Most hermeneutical approaches are heavy on exegesis which is derived from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι meaning "to lead out". Conversely, eisegesis means the opposite — to read meaning into the text. This term is typically used pejoratively, yet sound practice or otherwise it falls under the classification of a hermeneutic method.

Famously, it is often claimed that Jesus practiced some eisegesis by quoting the Torah out of context and imbuing it with new meaning beyond the scope of intent of the original author¹. John the Baptist is also alleged to do this². Furthermore, some have suggested that fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy might be a kind of eisegesis. Some wonder about the role of the Holy Spirit in hermeneutics while others believe that eisegesis is appropriate for confirming revelation, words and influences from the Holy Spirit.

Clearly –however frowned upon, dangerous, or misused– eisegesis is a hermeneutic methodology. What reason do scholars give for frowning upon and cautioning against eisegetical methods? In what circumstances (if any) is eisegesis a preferred or acceptable hermeneutic method?

¹ See e.g. Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4, Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12, Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8; Matthew 15:1-6 and Mark 7:10; Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6-8; Matthew 22:31–32, Mark 12:26, 27 and Luke 20:37-38; John 8:12-13, 17-18; Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7; Matthew 13:14–15, Mark 4:11–13 and Luke 8:10, Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46; Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27; Luke 22:37; John 6:45; Matthew 21:16; Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17; Matthew 22:43–44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42-43; Matthew 23:37–39 and Luke 13:35; Matthew 24:15–16, John 10:34-36; John 13:18; John 15:25; and finally Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

² See Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27.

  • 1
    Christ and the Apostles do frequently treat texts in this manner, yet for them I think it was most often still thought of as 'exegetical' in the looser sense, as it was interpreting the authority of the original text to speak to the current situation. Modern exegesis typically asks 'what was the author's intent in this text?', whereas New Testament exegesis typically asked 'what was the Author's intent in this text?' The NT and Patristic sources consistently handle the scriptures in this manner, but I'd still say most of these instances can be fairly considered "exegetical" in terms of intent.
    – Steve Taylor
    Jul 13 '17 at 15:29
  • If I, who am not Jesus an Apostle were to quote Hosea 6:6 the way that Jesus did in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, I'm pretty sure I would be accused of eisegesis. So far though, comments and answers have been about whether Jesus was eisegeting or not (fine, call it midrash instead.) This is not really that relevant to the question other than to suggest there might be times where it is appropriate (and a good answer might conclude that it is OK for Jesus and we are not Jesus.) and to record why this is considered "bad" hermeneutics according to scholarship. Jul 13 '17 at 17:41
  • Please note that this question is not about whether or not Jesus practiced eisegesis. For those interested in exploring the idea that he did or did not use eisegesis, please see this question here Jul 18 '17 at 15:54

It probably depends on one's definitions. I would disagree with the OP assumption that Jesus quoted OT texts out of context. To take the first listed example, why is Luke 4.4 an instance of eisegesis? I would say that Jesus is applying that sentence in a way consistent with its original meaning. In Deuteronomy 8.3 the point is that Israel must rely not on physical wealth ("bread") but on God's word. In other words, their blessing comes from submitting themselves to God's revealed will. And is that not exactly what Jesus is saying in Luke 4? I will not use my divine powers to meet my needs, but will obey God's purposes and will for my life.

It's true that the historical context is different. But it doesn't follow that every application of an OT text to the new historical setting is eisegesis. It's not about giving the original text a new meaning. It's about applying the truth of the original text to that new setting. There are many facets to this issue, so it's hard to give a full analysis. But in general terms I would say that this is what the NT writers are doing. They describe the new work of God in Christ, using the language and the text of the OT but without doing damage to the original meaning.


The definition from Meriam Webster of eisegesis: " the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas "

Bringing one's own opinions into the scriptures (eisegesis), using a world view or preferred belief system to apply to the scriptures is not a hermeneutic practice. There is not any circumstance where that is acceptable.

There is a humorous post on "The Eisegisis 'Virus'" by Ken Ham at here that concludes that the leaders of churches today are infecting the message of the gospel of Christ with their own opinions and belief systems, and that the vaccine for it is exegesis.

