Hermeneutics, Exegesis, and Isogesis

We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. --- NIV 2 Corinthians 4:2
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." --- NIV 2 Tim 2:15
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. --- NIV Acts 17:11

I believe that the whole controversy surrounding Christian rock music is part of a much bigger controversy - that of how to study and interpret the Word of God. The study of the Word of God is the first big word above: hermeneutics. The other two words describe different - and opposite - methods of study. This may open me up to even more controversy than advocating Christian rock music, but I will make a bold statement:

The only valid way to study God's word is through EXEGESIS. ISOGESIS inevitably leads to heresy.

You will never guess what method Christian rock critics use! Well, given the statement above, you may have deduced that it is Isogesis. So what do these two words mean? How can any study of the Bible possibly lead to heresy?

Let's start with a definition of these two methods of Bible study:

Exogesis
"Reading out of the scriptures". Line-by-line, verse-by-berse, chapter-by-chapter. If you look through my essays, particularly the newer material, you will find that I often look at one verse the critics quote, and then quote a much lengthier passage encompassing the entire though of the passage. Often times, the subject being discussed is totally different - and even says the exact opposite of their prooftext.
Isogesis
"Reading into the scriptures". This sounds TERRIBLE, but that is not the intent of the phrase "reading into". This merely means you start with a subject, and look for scriptures that pertain to it. If this was done objectively, with the whole passage being studied and not just the verse from the concordance, perhaps this would be valid enough. Unfortunately, the critics often times do NOT look at the rest of the passage. They are well intentioned, but fallible men who have an opinion, and find as much material in support of their position as they can, and then slap together a web site. They never stop to re-examine whether their basic assumption is correct, so they never bother to study scripture in context to see if it REALLY agrees with their position or not. The proper attitude for a Christian believer is to take all of our basic assumptions and make them subject for the truths of God's word. That is where the critics miss it.

The heresies come in where authority becomes more important than what God's Word says. This authority becomes interested only in perpetuating its own authority, not in what the Word of God really says. Here are some common forms of authority that has become corrupted.

Hear this loud and clear: The Bible is the only proper basis of authority! Believe something because it is what the Bible teaches!!! If you want to interpret the Bible correctly, there are some basic guidelines.

