I recently wrote about orthopraxy and orthodoxy. One is right practice; the other is right doctrine. In an unintentionally continued theme of theologist's terminology, another concept I'd like to look at is exegesis and eisegesis. Time to learn new terms.
Exegesis refers to a critical explanation of a text. By "critical" I don't mean "in a criticizing manner", but an approach that examines the text for whatever it might have to tell you. The term can technically be applied to a study of Homer's Iliad (as an example) or the like, but is typically reserved for religious writings. You know, like the Bible. What does it say? The point is to examine the text and its context to determine what it means.
Eisegesis is another animal somewhat related to exegesis. Exegesis (from the Greek meaning "to lead out") means to draw out of a text the meaning. Eisegesis comes from the same Greek root word but means "to lead into". It describes a process of textual interpretation that reads meaning into a text rather than out of the text. A quick example comes from the Mormons. They believe we are to become actual Gods (outside the text). They read "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High" (Psa 82:6) and say, "See? There it is!" Of course, it isn't there. The only way to conclude that is to start with the premise and then ... read it in.
Let's look at another current comparison of the two. The topic? What does the Bible say about homosexual behavior? You may be surprised to learn that there are some who say, "Nothing! It says nothing at all!" And here is their reasoning. All biblical references to homosexual behavior are in terms of religious events. Now, before you jump on it, look at this reasoning. First there is the Lev 18:22 reference: "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." What is the context? "Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled" (Lev 18:24). There, see? That's why Leviticus 18:22 is preceded by Leviticus 18:21 -- "Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD." The problem is not homosexual behavior. The problem is that it is the religious practice of the nations around them ... which is the problem. Not buying it? Look at the next one. "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death" (Lev 20:13). The context? "I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name" (Lev 20:3). See? The context is idol worship.
"Now wait," you say, "that's a stretch." Is it? Look at Romans 1. You know the passage that refers to women "abandoning the natural function" and "men with men committing indecent acts." Sure! But do you know that the text begins with "For this reason"? What reason? "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25). Well, there you have it! It's not a matter of all homosexual behavior being sinful. It's a matter of homosexual behavior practiced for religious purposes as sinful. That's why Paul wrote about those who "exchanged the natural function" you see. They went against their natures -- heterosexual -- and performed homosexual behaviors as a function of idolatrous activities. Clear as day!
There, dear readers, is a prime example of eisegesis. Note that it sounds a lot like exegesis. "We examined the text and the context! What more do you want?" But it did not, in fact, take the text or context into account. Here, look at it again. Assume that all of these are, indeed, contextualized with idolatrous subtext. The items listed are sinful because they are acts of religious activities. Something, I'm pretty sure, we'd all agree was sinful. But what about the text and context? Well, apparently, then, exposing the nakedness of kin (Lev 18:6-17) is only sinful when done as a function of religious practices. When done as a function of a loving, committed relationship, it's okay. Marrying a woman and her sister is fine when done apart from religious practices (Lev 18:18). And so it goes. Adultery is sinful when done as a matter of religious practices. Sex with animals is wrong when practiced as a religious ritual. Killing children is wrong when performed as a religious rite. (Does that explain why those who argue this way for homosexual practices also endorse abortion?) But when these things -- incest, adultery, bestiality, killing babies -- are done apart from religious practices, it's perfectly okay! Leviticus 20 agrees. Even Romans 1 agrees. Thus, "all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice" (Rom 1:29) and so much more (Rom 1:29-32) are all perfectly acceptable as long as they are not functions of religious practices.
That, you see, is the difference between eisegesis and exegesis. The Bible says nothing in support of homosexual behavior. All references of such behavior are in reference to its sinfulness. The Bible makes no reference to marriage between two people of the same gender. All references to marriage are in terms of male and female. Exegesis, then, demands one conclusion. Homosexual behavior is sinful and marriage is between a male and a female. The only possible way to come to any other conclusion is eisegesis. You have to ignore the context, avoid the text as a whole, and read into the text a premise not found in the text.
We are all, I'm fairly certain, guilty at times of eisegesis. We ought to avoid it. In today's world where historic, biblical Christianity is on the chopping block, it is the common theme. We ought to avoid it. Read the Bible for all it's worth, and that's a lot. Avoid reading it for what you hope to extract. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. That's a biblical principle.