Difference between hermeneutics and exegesis

What is ‘hermeneutics’?

Hermeneutics is the field of study concerned with the philosophy and science of interpretation — especially the interpretation of communication.

“Biblical hermeneutics” is specifically concerned with the philosophy and science of interpreting the Biblical text. So Biblical hermeneutics would cover all of the following sorts of inquiries and more:

(Theory:) What role does Divine illumination play in the interpretation of Scripture? (cf.)

(Methods:) What process can we follow to determine whether an apparent chiasm was intentional by the author? (cf.)

(Principles:) What are the limits of the Christocentric Principle? (cf.)

What is ‘exegesis’?

Exegesis, as indicated by its etymology, is the act of critically interpreting a text in an attempt to “draw the meaning out” of the text. (This is in contrast to what has come to be know as eisegesis, where one reads his own meaning into the text.)

“Biblical exegesis” is the act of drawing the meaning out of a Biblical text. So Biblical exegesis would cover all of the following sorts of inquiries and more:

(Grammar:) Who is it that “wills” in 1 Corinthians 12:11?

(Terminology:) What does “Under the Sun” mean in Ecclesiastes?

(Referent Identification:) Who is the author of Hebrews quoting in Hebrews 10:38?

(Literary Criticism:) What significance does John perceive in the piercing of Christ’s side and the flow of blood and water?

The relationship between hermeneutics and exegesis

Basically the distinction boils down to this (as it pertains to the Bible*): Hermeneutics is the field of study concerned with how we interpret the Bible. Exegesis is the actual interpretation of the Bible by drawing the meaning out of the Biblical text.

The distinction is not quite as simple as “theory vs. application,” though, since hermeneutics is not just concerned with the philosophy of exegesis, and exegesis is not merely the application of hermeneutical theory — even if we restrict our comparison to Biblical hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this:

Hermeneutics also studies the role of eisegesis in interpretation, which is by definition not part of exegesis.

Hermeneutics considers the role of church doctrine and theology in interpretation — both of which are (often) irrelevant to exegesis.

(Ray explained the challenges with seeing exegesis as “applied hermeneutics” in this meta post.)

So we are sort of comparing apples to… ontology here. In a sense there is no overlap; The focus of exegesis is the text. The focus of hermeneutics is stuff like exegesis… why do we do it? how do we do it? how should we do it? As far as sequence, I suppose it could be argued that since exegesis is “critical” in nature, it implies some scientific method, which implies some prior hermeneutic. That is as far as I think we could go in relating the two sequentially, though.**

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About bodhicap

This is the journal-blog from the Capuchins at Bodhi Institute of Theology, Tillery, Kollam, India.
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One Response to Difference between hermeneutics and exegesis

  1. Eisegesis is what most readers do. Eisegesis is easier, lazier, and more superficial and ultimately selfish than exegesis. Thank you for these new (to me) words. 🙂

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