Exegesis vs. Eisegesis: What’s the Difference?

Exegesis and Eisegesis: Setting the Stage

Have you ever dug deep into a Biblical text, trying to better understand its meaning? If so, you’ve likely ventured into two Biblical interpretations called exegesis and eisegesis. But what exactly are these terms, and why do they matter? This article will explain these two interpretations and the differences between each.

Where do Eisegesis and Exegesis come from?

The historical background of eisegesis and exegesis is deeply rooted in the broader field of biblical hermeneutics, which is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. This field is part of the larger discipline of hermeneutics, encompassing the study of interpretation principles for all forms of communication.

exegesis vs eisegesis

The Roots of the Terms

Exegesis: Definition and Origin

Exegesis, derived from the Greek word ‘exēgeisthai’, means “to lead out.” In essence, it’s the process of interpreting a text based on what it actually says. Think of it as extracting the original intent of the author.

Eisegesis: Definition and Origin

On the flip side, eisegesis, stemming from the Greek word ‘eis’, means “into.” It’s when you read into the text, inserting your own ideas or biases. Imagine putting on colored glasses and seeing everything in that hue.

Key Differences

Approach and Methodology

Exegesis is like a detective meticulously piecing together clues from a scene. It’s systematic, relying on context, history, and the text itself. Eisegesis? It’s more like an artist, painting over an existing artwork with their own colors.

Purpose and Goal

While exegesis seeks the author’s original intent, eisegesis often serves personal agendas. It’s the difference between understanding a message and twisting it.

Common Pitfalls

Eisegesis can be tempting. Who doesn’t like to see their beliefs validated? But it’s a slippery slope, leading to misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Why Does It Matter?

The Importance in Religious Studies

In religious contexts, exegesis ensures scriptures are understood as intended, preserving their sanctity. Eisegesis, however, can lead to misinterpretations, causing rifts and divisions.

The Role in Academic Research

In academia, exegesis maintains the integrity of research, while eisegesis can discredit work and lead to false conclusions.

Real-life Examples

Exegesis in Action

Consider a historian studying ancient texts. They’d rely on exegesis, cross-referencing with other sources, ensuring they grasp the true essence of the text.

Eisegesis in Action

Ever heard a song and felt it was just about your life? That’s eisegesis! You’re overlaying your experiences onto the lyrics.

John 1:1 Example of Exegesis vs. Eisegesis

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1:1

Exegesis of John 1:1

Contextual Analysis:
The Gospel of John starts with a profound theological statement about the nature of Jesus Christ. This verse parallels the opening of Genesis, emphasizing a new beginning through Christ.

Historical Analysis:
John writes in a context where there were various beliefs about Jesus. By stating that the “Word was God,” John affirms the divinity of Jesus, countering any claims that Jesus was merely a prophet or teacher.

Linguistic Analysis:
The term “Word” (Logos in Greek) was significant in both Jewish and Greek thought. For Jews, it could denote God’s action in the world, while in Greek philosophy, Logos could mean the rational principle governing the cosmos. John uses this term to bridge cultures, presenting Jesus as the divine, governing principle.

Theological Implication:
This verse establishes the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, emphasizing that Jesus (the Word) is distinct from the Father (“was with God”) yet fully divine (“was God”).

Eisegesis of John 1:1

Personal Interpretation:
“In the beginning was the Word” makes me think about the power of communication. Maybe John is highlighting how essential it is to speak our truth, just as God did.

Modern Application:
The “Word” being with God and being God feels like how we live in a digital age. Our online persona (the “Word” we present online) is with us, and for many, it has become who they are. It’s a reminder of the power and influence of our digital identity.

Selective Emphasis:
The repetition of “Word” stands out. It reminds me of the importance of consistency in our message and actions. If we say something, we should stand by it, just as the “Word” is consistently identified with God in this verse.

Other Examples of Exegesis vs Eisegesis

Below are more examples of Exegesis vs Eisegesis. Keep in mind that Eisegesis is not always a negative way to interpret scripture. In fact, we often interpret to make correlations or applications to our lives today. The challenge is that, without context, cultural settings, the type of writing, the intended audience, and other considerations, we need to be careful to know the full intent of the original scripture before eisegeting it for today’s application.

