As a Pastor, people often ask me how they are supposed to interpret the biblical passages that they read. Traditionally, there are two contrasting methods we see in practice: exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis is the process by which we take into account all of the historical, cultural, contextual and linguistic considerations in order to draw the true meaning out of a biblical text.
Eisegesis, conversely, is when we start with a conclusion and try to force it into a text, making it say what we want it to say. For example, if you believe you can speak things into existence, “let the weak say I am strong” (Joel chapter 3 verse 10) becomes a text which means people can speak strength into being.
However, there is a third idea that we often see people implement: narcigesis. This is named for the Greek myth of Narcissus (from whom the term narcissism also comes), who became obsessed with his own reflection, staring at it until he died. Narcigesis is prolific because the prevailing contemporary worldview is similar to narcissism—we see ourselves in everything, and the world becomes about us.
Life is a story in which we are central, and everybody else (including God) is simply a supporting character who props us up and helps us get what we want. If you want to test this out, just post a vague passive-aggressive diatribe on Facebook, asserting that you are sick of people treating you this way. Then watch everybody naturally assume that you are talking about them. Hilarity will ensue.
This self-centredness has implications on how we read Scripture. Because we can become tempted to see ourselves everywhere in the world’s narrative, we also insert ourselves into Scripture and view it as being about us. This is what narcigesis is. We become the central characters of every biblical narrative. To paraphrase Carly Simon: “you’re so vain, I bet you think this passage is about you”.
So when we come to the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel chapter 17), too often (even in sermons) it becomes about us being a David, identifying the ‘Goliath’ in our life, and the five stones that we need to defeat it.
We read ourselves into the story, viewing our spiritual apathy as our own Goliath, and recognising that prayer, devotion, Bible-reading, church attendance and home-group are the five stones we need to slay that pesky old giant. Forget the fact that if anything, we are the helpless Israelites, relying on a mediator (that’s Jesus) to defeat the insurmountable enemy and apply the benefits of that victory to us.
So no, David and Goliath isn’t about you. Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11 is not God personally promising you that nothing bad will ever happen in your life (just read Hebrews chapter 11 to see the calamity that befell God’s faithful, including Jeremiah)—it is about Him working out humanity’s redemption regardless of your personal circumstances.
Philippians chapter 4 verse 13 is not God promising to make you good at sport. The book of Daniel is not about how you too can ‘be a Daniel’, and definitely is not a book of dietary advice.
There is a big narrative that explains the history of the world, but this is not your own narrative. You are not the central character of the world, or of Scripture.Instead, the big narrative of the world is God’s story of redemption and we are simply minor characters connected into this story. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture tells the story of God perfectly creating the world (Genesis chapter one), and its subsequent corruption by sin (chapter 3). Then immediately we see the story of redemption history unfolding as God promises to send a redeemer (chapter 3 verse 15).
From there, the story of human history is about the anticipation of the saviour coming and redeeming us—everything points to Him. Once He arrives, the story becomes about pointing people to Him and awaiting His return and the glorious restoration of creation.
It is God’s story, which plays out on the stage of human history. We are connected into this story, so of course Scripture has application to us. It is not simply historical narrative with no bearing on contemporary life.
When we encounter God’s Word, we encounter God Himself in a very tangible, real and practical way. Yet the application comes from the fact that we are minor characters who have been placed into the big story by God, not the other way.
The whole story of the world, which we are part of, is the story of God redeeming humanity, it’s not about you slaying personal giants. I’m sorry to be the one to break that to you.
Haydn Lea is an RAAF chaplain based in Adelaide. He is married to Shamsa Lea and a dad. He loves boxing and studying Theology.