As Christians, Bible reading is an important aspect to our faith. We believe the 66 books of the cannon of Scripture make up God’s word to us. Therefore, it is important for us to have a healthy reading diet. However, the challenge we face is how should the text of Scripture, God’s word to us, be read? This kind of question can actually fill volumes and be argued and debated so much so that a person would have a difficult time knowing what’s right. To add to our complexity many people just choose not to attempt to understand basic Bible reading. Obviously, we all know how to read, what else is needed?
I don’t mind discussing some of the fine points of Biblical interpretation (formally known as hermeneutics) but at this point, what is really needed is just some very basic understanding of key concepts to help analyze and understand the text. Therefore, I will be looking at three very fundamental points to help understand what is being read in the Bible. They are, what I call, reading redemptively, exigetically, and eisegetically. I will go into definitions of these terms below.
Redemptively, goes without saying. We cannot deny the work of the Spirit in our lives as well as in our Bible reading. No one approaches the Bible autonomously or without influence. If you are a believer you will read the Bible from the perspective of God’s sovereign authority. The natural man, as Paul tells us, suppresses the truth that he/she has about God and thus reads the Bible from the perspective of their own ultimate authority. Reading the Scriptures redemptively does not guarantee you a perfect read because we aren’t perfect people but it is the start point.
Reading the Bible exegetically, remember this ten cent term, trust me you are going to want to cash in on it some day. Reading the Bible exegetically is a descriptive approach where one seeks to understand the text apart from any opinions, feelings, stream of consciousness type stuff, etc. In other words one attempts to remove any subjectivity from their understanding of the text and attempts to read what the text is communicating. Just look at the exegesis, the prefix “ex” means to “come out of”. In exegetical reading, the information comes out of the text. If you are in a building that’s on fire what do you look for? The “ex”it sign because you want to come out of the building. CAUTION, this is a very disciplined task and requires patience and an inquisitive mind on the part of the reader. Some of the questions one might ask himself/herself are:
- What type of genre (style of writing) is this?
- What is the context? (this one is a biggie)
- What do these certain words mean?
- What is the author communicating?
There are others you might come up with but this is a good list to get you started. Remember, the goal is to think about the text on its own terms without imposing assumptions.
Lastly, one can read the Bible eisegetically. To be perfectly candid, this is the one that gets many Bible teachers in trouble, let me explain. An eisegetical reading of the text will always communicate what the reader thinks of the text as opposed to what the text actually says itself. Think of the prefix “eis” which means “into” because one is positing their thoughts “into” the text. This is dangerous business.
Now that I have given the precautionary warning I am going to back peddle a bit. The reason is, there are situations where an eisegetical reading is warranted. The first one that comes to mind is once there has been a thorough exegetical reading. An impatient reader would rather bypass the exegetical reading and go straight for the eisgetical reading. However the best forms of eisegesis will showcase a thorough exegesis. One easy way to look at this is exegesis will ask what the author believes. Eisegesis on the other hand asks what the reader ought to believe.
This is a basic approach to reading the Bible. There are many sub-issues that would fall under these three categories or redemptive, exegetical, and eisegetical but for the purpose of this post one would do very well if he/she would keep these in mind during Bible study.