[ 3 minutes to read ]Remember a text can never mean what it never meant. Sunday morning. 6 AM. Word open. Blank screen. Blinking cursor. Of course, you knew it would be blank because you went to bed Saturday night without having prepared anything to preach all week. You’re up against the clock and you have to have something to say. Some might call this relying on the leadership of the Spirit, but you might want to try the spirits and see just what kind of leadership you are receiving.
Where do you start? Well, you don’t start on Sunday morning at 6 AM, but otherwise a sermon must start with the Bible. You must start with the text of Scripture. You must start with knowing what the passage says and what the passage means. This means you have to do the hard work of interpreting the Bible. How can you explain the meaning of Scripture if you don’t know what it means?
Whatever you’re going to say must come from, and be faithful to the Bible, or else you’re not preaching the Bible. Sunday morning sermons typically reveal three different ways of approaching biblical interpretation.
Exegesis comes from a Greek word that literally means to guide, or lead out of. It refers to interpreting or explaining something such as a text. Exegesis considers the context of a passage and the grammar, syntax, and word usage. Exegesis also involves knowledge of the genre of the writing, as this indicates the form or way truth is communicated. Poetry communicates one way, while historical narrative communicates another way, etc. Exegesis is concerned with original author, audience, and setting of the passage, since a passage cannot mean now what it didn’t mean when it was written.
Exegesis refers to the technical work of getting out of a passage what is actually there in the passage. This work must be done before you preach a sermon and it’s not work you can do on Sunday morning, or from the front pew during the song service.
Eisegesis isn’t actually a word, but has been made by prefixing the preposition eis, which means into, to the word ago, which means to lead or guide. It’s a play on the word exegesis and is used to mean to read into the text rather than out of the text. Reading into the text refers to reading something into the text that is not in the text originally. We might talk about reading between the lines or reading from the white spaces.
Eisegesis refers to mishandling Scripture so as to make a passage say what the preacher wants it to say, rather than what it actually says. Even if this is done in order to support true doctrine, it’s still erroneous and mishandling God’s word. Eisegesis involves bringing into a text thoughts, theories, speculations, imaginations, extrapolations, musings, and traditional dogmas that aren’t actually in the text. A text means what it means, which is what it has always meant since originally written, and cannot be used any way a preacher sees fit, whether for his comfort or convenience. If there’s a bright side here, eisegesis can be used on Sunday morning, or even off the cuff from the pulpit. It happens more than you think.
Narcigesis is not a word either and I’m not sure of the origin, but I have heard it used. It’s a created word blending narcissism, or narcissistic, and eisegesis, so it essentially means reading yourself into the text. This approach to biblical interpretation sees every passage being about you or your tribe. In this system, every text provides opportunity for the preacher to promote himself and pat his group on the back. Every passage brings to light how the preacher’s tribe is the greatest in heaven and on earth, superior to all others. Narcigesis is also the popular tool of prosperity preachers and feel-good therapy preachers.
6 AM Sunday is no problem for narcigesis. In fact, with narcigesis you don’t need to prepare to preach, because it’s already in you. You don’t even need a Bible to make people feel good about themselves. I suppose this system is great news for egomaniacs who are also lazy.
When you get up to preach, you’re going to be guiding the people in some way. People don’t need guidance to think highly of themselves, but they will still be eager to hear some narcigesis and applaud you for it. What are you leading with and leading to? Eisegesis works well to confirm in people what they already think, and people are eager for that as well. If preachers are to be faithful guides, then biblically accurate exegesis is the way for preachers of God’s word. The only message preachers have has already been given in the sixty-six books of the closed canon of written Scripture and preachers must work hard to ensure they’re bringing out of the text only what the Spirit put in the text originally.