The Good Samaritan:

Exegesis: Interpreting the parable of the Good Samaritan in the context of Jesus’ teachings and the cultural and historical setting of Jewish-Samaritan relations.
Eisegesis: Using the same parable to justify modern political views without considering the historical and cultural context of the text.

The Creation Story in Genesis:

Exegesis: Analyzing the creation story in Genesis within its ancient Near Eastern context, understanding its genre as a creation narrative, and recognizing its theological messages about God’s sovereignty and the goodness of creation.
Eisegesis: Interpreting the creation story as a scientific account of the origins of the universe, imposing modern scientific understandings on an ancient religious text.

The Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew:

Exegesis: Understanding the Beatitudes in the context of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, considering the historical and cultural context of Jesus’ audience, and exploring the spiritual and ethical teachings presented.
Eisegesis: Using the Beatitudes to support a specific political ideology or social agenda without considering the text’s original context or Jesus’ broader teachings.

Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians:

Exegesis: Examining Paul’s letters to the Corinthians by considering the historical setting of the early Christian church in Corinth, the specific issues Paul was addressing, and the cultural norms of the time.
Eisegesis: Interpreting Paul’s advice on church conduct and spiritual gifts as rigid rules applicable to all modern churches, without acknowledging the specific challenges and culture of the Corinthian church.

The Book of Revelation:

Exegesis: Interpreting Revelation with an understanding of apocalyptic literature, considering its first-century context, the situation of the early Christian communities facing persecution, and most importantly the symbolic nature of the text.
Eisegesis: Reading into Revelation specific predictions about contemporary events or figures, seeing it as a detailed script for the end times rather than a symbolic and pastoral message to first-century Christians.

Exegesis vs. Eisegesis: Which One to Use and When

While both exegesis and eisegesis have their places, it’s crucial to know when to use which. Just remember exegesis is an interpretation of the original meaning and eisegesis is a personal interpretation based on modern day application.

When using exegesis, consider the historical context, type of literature, who is the object of the text, and prescriptive nature of the text. Dr. Frank Turek calls this the S.T.O.P. method. This method will help contextualize the scripture first, to set the stage for your exegetical interpretation.

Closing thoughts about Exegeting and Eisegeting Scripture

In Bible study, a careful consideration of its original context is very important. Exegesis, derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to lead out,’ emphasizes the importance of extracting the true meaning of the text, ensuring that God’s law and the teachings of Jesus Christ are understood as intended. On the other hand, eisegesis, while providing a personal interpretation, can sometimes be influenced by preconceived notions, leading to a departure from the Word of truth.

Figures like Martin Luther and John Wesley emphasized the importance of proper exegesis in understanding the Word of God. The story of David, for instance, when viewed through the lens of biblical exegesis, reveals deeper insights into the historical context and the overarching message of the Old Testament.

As believers, the first step in our journey should always be to approach each passage of scripture with an open heart, free from biases. By doing so, we ensure that our understanding aligns with the truth of Scripture, preserving the sanctity of the Word and strengthening our foundation in the Christian faith.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Always consider the context.
  2. Cross-reference with other sources.
  3. Be aware of personal biases.
  4. Seek feedback from peers.


  1. Is eisegesis a bad way to interpret scripture?
    Not necessarily. It’s just essential to recognize when to use this method of interpretation.
  2. Can one text have multiple exegeses?
    While the goal is to find the author’s intent, different scholars often have varied interpretations.
  3. How can I practice exegesis?
    Start with familiar texts, research their backgrounds, and cross-reference with other sources.
  4. Why is exegesis crucial in religious contexts?
    It ensures scriptures are understood as intended, preserving their original message.
  5. Are there tools to help with exegesis?
    Yes! Commentaries, lexicons, exegetical guides, and historical records can be invaluable.
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Bryan E. Robinson

Bryan E. Robinson is a U.S. Army veteran and founder of Scriptures.blog, 316Tees.com, and ChristianQuotes.info. Bryan is a spiritual warrior whose goal is to get God’s Word in front of as many people as possible through digital channels.