Eisegesis Unplugged – Track #23

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.

The Passage

“Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

This short passage is often used to promote the need for either a special vision for a church or a personal vision for an individual believer’s life. In fact, just a few days ago I heard it used in a sermon concerning the second reason – the need for ‘personal’ vision.

Specific questions were asked by the Pastor preaching the sermon. “Do you have a ‘vision’ to be healthier, be in better shape physically, have a better job or marriage, enjoy material prosperity & be debt free, or have godly children?” These are all things God wants for us, and if you don’t have a corresponding personal vision, you just miss out!

The Pastor’s prime example of a fulfilled personal vision was Walt Disney and his grand vision for Disneyland. We all know how that turned out! But is a need for personal vision what our passage is actually teaching? Let’s take a look. Here it is again, but this time the entire verse:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)

The first thing we notice is that there is more to it than perishing for lack of a vision. We have a small ‘but’ that connects ‘vision’ with obedience to God’s law. You might be asking: “Can’t it still be about having a personal vision for one’s life?” Let’s look again, specifically about the meaning of ‘vision’. A few other translations will be helpful.

“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” (NIV)
“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (NLT)
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (ESV)

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.” (NASB)

Now for a few commentaries on the use of ‘vision’ in our passage:

“no vision —no instruction in God’s truth, which was by prophets, through visions (JFB)

“No vision – No prophecy; no public preaching of God’s word.” (Wesley’s Commentary)

“Vision – The word commonly used of the revelation of God’s will made to prophets.” (Albert Barnes)

If we are to trust the additional translations of the entire passage, as well as the commentaries, it seems that our passage has absolutely nothing to do with specific visions for an individual church or individual believers! Rather, it’s all about the lack of sound Biblical teaching, specifically from the Old Testament Prophets. If we can correlate that to today, it would refer primarily to sound Biblical preaching and teaching from gifted pastors and teachers, and even from believers reading and studying the Bible for themselves.

The New Living Translation expresses the thought of the original

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (NLT)

Once again, when we take a closer look at a familiar and often misused passage of scripture, we find that it doesn’t mean what we want it to mean. Here’s a bit of food for thought. Is misusing scripture, even somewhat harmlessly, something we as believers ought to be doing?

Food for thought . . . J

The Sheer Weightlessness of So Many Sermons—Why Expository Preaching Matters

Al Mohler, 21 August 2013

If preaching is central to Christian worship, what kind of preaching are we talking about? The sheer weightlessness of much contemporary preaching is a severe indictment of our superficial Christianity. When the pulpit ministry lacks substance, the church is severed from the word of God, and its health and faithfulness are immediately diminished.

Many evangelicals are seduced by the proponents of topical and narrative preaching. The declarative force of Scripture is blunted by a demand for story, and the textual shape of the Bible is supplanted by topical considerations. In many pulpits, the Bible, if referenced at all, becomes merely a source for pithy aphorisms or convenient narratives.

The therapeutic concerns of the culture too often set the agenda for evangelical preaching. Issues of the self predominate, and the congregation expects to hear simple answers to complex problems. Furthermore, postmodernism claims intellectual primacy in the culture, and even if they do not surrender entirely to doctrinal relativism, the average congregant expects to make his or her own final decisions about all important issues of life, from worldview to lifestyle.

Authentic Christian preaching carries a note of authority and a demand for decisions not found elsewhere in society. The solid truth of Christianity stands in stark contrast to the flimsy pretensions of postmodernity. Unfortunately, the appetite for serious preaching has virtually disappeared among many Christians who are content to have their fascinations with themselves encouraged from the pulpit.

One of the first steps to a recovery of authentic Christian preaching is to define exactly what we mean when we discuss authentic preaching as “exposition.” Many preachers claim to be expositors. But in many cases, this means merely that the preacher has a biblical text in mind, no matter how tenuous its relationship to the sermon.

I offer the following definition of expository preaching as a framework for consideration:

Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God.

Expository preaching begins with the preacher’s determination to present and explain the text of the Bible to his congregation. This simple starting point is a major issue of division in contemporary homiletics, for many preachers assume that they must begin with a human problem or question and then work backward to the biblical text. On the contrary, expository preaching begins with the text and works from the text to apply its truth to the lives of believers. If this determination and this commitment are not clear at the outset, something other than expository preaching will result.

The preacher always comes to the text and to the preaching event with many concerns and priorities in mind, many of which are undeniably legitimate and important in their own right. Nevertheless, if genuine exposition of the word of God is to take place, those other concerns must be subordinate to the central and irreducible task of explaining and presenting the biblical text.

