One of the few framed items in my school office features the words of Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
The pattern has three steps:
- Study the word.
- Practice or do the word.
- Teach the word.
Before you teach the word to others, you need to practice it. You must practice what you teach and preach. But before you practice and teach the word, you have to know what it says. So you must study it. You must exegete it.
But what does exegesis mean?
The difference between exegesis and eisegesis
I remember the first time I heard someone use that word. My face twisted up with a puzzled look, and I thought, “Exe-Jesus?! Did he just take the name of Jesus in vain?” But I soon learned that exegesis is the opposite of eisegesis. Exegesis draws the meaning out of a text (that’s good!), and eisegesis reads a meaning into a text (that’s bad!).
In other words, exegesis interprets a text by analyzing what the author intended to communicate. Exegesis is simply careful reading. For example, when a young lady who is deeply in love with her fiancé receives a letter from him, she reads it carefully. She wants to understand what her fiancé meant. The text means what the text’s author meant.
The difference between exegesis and hermeneutics
So what’s the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics? Hermeneutics concerns principles of interpretation (i.e., it’s about how the interpretive process works), and exegesis applies those principles. Hermeneutics supplies the tools to discover a text’s meaning, and exegesis uses those tools.
Exegesis may sound complicated, but it’s really not. You know how to exegete a text—whether it’s a text message or an email or a news article.
But it can be more challenging to exegete the Bible because it’s literature from a different historical-cultural context. You can accidentally read your ideas into the Bible rather than draw out what the author originally intended.
Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis and an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Learn more about exegesis from Dr. Naselli in his Mobile Ed course BI206 New Testament Exegesis: Understanding and Applying the New Testament. In this clip from the course Dr. Naselli provides an example of what it looks like to “exegete” an email and shows how that relates to exegeting the Bible:
If you pre-order Dr. Naselli’s course now you will get more than 40% off. It is also available as part of a two-course bundle that includes BI205 Old Testament Exegesis: Understanding and Applying the Old Testament by his colleague Jason DeRouchie. Both courses ship on March 22, so order them today to save 40%.