Rules of Interpretation

  1. You must be born again! 2 Corinthians 4:4 and numerous other scriptures warn that satan will blind the eyes of a non-believer to the truths in God's word.
  2. This is one where I differ from the KJV only crowd. You must be able to understand the Bible grammatically before you can study it theologically.
  3. To apply a passage, you must first interpret it correctly.
  4. Christians have a right, and responsibility to study and interpret The Bible themselves (Acts 17:11 above). With the resources that are available to the modern believer in America, there is a tremendous opportunity to study God's word for yourself. That opportunity comes with a responsibility.
  5. Work from the assumption that The Bible is authoritative. If you are not going to accept what God's word says if it disagrees with your pet position, don't even bother.
  6. Even though Bible's revelation is progressive, both Old and New testaments are essential.
  7. Obscure passages are to be interpreted in the light clear passages. If you don't understand one reference pointed to by your concordance, go to another.
  8. Interpret experiences in the light of scripture, not scripture in the light of experience. HOW MANY TIMES I read where a critic has gone to a concert, had a bad experience, and now is condemning all Christian rock. The Beardsley's and Dave Wilkerson in particular.
  9. Biblical examples are authoritative when followed by a command.
    • A biblical example can verify what you feel God is leading you to do.
    • Biblical examples can be a rich source of application for your life.
  10. The believer is free to do anything that scripture does not forbid. (i.e., dancing, and drinking.) It is acceptable to believe that Christians shouldn't do certain things, but you should ONLY use that to guide your own behavior. It should not be used to try to control the actions and conscience of another believer. One of the most insidious attacks I see from the critics is to say "my conscience says it is wrong, and that means you have to abstain too - because it is idol meat and you shouldn't make me stumble." What a pathetic attempt at at behavioral control.
  11. The primary purpose of Bible study is transformed character, not an enlightened intellect. Read my responses essay. One of the proud, puffed up, egocentric critics talks down to a brother in Christ with big words, attempting to intimidate him with his intellect. WHEN did Jesus ever talk down to someone?
  12. Church History is important, but not decisive for interpretation of scripture. I did not include it in my responses essay, but one critic used extensive writings from the ancient church to try to prove their point. The only problem with that critic's quotations is - the ancient church whose writings he was quoting was the Roman Catholic church. THAT SAME CRITIC slams the Roman Catholics on his web site!!!! So - he quotes Catholics as authority when they happen to agree with him on music, then rips them apart other places. What hypocrisy!
  13. Interpret a word in it's context / Interpret a passage in it's context.
    • How does it relate to the material around it? You do NOT just find a verse that agrees with you, and pronounce it as God's final word on the subject. Study more and dig deeper.
    • How does it relate to the rest of the book?
    • How does it relate to the culture and background to which it was written? Want to apply Paul's standards to the church today? Women better start covering their heads in church ----
    • How does it relate to The Bible as a whole?
    • How does it relate to God's redemptive plan of salvation through Christ Jesus?
  14. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement can be understood to be figurative.
  15. When an expression is out of Character with the thing described, it can be considered figurative. The correct term for this is "speaking in hyperbole". If Jesus was not speaking in hyperbole, then how does this quote from Jesus himself:
    26. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26
    line up with one of the ten commandments:
    12. "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. --- Exodous 20:12
    Speaking in hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration (of a relationship, in this case). Jesus was continually confronted with people who wanted to follow him, but were wishy-washy about their committment. He got tired of hearing "I want to follow you, but let me live at home while I do". They were torn between their desire to serve him and their desire to have a comfortable life at home. Jesus would not have said what he did to anybody that REALLY needed to take care of their family. They were using that as an excuse - and he "got in their face" about it, by saying, in effect: "Listen, there is no comparison between your need to follow me and become a disciple and your need to go home and live comfortably. If you want to follow me, you need to do it unconditionally and trust ME for your and your family's well being." It is the same today --- how many people called to the ministry do not go because they are enjoying a large income in industry.
  16. The same word can have a different meaning in a different passage.
  17. About parables ---
    • Parables represent certain truths, or realities. Consider only these truths and realities when studying a parable.
    • Always interpret parables in context.
    • Do not give hidden meanings to everything in a parable.
    • Parables were given to illustrate doctrine, not declare it.
  18. About prophecy ---
    • Interpret the words of the prophets literally unless there is an obvious symbolic meaning.
    • Prophecy can be fulfilled in installments.
    • A New Testament writer may ascribe a prophetic meaning to an Old Testament passage.
    • If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.
  19. Remember the historical setting ---
    • Some passages are not to be applied the same as the time that they were written. (i.e. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament.)
    • The writers of The Bible wrote in a manner that would be understood by the people to whom it was written, therefore, interpret the meaning of a word in the same way it was written.
    • The promises in scripture are available, but not necessarily for the believers of every generation. Some promises were made to specific people, or groups of people. Many promises are conditional. God is not bound to a conditional promise until that condition is satisfied.
    • Ask yourself:
      • To whom was it written?
      • What was the background?
      • What experience or occasion gave rise to the letter?
      • Who are the major characters?
  20. About doctrines ---
    • Doctrines can not be built on a single verse. They must include everything that The Bible says on the subject. Scripture interprets scripture. Don't find one prooftext, say "gotcha!" and quit. Dig for deeper meanings, look up other passages that relate to the same subject.
    • Do not build a doctrine on an obscure passage.
    • A teaching merely implied in scripture maybe considered biblical when a comparison of related passages supports it.
    • When two doctrines seem to contradict themselves you must accept both. (i.e., the trinity)

Questions to ask yourself

This essay is an adapatation of material I found in two places on the web: 1, 2. No author was metioned, so I can't give credit. The only source listed was:

Most of this information comes from a class taught at Calvary Chapel Bible College, taught by John Miller. The college has several courses available on both audio and video tape. For more information, contact the college at: Calvary Chapel Bible College PO Box A Twin Peaks, CA 92391 (909) 337-6116

Apologetics Index | Email Me