When God Does Exegesis

“No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son- the One who is at the Father’s side— He has revealed Him (John 1:18).”

This post is called When God Does Exegesis. So what the heck is exegesis? Exegesis is a very important word to pastors, theologians, and students of the Bible. Exegesis is “a critical explanation or interpretation of a text.” Christians definitely want to give a critical interpretation of biblical texts, but it goes a little further than this.

The word is literally broken down like this: ex = (out) + hègeisthai = (to lead). So exegete is to have meaning that is “lead out” of the text. The counterpart to this is eisegesis, which is broken down like this: eis = (into) + hègeisthai = (to lead). So eisegesis is to take a meaning and press it upon the text, whereas exegesis is to take a meaning that’s within the text and pull it out.

Really quick let’s look at an example. Let’s say you want to find out if God will allow you to lift 800 pounds with you pinky finger. You flip through your handy english translation of the Bible until you get to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” BAM! Case closed. Biblical proof that you can indeed lift those 800 pounds because, after all, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Whoa whoa there pal! You’ve just been found guilty of classic eisegesis. You took your own meaning and put in on the text without giving any thought to what the text itself is trying to say. Instead of pulling the meaning out of the passage by taking into account context or authorial intent you’ve placed meaning on the passage that wasn’t there to begin with.

If you look at the context of the passage you end up seeing that Paul here has a very specific idea in mind with this sentence. He is talking about hardships he has faced. He is speaking to a church from prison and saying that he has learned the secret to being content in all situations, whether he is hungry, full, rich, or poor. He is able to do all things through Christ who strengthens him. So maybe it would be better to say, “I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So while God might have the ability to enable you to pinky-lift those 800 pounds, Philippians 4:13 doesn’t let you count on it happening.

So to exegete the passage means paying close and careful attention to the meaning the text has, not what you press upon it. Why am I saying all this? (Sorry, by the way, to all of the people who already knew this. Review never hurts.) I say this because it is important to understand just what exegesis is when we see how God does it.

At the beginning of this post I wrote out John 1:18, and it’s time to find out why. This very passage let’s us see how God goes about doing proper exegesis. Now, I don’t really like to do this, but I’m about to talk about Greek just a little bit. (Trust me, you don’t need to be fluent in Greek to understand the bible. Don’t think that.) I want to take a look at the word translated “has revealed.”

The Greek word there is “exēgeomai” which is where we get the word, you guessed it, exegesis! Whoa, think about that! This passage is saying that the one and only Son [Jesus] who is at the Father’s side has exegeted Him! This passage says that Jesus is God’s exegesis of Himself! The first time I heard that phrase was from a pastor named Bruxy Cavey, but I didn’t realize that it was really right there in the text!

So what does this mean? It means a ton! It means that when we look at God and want to know anything about Him we need to look at how God does His exegesis. When we want God to speak to what He is like, and not come with any of our own ideas and press it upon Him, we need to look at Jesus! Any proposition that we have about God, what He is like, how He acts, or anything, we have to look to Jesus if we wish to do proper exegesis.

In other words, Jesus has the final word as to what God is like. The passage says that no one has ever seen God. Well Isaiah had a vision of Him in the throne room (Isaiah 6). Moses saw His backside on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:19–23). Ezekiel had a vision of Him in His throne room as well (Ezekiel 1). But John tells us that in comparison to Jesus no one has ever truly seen God or understood Him. Jesus is what it looks like when God speaks for Himself and gives us His own declaration and perfect revelation of what He is like (Heb. 1:3).

So if you want to do exegesis as God does, submit every notion of you have of God to Jesus of Nazareth who has fully revealed Him.

Photo via Visualhunt.com




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Curtis Snell

I am first and foremost someone who is trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Iowa and I love writing, reading, and my dog Pepper.

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