Friday, October 23, 2020


 Eisegesis sounds pretentious, but it's a real word. It means "reading in." It's adding something into the text because we expect it to be there, or we want it to be there. It's a hard trap to avoid, because it's hard to see and identify our own biases and preconceptions.

A few years ago, I read an article online where someone referenced the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3–9), calling it the "parable of the soils." That's not the first time I've heard that title, nor the last. But in this case, I commented on the article, asking why the person had called it "the parable of the soils" when the Lord called it "the parable of the sower" (Matthew 13:18). The author responded:

The reason why I (and I assume others also) have referred to it as the parable of the soils is to focus upon the main thrust of the passage – the ground on which the seed was thrown. The emphasis by the Lord leans heavily toward the condition of the soil where the seed was sown, representing the four different heart responses to the Gospel message. In no way (at least with me) is it meant to counter the words of our Lord or to redirect the teaching.

I didn't follow up on that response, because I wasn't interested in fight on a comment thread. But it's been more than five years since that exchange, and as I've thought it over, it hasn't gotten less troubling. 

Note: I'm not going to link to the article, nor to the comment thread, because I'm not trying to embarrass anyone. It shouldn't be too hard to find, if you want to fact-check me on it. If you can't find it, email me and I can send you a link. 

As far as I can tell, the Lord gave exactly one of His parables a title. He told many, many parables; but this appears to be the only one He titled. Since we agree that the title of the parable focuses our attention to a specific element of the story, it's self-evident that the emphasis by the Lord is not on the soils at all, but on the sower. That's why He called it "the parable of the sower."

And this is what I mean by reading something into a passage. Doing something as small as giving a parable a title seems to be harmless, but it's not. Does this person really think the Lord missed the main thrust of the passage? I'm sure he doesn't, but it's what he actually said in that response.

So we can think more highly of ourselves than we ought, or we can use this as a teachable moment for ourselves. We can ask, "where do I read things into the Scripture?"

For years I thought that the Lord taught we should do good works so that men and women would see them and believe. But that's not what the Lord said. He said, "Let your light thus shine before men, so that they may see your upright works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens" (Matthew 5:16). Why did I think that verse was teaching that good works would lead someone to repent? It's not in the text, it was only there in my mind. To be fair, it was likely because I had heard others misquote that verse all my life; but we can fairly say that I misread that verse, because I thought I knew what it was supposed to say.

I wasn't allowing the Scripture to speak to me, I was trying to finish the Lord's sentences!

So where else am I doing this? I'm sure there are many places in Scripture where I am finishing the Lord's sentences. I'm sure there are many places where I just assume I know what the text is going to say. 


1 comment:

HandWrittenWord said...

Every word of God is pure:
He is a shield unto them that
put their trust in Him.
Add thou not unto His words,
lest He reprove thee,
and thou be found a liar.
(Proverbs 30:5-6)