Christianity Knowledge Base

Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') involves an extensive and critical interpretation of a 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. An exegete is a practitioner of this science, and the adjectival form is exegetic.

The word exegesis 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.

One may encounter the terms exegesis and hermeneutics used interchangeably; however, there remains a distinction. Exegesis is the practical application of hermeneutics, which is the interpretation and understanding of a text on the basis of the text itself.

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. [1]

Although the most widely-known exegeses concern themselves with Christian, Jewish and Islamic books, analyses also exist of books of other religions.


According to some forms of Christianity, two different forms of exegesis exist: revealed and rational.

  • Revealed exegesis considers that the Holy Ghost 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.

Roman Catholic traditions[]

Roman Catholic centres of biblical exegesis include:

  • the School of Jerusalem founded in 1890 by the Dominican order's Marie-Joseph Lagrange. The school became embroiled in the modernist crisis, and had to curtail its New Testament activities until after Vatican II
  • the Biblical Institute of Rome practises exegesis in a more canonical way

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. Nowadays many secular universities such as EPHE (École pratique des hautes Études) in France concern themselves with exegesis. See higher criticism.

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.

Translations of the Hebrew Bible, like the Septuagint and the Vulgate, based on Jewish exegesis, have also become the objects of exegetic studies.


Judaic exegesis is known as Pesher. 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 forms 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 Mikra comprises the exegetical study of the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Hagiographa, the three divisions of the Old Testament or Jewish Bible. The Masorah is the exegesis that determined the rules and principles that govern the biblical texts. The redaction of the Talmud resulted from exegetic studies, and the Talmud itself has become the object of study and analysis.

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.

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