The Problem of Reading ‘Into’ the Bible
By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Acts 17:11; 2 Corinthians 4:2; and 2 Timothy 2:15; Revelation 22:18-19
The Problem of Reading ‘Into’ the Bible. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Revelation 22:18-19
Do you read from the Bible or read into the Bible? Do you know the difference?
What does Biblical interpretation mean to you? What should it mean and how should you delve into and teach the most Holy Precepts of our LORD? By your will or His?
We have a major problem in our churches; people, even pastors go to the Bible and just collect from it what they feel and want, forcing it so that they miss receiving what they need and what God has for all of us. Thus, people are not experiencing the true wonders and Truth and riches of God’s principles and the result is little to no spiritual growth or maturity. We have even a bigger problem of pastors and so called Christian leaders who teach falsely or shoddily because they use the Bible as a tired and old buffet, picking only what they see as good-not realizing it is all good. Thus, they glean items they like out of context, reading in their ideas and then claiming them as goodness from God. The result? Feeding their flock moldy garbage and proclaiming it as delightful food. Since most Christians are biblically illiterate, they will not know the difference. Reading into the Bible and not reading from the Bible is called eisegesis, and it is evil!
What is Eisegesis?
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:2
Eisegesis or Isogesis is basically reading into or forcing into the Bible or a text what isn’t there, thus forcing a meaning that does not exist in that passage to satisfy ones idea, belief, or a whim. This is in opposition to good “Exegesis” that means “to lead out” or “draw out” what the Bible is actually saying. One way, we take what we want and then insert it; the other way, we take from it what it actually says for our edification. One way, we say what we want it to mean; the other way, we take away what God has to say. Eisegesis is interpreting Scripture by one’s personal rules rather than a logical, consistent, and reverent understanding from the Bible. This is using a presupposition or a pretext as in what we want so we can arrive at the meaning we want by ignoring the language, context, and culture in which it was used. Thus, “eisegesis” lends one “to lead in” or “read into the Scriptures,” in contrast too, good biblical interpretation takes out what is really there whether we like it or not. Eisegesis means we input and plant the seeds of what we want it to say, gleaning just weeds later on, when with good exegesis, we harvest the good crops of what God is plainly saying.
How do we do Eisegesis? We do this by introducing into the text our own assumptions, thoughts, and opinions while ignoring what is actually there in the text. Most people do this to facilitate their own agendas and opinions. In practice, this is using our personal interpretation as center point rather than what the text plainly states, including even some critical doctrines of the faith that often get confused and skewed. For example, taking a key word like Baptism or looking for words and ideas that do not even exist and then jumping to the assumption of what we think it means. This allows us to justify our agendas or conjectures, inserting or forming our own ideas and preconceived notions by seeking what we want it to mean rather than the actual, intended meaning of the passage. Thus, we miss what God is stating and replace it what we want it to say, giving us the mentality of don’t confuse me with the facts; I have already made up my mind, I want to think my way and/or lead my life my way, not His Way. This is further aggravated by ignoring the language, context, and culture, leading us to incorrect conclusions, inconsistent understandings, as well as to heresies and false teachings. In addition, we end up with weak faith, spiritual confusion, and a lack of Fruit and maturity in our personal lives and in our church.
What is Exegesis?
It is to draw out, extract, and harvest what God has planted, what is in the text, and the way it was written. It is finding the true meaning of and explaining the passages of Scripture from their context, what the words mean in that language, culture, and setting, not what they may mean today. Exegesis is extracting objectively from the Bible in a logical, systematic manner, discovering what a text is actually saying by careful reading of the Bible. It also helps to seek what was said to the originally intended readers in the way they used their words, with their customs, and in their situation before we can fully discover what it means in ours. In contrast, eisegesis is also bad biblical interpretation, seeking a meaning from modern vernaculars, theological agendas, or hearsays, because in this, we will twist and slant the intent that God has for us, that is, we will read into the Bible what God is not saying to us!
Now, if you love God, and want to please Him and if your church is about worshiping Him and discipling others, then, you will practice good Bible study and interpretation. Thus, you would never ever want to do eisegesis to God’s most precious Word. Now, if the Bible is not important and church is all about you and the platform to display your feelings, ideas, frustrations and just a show or seeking the latest trends, then eisegesis will be your prime game plan. Of course, this would be heinous at best and blasphemous at worst! Because, this will skew one’s understanding of God, pass on this false teaching to others, and we will not see or apply His precepts, thus, leading us to an improper life and a dead or useless church.
