Good eisegesis

Yesterday, I described a “magic” that happens with writing.  Along the way, I mentioned the particular magic that seems to happen when you practice eisegesis, that is, “reading into” the text instead of just “receiving from” the text, or exegesis.

It’s a phenomenon related to what I have called the Reality Enhancement Factor.  We are built to see a dim and sketchy scene and flesh it out mentally until everything seems clear and bright.  Even though this can lead us astray if we lack self-awareness, it can also draw our attention to important facts:  what was first a guess, a creative filling of the gap, makes us pay closer attention to evidence that is actually there and verifies the guess.

The act of making up a story kicks the REF into high gear.  Consequently, the story writer who starts from a biblical text is not turning on a faculty of creation ex nihilo, but what turns out to be a faculty built for seeing things.  Eisegesis can yield exegesis.

Done in the right spirit, eisegesis can yield striking insights because it is an exercise of creativity within limits.  It begins with the text as a given set of dots and tries to connect them to make a picture; it begins with the text as a series of pictures and tries to supply the story line.  In one way or another, creativity goes places it would never have gone without the specific limits imposed by this particular text, and the eisegete actually learns from his reading.  Anyone who has done creative work knows what I mean.

As a result, the text itself ends up expressing itself through the eisegete’s work.  Good reading into the text does not dominate in the end but serves it.

Share Button

Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

Leave a Reply

1 Comment on "Good eisegesis"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Peter Kwasniewski
Guest
What you are saying here about eisegesis and exegesis seems, in my mind, related to the general truth that creativity flourishes under the force of strict limits. Most of the greatest compositions of classical music are rooted within a tight structure (the sonata-allegro form, the rondo, the fugue, the passacaglia, the da capo aria, etc.) that forces the composer to “connect the dots” in a new way. If everything is open to creative choice, the results are usually flabby, vague, weak, self-indulgent, diffuse, whereas if the “dots” are present, normative, determinative, all kinds of exciting things can happen when they… Read more »
wpDiscuz