by Drew Filer
A military commander knows that there are several factors that influence a successful mission: well trained soldiers, proper equipment, an effective chain of command. But, he also knows that in order for any of that to be effective, he needs good intelligence. This is what backs up the strategy of any operation. Without good intel, the mission's a bust. If it's incorrect, units get sent in unnecessarily, and resources are wasted.
Many times when studying Scripture, we as the next generation of Christians have a tendency to bring our presuppositions with us. We dive into our Bibles with preconceived ideas and often times, we either attempt to prove those ideas, and thus ourselves, correct; or we make assumptions based on the text of a single passage. Both of these use what's called eisegesis (reading our opinions into the text). This can be a dangerous method of study in any area, but especially regarding the Word of God. It skews our perspective of Scripture and brings about many dangerous assumptions; it gives us bad intel. The proper method of study, the one used here, is called exegesis (building our opinions based upon the text). This allows us to gain the insight needed to accurately interpret Scripture, using methods to determine the original intent of the authors (our good intel).
We mistakenly use eisegesis when studying Scripture for many reasons. Sometimes the reason is that we've heard a pastor preach a sermon on the verses we're reading. Or maybe we just think we understand them. In any case, using eisegesis in Bible study is dangerous.
Scripture is infallible. As a believer, there is no denying that. But there are two major facets of effective study that each of us has either neglected or misused regarding Scripture. The first of these is our translation. What we often don't realize is that it's the original transcripts that are truly inerrant. Our Bibles are translations of the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic) and thus subject to human error. We just assume that because we're reading a Bible, it's the message God intended for us to hear. But we need to understand that this just simply isn't the case. The truth is that for each word in these ancient languages there are up to half a dozen different English words to which it could be rendered; in many cases, there are even more. In order to fully grasp the intent and message of any verse, we should first look at the original language of the text, using a Lexicon (an ancient Greek/Hebrew-to-English dictionary); in this way, we ensure that we properly understand the authors' words. We also need to take each verse in its proper context. Taken apart from the entirety of a passage, individual verses take on whole new meanings that the authors never intended. The original readers never had to worry about this; the numbered chapters and verses we use today were not incorporated until centuries after Scripture was written. Both the ancient Israelites and the first century church would memorize each book as a whole; proper context wasn't an issue, because they already had memorized books in their entirety, maintaining the original context. We also need to work hard to understand the context of any passage when we study. When we don't, we risk making some very dangerous assumptions.
Take, for example, Luke 11:9: "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened to you. (NKJV)" Many preachers have used this verse to say that Jesus promises us prosperity in this life. But is that what Jesus was talking about? When we look at the context, this verse takes on a whole new meaning. Look at verse 13: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Right there in the context Jesus explains what we will receive: the Holy Spirit. He isn't just promising to give us anything we ask for. That promise is made in John 14:13, and even that is conditioned upon us asking in Jesus Name, for the purpose of the Father's glory.
When we view Scripture in its proper context, the true meaning of many passages becomes blatantly clear. This is especially important for youth to grasp. We have been misled because many teachers have neglected the use of proper context. They have been misled as well, but if we can grab a hold of this method, and properly apply it, we can turn things around for our generation, and generations to come. We can guide our peers to the truth of Biblical interpretation, and in turn, set the precedent for how we will lead our children in these matters.
One of the best ways to establish the context of Scripture, is to read a book in its entirety. That's my challenge to you. Take the time to read the whole book of John in one sitting, with no commentaries, no outside voices, just you and the Lord. Pray for guidance and understanding, and "he will make straight your paths." (Prov. 3:6, ESV) When we spend time in the word, reading it properly, the Lord speaks to us in new and marvelous ways. He gives us understanding we could never have on our own. Scripture is the holy Word of God, and we must be careful to treat it as such.
Having proper context is essential, but if there are errors in our translation, we face a whole slew of other problems. No translation is going to be perfect, which is why we cannot forget to look at the original language of Scripture, even when we're confident in our understanding. John 3:16 is one of, if not the, most well known verses in the New Testament: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)" This verse lays out the gospel so simply. "Whoever believes in Him ... [has] everlasting life." Take a look at the original language. The Greek word translated "believes" here also means to have faith in, credit, and to entrust. That's the gospel. Simply believe, and you receive eternal life. The only requirement the Lord Himself gives is belief.
Many people try to add onto this requirement. They say things like "believe and repent" or "make Jesus the Lord of your life." But here's the thing: Jesus is Lord, whether you admit it or not. Our confession of His Lordship doesn't change His standing. Christ said that the only thing that changes our standing is our belief. Many of these misconceptions are based upon misinterpretations of Scripture. This is why the use of exegesis is so important.
Our presuppositions cannot have an effect on our interpretation of Scripture. We have to interpret the Bible using itself; we need to take verses in context. We need to learn to look at the original language of any verse to make sure it was properly translated. But, most of all, we need to show our peers these truths. We have to teach each other to use exegetical study. This is foundational. The way we interpret Scripture affects our entire worldview. Everything we believe, do, and think is based on these principles. If we neglect this, we risk being wrong about practically every aspect of our faith.