This question is about the experience of a text. It is therefore a little lengthy because I have to provide some sample experience that I mean.


As a young man I was introduced to a cult's teaching that holds many unorthodox Christian views. For example, a belief that the serpent had sexual intercourse with Eve becoming the father of Cain. I did not know anything about the Bible and this group seemed more dedicated to external practices of religion than anyone else I knew. Many members also claimed to have been healed from things like cancer through the gifts of their leaders. The cult was an offshoot of extreme revivals of the 1950s. My uncle was its leader as far as I could tell. I had just begun to believe in God and read the Bible a few week before contacting my Uncle to let him know.

Experience hermeneutic:

While listening to sermons from the so called 'prophet' that this cult followed, I began to become angry and melancholy. A couple weeks before I was peaceful and happy. Then I felt miserable and my thoughts of God became more disturbing.

I started to question if the 'prophet' was good to listen to so I read the Bible, almost all of which I did not understand. When Jesus said be holy, for some reason I though I should start growing a beard. I felt I needed help and spent a lot of time thinking and praying about this verse:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5, ESV)

My needs were immediate. I could not be miserable for years waiting for years of study. I needed immediate wisdom. After literally shedding a few tears and praying for wisdom a sudden change occurred. I had a picture of some of my cousins where they seemed very restful and joyful. But suddenly I could see in their eyes the same inner torment I was feeling after listening to the 'prophet'. I distinctively remember this. I looked at other pictures I had and to my surprise I could see a concealed choking dissatisfaction in all their eyes. The day before I could not see anything but holy expression of joy!?

I have a scientist's mind, so I started to experiment with this 'aesthetic hermeneutic'. I would read a sample of literature, one from the cult, one from mainstream sources and notice how I felt inside and the effects each literature had on my heart. I did it repeatedly and each experiment matched my initial test. I started to develop an intuition that could sense more quickly which literature strengthened my sense of God and which literature weakened it. I never really understood the scriptures at all. I had only read about 1% of them once. But, through this 'experiential' hermeneutic I classified one literature as 'evil' and the other as 'good'. I then tossed the 'evil' literature and never read it again.

Actually I just started reading it a few decades later as I am curious what it was really saying and why it disturbed me so much.


Is there any name for a hermeneutic that puts 'aesthetic experience' of a text and spiritual instinct, under but 'essentially' included with a more scientific analysis of languages, history and commentary?

Note: Personally I think it is important that the bible as text is to judge experience and not the other way around, but this is partly because I experienced power in that statement and my experience has validated it to be true. If I did not have the experience, which always has a role in my hermeneutic, I may have never decided the word to be a valid judge of all my experience.


2 Answers 2


Is this some kind of reader-response criticism? It is a type of eisegesis like David says. It says that the author's intention is meaningless to understanding a text. Only what the reader takes away means anything. As you can see, it's very bad to use that as any part of a hermeneutic.

On the other hand, asking God to guide you (as you describe) as you seek to interpret a text has a very powerful and proper role in exegesis (it would be better to say that it has a role in applying what you have learned). When doing that, you recognize that your heart can lead you astray and that your wisdom is inadequate. You seek the wisdom God promises.

There is a subjective element to this. You have to listen and know His voice. Since this is more of application after determining the meaning, other readers will have different ways to apply. They would likely be similar and connected but still different.

  • (+1) Cool that is quite closely related. I read the link and it is very interesting even apart from my original question.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 3:07

I think the word you're looking for is eisegesis. It's the opposite of exegesis, and basically says that our interpretation of a text is based on our presuppositions that we bring to the text. What you're describing is simply a different flavor of eisegesis.

Of course, the danger of this is Jeremiah 17:9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Ironically, if you approach the scripture with eisegesis and not exegesis, this particular verse would very likely be rejected, as it's not a "good feeling" to know that we're desperately sick and deceitful.

Ultimately, eisegesis can be boiled down to believing whatever makes you feel good. Obviously, I would argue with you that exegesis (judging experience by the text and not the other way around) is the way to go.

A good book that defines clearly the difference is written by the late Howard Hendricks, who died on Tuesday. The book's name is Living by the Book.

  • (+1) I think you are right, the word 'eisegesis' totally slipped my mind. In this case the Holy Spirit gave a new believer discernment which imposed a correct eisegesis against a false prophet. However that does not validate eisegesis as a form of exegesis, it is almost an opposite subject.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 3:06

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