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Eisegesis Unplugged

Eisegesis:  the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas — compare exegesis (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11 Edition).

Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study.  Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis.  The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.

The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading.  The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text.  Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation.  Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting.  Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words. (Got Questions Ministries—

The purpose of “Eisegesis Unplugged” is to encourage readers and lovers of Scripture to focus first and foremost on what it actually says and means, as written by those whom God inspired.  And since the Holy Spirit is the actual Author, ultimately we are talking about the authority and integrity of God’s Book and the Honor of His Name.

The Passage

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.“ (Rev 3:20 NIV)

Here’s an “oldie but a goodie,” and possibly a “greatest hit” and future member of the Eisegesis Hall of Fame (EHF).  It used to be one of my favorites!

This single passage might just be the inaugural member of the EHF!  It has been used in gospel presentations for years, most often after the “Romans Road” is traveled.  If you are not familiar with it, “The Romans Road to Salvation” consists of 6-10 passages from the Book of Romans that accurately present the problem we all face (sin) and God’s solution to the problem.  Once the prospective convert knows the problem and God’s solution, all that is left is how to appropriate the solution.  Rev 3:20 is the perfect verse!  The explanation goes like this:

Jesus is standing forlornly at the door of your heart, wanting to come in and dine with you, but you must open the door! There is but one door latch and it’s on the inside, where you live, and Jesus can’t enter no matter how desperately He wants to!

I even heard a local pastor, whose sermon was about Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall and city gates, tell the congregation of several hundred that there was one gate that God could not open, the door to the human heart.  I also cannot dispute that there have been many genuine decisions for Christ after hearing about the “one-way door.”  But we still ask the question:

"Is that what the passage really means? Let's take a look.

Revelation Chapter 3 is a continuation of Chapters 1 & 2, in which the Apostle John, in a vision on the Lords Day, was commanded to record what he saw and write letters to seven churches telling what he saw about each of them. Our passage is from one of those letters to a Christian church:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (vv 14-20, NIV)

The text immediately preceding “The Greatest Invitation for Salvation Ever Written” clearly depicts Christ standing at the door of a church that appears to have shut Him out.  Jesus' plea is that if even one member of that church would open the door, He would enter and dine with him.

The picture we paint in our “invitation” is not the picture painted in the context of the passage of Scripture from which it was extracted.  I have no idea who first changed the meaning of this passage or when it happened.  But I do know that the picture of Jesus standing at a one-way door and asking to be let in supports the idea that after all that God has done to make salvation possible through the death of His Son, human decision is the “determining” factor in a person’s actual salvation.

I won't jump into “that” particular debate here.  Nor will I begin a discussion about “evangelical ethics.”  I'll just say that there was a time when I thought it was a really great invitation, and if the passage really meant what we would like it to mean in our zeal to see souls saved, I would still be using it!  At some point though, the fact is that the passage of Scripture was often quoted and given meaning not in the original text.  That bothered me.

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