find the reference regarding Catholicism.)

Christianity, and the Exegetical Interpretation of Prophecy

This is an issue between Theory and Practice, (and it is impossible to characterize modern practice--objectively). Some do one or the other, or both; others certainly do not.

Answer: "In Theory", Regardless of the accuracy of Christian interpretation/translation of prophecy, and regardless of Tradition, Christian texts admonish against Eisegetical interpretation of Prophecy, and encourage Exegetical Analysis.

The problem is, now being so far removed, it is almost impossible to do this Exegetically--which is probably why the Christian warning against Eisegesis exists :

2 Peter 1:20, NASB - But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Since there IS textual basis to assert that the prophets, themselves, encountered the "Messiah", then "Deductive Inferences" can be drawn from the texts--which is Exegesis. And, since the Apostles are claimed to be "Witnesses", taught by the Messiah, from Prophecy, himself, this would "theoretically" remove their writings from the realm of Eisegesis as well, as they would simply just be recording what they heard.

NOTE: The interpretation of Pre-Messianic encounters can also be exegetically drawn from the texts, (i.e. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel, etc). Notably: Judaism sometimes reconciles this with the identity of "Metatron, (Link)".

When Jesus and Paul spoke of interpreting the prophets, they both pointed people to the texts, and directed them away from Tradition and hear-say.

Luke 24:25, NASB - And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!

Acts 17:11, NASB - Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Jesus' Exegetical Approach to Psalms 82:6, Nearly Got Him Stoned

John 10:34 - Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

NOTE: Ironically, Christians explain away Jesus' comment, by Eisegetically injecting "Sarcasm" into his statement.

NOTE: There many other "Exegetical"/"Eisegetical" concepts in the texts--if there is interest.

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