An Example of Eisegesis
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11
So many Christians and denominations have done this-inserting their ideas and wishes or skewed understandings or assumptions into God’s Word and then proclaiming their word as His! Such as with Baptism, assuming what it means and not realizing what it actually means. Like not understanding it is a usually a “verb modifier” to the “object noun” in the sentence. So, we make a grammar mistake thus creating a whole theology by obsessing over the “verb” and miss the main point of the “object” by skipping the context and thus missing out on the meaning. Or, taking a word out of context like the “little gods” false teaching a few years back, because pastors ignored the original word and cultural meaning and made a grand assumption and a false teaching that distracted people from the true Truth of the passage.
Many Christian leaders do this today with misguided theological ideas and take a minor or faulty idea and place all their attention on it, missing the main point of it all! Let’s take a very controversial end times position (and it is OK to disagree with me; this is an illustration.) Rapture is a word not in the Bible, which is OK; many theological words like Trinity are not in the Bible either, because they are labels of concepts in the Bible. But sometimes we get so zealous for a view, we do all we can to prove our position when in fact, it may be very wrong. The using of texts to look for Rapture is also eisegesis, inserting into the text something we want that is actually not there or a personal interpretation and plan of a text from one’s own ideas. We are called to read His Word with “exegesis,” or a right explanation and analysis of the text from what it actually says. We are never to stretch or construe Scripture according to our whims and/or opinions. Rather, we are to plainly seek what He has for us from what He has clearly revealed to us (see our Revelation page for more info).
Take an example in Revelation 22:7-20 of a very minor point: a trumpet said. (I will not take the time to lay out all the nonsense and non sequitur ideas I have heard on this. To find out what it really means if in doubt, look it up.) First, a prime rule of Scripture interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Just look at where that key word is used, in context, to determine what is meant in the passage you are studying (use a concordance). This is especially helpful if something seems absurd or contradictory or just does not make sense. You are studying a word or words written to another culture in another time in a different language, so sometimes what is plain in English may not have meant the same to the original readers. So, what about trumpet? If you do not read in your assumption, you will find that in the Old Testament, this means God is preparing to give a command or a pronouncement of His Word (Ex. 19:16).
This should be simple; just look up trumpet in a concordance and read the passages. Here, many misguided interpreters read into the text a “rapture,” and string together other passages, such as 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and 1 Thess. 4:16-18 out of context to create a grand theology out of injudicious reading, inserting ideas that are not in these passages. This causes a skewed, personal interpretation of a text from one’s own imaginings, not what it actually says. Also, because the word “church” does not appear until chapter 22, many think this means the church will not be on earth during the last days. Again, this may be a minor point we can agree to disagree upon; nevertheless, this is reading into a text our ideas and not God’s. We are never to force, stretch, or construe Scripture according to our whims and/or opinions. Rather, we are to plainly seek what He has for us from what He has clearly revealed to us.
Where does this lead? Missing the grand point, such as in this passage, to pay attention to God, listen to Him and concentrating on forming our faith so not to be disloyal and realize there is no doubt. He is God and He keeps His word and He shall return. John testifies, under the greatest oath that can be, that all he has said is true, and he reminds his people (and us) to make sure we do no wrong; rather, we must do what Christ has told us to do. John even reminds us of his frailties, and how he had started to worship the angel who gave him these visions, as a reminder that we are to be faithful and loyal to Christ. Then, Jesus Himself testifies to the validity of this Book, its precepts and impact for us, and that He is the source. Christ is coming and He calls us to holiness-not to vain speculations. He will reward the faithful, chastise all those who have done wrong, and condemn those who are evil! He wants us to be among the faithful. Christ wants us to love Him-not what is wicked that will only destroy us. He wants us to be content in Him-not miserable and disillusioned by the ways of the world.
So what do we do instead? Fight? Fight over how, when, if, and by what means a rapture may happen and thus miss the entire, prime point of the passage and what God has for us? This will only cause us to look foolish in the eyes of others and form a bad reputation for the church, creating division and strife and causing an inability to reach our neighborhoods for Christ!
Good Bible Interpretation is a Must!
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Good Bible interpretation comes from our careful interrogation and examination to discover the real truths of the Bible. This can only happen when we abandon ourselves to Christ, and engage the text with faith, reason, and logic. We are never to read in our fears, hurts, ideas, or plans; rather, we are to look to Christ as our Lord. We are to never hold back with failure but rather look forward to what He has for us. We are not to hide in our theology, pride, complacency, or presumptions. Our drive must be to follow His character, not our own or our culture.
