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?


9 Answers 9


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.)*

  • - Jas 3.1 (A.) It is incorrect to state that "Eisegesis is not a part of Exegesis": we rely on Eisegesis, and bring in cultural factors to understand: Judges 12, and "Shibboleth"; Solomon relying on the "probable" behavior of a legitimate mother; etc. (B.) Traditions and Doctrine ARE very important to Exegesis, otherwise passages have little depth: Jesus condemning observance of tradition, over commandment: Matt. 15:9, "Corban", in Mark 7:11-13; Circumcision, John 7:22-23, etc. (C.) Corrected this comment because of my misunderstanding of something you wrote, apologies! Commented May 14, 2015 at 6:28
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    "Hermeneutics considers the role of church doctrine and theology in interpretation -- both of which are (often) irrelevant to exegesis." This is a very subjective statement that presumes a hermeneutic system that employs church doctrine and theology is inherently inferior to one that does not. That may be your personal opinion, but it is not a proven fact. The question asked for clear definitions of hermeneutics and exegesis and not for opinions on which hermeneutic principles are superior to others.
    – user15733
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 16:39

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
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 21:08
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    The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is none but in practice there is. :) Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 13:10
  • It wouldn't be right to +1 for "5 Timothy 127:33", would it? ;-) Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 21:40
  • «the actual hermeneutics questions around here and everybody else is asking for exegesis?»... still true today which lead me to find this Commented Dec 10, 2020 at 6:46

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. Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 17:56
  • I agree. Short and sweet. Exegesis - the interpretation; hermeneuetics - rules for interpretation.
    – user862
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 16:13
  • 1
    No source cited? 15 up votes? Can anybody hear spell "double-standard"?
    – Ruminator
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 17:05
  • @kmote I flagged your post as not an answer.
    – Ruminator
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 17:13


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
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 14:42
  • 1
    Hermaneutics refers to the methods of interpretation. Exegesis is the act of interpreting and explaining the text.
    – sep332
    Commented Oct 8, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 22:23
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    Hey Maxwell, thanks for the answer. Please note that a 'signature' is not necessary as your username is always shown with your answer.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 14:34

Because Fee and Stuart’s book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth has been so influential – over three-quarters of a million copies sold in four editions – let’s add their practical definitions of exegesis and hermeneutics to this discussion. From the preface (second edition, 1993; bold emphasis mine):

“The great urgency that gave birth to this book is hermeneutics; we wrote especially to help believers wrestle with the questions of application. Many of the urgent problems in the church today are basically struggles with bridging the hermeneutical gap — with moving from the ‘then and there’ of the original text to the ‘here and now’ of our own life settings. But this also means bridging the gap between the scholar and layperson. The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both.”

Thus we have two tasks: First, to find out what the text originally meant; this task is called exegesis. Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics. In its classical usage, the term ‘hermeneutics’ covers both tasks, but in this book we consistently use it only in this narrower sense. To do both tasks well should be the goal of Bible study.”

By this reading, exegesis – recovering the meaning of a text to its original writer and readers – is the necessary prelude to hermeneutics, the process by which contemporary readers discern a text’s continuing application. As Fee and Stuart caution, “A text cannot mean what it never meant ... [Exegesis] is the starting point. How we work it out from that point is what this book is basically all about” (p.30).


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.


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
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 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? Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 20:08

Question Restatement: What is the distinction between Hermeneutics, Exegesis, and Eisegesis?

Question Restatement: Or, at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com, is there a distinct usage of the term "Hermeneutics"?

This Site's Usage of the Terms

At hermeneutics.stackexchange.com, there is a history of closing questions, because they do not "Start from the Text", as they are "supposed to".

In classic linguistics, this actually illustrates what Exegesis is: a textually oriented "critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text", (Exegesis).

This same article also affirms that the terms "Hermeneutics" and "Exegesis" are often used interchangeably, but does not note that this is not accurate.

However, here at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com, it is often the case that these two terms are used interchangeably, very often to the dismay of visitors.

Hermeneutics for the Rest of the World

Interpretation methodologies, (including, but not limited to: "Exegesis" and "Eisegesis"), fall nicely under the broader umbrella of "Hermeneutics".

NOTE: It should be noted that "Exegetical" methodologies lend themselves to "Deductive, Concrete, Certain, Conclusions" -- whereas "Eisagetical" methodologies lend themselves to "Inductive, Probable, Conclusions".

