I was looking over my notes from a “Biblical Theology-NT” class I took something like 13 years ago, taught by Dr. Kevin Daugherty. I will be teaching this same course at a different school as a 1-week module. In my notes there was several reasons why it is dangerous to neglect exegesis, or at least not take it seriously. They are worth sharing I think (I added the 5th one):
The dangers of neglecting exegesis are:
- The danger of assumption: “I don’t need to do proper exegesis because the Holy Spirit will reveal all things to me.” Is that true? Perhaps, perhaps not. Is it a good assumption? Absolutely not. God rarely rewards laziness. And, in fact, laziness is often the unspoken reason behind doing poor research. A second assumption made in this case is the assumption that the individual is able to discern what the Spirit declares a passage to mean, over what the individual wants the passage to mean. Essentially, we are making assumptions about God’s actions that may not be justified, and making assumptions about our own discernment that is absolutely not justified.
- The danger of eisegesis: There is a great danger that one will force upon the text a meaning that is not there. Without attention to the context of the text, the tendency is to interpret Scripture in accordance with our own contexts. The result is that the text is forced to say things it does not really say. It should not be surprising if this kind of “eisegesis” results in interpretations that are pleasing to the reader or confirm him or her own prior beliefs.
- The danger of missed meaning: As a direct result of #2, the real meaning of the text is missed. It may not always mean a wrong theology. In some cases it can be the right theology from the wrong text. The real meaning, further, is then lost– a double loss. For example, Revelation 3:20 is commonly used for evangelism. It sounds right, but almost certainly that is not the meaning of the verse. So good theology (regarding Jesus seeking the lost) is applied to the wrong verse (the first loss), and the real meaning (about God seeking to restore communion with errant churches) is missed (the second loss).
- The danger of lost credibility: We live in a time when alternative interpretations of the Scriptures abound. The Philippines, for example, is flooded by religious groups. Some fit the classic definition of cults, while others are Christian although horribly sloppy in their theology. These groups commonly practice very poor exegesis (and often rely on Christians not having the competence to know better). While it is true that even Christians who practice poor exegesis can be “orthodox” in their theology (“the right theology from the wrong text”), when we practice uncontextual reading, we lose our right to criticize cults when they do the same thing.
- The danger of dependency: In the mission field, it is the responsibility of ministers, layleaders, and missionaries to train up the next generation. This training is not simply in learning the articles of faith, or the catechism, of their denomination. It is to help them study well and to contextualize well. Failure to do this can lead to syncretism or schisms. But it can also lead to dependency, where Christians are unable to study for themselves and so rely on others to study for them. It is scary how many people I come across who explain their beliefs by quoting people on “Christian” television. What a horrible horrible HORRIBLE place to seek godly wisdom. We need to take exegesis seriously so that we can model that and train others to do it for themselves rather than become dependent on others (regardless of whether the “others” are good or bad).
Do you have any thoughts on any other dangers to add?