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Eisegesis Unplugged

Updated: Mar 28

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

"…choose this day whom you will serve…" (Joshua 24:15)

In light of all the “things” in our lives that we can assign greater importance to than humbly serving God, Joshua’s command to the Israelites certainly has relevance for us today!  The list of things is rather long and includes everything from great salaries and careers, to sports and entertainment, to cars, boats and other expensive “toys.”  Even our most valued relationships can appear on that list.

We ask those to whom we share the gospel to choose between serving God and serving man with that passage in mind.  “Choose this day whom you will serve” is often used to prove inherent free will, since we assume that the command itself necessitates the natural ability to choose between wholeheartedly serving God and all the other things we “serve.”  After all, wasn’t that what Joshua was telling the Israelites to do—choose between the one true God and other false gods?

What’s the rest of the story?

Joshua 24 begins with his summoning the tribes of Israel to Shechem, along with the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel, to present themselves before God (v.1).  When they had all gathered together, Joshua presents a “Thus saith the Lord’’ history lesson in which God speaks to the people in the first person, reminding them of all He had done for them, from calling and blessing Abraham to crossing the Jordan and inheriting the land (vv.2-13).

Joshua then speaks directly to the people and says:

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” (v.14)

Joshua did in fact challenge the gathered Israelites to serve the Lord, telling them to put away the false gods of their fathers. Then notice our passage in its natural context:

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (v.15)

Since throughout their wanderings, the Israelites are on record as having frequently returning to the false gods of their fathers, Joshua tells them to choose between a previous set of false gods and the gods of the peoples with whom they now dwelt,

The people responded:

“Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed.  And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” (vv.16-18)

Then we have in vv. 19-23 an interesting conclusion:

“But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”” (vv.19-20)

Joshua, in what sounds like a chiding manner, tells them “You can’t do it!”, pointing out their inability and insufficiency of themselves to perform service acceptable to God.

And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” (v. 21)

Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” (v.22)

And they (the people) said, “We are witnesses.” (v.23)

Joshua told them, in effect, “I think that’s gonna come back to bite ya, for sure,” yet they still promised.

If we have read the rest of the Old Testament, we know that the Israelites indeed failed to keep their promise, in spite of warnings from prophets, deliverance from enemies by judges and kings, and even in spite of hard bondage.  In fact there was a period of several hundred years when there was no prophet in the land.  God ceased speaking to his chosen people and left them to their own desires.

What’s the point?

Well, it seems that when we use Joshua telling the stubborn Israelites to “choose this day whom you will serve” as proof of our natural ability to choose Christ, we are not being faithful to the text. It’s a great line, “choose this day.…”, and we ought to ask it of ourselves often as sort of an “idol check”—just don’t try to say that it proves we have the inherent desire and ability to make good on our promise.

The real lesson lies in, as Paul Harvey used to say “the rest of the story.”  This short episode, near the end of Joshua’s life—after deliverance from bondage in Egypt, desert wanderings, entering the promised land, miracles and fierce battles— is part of a grand pageant that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation!  It’s the story of the creation, fall and redemption of the people of God—a people created for the glory of His Name, who by way of the first Adam fell into such darkness and depravity that they became the objects of the Creator’s wrath.

The Apostle Paul provided an excellent summary:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-7)

So here’s the point. We’ve all heard many passages and snippets of Scripture used for various reasons in all sorts of venues, many rightly used with great earnestness and zeal, and others for which we can ask, “does it really mean that?” As good Bereans, we ought to be answering our own “does it really mean that?” question.  At the same time, we need to pay attention to, learn the lessons from, and be greatly blessed by “the rest of the story”!

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