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Crash Course on Exegesis: Interpreting the Word

Posted by Axis on February 05, 2021

God’s Word is a gift we get to use to learn, grow, and connect with Him on a deep level. But let’s be real, sometimes it’s hard to understand what the heck is going on in the Bible! There are so many stories, parallels to be made, instances of symbolism—and we don’t always know what it all means. That’s where exegesis comes in, aka “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.”

When we understand how to interpret the Bible, we can better come to know the character of our God. So, without further ado, let’s go over the purpose and importance of exegesis, and how you can apply it to your own studying. And, as always, share this with your teen and start enjoying a deeper walk together!

Why use exegesis?

First of all, it’s important to mention that this is not reserved for scholars and professors. Anyone can utilize exegesis to better interpret the Word in their own personal study. The idea of exegesis is to look at scripture through the lens of the original context. Oftentimes we read Scripture through the lens of our own experiences and the modern-day world. And this is natural! When reading Scripture, we want to apply it to our lives and find ourselves in the stories being told; however, there is a difference between applying it to our lives and assuming the contexts are the same.

Exegesis encourages us to discover the truth of the matter: Who is involved in this story? What would the culture dynamics have been like in their day? What texts did they have access to at the time of this passage? What is the literary style used? How does this passage fit in with the Bible as a whole? All of these questions take the focus off of ourselves and onto what the passage is actually saying, allowing the Word to inspire us, not us inspiring the Word to fit what we think it means. 

When we start using our own interpretations, that’s when we get into eisegesis, or “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas.” Eisegesis implies a corruption of Scripture, used by those who want to twist it in order to fulfill their own agendas. Of course, if we’re simply reading the Bible on our own and unknowingly misinterpret a verse, we’re not ultimately intending corruption. But this is why exegesis is essential: it gives us the guidance to discover the truth in Scripture.

How to interpret the Word

Now that we understand what exegesis is and why it’s useful in studying the Bible, let’s discuss how you can put this into practice. We encourage you to explore this for yourself, then ask your teen to join in!

  1. Commentaries. You can purchase a hard copy of a commentary (we suggest The MacArthur Bible Commentary) or find a commentary that you like online (try Enduring Word, or one from this free collection from Bible Gateway). This is key in exegesis is it provides important context for what was actually happening at the time of the passage. Commentaries look at the historical and cultural contexts as well as any parallels or important connections to be drawn from other areas of the bible.
  2. OIA. This stands for “Observe,” “Interpret,” and “Apply.” First, make observations about the passage: who’s involved in the story, unknown words or cultural artifacts, any questions you may have, repeated words, etc. Next, interpret based on the cultural and scriptural contexts. This is where you can bring in one of the commentaries listed above. Use your resources to discover the context of the passage and what the story/Scripture would’ve meant to the people of that time. And lastly, apply the message to your own life. Once you’ve gone through and answered questions and found the true meaning of the passage, find ways to apply those principles to your own life.

We hope this brings about a desire to know God’s word more accurately. Share this with your kid and start reading something in the Bible together. Ask them if there are any books or passages that they’re interested in—maybe one that they’ve always found confusing—and utilize exegesis to better understand what God’s word is really saying.

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