If only we could see how often we abuse the Bible (and therefore, its Author) in an effort to bolster and justify our personal views and proclivities. The process is called “isogesis” – presupposing our own interpretation and views and “reading them into” a passage of Scripture when they are not actually there. The goal, of course, is “exegesis” – extracting God’s meaning from a passage of Scripture by allowing that text to speak for itself. Knowing which we are doing when we are reading or quoting the Bible is critical.
Unfortunately, it is our tendency to bring our preexisting understanding of what God is like, our valuations of the world and culture, our beliefs about right and wrong into a passage expecting to find it there even when it’s not. We do this most often by injecting assumed definitions of words into the passage we are reading. We are not tenacious enough to insist that biblical words be defined by the Bible instead of assuming their definitions based on our interaction with our parents, our childhood church, pop culture, our American democracy, our social institutions or any number of personal twenty-first century experiences. Avoiding this tendency is what makes Bible study so challenging. Here we find ourselves confronted with an inspired document that was delivered against the backdrop of a language and culture that is now two thousand to thirty-five hundred years past.
This is why we can’t just plop our finger on the page and ask, “What does this verse mean to me?” If we don’t know a text’s historical, literary and grammatical context we are bound to become isogetes and not exegetes. So, let’s do our homework, avoiding “Bible abuse” by expending the necessary effort to derive biblical principles after we have understood the original context and the biblical definition of words.