Eisegesis [ < Greek eis- (into) + hègeisthai (to lead). (See 'exegesis'.)] Definition: A process where one leads into study by reading a text on the basis of pre-conceived ideas of its meanings. 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. 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 obedience and discipline come in, for the Spirit rewards hard work and harder prayer. The hard work of exegesis uncovers what the Bible is telling us, and our obedience sets aside the ideas we cherish so that we may take on the Bible's vision. The same living and learning that would have driven us to do an eisegesis of the text, 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)." Source: here

Christ did not use scripture in a new application. He was fulfilling scripture, and explaining the original intent of the scriptures to those who applied it for their own desired belief system, much as many are doing today.

The accusation of using eisegesis comes out whenever someone opposes a commonly taught belief system, because the majority "interpretation" will not be challenged to review what they have always been taught. Therefore eisegesis becomes a matter of opinion over imposed opinions of the scriptures.

Matt. 27:46 was a direct quote of Psa. 22:1 which was the complete fulfillment of David's cry for help, and was prophetic of his savior's need. As the son of David, Christ fulfilled that prophesy on the cross.

The tempter's taunts of Christ in the wilderness was our example of how to resist the temptations that come upon us. The devil (tempter) had a short time (Rev. 12:12) to stop God's plan of salvation. He knew who Christ was, and he knew Christ's power. Turning those stones into bread was not the objective, but instead he attempted to turn the objective away from God's will toward fulfillment of selfish desires. Christ's response corrected the devil's desires. Christ did not introduce anything new, nor make application for His convenience.

I find the use of eisegesis everywhere today in most views and "interpretations" of the Bible. People argue that there are many different opinions of the Bible and that how one person reads it doesn't make it wrong for that person. To which I politely reply - "Hogwash".

The New Testament, or the new covenant is not NEW. It was promised beginning with God's promise of the seed to Eve in Gen. 3:15; to the promised seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:17; 26:4); the branch of David (Jer. 33:15) for the salvation of all who will call on Him.

Christ quoted the OT to those who heard Him in the first century AD, correcting their eisegesis. They had developed an incorrect belief system, namely that a Messiah would come to restore a physical, earthly kingdom to make the Jews rulers over all the earth. (Acts. 1:6) And, they still do not understand His word even today, as they are still trying to force that earthly rule upon Christ.

They do not understand that He rules from heaven, and coming back down to earth for a mere earthly kingdom as Satan lied and tempted Him with in Matt. 4:8-9 was never the objective.

So, eisegesis is not acceptable. A great many are practicing eisegesis today, using the scriptures to make application for their own expectations, and then turn around and accuse others of doing the same whenever their taught systems of belief are challenged.

Our attitude should always be "what does the word really say?". That is exegesis.

Excerpt from Dr. Richard J. Krejcir's article:

"This is using a presupposition or a pretext as in what we want so we can arrive at the meaning we want by ignoring the language, context, and culture in which it was used. Thus, "eisegesis" lends one "to lead in" or "read into the Scriptures," in contrast too, good biblical interpretation takes out what is really there whether we like it or not. Eisegesis means we input and plant the seeds of what we want it to say, gleaning just weeds later on, when with good exegesis, we harvest the good crops of what God is plainly saying." Source The Problem of Eisegesis here.

2 Cor. 4:2,

"But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (KJV)

  • This doesn't really answer the question. You have not answered "what reason do scholars give for frowning upon and cautioning against eisegetical methods." While I suppose it does anemically take a position on when it is OK to do (never; though I would prefer better support), your answer is more a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that Jesus (arguably) may have read meanings into text. This question isn't about that. Jul 18 '17 at 15:43
  • These added references are just a few of those available on the negative aspect of eisegesis. I don't think this was a knee jerk response.
    – Gina
    Jul 18 '17 at 22:01
  • The Ken Ham reference begs the whole question. He's essentially saying that those who disagree with his reading of Genesis 1 must be doing eisegesis. but that's only true if his interpretation is correct, and many people would deny that. Jul 19 '17 at 13:10
  • I think it is a good example of how so many people are willing to accuse others of eisegesis whenever they encounter a different opinion. They are so unwilling to re-examine their understanding to see if God really said what they think He said. It is very difficult to let go of our learned and preconceived ideas, and expectations to read only what God said.
    – Gina
    Jul 19 '17 at 22:12
  • well said - answers the Q just fine and with truthful observations
    – steveowen
    Aug 13 '20 at 2:27

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