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  • Writer's pictureTrace Pirtle

Biblical Exegesis, Eisegesis and Apples?

Updated: Aug 17

How do you approach your Bible study? Do you let God's Word speak for itself as the meaning of each passage is interpreted in its original context (exegesis)? Or do you search for verses that support your personal beliefs about the world and your place in it (eisegesis)? And how about them apples? Let's talk about Biblical exegesis, eisegesis and apples.

The Problem of Biblical Exegesis

Until recently, I had little to no interest in Biblical exegesis because of its inherent problems. For example, how am I supposed to know the original meaning of Scripture verses as they were intended some 2000 years ago? (Note: God's Word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow wasn't a sufficient explanation.)

Isn't it better to see how God's Word applies to our world today? In fact, I found it impossible to separate myself from my own worldview because it's the only one I've lived. I can read about life in Corinth and appreciate the Apostle Paul's message to the Corinthians; however, I am not a Corinthian, and their life is not mine.

So, is it possible to overcome the temporal and cultural problems of Biblical exegesis as we study the Bible? Can we rise above our ego with its agendas and preconceived notions to find the true meaning of God's Word? I think we can, but it takes the Holy Spirit to reveal meanings that transcend our present life experiences.

But first, we need to talk about apples and the Fruit of the Spirit.

The Apple and Fruit of the Spirit

You've likely heard the Buddhist saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Similarly, I believe the Holy Spirit strips away our preconceived notions using the right anecdotes and supporting scripture at the right time when the Believer is ready to understand. John provides us with an assurance that the Holy Spirit does indeed teach us, especially when we are being led astray.

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in Him. 1 John 2:26-27 (NIV)

Now for the anecdote about Fruit of the Spirit and apples!

A trusted sister was mentoring a group of college interns. Her lesson focused on the Fruit of the Spirit. She asked the students if they could identify the first Fruit of the Spirit. One young lady said, "The apple!"

I love it! What a great response. Incorrect, but worthy of extra-credit points for a bold response that simply reflects limited knowledge and awareness of Scripture.

How many times has God responded to me from Heaven with, "Wrong answer, but thank you for playing! Holy Spirit, give the lad some remedial instruction."

The student's response reminded me of an old IQ Analogies test question:

"In what way are an apple and an orange the same?" The examinee's response was scored from 0, "They aren't the same" (incorrect), 1, "You eat both of them." (partially correct), or 2, "They are both fruit."(best response).

The college intern's response was a "0" incorrect score, but the anecdote was a "2" best response for my learning. Here's why...

The Ease of Biblical Eisegesis

I don't know what formed the intern's response about the apple. Perhaps she didn't understand the question fully and just took the easy path to Genesis as the first fruit mentioned in the Bible.

But wait! There appears to be debate about what specific fruit was in the Garden of Eden, that it may not have been an apple as we assume. Have we been following the easy path of Biblical eisegesis because we have been culturally conditioned to believe the forbidden fruit was an apple? That question goes down another rabbit hole that we won't follow today.

But following the easy path to make sense of the Bible is what most of us do. First, most follow the ultra-easy path and never read the Bible themselves. Most will be content to sit back, listen to the Sunday sermon, and call it good. This easy path is problematic because many pastors no longer hold a Biblical worldview today!

Others will watch the news or surf the latest social media trends for what's happening in the world. Some will form conceptions of the current state of affairs and, trying to make sense of the madness, turn to a Bible passage to ease their psycho-suffering.

This is the easy path (Biblical eisegesis) because one can find support for nearly any condition that troubles their mind, body, or spirit--even if the actual verse has nothing to do with their situation.

The more I study God's Word, the more I realize how guilty I am of following this easy path. But we are expected to be good students of Scripture, as we see in the following verse:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Like the college intern, I have felt the flush of embarrassment when I fail to "rightly divide the word of truth." Earning a "0" score on a pop quiz is a real bummer. In fact, I could also be wrong in my assessment of Biblical exegesis, eisegesis, and apples in this post! So what is the point of grappling with questions that Biblical scholars fail to agree upon? Isn't this just an academic exercise that reminds one of a dog chasing his own tail?

