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Eisegesis (//; from the Greek preposition εἰς "into" and the ending from the English word exegesis, Greek ἐξήγησις, which in turn is derived from ἐξηγεῖσθαι "to lead out") is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text. The act is often used to "prove" a pre-held point of concern to the reader and to provide him or her with confirmation bias in accordance with his or her pre-held agenda. Eisegesis is best understood when contrasted with exegesis. While exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.
The plural of eisegesis is eisegeses (//). An individual who practices eisegesis is known as an eisegete (//); this is also the verb form. The term "eisegete" is often used in a mildly derogatory fashion.
Although the term exegesis is commonly heard in association with Biblical interpretations, the term is broadly used across literary disciplines.
Eisegesis in Biblical study
While exegesis is an attempt to determine the historical context within which a particular verse exists—the so-called "Sitz im Leben" or life setting—eisegetes often neglect this aspect of Biblical study.
In the field of Biblical exegesis, scholars take great care to avoid eisegesis. In this field, eisegesis is regarded as "poor exegesis."
In the field of biblical proof texts, Christian theologians and missionaries are often accused of practicing eisegesis using isolated, out-of-context quotations from the Christian Bible to establish a proposition or to read Christ into the Hebrew Bible.
While some denominations and scholars denounce Biblical eisegesis, many Christians are known to employ it—albeit inadvertently—as part of their own experiential theology. Modern evangelical scholars accuse liberal Protestants of practicing Biblical eisegesis, while mainline scholars accuse fundamentalists of practicing eisegesis. Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians say that all Protestants engage in eisegesis, because the Bible can be correctly understood only through the lens of Holy Tradition as handed down by the institutional Church. Dei Verbum: "The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account. All of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God." Jews, in turn, might assert that Christians practice eisegesis when they read the Old Testament as anticipating Jesus of Nazareth.
In conducting Bible translation, translators have to make many exegetical decisions. Sometimes the decisions made by translators are criticized by those who disagree, and who characterize the work of the translators as involving "eisegesis". Some translators make their doctrinal distinctives clear in a preface, such as Stephen Reynolds in his Purified Translation of the Bible, where he explained his belief that Christians should never drink alcohol, and translated accordingly. Such translators may be accused by some of eisegesis, but they have made their positions clear.
Exactly what constitutes eisegesis remains a source of debate among theologians, but most scholars agree about the importance of determining the authorial intentions. Determining the author's intent can often be difficult, especially for books which were written anonymously.
- "Greek eis into (akin to Greek en in) + English exegesis," Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
- "eisegesis... the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas...." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 364, G. & C. Merriam Co. (8th ed. 1976).
- Kaiser, W. C., Jr., The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 16-17.
- Roth, M. "Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant—Cutting Through the Distortions and Mistranslations of this Enigmatic Text", aish.com, May 21, 2011.
- Exegesis, Biblical Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003). 2:237.