Mere Eisegesis

Eisegesis is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text (Google).

Reading the above passage from Mere Orthodoxy, I was stunned. How did guest writers Malcolm Foley and Justin Hawkins get from here…

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19 NIV).

To here:

“Jesus began his ministry by standing up in a synagogue one Saturday morning, and saying that he came to bring justice to bear on the earth, and particularly so on behalf of the poor, oppressed, weak, and vulnerable”?

In the past, writers at Mere Orthodoxy have defended socialism. This week’s article is more of the same. This time they are doing it by abusing Scripture.

Could it be any more clear that they are interpreting the text in such a way that the process introduces their own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text — eisegesis?

Where did they go wrong?

Their main mistake is in thinking Jesus was referring to “justice” in Luke 4:18–19. Note that the word “justice” does not appear there. Neither do we see direct mention of the “weak and the vulnerable.” That is an interpretation, and a highly convenient one.

We do see mention of the blind and the oppressed. But notice exactly what is accomplished rhetorically by retranslating Jesus’s meaning as helping “the poor, oppressed, weak, and vulnerable,” — by bringing “justice” to them. This is question-begging par excellence.

While many readers today might say it is self-evident that Jesus is talking about “justice,” I think he is talking about mercy. Here’s why:

Look closely at Isaiah 61:1–2 (from which Jesus was reading):

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

Notice where Jesus conspicuously stopped reading. He stopped right before the phrase about the day of God’s vengeance (justice).

Everything before that point was referring to the compassionate works God would do for those who were suffering. There is no mention of “justice” in what Jesus read.

The gentlemen at Mere Orthodoxy should have attempted to read the passage objectively without putting on it the unwarranted assumption that Jesus is talking about something people would conceive of as “social justice.” It is an act of mercy to proclaim the good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to release a captive or prisoner.

A discrepancy?

There is some change between what Jesus read and what we have in Isaiah 61. This may be due to Jesus reading from the Septuagint.

Jesus read a line about “recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” These exact words do not appear in my English translation of Isaiah 61.

I don’t know how the translators deal with this apparent discrepancy. But note well: Jesus has not said what constitutes oppression. It is not at all clear whether he is referring to man oppressing man (for instance, a prison system) vs. man being oppressed by bondage to sin itself.

In either case, it is unwarranted to assume that the people of which Jesus is speaking are to be recipients of “justice.” Why call it justice to be healed of blindness? (Ocular Justice?) Why, necessarily would you have to call it justice when people are freed from prison?

Any good objections?

The best objection I could think to raise is that the reference to the “oppressed,” may suggest that someone is suffering due to some injustice. But the concept of oppression is open-ended in regard to the question of whether there is injustice/unfairness taking place vs. there being mere cruelty or harshness. If the oppression Jesus names is the oppression of sin, then there is no necessary reason to say injustice is involved.

Among “social justice” advocates you will find that “oppression” is nearly always treated as being an indication of “injustice.” That is a premise they have failed to support. We would all do well to look more carefully into the scriptural concept of oppression and how it links to injustice.

In closing

For Jesus’s work to be “justice,” the people who were suffering would have to be suffering not from anything wrong they have done, and they would have to deserve better.

Is that the case? Or is the work of Jesus a work of mercy? It cannot be both.

Further reading


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