AskDefine | Define exegesis

Dictionary Definition

exegesis n : an explanation or critical interpretation (especially of the Bible) [also: exegeses (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl grc ἐξήγισις < ἐξηγεῖσθαι < ἐξ + ἡγεῖσθαι.


  1. A formal written exposition or explanatory essay especially of a scripture or other religious text.

Related terms


formal written exposition or explanatory essay
  • Dutch: exegese, uitlegging
  • Portuguese: exegese

See also

Extensive Definition

Exegesis (from the Greek 'to lead out') involves an extensive and critical interpretation of an authoritative text, especially of a holy scripture, such as of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Talmud, the Midrash, the Qur'an, etc. Exegesis also is used to describe the elucidation of philosophical and legal texts.
One may encounter the terms exegesis and hermeneutics used interchangeably; however, there remains a distinction. An exegesis is the interpretation and understanding of a text on the basis of the text itself. A hermeneutic is a practical application of a certain method or theory of interpretation, often revolving around the contemporary relevance of the text in question.


An exegete is a practitioner of this art, and the adjectival form is exegetic. The plural of the word exegesis is exegeses.
The word exegesis can mean explanation, but as a technical term it means "to draw the meaning out of" a given text. Exegesis may be contrasted with eisegesis, which means to read one's own interpretation into a given text. In general, exegesis presumes an attempt to view the text objectively, while eisegesis implies more subjectivity.
Traditional exegesis requires the following: analysis of significant words in the text in regard to translation; examination of the general historical and cultural context, confirmation of the limits of the passage, and lastly, examination of the context within the text. Although the most widely-known exegeses concern themselves with Christian, Jewish and Islamic books, analyses also exist of books of other religions.


see also Biblical hermeneutics
According to some forms of Christianity, two different forms of exegesis exist: revealed and rational.
  • Revealed exegesis considers that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the scriptural texts, and so the words of those texts convey a divine revelation.
  • Rational exegesis bases its operation on the idea that the authors have their own inspiration, so their works result from human intelligence.
A common published form of a biblical exegesis is known as a 'bible commentary' and typically takes the form of an encyclopedia-like set of books each of which are devoted to the exposition of one or two books of the bible, in the order they appear in the Bible. Long books such as Psalms may be split over 2 or 3 volumes while short books such as 1, 2 and 3 John may be conflated into one volume. The form of each book is identical, consisting of a background and introductory section, following by detailed commentary of the book in a verse-by-verse basis (split up either into chapters or smaller units of text). Before the 20th Century, a commentary would be written by a sole author, but today a publishing board will commission a team of scholars to write a commentary, with each volume being divided out among them. A single commentary will generally attempt to give a coherent and unified view on the bible as a whole, for example, from a Catholic or Reformed perspective, or a commentary that focuses on textual or historical considerations. However, each volume will inevitably lean toward the personal emphasis of its author, and within any commentaries there may be great variety in the depth, accuracy and critical strength of each volume.

Roman Catholic traditions

Roman Catholic centres of biblical exegesis include:

Protestant traditions

For more than a century, German universities such as Tübingen have had reputations as centres of exegesis; in the USA, the Divinity Schools in Chicago, Harvard and Yale became famous.
Robert A. Traina's book Methodical Bible Study has become influential in the field of Protestant Christian exegesis. Many regarded it as the standard text describing the inductive approach to interpreting the English-language Bible.


Traditional Jewish forms of exegesis appear throughout rabbinic literature, which includes the Mishnah, the two Talmuds, and the midrash literature.
Jewish exegetes have the title meforshim (commentators).


