Christianity 201

June 19, 2014

Exegesis and Isogesis

Taking Bible Verses Out of Context

Mark 4:22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” 24a “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued.

II Tim. 2:14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

While you’re scratching your head wondering what today’s title means, I’ll tell you that today’s article is by Paul Burleson, who we featured here six months ago, and who has been in pastoral ministry for 54 years.  He has some scripture examples in the text of some of the problems in Bible interpretation you or someone you know might encounter.  Click the title below to read at his blog.


There is a two-headed coin often used with Bible verses that leave both sides losing. With neither side of this coin, is there a, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” as a favorite friend of mine loves to say when the OKC Thunder or OU wins,  [I say it with her, by the way.]

Let me explain the two-sides first.

One side of the coin [heads we’ll call it] is fragmenting a verse. This means taking a PORTION of the verse or taking a verse ALONE, without it’s context, and applying it to situations, or worse, quoting it TO someone as if it’s the answer to whatever is troubling or discouraging them.

A case in point is that Matthew 18:20 verse where Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.” This is usually used to assure people, preachers are especially guilty here, that when only a few people show up for church services, be assured God is there, so all is well. I’m sure He is present since He is, in fact, Omnipresent. But that isn’t the meaning of the verse in context. More on the meaning in a moment.

The other side of the coin [tails we’ll call it] is what is called “isogesis” which means to read INTO a verse something not intended, as opposed to “exegesis” which means to take FROM a verse the meaning that is there in language and context. Isogesis is really nothing more than introducing one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into the meaning a verse instead of taking out of the verse what the language and writer are actually saying. In Bible study or knowledge, were you to flip this coin, either side will come up a loser.

Now to the meaning of the Matthew 18:20 verse. The real meaning is found in the context which is where someone as a believer has been willing to personally confront another believer over an issue and they didn’t respond very well. But the problem is so serious they were willing to take someone with them as they go again.  The verse is saying in THAT context God is with you and in a very meaningful way. If you’ve ever been in that situation, and I have, it’s really encouraging to say the least.

No one is saying that God ISN’T where two or three believers have gathered to worship. He really is. It isn’t WRONG to assure the people that HE IS THERE. Just don’t quote the Matthew 18:20 verse as if it’s the Bible PROOF He’s present in a poorly attended meeting. It means something far deeper and grander than that.

Another example

That I can ACHIEVE “anything,” when I’m trusting God as my strength, is taken as an absolute promise by some people. To prove that, they quote Philippians 4:13, which happens to be my life-verse by the way.

The problem is this verse is NOT dealing with ACHIEVING anything.

People are usually thinking about scoring touchdowns or making a basket in a championship game. Or worse, charging things on a credit card trusting God for the ability to pay later or making an effort to get someone to change their bad behavior because they desire them to and are helping them. Because God is my strength I can do this, is their thinking, this verse says so!

But that isn’t in the ballpark of what Paul was saying. He had faced hard times, many times, and had found that he could endure being rich or poor, hungry or filled, and in context, in prison or out of prison, and no matter THE CIRCUMSTANCES, he found the wherewithal to face them because of the Lord being his Life. For Paul, the issue wasn’t “I can achieve anything,” but one of “I can endure anything.”

What a difference the context makes. No one is saying the former thought, achieving some good thing, is a WRONG thing. [On second thought maybe it is if you’re thinking you can sow wild oats and NOT reap a harvest.] It just can’t be proven with this verse and be getting the true meaning of what is being said by Paul to the Philippians. For THAT you HAVE to see it in context.

1 Comment »

  1. When we see Him….when we perceive, understand, and confidently know Him…we shall be like Him.
    It is written that we have the mind of Christ, some think that is so as to do or to build in the kingdom of God. But I believe that the greater meaning is to have the mind of Christ to do the will of the Father. To know Him on a deeper level and then shall those who know their God shall do exploits.

    Comment by sylviamajetich — September 20, 2015 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

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