Biblical Interpretation (Part 3): Grammatical Definitions
In the previous post we were introduced with the concept that words are polymorphic. This means that words can have several definitions or meanings. We also noted that context and word usage should be used to determine the proper definition of any given word. In this post we will further explore this concept by showing the difference between grammatical definitions of words and theological ones and how many Christians often practice what is known as eisegesis instead of exegesis. Now what is the difference between eisegesis and exegesis?
Exegesis is reading out of a text. It comes from the Greek "ex" which means "out." So we practice exegesis when we let the Bible speak for itself and read out of the text.
Eisegesis, on the other hand, is reading into a text. It comes from the Greek "eis" which means "in." So we practice eisegesis when we read into the Bible our own ideas with no Scriptural support for those ideas.
Now often the terms "exegesis" and "eisegesis" are used in reference to interpreting passages of Scripture. But many Christians practice eisegesis on individual words without even knowing it! I have done it without even knowing it! What happens is that we get a theological definition of a word in our heads and then plug that defintion automatically into every occurence of that word in the Bible when what we should do is obtain the grammatical defintion of the word. So what are the differences between grammatical and theological definitions?
Grammatical definitions of words are meanings that are obtained grammatically - from the text! It is when we read the word in it’s context and examine it’s usage to determine the proper definition.
Theological definitions of words are meanings that we have obtained from our previous studies and in reality are only single meanings of many possible meanings. When we define words theologically, we end up defining every occurence of that word with the same definition - often without realizing it!
Let me give an example of how we often define words theologically rather than grammatically. Take the word "save" or "salvation." Now grammatically, the word simply means to "rescue," "deliver," or "preserve." But when we study the Bible, we find that often the word means specifically to save from hell and when a person is saved he or she is granted eternal life with God the Father in heaven. So our theological definition of the words "save" and "salvation" become something like:
"To redeem from sin and it’s eternal consequences in hell and to be given the gift of eternal life in heaven."
Then what we end up doing is whenever we see the word "save" in the Bible we automatically read that theological definition into it, often without realizing it! So then we have a serious problem when we are reading through 1 Timothy and come to the following verse:
"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." - 1 Timothy 2:15
So if we define the word "saved" in that verse theologically, we would come to the conclusion that unless a woman has children, she cannot be saved from hell and possess eternal life! But if we read the context we will find out that it is talking about a totally different type of being "saved." It has nothing to do with the possession of eternal life, that is not what the context is about. This is why we want to define words grammatically rather than theologically.