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Eisegesis can be defined as reading new meaning into scripture which was not originally intended by the author or understood by the audience. Usually in a newer or more modern context. Eisegesis can actually be defined in relationship to its opposite - exegesis which is derived from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι meaning "to lead out" meaning from the text.

It is often suggested 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.

In these instances, was Jesus in fact practicing eisegesis, or something else? If something else, what was it and how does it not qualify as type eisegesis also?


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.

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    Can an author be guilty of eisegesis? – Revelation Lad Jul 18 '17 at 16:16
  • Can someone who comments on a text, implying that it has been altered, be guilty of eisagesis? He seems to have challenged the authenticity of a lot of things. – elika kohen Jul 18 '17 at 20:18
  • "Context" is a dangerous and risky concept.Full of doctrinal risque, a trigger word used to enforce a biased perspective. "Context" is a concept used as excuse to give doctrines an appearance of respectability and authoritativeness. Frequently "contexts" are conjured based on predetermined doctrine, rather than allowing doctrine to be conjured from biblical texts. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jul 20 '17 at 9:01
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    Context is unavoidable. If you don't interpret things in the original context, then you merely interpret them from your own context. You are either cognizant of this fact and try to correct for it, or you don't (Or I guess in Jesus case, you are aware, don't correct for it and use it to say something new altogether). – James Shewey Jul 20 '17 at 15:07
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    St. Augustine defines it very well in his "De doctrina christiana": Holy Spirit spoke through prophets, but prophets themselves did not and could not understand all implications of their own words; but after the Pentecost, with the more intense saturation with the same Spirit was possible to understand deeper implications. Jesus, as uncreated Logos possesses the infinity of the Spirit completely and infinitely, not in a portioned way like humans, so He can give greater and deeper implications than implied by the prophets themselves. This is divinely legitimised, divinely sovereign eisegesis. – Levan Gigineishvili May 31 '18 at 21:44
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Midrash and PaRDeS


One aspect of Jesus ministry often centered around demonstrating his authority and credibility above and beyond that of other rabbis like the Pharisees. At the time, Jewish scholarship was developing midrashic tradition that would eventually coalesce in the Mishna working with Oral Torah and the Halakha.

In order to assert his authority and demonstrate his superiority as a Rabbi, Jesus necessarily needed to demonstrate a proficiency in these same scholarly methods and endeavors - to superior effect and in a way superior to the pharisees.

This means that Jesus likely practiced a PaRDeS hermeneutic involving the following 4 methodologies:

  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט‎) — "surface" ("straight") or the literal (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 'soda') — "secret" ("mystery") or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

This means then, that to the extent that the use of Remez (רֶמֶז‎) and Sod (סוֹד‎) in interpreting the Torah involve eisegesis and to the extent that Jesus used Remez (רֶמֶז‎) and Sod (סוֹד‎) when teaching about Torah, Jesus practiced eisegesis.


Examples where Jesus used Remez (רֶמֶז‎)


David Bivin explains Remez (רֶמֶז‎) and gives some examples of Jesus use:

One of the basic, Jewish techniques of teaching in the time of Jesus involved the use of רֶמֶז (remez), which is the Hebrew word for “hint” or “allusion.” Jewish teachers, instead of fully quoting verses of Scripture, commonly alluded to the passages upon which their lessons were based. By using the remez technique, a teacher conveyed a great deal of information with remarkable brevity, in much the same way a poet can express complex ideas through metaphors.

The rabbis could teach in this manner because most Jews of the period—and certainly all disciples of sages—were well-versed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The substance of an allusion sometimes was found in a passage immediately before or after the verse at which the teacher had hinted. To quote the entire passage was unnecessary since most in the audience had learned large segments of Scripture by rote. The moment a teacher made an allusion, the whole passage flashed across the mind’s eye of the biblically literate listener.

One finds numerous examples of remez in the Gospels. Many Christians, however, lack the scriptural background such a technique assumes. As a result, they run the risk of missing the subtler aspects of Jesus’ teachings.

John the Baptist used remez when he asked Jesus, “Are you the coming [one]?” (Luke 7:20; Matt 11:3). John hinted at “The Coming One” of Malachi 3:1 and Zechariah 9:9. Jesus responded in like manner: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Jesus’ answer contained hints at Isaiah 29:18, 35:5-6, 42:7 and 61:1.

Ordained minister Ray Vander Laan, founder of That the World May Know Ministries and creator of the Faith Lessons video series with Focus on the Family, and chair of biblical cultural studies at Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan also notes several helpful examples of Jesus use of Remez (רֶמֶז‎)

The great teachers (rabbis) during Jesus' day used a technique that was later called remez. In their teaching, they would use part of a Scripture passage in a discussion, assuming that their audience's knowledge of the Bible would allow them to deduce for themselves the fuller meaning of the teaching. Apparently, Jesus, who possessed a brilliant understanding of Scripture and strong teaching skills, used this method often.