I think the struggle has a point, even if we don't "yet" have a clear answer. Struggling with difficult subjects--especially Scriptural--brings about qualities in us that seem to draw God closer to us. Think about how struggling with both "theory" and "practice" of God's Word helps develop patience, faith, and self-control, for example. Sounds remarkably like three of the Fruit of the Spirit, doesn't it?

Since we are all "interns" at some level related to Biblical truths, we should expect to have our share of "0's" as we struggle with difficult verses. When we encounter a verse that opposes the current Zeitgeist, do we engage in mental gymnastics to make the Word fit the world? Or do we listen to the Holy Spirit Mentor within us to reveal a truth that transcends human understanding?

I believe listening to the Holy Spirit will help us "rightly divide" God's Word and put us on the difficult path to Biblical exegesis.

The Challenge of Biblical Exegesis

The Holy Spirit recently provided me with one such "lesson." And yes, it was a challenging lesson. I grappled with the "teacher" and argued for full-credit points when my response was as incorrect as "apple is the first Fruit of the Spirit."

Here's how the lesson went...

I've been struggling with why God has seen fit to have me carving wood signs and crosses for hospice patients. He gave me a hint as I related the Fruit of the Spirit to discern God's calling in our life. If we discover the presence of bearing good fruit in what we are doing--moment-by-moment, then we have evidence that we are drawing closer to God.

Unfortunately, I could still see that construction as an easy path (eisegesis) by using Scripture to support my belief that I'm doing something meaningful. Perhaps my Super Ego is simply needing some moral attention to maintain psychological balance?

But then I read the Apostle Paul's message to the Ephesians. At that moment, there was no distinction between time, space, or culture of origin. No splitting one worldview as anachronistic and another enlightened by the "New World Order." Just the Holy Spirit was enlightening me using Paul's message to all of Jesus' interns. Here's the verse:

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Ephesians 4:28

The conviction I felt was palpable. Was I being called a thief?! I haven't stolen anything since I was in third grade! That piece of Bazooka bubble gum was looking for a new home, and I didn't have the penny to buy it. So the answer is, "NO. I am NOT a thief!"

I could tell my response was a "0" incorrect and requiring remediation. The Holy Spirit was asking me to go beyond the easy, surface-level reaction. What have I "stolen" from others that would justify my being labeled a "thief" by All Mighty God?

And then it hit me...PEACE. I have stolen peace from others in so many ways for so many decades. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I know that I am a "Peace Thief." I must work with my hands carving wood signs and crosses for hospice patients who may have lost their peace with Jesus in their last days.

For me, this was an example of Biblical exegesis. The Holy Spirit was instructing me using a Bible verse that did not fit my preconceived notion of who I am or what I stand for. God's Word informed me of His plan(s) instead of me using His Word to justify what I want in life.

And Finally...

And finally, we have come to the end of this post on Biblical exegesis, eisegesis, and apples! I read somewhere that eisegesis is poor exegesis; however, I'm not sure we can so easily classify one approach to Bible study as the "correct" way and the other as the "incorrect" way. We are instructed to "rightly divide" God's Word, but since we are each "interns" at different stages in carrying the Cross, the Holy Spirit may actually use both approaches depending on the developmental level (i.e., Spiritual maturity) of the believer. Thus, for one intern, "apple" may be the best response to the question, "What is the first Fruit of the Spirit?" The Holy Spirit clearly used that one question from a gifted mentor and the corresponding response from a gifted and talented intern to teach me a lesson about Biblical exegesis, eisegesis, and the Holy Apple! How about you? Does the Holy Spirit teach you life lessons using both Biblical exegesis and eisegesis? And how about them apples? Were they really the first fruit?

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About Me

Image of Dr. Trace Pirtle sitting on park bench identified as Jesus.

Greetings, I'm Trace!
I'm a retired counselor education professor who spent 35 years in the "helping professions." I'm a veteran and an "all-in" believer working full-time for our Lord Jesus Christ. I've included my personal testimony if you are interested. 
May God bless you beyond your wildest dreams!

In His Service,

Trace Pirtle

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