The Midrash is an exposition of biblical exegesis of the Pentateuch and its paragraphs related to Law, which also forms an object of analysis. The Halakhah comprises an exegesis of the written Law. The Aggadah is an exegesis of the parts of the Pentateuch not connected with Law.
The Bible exegesis of the Tannaim and the Amoraim, which may be best designated as exegesis of the Midrash, was a product of natural growth and of great freedom in the treatment of the words of the Bible. But it proved an obstacle to further development when, endowed with the authority of a sacred tradition in the Talmud and in the Midrash collections edited subsequently to the Talmud, it became the sole source for the interpretation of the Bible among later generations. The traditional literature contains explanations that are in harmony with the wording and the context. It reflects evidence of linguistic sense, judgment, and an insight into the peculiarities and difficulties of the Bible text. But side by side with these elements of a natural and simple Bible exegesis, of value even to-day, the traditional literature contains an even larger mass of expositions removed from the actual meaning of the text.
In the halakic as well as in the haggadic exegesis the expounder endeavored not so much to seek the original meaning of the text as to find authority in some Bible passage for the concepts and ideas, the rules of conduct and teachings, for which he wished to have a Biblical foundation. To this were added, on the one hand, the belief that the words of the Bible had many meanings, and, on the other, the importance attached to the smallest portion, the slightest peculiarity of the text. Because of this the exegesis of the Midrash strayed further and further away from a natural and common-sense interpretation.
The Midrash exegesis was largely in the nature of homiletics, expounding the Bible not in order to investigate its actual meaning and to understand the documents of the past. This was done to find religious edification, moral instruction, and sustenance for the thoughts and feelings of the present. The contrast between the explanation of the literal sense and the Midrash, that did not follow the words, was recognized by the Tannaim and the Amoraim. Although their idea of the literal meaning of a Biblical passage may not be allowed by more modern standards. The above-mentioned tanna, Ishmael b. Elisha, said, rejecting an exposition of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus: "Truly, you say to Scripture, 'Be silent while I am expounding!'" (Sifra on Lev. xiii. 49).
The tannaitic exegesis distinguishes principally between the actual deduction of a thesis from a Bible passage as a means of proving a point, and the use of such a passage as a mere mnemonic device, a distinction that was also made in a different form later in the Babylonian schools. The Babylonian Amoraim were the first to use the expression "Peshaṭ." () to designate the primary sense, contrasting it with the "Derash," the Midrashic exegesis. These two terms were later on destined to become important features in the history of Jewish Bible exegesis. In Babylonia was formulated the important principle that the Midrashic exegesis could not annul the primary sense. This principle subsequently became the watchword of the common-sense Bible exegesis. How little it was known or recognized may be seen from the admission of Kahana, a Babylonian amora of the fourth century, that while at eighteen years of age he had already learned the whole Mishnah, he had only heard of that principle a great many years later (Shab. 63a). Kahana's admission is characteristic of the centuries following the final redaction of the Talmud. The primary meaning is no longer considered, but it becomes more and more the fashion to interpret the text according to the meaning given to it in traditional literature. The ability and even the desire for original investigation of the text succumbed to the overwhelming authority of the Midrash. It was, therefore, providential that, just at the time when the Midrash was paramount, the close study of the text of the Bible, at least in one direction, was pursued with rare energy and perseverance by the careful Masorites, who set themselves the task of preserving and transmitting the pronunciation and correct reading of the text. By introducing punctuation (vowel-points and accents) into the Biblical text, in the seventh century, they supplied that protecting hedge which, according to Rabbi Akiba's saying, the Masorah was to be for the words of the Bible. Punctuation, on the one hand, protected the tradition from being forgotten, and, on the other, was the precursor of an independent Bible science to be developed in a later age.


The Mikra, the fundamental part of the national science, was the subject of the primary instruction. It was also divided into the three historic groups of the books of the Bible: the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. The intelligent reading and comprehension of the text, arrived at by a correct division of the sentences and words, formed the course of instruction in the Bible. The scribes were also required to know the Targum, the Aramaic translation of the text. The Targum made possible an immediate comprehension of the text, but was continuously influenced by the exegesis taught in the schools. The synagogues were preeminently the centers for instruction in the Bible and its exegesis. The reading of the Biblical text, which was combined with that of the Targum, served to widen the knowledge of the scholars learned in the first division of the national science. The scribes found the material for their discourses, which formed a part of the synagogue service, in the second division of the several branches of the tradition. The Haggadah, the third of these branches, especially furnished the material for the sermon.
Jewish exegesis did not finish with the redaction of the Talmud, but continued during ancient times, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; it remains a subject of study today. Jews have centres for exegetic studies around the world, in each community: they consider exegesis an important tool for the understanding of the Scriptures.


An Islamic Exegesis of the Qur'an is named Tafsir, and it constituted a large field of the Islamic studies.

Exegesis in a secular context

Several universities, including the Sorbonne in Paris, Leiden University, and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Free University of Brussels), put exegesis in a secular context, next to exegesis in a religious tradition. Secular exegesis is an element of the study of religion.