For example, when the children shouted "Hosanna" to him in the temple and the chief priests and teachers of the law became indignant (Matt. 21:15), Jesus responded by quoting Psalm 8:2: "From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise." The religious leaders' anger at Jesus can be better understood when we realize that the next phrase in the Psalm reveals why children and infants offer praise, because the enemies of God would be silenced. The religious leaders realized that Jesus was implying that they were God's enemies.

Jesus used this teaching method again when speaking to Zacchaeus. "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost," Jesus said (Luke 19:10). The background to this statement is probably Ezekiel 34. God, angry with Israel's leaders for scattering and harming his flock, stated that he would become the shepherd and would seek the lost ones and save them. Based on this, the people of Jesus' day understood that the Messiah to come would "seek and save" the lost. By using this phrase, knowing that his listeners knew the Scripture, Jesus communicated several things. To the people, he communicated, "I am the Messiah and also God." To the religious leaders, whose influence kept Zacchaeus out of the crowd, he said, "You have scattered and harmed God's flock." To Zacchaeus, he said, "You are one of God's lost sheep and he still loves you."

Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s'mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Whereas most teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations, teachers with authority could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments. Crowds were amazed because Jesus taught with authority (Matt. 7:28-29), and some people questioned his authority (Matt. 21:23-27).

And James Prather (M.Div) provides an additional example of Jesus referencing Jerimiah.

Vander Laan's example in Psalm 8:2-3 is a pretty clear example of Eisegesis. Psalm 8:2-3 was never intended to refer to the Pharisees, but instead to King David's enemies and understanding that text in this way clearly imbues this text with new meaning for understanding within Jesus more modern context - the very definition of Eisegesis. This fits with Vander Laan's statement that

Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s'mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah.

I would suggest s'mikhah is always eisegetical.


Examples where Jesus used Derash (דְּרַשׁ‎)


Dr. Shalomim Halevi states in his book "Growing Intellectually, Spiritually and Prophetically in the Hebrew Israelite Culture and Faith" that

The next level of Hebrew scripture interpretation is known as the Drash which means "to search." This is when we use the homiletical, topological and allegorical application of the Texts. We search the text as it relates to the rest of the Hebrew scriptures, life or a personal experience or other literature. This deals with eisegesis, or the reading of the text.

Dr. Donna J. Stundahl concurs in "Finding Freedom: Five Weeks in the Life of Moses" stating

Drash or midrash (meaning "search") is used to search the text for a relationship to other biblical or nonbiblical text as well as an allegorical or homiletical application of the text. Drash requires eisegesis, reading one's own thoughts into a text, as well as exegesis.

And James Prather notes Jesus' use of Derash (דְּרַשׁ‎) in Matthew 21:19-22 by giving a homily supported by using Jeremiah 8 as an allegory. Furthermore, Jesus uses several scriptures in this manner during the Sermon on the Mt. by rhetorically extending several commandments beyond their original scope.1


Conclusion


In summary, Jesus was an expert in the use of the above techniques and used them frequently. He was not just able to teach, but had reached a level of rabbinical scholarship and authority that he was qualified to practice eisegetical midrash. While many view eisegesis as pejorative, the fact is that Jesus read new meaning and perspectives into the Torah, so eisegesis fits here - Jesus did, in fact, practice eisegesis.

1 Matt 5:21, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38,

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    Unbelievable advertisement for a Jesus known to not know the Hebrew text of the Bible, for having made pronouncements contradictory to the Hebrew text of the Bible. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jul 20 '17 at 9:06
  • This is your second thread on this subject in a week :) I can only repeat what I said last time: it all depends on definitions. None of your examples above constitute eisegesis as far as I can see. Eisegesis is not the same as application. – Peter Kirkpatrick Jul 22 '17 at 3:17
  • @PeterKirkpatrick - That is because people were mostly concerned with this topic instead of the actual question in the other thread - So I spawned this question to give an outlet for that. I'm not sure what you mean by "eisegesis is not the same as appication", however if you think you can put together a solid answer to explain that and demonstrate how these examples above do not constitute eisegesis, I would welcome your perspective. – James Shewey Jul 23 '17 at 23:40
  • An example of eisegesis: People have said "the last days" began at a certain point in recent history. (eg 1947 with WW1, or 1948 with the foundation of Israel as a nation state.) But to do this we have to take a term that has a specific meaning in scripture (It refers to the period of history from Jesus incarnation onwards: see eg Hebrews 1:1-4 and Acts 2:14-21) and give it a different and contradictory meaning. – Peter Kirkpatrick Jul 24 '17 at 5:02
  • An example of application: Paul uses the same expression in 2 Timothy 3:1. Here he is looking ahead to the moral culture "in the last days". It's as if he is imagining the world coming to its climax and both good and evil are reaching their climax and fulness. If a preacher takes that image and discusses the fulness of good and evil in our time, I would take that as a fair application of the meaning of a historical text to a new setting. The details may be new, but they are consistent with the meaning of the original text. – Peter Kirkpatrick Jul 24 '17 at 5:04

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