A colleague and I were giving a presentation on the need to adequately understand a community (or a culture) before speaking into it with clarity and confidence. It was the third day, just after the noon meal, a time in seminar land equivalent to “the wall” in a full marathon. It is a time when otherwise normal, exuberant grownups find themselves prone to drift into a former era known as naptime. Suddenly one of the seminar participants (who happened to be awake and, at the same time, a hermeneutics professor) piped up, “Oh, I know what you guys are talking about, you are talking about exegeting a community!” It was a wakening moment. Normally the word exegesis is used exclusively in the world of hermeneutics. Here it was being unapologetically extricated from that world and used (metaphorically and accurately) to describe the concept and process of which we were speaking. In response to this perceptive and positive comment I replied (more than half joking and definitely not realizing the prophetic nature of my remark), “Precisely. And that is why I am going to someday write a whole chapter on the subject of eisegesis.” This statement seemed to snap anyone even thinking of napping from their slide into slumber. No more nodding heads. No more glazed looks. I had said (and meant) eisegesis, not exegesis. In that particular context, that non-slip of the tongue was about as close to blasphemy as one would want to venture. Advancing eisegesis to the position of warranting a full chapter was equivalent to cheering (loudly) for a visiting hockey/ baseball/basketball/ football/soccer team while seated in the hometown cheering section. Not the wisest course of action.
Eisegesis,” the professor snapped back, “in my hermeneutics class I don’t allow the students to even use that word! I forbid the use of the word!” He was absolutely serious. Eisegesis was a nine-letter word – more than twice as bad as the four-letter variety.
I admit that eisegesis is the pest of biblical hermeneutics. But it is a huge mistake to simply ban it to the woodshed. Pretending it does not exist effectively adds to its innate influence. Fantasizing that it has no place in the hermeneutical enterprise is ludicrous. If we dig into our history and our stories we can go a long way toward discovering the wellspring of our prejudice. That recognition should then, in turn, go a long way toward enlightening and improving our interpretation of reality. This short foray into the Enlightenment is but a start.
I believe we need to understand eisegesis to the same degree we do exegesis. I believe we need to pay as much attention to eisegesis as we do exegesis. I believe that if we insist on a set of rules of exegesis, then we need the same for eisegesis. That is my bias.