By Dr. Ron Rhodes
Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries
Seeking the Author's Intended Meaning
Instead of superimposing a meaning on the biblical text, the objective interpreter seeks to discover the author's intended meaning (the only true meaning). One must recognize that what a passage means is fixed by the author and is not subject to alteration by readers. Meaning is determined by the author; it is discovered by readers.
Our goal must be exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text) and not eisegesis (superimposing a meaning onto the text). By using eisegesis instead of exegesis, a Marxist interpreter could, for example, so skew the meaning of the U.S. Constitution that it came out reading like a socialistic document.
Cultists have done the same type of thing with Holy Scripture. They so skew the meaning of the biblical text that it comes out saying something entirely different than what was intended by the author. Only by objective methodology can we bridge the gap between our minds and the minds of the biblical writers. Indeed, our method of interpreting Scripture is valid or invalid to the extent that it really unfolds the meaning a statement had for the author and the first hearers or readers.
The Importance of Context
A woman entered the Democratic primary for governor of the state of Texas. She was convinced that the Bible had told her she would win the nomination. When she received the official list of names from the primary she saw her name printed last. Then she read in her Bible, "Many that are first will be last, and the last first" (Matthew 19:30). On the basis of that verse she thought God was telling her she would win. But she lost. This amusing story illustrates the need for interpreting Scripture in its proper context. Taken out of context, the Scriptures can be twisted to say just about anything.
Seeking the biblical author's intended meaning necessitates interpreting Bible verses in context. Every word in the Bible is part of a verse, and every verse is part of a paragraph, and every paragraph is part of a book, and every book is part of the whole of Scripture. No verse of Scripture can be divorced from the verses around it. Interpreting a verse apart from its context is like trying to analyze a Rembrandt painting by looking at only a single square inch of the painting, or like trying to analyze Handel's "Messiah" by listening to a few short notes.
The context is absolutely critical to properly interpreting Bible verses. In interpreting Scripture, there is both an immediate context and a broader context. The immediate context of a verse is the paragraph (or paragraphs) of the biblical book in question. The immediate context should always be consulted in interpreting Bible verses. The broader context is the whole of Scripture. The entire Holy Scripture is the context and guide for understanding the particular passages of Scripture.
We must keep in mind that the interpretation of a specific passage must not contradict the total teaching of Scripture on a point. Individual verses do not exist as isolated fragments, but as parts of a whole. The exposition of these verses, therefore, must involve exhibiting them in right relation both to the whole and to each other. Scripture interprets Scripture. As J. I. Packer puts it, "if we would understand the parts, our wisest course is to get to know the whole."
(To be continued...)
- Rightly Interpreting the Bible (Part 1) • BPB (Ron Rhodes)
- Bible Interpretation • SpiritandTruth.org (Steve Lewis)
- What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? • GotQuestions.org
- Bible Study—Paying Attention to the Context • LOGOS.com
- Which Biblical Interpretation Is Correct? • BPB (Tony Garland)