Old Testament Introductions

Richard Simon (Paris, 1678; second edition, Rotterdam, 1685); Carpzov, (Leipzig, 1714-21); Semler, (Halle, 1773); Eichhorn, (Leipzig, 1780-83, fourth edition, 1823); Jahn, (Vienna, 1793; second edition, 1802-03); Augusti (Leipzig, 1806); De Wette (Berlin, 1817; seventh edition, 1852; eighth edition by Schrader, 1869); Hug (Stuttgart, 1808; fourth edition, 1847); Bertholdt (Erlangen, 1812-19); H&#228;vernick (Erlangen, 1835; second edition, 1854); Horne (London, 1818; ninth edition, 1846); Glaire (Paris, 1839 ff.); Herbst&#45;Welte (Freiberg, 1840-44); Hupfeld (Halle, 1859); Keil (Frankfort, 1855; third edition, 1873); Bleek (Berlin, 1860; third edition by Kamphausen, Berlin, 1870; fourth edition by Wellhausen, 1878; also sixth edition, 1893); Kuenen (Leyden 1861-65; second edition, 1887; of part iii by Matthes, 1893); Davidson (London, 1862); Lamy (Mechlin, 1866&#45;68); F&#246;rst (Leipzig 1867&#45;70); Kaulen (Freiburg, 1876 ff.; fourth edition, 1912); Ubaldi (Rome, 1877&#45;81); Strack (Nordlingen, 1882; sixth edition, 1906); Reuss (Brunswick, 1881, 1890); Robertson Smith (Edinburgh, 1881; second edition, 1892); Vatke (edited by Preiss, Bonn, 1886); Riehm (edited by Brandt, Leipzig, 1889); Driver (Edinburgh, 1891; ninth edition, 1910); Cornill (Freiburg, 1891; eighth edition, 1914); K&#246;nig (Bonn, 1893); Wildeboer (Groningen, 1893); Cornely (Paris, 1894&#45;97); Briggs (New York, 1899); Baudissin, (Leipzig, 1901); Budde (Leipzig, 1906); Gautier (Lausanne, 1906); Bennett and Adeney (London, 1908); Sellin (Leipzig, 1911, 1914); Fowler (Boston, 1913); G. F. Moore (New York, 1913).

New Testament Introductions

Richard Simon (Rotterdam, 1689); Semler, (Halle, 1767); J. D. Michaelis (G&#246;ttingen, 1788); Eichhorn (Leipzig, 1804-14; third edition, 1827); J. E. C. Schmidt (Giessen, 1804-05); Hug (Freiburg, 1808; fourth edition, 1847); Bertholdt (Erlangen, 1808; 1812&#45;19); De Wette (Berlin, 1826; fifth edition, 1848); Horne (London, 1818; tenth edition by Tragelles, 1856); Credner (Halle, 1836); Reuss (Brunswick, 1842; sixth edition, 1887); Scholz (Cologne, 1845); Scholten (Leyden, 1856); Bleek (Berlin, 1862; third edition, Berlin, 1875; by Mangold, and also fourth, 1886); Davidson (London, 1868; third edition, 1894); Hilgenfeld (Halle, 1875); Kaulen (Freiburg, 1876; fourth edition, 1912); Salmon (London, 1885; eighth edition, 1897); Holtzmann (Freiburg, 1885; third edition, 1892); B. Weiss (Berlin, 1886; third edition, 1897); Rovers (Leyden, 1888); Cornely (Paris, 1894&#45;97); Zahn (Leipzig, 1897, 1900); Bacon (New York, 1900); J&#246;licher (Leipzig, 1894; sixth edition, 1906); Godet (Neuch&#226;tel, 1893); Baljon (Utrecht, 1901); Belser (Freiburg, 1902); Jacquier (Paris, 1903&#45;08); Von Soden (Berlin, 1905); Wrede (Leipzig, 1907); Barth (Berlin, 1908); Gregory (Leipzig, 1909); Peake (London, 1909); Moffatt (New York, 1911); Feine, Leipzig, 1913).
Other works: Hody, De Bibliorum Textibus (Oxford, 1705); Wolf, Bibliotheca Hebraica (Jena, 1715&#45;33), continued by K&#246;cher as Nova Bibliotheca hebraica (Jena, 1783&#45;84); Rosenm&#252;ller, Historia Interpretationis Librorum Sacrorum (Hildsburgshausen, 1795&#45;1814); Geiger, Urschrift und Uebersetzungen (Breslau, 1857); F&#252;rst, Bibliotheca Judaica (Leipzig, 1863); Diestel, Geschichte des Alten Testaments in der chrislichen Kirche (jena, 1869); Farrar, The History of Interpretation (London, 1886); Z&#246;ckler, Handbuch der theologischen Wissenschaften N&#246;rdlingen, 1890); Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretic Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible (London, 1897); Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (London, 1900); Nestle, Einf&#252;hrung in das griechische Neue Testament (Leipzig, 1897, 1909); Pfleiderer, Das Urchristenum (Berlin, 1886, 1902); Bertholet and A. Meyer, article "Bibelwissenschaft" in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (T&#252;bingen, 1909).
exegesis in Czech: Exegeze
exegesis in German: Exegese
exegesis in Spanish: Exégesis
exegesis in Esperanto: Ekzegezo
exegesis in French: Exégèse
exegesis in Croatian: Egzegeza
exegesis in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Exegese
exegesis in Hungarian: Egzegézis
exegesis in Dutch: Exegese
exegesis in Polish: Egzegeza
exegesis in Portuguese: Exegese
exegesis in Romanian: Exegeză
exegesis in Russian: Экзегетика
exegesis in Finnish: Eksegetiikka
exegesis in Ukrainian: Екзегетика

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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