Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Eisegesis and Exegesis

No human being does unbiased interpretation of anything. As per Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Bultmann – preunderstanding, prejudice, and presuppositions cannot be eliminated.[1] All human interpretation and interaction with reality is eisegetical before it is exegetical. All information runs through the grid of one’s metanarrative, which acts as the ultimate translator of reality. The entire discussion concerning the power of metanarrative as well as a preliminary look at the problem of meaning validate not only the existence but also the significance and influence of eisegesis. Relegating this aspect of interpretation to the hermeneutical woodshed or giving it the silent treatment ignores a substantial player in the interpretation endeavor. Mind you, I'm not falling in step with the postmodern hermeneutical development that puts eisegesis ahead of exegesis in importance. Concerning such development, Silva writes
One can hardly overemphasize the radical character of these developments. To a practitioner of the historical method it is simply shocking to hear that eisegesis may be a permissible – let alone preferable! – way to approach the text. For nineteen centuries the study of the Bible had been moving away from just such an approach (especially in the form of allegorical interpretation), so that with the maturing of the historical method a great victory for responsible exegesis had been won. But now we are told that historical interpretation is passé…the search for a meaning other than that intended by the original author does seem, at first blush, to be giving up centuries of hermeneutical progress.[2]
            Agreed – eisegesis is not the way to interpret any literature. It is not the new panacea. But it does exist – and it exists powerfully and tacitly. No one denies the fact that interpreters practice eisegesis. However, one will search long and hard to find a set of eisegetical rules of interpretation in the hermeneutic textbooks. Eisegesis endures and since it holds a significant place in all interpretation, it must be adequately acknowledged, understood and addressed. Eisegesis is not the goal; exegesis is. But eisegesis is a notable part of the process. An interactive relationship exists between exegesis and eisegesis – one in which accurate exegesis of reality is undeniably dependent upon acknowledged eisegesis and acknowledged eisegesis is similarly dependent on accurate exegesis.

[1] See Friedrich D. Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977); Heidegger, Being and Time; Gadamer, Truth and Method; Rudolf Bultmann, Existence and Faith (Waukegan: Fontana Press, 1964).
[2] Kaiser and Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 279.

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