Those of us who believe the Bible is the inspired authoritative word of God believe that it is relevant for our lives today. In fact, we believe that the Scripture guides our thoughts and paths, giving us instruction on a daily basis. But what do we mean by that? Does the Bible speak to everything? Does it tell us whether to marry this person or that? Does it tell us what our career should be? Does it tell me whether I should go out to dinner tonight?
I have talked a lot about the proper way to conduct a Bible study in my “Bible Study in a Nutshell.”
In sum, I believe Bible interpretation must assume three audiences:
1. Original audience
2. Timeless audience
3. Contemporary audience
We must start with the original authors and readers, taking into consideration the history, culture, grammar and syntax, and type of literature of the particular book. You are asking the question: “What did it mean then?” Next, you extract the timeless principles (if there are any), comparing the Scripture with Scripture, asking “What does it mean for all time?” Once this step is complete, you contextualize the principle for today asking “How does this apply to me?”
This is what it looks like:
Let me be brief and expand upon a Bible interpretation fallacy that uses a very different model of interpretation.
Practical Eisegesis Fallacy:
Gk. eis, “in” + hēgeisthai, “to lead.”
Also called “reader response”
The process of conforming the text to your current circumstance, making it more relevant and applicable.
This is where you open the Bible and treat it like a magic book. Since its inspired, this method assumes that the Bible must apply to my current circumstance. By merely opening the Bible and randomly finding a verse or a passage, we find out what God’s will for whatever is on our heart. It may take some interpretive gymnastics, but this method is intent on making any passage immediately applicable.
For example, right now I am wondering if I should go with my wife and kids to “The Main Event” here in Frisco, TX. It is a dinner place with games and rides and all sorts of fun stuff for the kids. My sermon is all prepared for tomorrow, but I do have a “Bible Boot Camp” to finish by Wed. Plus, I like to keep Saturday nights before a sermon calm. Should I stay here at the hotel or go have fun with the wife and kids?
Wait! Don’t you answer as I am going to look to the inspired word of God to find out what he wants me to do…
Here is where I “landed” (seriously):
“So Jonathan told David saying, “Saul my father is seeking to put you to death. Now therefore, please be on guard in the morning, and stay in a secret place and hide yourself.” (1Sam: 19:2)
In the morning, I have to preach. I believe that God is telling me to stay away from the crowds and business of “The Main Event” so that I will “be on guard” in the morning. I need to “hide” myself in the Lord. Therefore, sorry Kristie, the Lord has instructed me not to go.
Of course many of you will immediately see the fallacy here. You will recognize that this has nothing to do with me in my immediate circumstance. Nothing to do with The Main Event and nothing to do with priorities. I have to read into the Scripture (eisegesis) what is going on in my life. This was a completely irresponsible use of Scripture.
If I am going to do this, why bother using the Scriptures? Why not use the television program guide here at the hotel? Why not use the “Big Gulp” sign on the side of my soda? If we are going to take things out of context, disregarding the circumstances of the past, why do we need the Bible? God can use anything!
The fact is that while the Bible speaks to many things, it does not speak to everything in every verse. It is not a magic book that can be manipulated in such a way. The verse above is part of the narrative of the Davidic rise. It has meaning only when understood in that context. Even if it is in the Bible, it does not tell me whether or not to go to The Main Event.
What did it mean then?
What does it mean for all time (if anything)?
How does it apply to me?