The Bible is a massive collection of writings, and we must investigate and interpret each passage to understand what it says. There are two primary ways of doing this.
All genuine scholars know that study of biblical passages begins with exegesis, which is determining what the passage actually says. We do this by careful analysis of the passage’s original language using tools by language experts. Context is also involved.
Unfortunately, most of us are unable to do this. But we can access the works of exegetical scholars (I recommend Anchor Bible Commentaries). Keep in mind that most commentaries are NOT exegetical, so choose appropriately.
Eisegesis is reading our presuppositions and our theological perspectives INTO a passage. A lot of believers read the Bible this way without realizing it. Eisegesis is not a satisfactory way of understanding the biblical text.
I don’t remember where I encountered the term ‘narcigesis’ but I resonated with it as soon as I saw it. Upon further reading I discovered that it’s actually used several ways, but my use here is a simple one: Narcigesis is the belief that the Bible is written for YOU.
As we ignore the original audience and the author’s intent, we think each passage is God’s message to us personally. But this is not the case; the Bible was not written for us. Remember those devotionals that ask us to find a personal application from every passage? This is misguided; most passages don’t apply to us at all.
But wait! If the Bible is not written for us, then for whom was it written? Here are some examples.
The Old Testament
Each biblical author wrote to a particular audience. Most Old Testament books were addressed to the Israelites. Some tried to explain Israelite history, often to glorify their history over neighboring nations.
Other authors wrote to tell the Israelites, or their kings, how displeased they thought God was with their actions. In addition, there are philosophical books, inspiring stories, and other genres, but all books of the Old Testament were written or collected for the Israelites.
None was written or collected for US.
The very creative and prolific Paul influenced the church tremendously. He wrote letters to specific congregations he founded during his missionary journeys, such as Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. He also wrote to the church at Rome.
Wow! Some of the things Paul wrote are absolutely powerful even today! He had tremendous insights. But some things he wrote are of value only to the congregations whom he addressed and are of little value to us today in a different time and culture.
Sometimes we look over Paul’s shoulder as he writes to his audiences and can benefit from his thinking. But he did NOT write his letters to us, and they are NOT divine truths for us to follow.
The Book of Revelation
The mysterious book of Revelation is very exciting; there is lots of action, drama, and strange stuff happening. It’s like an early science-fiction movie, but it is a story with a purpose.
Revelation was written to believers being persecuted by the Roman Empire. A clue is found in the letters to the seven churches of chapters 1-3. These churches are all near Ephesus in Asia Minor, so perhaps the occasion was a local persecution in that area.
It seems that the persecution was so intense that believers thought the church might be totally destroyed; but the author of Revelation wrote his story of fire and thunder to encourage them that the church would survive and be victorious.
This book does not reveal information about the end-times but concerns persecution in the early years of Christianity. It was NOT written to us and has little to do with us today, though any time believers are in despair from persecution it reminds us that Jesus and the kingdom of God will ultimately prevail.
The most important part of the Bible for us is the Gospels, which is the story of Jesus written from the memories of his earliest followers. But each author wrote to a different audience. Mark is a general introduction to the actions of Jesus, perhaps written from the preaching of Peter for the churches he influenced.
Matthew appears directed to Jewish believers of the first century and Luke-Acts to gentile believers. John seems written from the preaching of John for the churches under his influence to confirm what he believed and preached.
The Gospels were NOT written to us.
Even Jesus, himself, addressed specific audiences in the limited areas where he traveled. Some of what he said was limited to the audience and occasion in which he said it.
However, one of his audiences was his followers; some of what he told them was limited and personal, but some things he said were general in nature and, by extension, applicable to his followers in all times. But we still must consider the culture and context in which he spoke.
The Bible was NOT Written to Us
We are very fortunate to have the writings of the Bible, but we must remember that the authors wrote to other audiences—and not to us. This does not mean we cannot benefit from what the authors say to other audiences, but we cannot assume that everything in the Bible applies to us. This is why the Bible cannot be a book of rules, promises, or life lessons for us to follow today.
So try to read the Bible better and avoid narcigesis!
The Bible is Not a Magical Book
The Bible is very important to us who are believers. But attributing supernatural powers to the Bible is superstition based on unreasonable expectations. The power of the Bible is in the life and teaching of Jesus–and this power is real. Superstitious uses of the Bible emphasize the book over its message.
Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You
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