Both methodologies are valid, however:

  1. Eisegesis is normally employed to assert probabilities, utilizing "Inductive Reasoning". Eisegesis is not normally valid, or employed, in Deductive Arguments, asserting a certainty.
  2. Exegesis is normally employed to assert certainties, utilizing "Deductive Reasoning". Exegesis can be employed in an "Eisegetical" Argument, but the argument is often reduced to asserting a "Probability", but nevertheless still valid, (as in the Eisegetical conclusion that "facts" about Jesus, stated by certain people, should probably be taken with a "Grain of Salt".

Eisegesis, as a Hermeneutical Approach

As Wikipedia notes, Eisegsis, from the Greek "INTO" makes inferences by bringing presuppositions INTO the text, like cultural factors, pragmatics, semiotics, etc. (Although many "Exegetes" bring cultural factors into the text, they argue that "Exegetical" purity has been maintained, *sigh ...)

Good Eisegesis:

We can "Inductively Infer" that Jesus Probably was a carpenter, if we also prove that there is an ancient authority which demonstrates that fathers taught their sons their trade, and sons were obliged to follow in their footsteps. (IF this authority actually exists, then this Eisegetical approach is valid--though I have never seen such an authority, let alone one that would apply in Jesus' peculiar circumstances.)

Bad Eisegesis:

One of the most Offensive Eisegetical mistakes that people make is asserting, for certain, that Jesus died on "Friday": because, (A.) we "know", culturally, that Jews observed Sabbaths on Fridays, and; (B.) The text is abundantly clear that Jesus died on the Preparation Day.

However, this Eisegetical mistake is soundly corrected by employing Exegesis:

We know that there were "High Sabbaths", (like "Shabbat HaGadol"), days of the week which are considered Sabbaths, No Matter which day they are--Like the Passover Feast. If it falls on a Thursday, then Thursday is a Sabbath, like the very first Passover.

  1. Because the text states that Jesus was actually dead for 3 days and nights, and
  2. Because Israel was commanded to consider whichever day the Passover Feast fell on to be a Sabbath, and
  3. Because the text explicitly states that this Sabbath was a High Sabbath, and
  4. Because the text states that Jesus died on the Preparation Day, and
  5. Because Jews would have observed such a Thursday as a Sabbath, then
  6. The Text certainly leads to the conclusion that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday

... but that destroys 2000 years of traditional inferences ...

Exegesis, as a Hermeneutic Approach

As Wikipedia Notes, Exegesis, from the Greek "OUT OF" makes inferences from the text, outwards.

Perfect Exegesis Example:

(other than the fact the statement was spoken at the time--or rather not spoken ...)

John 21:23, NKJV - Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

An Example: Beginning Exegetical Analysis, with Eisegesis:

Inductively, we can understand how people probably would have thought that Jesus was a Carpenter, by cultural factors alone, because Joseph was a carpenter.

Matt. 13:55, NASB - Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

But: Are there certainties that Exegesis can bring us to?

Based on what the text says, a lot of what was said about Jesus can be taken with a "Grain of Salt", and by doing so, we can distinguish what can be gleaned/identified as certainties.

The text demonstrates that an "Ad Hominem" attack was employed to belittle Jesus, for the purpose to diminish him as a "prophet".

Because of the nature of the attack, (and fallacy), the credibility of what they were saying is called into question.

But despite this, we are left with a "Certain Fact", regardless of the truth, the text is very clear about intent and "offense".

Mark 6:3, NASB - “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

Additionally, in Jerusalem, as in Nazereth, it was noted that Jesus had been very educated, and none of them, including the people in his home town, knew Jesus well enough to know how he got so educated:

Because they didn't know Jesus well enough, then they obviously cannot be taken as authorities into Jesus' home life, how he was raised, etc.

Matthew 13:54, NASB - He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?

John 7:15, NKJV - And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”

Exegetically, we can make the following deduction:

"The text certainly conveys that people were attempting to diminish the perception of Jesus as a "Prophet", by identifying him merely as a "carpenter, or carpenter's son".

But Exegesis does have its limits:

It remains inconclusive, however, but probable, that he was actually a professional carpenter, because of:

  1. The absence of his own statements, illustrations, confirmation from neutral sources, (or statements by his disciples), and
  2. The hostile nature, context, and intention of the statements made, whereby the credibility of the speakers is called into question.

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