To be a good Bible student and a great Bible teacher, our interests must be surrendered to His; His interests must be ours (John 3:30; Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:5; 2: 20-21; Phil. 3:10)! Doing what we do not want to do in the first place becomes sheer pleasure because it is serving Him (John 15:13; 1 Cor. 9:22; 2 Cor. 12:15). When we are doing this, our understanding of the Bible will grow and consequently our faith, maturity, and character will also grow and then we will be showing the love and care we are called to give to reach our neighborhoods for Christ!
Why do people do Eisegesis? Because pride and positioning caters to our whims, not to solid reasoning and the search of the Word. Basically, it is because (to say this bluntly) people do not read the Bible or at least have not read it well, so they force their will into it instead! It amazes me how some pastors and Bible teachers can go to a text and not “read it,” but can be really good at “reading into it.” That is, instead of reading what is there, in its context, what the words say in the original languages and culture, they read in their theological ideas, frameworks, and presumptions, and thus totality miss what God is actually saying!
This brings up several questions: why are we as a Christian community not thinking hard about God’s Word as those of old did? Why do we pass by reading “from” the Bible and insist on reading “into” the Bible? Instead of gleaning and applying what God has to say, we read in what we want it to say! We have more tools and reason, so let’s get busy and dig into God’s Most precious pasture land, His Word, the Bible!
Good Bible understanding comes to a sincere and humble Christian. Offered with a merciful spirit by one who is not interested in just his own or another’s opinion, he rather seeks what God is actually saying and what He wants us to know and have. Good Bible teaching is never about seeking power or control or making a public display for the sake of pleasing others or seeking prestige or making ones point regardless what the Bible really has to say. Good biblical exegesis will help us see His perfection and receive His mercy and grace to help us, and others through us, in times of need, so we can find that peace that guards our hearts and minds. In order for this to happen, we must be willing and able to open and surrender our heart and Will to Him. If not, we will be living on the wrong floor of life (Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 4:14-16)!
I warn everyone ! His is the last warning at the very end of the Bible to never manipulate God’s Word for skewed, personal agendas, never to read in or force what is not there, and never take away from His Word what is there. God’s Word is truth and if we seek to violate that, even for good intentions (this is how cults and heretical theologies start), we become the liars and manipulators about whom Christ is warning us!
I warn everyone ! At the close of the New Testament, Revelation 22:18-19, God makes this dramatic imperative point: I warn everyone. This is God’s most passionate warning to not add or subtract from what He says. God wants His Word protected, revered, and applied. He does not want us to be corrupt or seek to distort His Word. This means we are not to add in our thoughts to His or replace His with our own. We can add commentary, insights, applications, and encouragement as long as we stay true to His text, because this is the Word of God and it is Holy. Thus, when we do add our thoughts, we must make sure they are lined up to His and make a distinction, to ourselves and others, between His Word and our words. In context, this is referring to Revelation, but it also applies to the entirety of the Bible (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Gal. 1:8-9; Heb. 4:12; 2 Peter 3-4)!
1. Why does God severely warn us to never manipulate God’s Word for skewed, personal agendas?
2. Why do so many preachers and commentators seek to do Eisegesis? How does one rationalize that it is OK to manipulate God’s Word?
3. What can your church leadership do to teach and model to its people never to read in to God’s Word what is not there, or take away what is there?
4. How can you better use God’s Word to develop your faith so you are more ready for His return?
5. What can your church do about getting its people lined up to God and His Way and precepts and to know and be prepared by faith, spiritual maturity, character, and Fruit?
We, as human beings, tend to sway easily by ideas, people’s personalities, new encounters, and experiences that tantalize us. New religious formats and thinking are appealing as we seek the latest and greatest, but what we think is great usually is not. We become captive to traditions and influenced by arguments and feelings that are persuasive. But, we must never substitute our ideas for God’s! We will follow the latest fad and want more. We get bored with our car and want a new and better one, and so forth. We do this with our doctrines too! The advertising machine in Madison Avenue knows this well, as we all want more, and they use this trait to appeal to us, pushing us in the direction they want to sell or influence us in some way. At the same time, we must be on guard not to allow such things to infuse, influence, or govern us. We have His Word, wisdom, influence, and Holy Spirit; there is nothing better! We have His fullness; there is no better filler than His presence! Therefore, we must be aware of our nature to seek what is wrong and fleeting, and always be on guard. Never allow yourself to be cheated by wrong thinking or chasing the wrong things, because they will rob you of greater opportunities and treasures in Christ! The bottom line is this: we do not need any substitute or the world’s distractions because we are complete in Him! Do not be the one who seeks to please the world while rejecting our loving and living Lord-in your doctrines or in your life!
Do you heed God’s warning? Are you an Exegete or an Eisegete?
© 2010, 2012, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministrieswww.intothyword.org/