Sunday, February 19, 2017

Looking at All Sides (Exegesis vs Eisegesis)

Perception can be a tricky thing. What we might adamantly insist is true is immediately dispelled once all sides are examined. Three examples of this are the following GIF files:

In the first instance, I would have concluded that the two yellow squares are side by side in the same plane. In the second, if the GIF had been reversed, I would have concluded I was looking at a glass of water on a piece of paper. Finally, the third instance is probably the most pertinent to this article. One person standing at one angle would adamantly swear the letters spell “LISTEN” while a second person, standing just a few feet away, would insist the letters spell “SILENT.” The only thing that cleared up the matter in all cases was looking at it from all sides. One angle compared to all angles is the difference between eisegesis (a preferred, narrow view) and exegesis (a study that looks at all perspectives to arrive at the correct conclusion). In the above, the correct conclusion is that they are all optical illusions – not the reality they seem to be.

An individual I know observed that: “Eisegesis is evidenced in many of the dogmas of Roman Catholicism, and also in a number of 'Christian' fringe groups, and in Mormonism, and in virtually any aberrant cult in existence, and for any number of biblically-baseless beliefs floating around today.” Also included in his estimation is “the fact that the practice of eisegesis is also very much in evidence in Watchtower theology.”

The individual that made those statements has long taken to task the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and will talk with any adherent that gives him an ear. A few times I’ve grown very frustrated with him, even losing my temper. At least twice I’ve tried reasoning with him that if he takes such principled offense at our teachings, he should pay attention to Jesus’ words at Matthew 15:14, the crux of which is to “leave them alone, ignore them, disregard them,” or (finally), as the NWT puts it: "Let them be.” Jesus recognized it does no good to argue or even “discuss” with those whose minds are made up. Further, Paul’s advice at 2 Timothy 2:23 tells us to “try to keep out of foolish and half-educated arguments, knowing that they breed quarrels.”

And indeed, as “polite” as that man sounds, it is very evident that he knows his contentious stand will get a rise out of us. (I’ve even tried considering the possibility that he doesn’t know his ways are contentious. But he keeps coming back with accusations. That to me is contentious.) The rest of what Paul said in that passage (vs 24 through 26) advises true Christians to keep calm, not just on the outside but inside as well. Admittedly, I have not been a stellar example in that, which is one reason I’d rather just let it go…but he keeps commenting on my blog and I’ve always been a tenacious bulldog when it comes to protecting what is mine (my well-researched and studied beliefs). But let’s start over. I wanted to examine first the term he used and then how I feel it is unwarranted that he applied it to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Eisegesis is defined as: “The process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agenda, or biases into and onto the text.” This is contrasted with the positive and noble effort of exegesis. So it is one thing to throw baseless accusations. It is another thing to prove it. Having studied with and been an active member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for over 40 years, here are my observations:

Presuppositions: The only presupposition I am aware that we employ is the Holy Bible is the only and final authority for what should be believed AND that God does not contradict Himself, regardless of which human transcriber (Bible writer) he used. The modern-day religion now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses started when a small group of adults realized that the churches of the day were not holding true to the Bible. It was their noble goal to search scriptures and attempt to formulate what is true by ensuring their yet-forming beliefs were not disproven by another scripture. For example, if they read one scripture that seemed to give one impression, but another scripture would seem to disprove it, they would make note of it and then research it further to ensure their beliefs conformed with what God’s Word really taught as opposed to what they may have been ignorantly, wrongly convinced. Now admittedly, there were some bumps and hiccups and even as recent as the last decade, refinements have been made to make God’s Word true even if it makes every man a liar. While some may find fault with this, the correct conclusion should be that we are humble enough to admit when we are wrong. How many religions can you say that about?

Agenda: Again, the only agenda I am aware of is the preaching of the Good News of God’s Kingdom. We don’t demand a tithe so getting wealthy cannot be the hidden agenda. We are still a very small people, so size is not an agenda. If we forced people to stay with us, that might be an agenda. But we do not do that. If someone wants to leave, there is nothing holding them back.

Biases: The term “bias” itself suggests subjectivity. So let’s set the baseline. It is defined as: “Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” To put this in context of our discussion, the bias being referred to here is an unfair treatment of God’s Word. In the quote from the man at the outset, I definitely agree that it is unfair that Catholics have replaced God’s Word with human dogma, ceremonies, and rituals. It is unfair to God that Catholics have elevated Mary (the human mother of Jesus) to an intercessor for mankind (often in complete replacement of Jesus as mankind’s savior). I also agree it is unfair that Mormons have replaced God’s Word with the Book of Mormon and other uninspired and dubious writings. (And to any Mormon that may be reading this, I have asked Mormons coming to my door if they have read the Bible. Their answer is always “no.”) In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not employ rituals, ceremonies or dogma, not even as an adjunct to our beliefs. The official stand is that the Bible is our main textbook. (Reference 1, Reference 2, Reference 3)

Even the negative application of the first word in that definition is not applicable to Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Prejudice.” Unlike other religions who truly do not regard the Bible as sacred or worth living our lives by, we have no such preconceived ideas. If something in God’s Word reproves us, we take the reproof and change. Now do not for one moment conclude I think we are perfect – no way is that true. All humans are imperfect. But as a collection of official beliefs, we make every attempt to stick to the Bible. Many, including the man that wrote me, feel we have mistreated the doctrines of the Bible, but they have never been successful in proving that claim. The scriptures they use demonstrate they have not closely considered the context, intent of God, or even reasonableness and intelligence. Like the illusions in the introduction, they insist on just one view that would prove them right.

Reference materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses often quote authorities that are not part of our faith. This is done in order to demonstrate that the conclusion(s) we reach are based not on subjective eisegesis but on objective exegesis. Every time that man has assaulted the honor of “the Watchtower,” what he fails to realize is that I have made a thorough search of the beliefs. They are integrally part of my life. So when he throws accusations at my religion, I consider it a personal assault to my well-researched beliefs, which, unto this very day, no one has ever successfully discredited (except for maybe in their own self-approving mind). Then, when I consider the actions and life of my accusers, I feel vindicated. So coming back to the optical illusions introduction, it is my firm belief that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who have examined what the Bible teaches, examined what people claim, looked at what made the most sense based on evidence, and then formed their beliefs to the real truth of the matters of God and what the Bible’s teachings are.

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