Why do we hold different views after reading the same book, email, or tweet?
In short, because of unique life experiences, which, rightly so, impact how we interpret information.
However, if two people read an article and are asked, “What is the author trying to convey?” there’s a “right” answer.
This contrasts to how information is often absorbed, purely through a filter of our own interpretation, missing the original message from the author.
These are essentially two methods of processing information, exegesis and eisegesis.
Exegesis is the process of interpreting text through what the original author ment to convey.
The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” You’re led to a conclusions by following the text.
This entails 1) observation: what does the paragraph say? 2) interpretation: what does the paragraph mean? 3) correlation: how does the paragraph relate to the rest of the content? and 4) application: how should this paragraph affect my life?
Eisegesis is the process of interpreting text through introducing one’s own presuppositions, agendas or biases, not holding to the meaning which is in the text.
The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into.” You injects personal ideas on the text, making it mean whatever you want.
This entails 1) imagination: what idea do I want to present? 2) exploration: what paragraph seems to fit with my idea? and 3) application: what does my idea mean? Notice that, in eisegesis, there is no examination of the words of the text or their relationship to each other, no cross-referencing with related paragraph, and no real desire to understand the actual meaning. The content serves only as a support to the interpreter’s idea.
How familiar does that sound to how people absorb information today?
I’m feeling convicted myself.
Of course, exegesis takes more time than eisegesis. But how different would our takeaways be if we set aside our interpretations and first understand what the text ment, absorbing information in an exegesis way?
One’s personal interpretation and understanding of the original meaning should not be treated as mutually exclusive. But there is a right order. After all, it’s difficult to have an informed interpretation if you don’t first understand the original meaning.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a challenge. Before you make up your mind on the next piece of content you read, give the exegesis approach a try.
I’ll take the challenge too.
Photo by Matteus Silva on Unsplash.