Expository preaching is inescapably bound to the serious work of exegesis. If the preacher is to explain the text, he must first study the text. He must devote the hours of study and research necessary to understand the text. Along with his time, the pastor must invest the largest portion of his energy and intellectual engagement to this task of “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 NASB). There are no shortcuts to genuine exposition. The expositor is not an explorer who returns to tell tales of the journey. He is a guide who leads the people into the text and teaches the arts of Bible study and interpretation, demonstrating these essential disciplines in his preaching.

The expository preacher, moreover, yields to both the content and the shape of the biblical text as the inerrant and infallible word of God, divinely designed and directed. God has spoken through the inspired human authors of Scripture, and each different genre of biblical literature demands that the preacher give careful attention to the text, allowing it to shape the message. Far too many preachers come to the text with a sermonic shape in mind and a limited set of tools in hand. To be sure, the shape of the sermon may differ from preacher to preacher and should differ from text to text. But genuine exposition demands that the text establish the shape as well as the substance of the sermon.

The preacher rises in the pulpit to accomplish one central purpose: to set forth the message and meaning of the biblical text. This requires historical investigation, literary discernment, and the faithful employment of the analogia fidei to interpret the Scriptures by Scripture. It also requires the expositor to reject the modern conceit that what the text meant is not necessarily what it means. If the Bible is truly the enduring and eternal word of God, it means what it meant as it is newly applied in every generation.

Once the meaning of the text is set forth, the preacher moves to application. Application of biblical truth is a necessary task of expository preaching. But application must follow the diligent and disciplined task of explaining the text itself. T. H. L. Parker describes preaching like this: “Expository preaching consists in the explanation and application of a passage of Scripture. Without explanation it is not expository; without application it is not preaching.”

Application is absolutely necessary, but it is also fraught with danger. The chief danger may well be the temptation to believe that the preacher can or should manipulate the human heart. The preacher is responsible for setting forth the eternal word of Scripture. Only the Holy Spirit can apply that word to human hearts or even open eyes and ears to understand and receive the meaning of the text.

Every sermon presents the hearer with a forced decision. We will either obey or disobey the word of God. The sovereign authority of God operates through the preaching of his word to demand obedience from his people and to delight them in it. Preaching is the essential instrumentality through which God shapes his people as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word. As the Reformers remind us, it is through preaching that Christ is present among his people.

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Expository Preaching—The Antidote to Anemic Worship

Al Mohler

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Evangelical Christians have been especially attentive to worship in recent years, sparking a renaissance of thought and conversation on what worship really is and how it should be done. Even if this renewed interest has unfortunately resulted in what some have called the “worship wars” in some churches, it seems that what A. W. Tozer once called the “missing jewel” of evangelical worship is being recovered.

Nevertheless, if most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service—songs, prayers, the sermon—with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. In some sense, the image-driven culture of modern evangelicalism is an embrace of the very practices rejected by the Reformers in their quest for true biblical worship.

Music fills the space of most evangelical worship, and much of this music comes in the form of contemporary choruses marked by precious little theological content. Beyond the popularity of the chorus as a musical form, many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.

In terms of musical style, the more traditional churches feature large choirs—often with orchestras—and may even sing the established hymns of the faith. Choral contributions are often massive in scale and professional in quality. In any event, music fills the space and drives the energy of the worship service. Intense planning, financial investment, and priority of preparation are focused on the musical dimensions of worship. Professional staff and an army of volunteers spend much of the week in rehearsals and practice sessions.

All this is not lost on the congregation. Some Christians shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation. In most communities, churches are known for their worship styles and musical programs. Those dissatisfied with what they find at one church can quickly move to another, sometimes using the language of self-expression to explain that the new church “meets our needs” or “allows us to worship.”

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.

Thanks be to God, evangelism does take place in Christian worship. Confronted by the presentation of the gospel and the preaching of the word, sinners are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation is presented to all. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper and baptism are honored as ordinances by the Lord’s own command, and each finds its place in true worship.

Furthermore, music is one of God’s most precious gifts to his people, and it is a language by which we may worship God in spirit and in truth. The hymns of the faith convey rich confessional and theological content, and many modern choruses recover a sense of doxology formerly lost in many evangelical churches. But music is not the central act of Christian worship, and neither is evangelism nor even the ordinances. The heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the word of God.

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God. John Stott’s simple declaration states the issue boldly: “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” More specifically, preaching is indispensable to Christian worship—and not only indispensable, but central.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8 we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Ezra and his colleagues stand on a raised platform and read from the book. When he opens the book to read, the assembly rises to its feet in honor of the word of God and respond, “Amen, Amen!”

Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him “read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle—he simply and carefully proclaimed the word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to the music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment. Some hope to put in a brief message of encouragement or exhortation before the conclusion of the service.

As Michael Green so pointedly put it: “This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes.”

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word, opens eyes, and applies that word to human hearts.

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