Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning of scripture, and allowing the text itself to determine its interpretation, in contrast to eisegesis, which is the process of projecting one’s own interpretation and meanings onto the text. In this way, exegesis implies an objective approach, while eisegesis is inherently subjective. One who engages in exegesis is known as an exegete.
Biblicists give primacy to scripture as the inerrant and only authoritative source for God’s special revelation. While most biblicists have found clever ways to avoid admitting it, this approach absolutely requires the reader to grant the same inerrancy to the canon of scripture, which was laid down beginning in the post-apostolic, ante-Nicene period following Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
This is where the biblicists’ claim to be engaging in true exegesis begins to unravel. For, if the exegete approaches scripture with the presupposition that the canon is correct, he is beginning to project his own interpretation and meaning–or at least the interpretations of those who laid down the canon–onto the text. In the Calvinist tradition (I use the term Calvinist in the very narrowest sense here, as the term Reformed subsumes the opinions of not only John Calvin, but also Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, and in today’s reformed churches, represents theological and especially Christological views of Puritan theologians such as John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, who are often in conflict with Calvinism proper), this is magnified tenfold, as the Calvinist will invariably hold to a view of theology proper–specifically in the nature of divine justice–where sovereignty necessitates determinism, resulting in a nihilist and heavily monergist soteriology. The Calvinist exegete not only will not, but cannot achieve a prima facie interpretation of any passage of scripture that would point to synergism, even if God whispered it directly in his ear. He would instead work diligently to amass complex and confusing (but often logically self-consistent) proofs as to why such a prima facie interpretation is, at best, naive, likely invalid, and at worst, heretical.
The result of such a view is interpretative pluralism, wherein every self-proclaimed exegete is actually engaging in eisegesis, replete with egregious presupposition and pompous front-loading of scripture with his own contrived theology.
There is, therefore, no such thing as exegesis. At least not in human terms. We cannot lodge ourselves beneath any system of belief in order to prove it, because we are a part of that system, and only that system’s creator (in our case, God) can do so. Perhaps, then, this is where faith enters the picture, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we have the humility to admit that our every reading of every text is eisegetical rather than exegetical, and trust to the Holy Spirit to give us discernment through the observable revelations of God’s creation, we can end the disunity and interpretative pluralism that has beset the church since its earliest days.