Epistles of Thomas

December 9, 2009

Does exegesis matter?

Filed under: Jesus,New Testament — Thomas @ 15:56
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I was reading a devotional book on Jesus when I came across an interesting assertion. It is by Tony Jones, 12 Days with Jesus. Shawnee Mission: Sonlife Ministries, 2005. Sonlife has now merged and become Youthfront but their mission to reach out to high school students has not changed. They are still selling this booklet so I presume it is regularly given out to students. I really wonder what students are being taught when it comes to handling the word of God. Here is what Jones has to say with regard to Jesus casting out Legion from the Gerasene demoniac (Lk 8:26-39):

“But honestly, I don’t think the issue here is whether ‘Legion’ was demon-possessed or mentally ill, or some combination of both. The more important point, it seems to me, is where we find Jesus in this part of the story. I think Luke has something to tell us here” (35). Jones then has students circle all the times “fear” is mentioned in this account. Then he states “In Jesus’ and Luke’s day, people like ‘Legion’ were found chained up in cemeteries, Today, they’re more likely to be in a mental hospital or living under a bridge. I’ll admit, when I come across people like that, I’m often afraid of them. They’re [sic] words and actions seem unpredictable to me – I don’t quite know what to do next. But Jesus not only isn’t afraid of ‘Legion,’ he performs an act of healing and freedom” (36). In his conclusion to this section where he makes a call for action Jones asks that students “take some time to pray and journal about people or events in your life that seem a little unpredictable to you, and ask God how your relationship with Jesus can bring some unexpected freedom and healing to those situations and relationships” (37).

The main point of Jones’ devotional seems to be that we shouldn’t fear “crazy” people but should reach out to them with freedom and healing. This is a very nice lesson but was that really Luke’s point in including this story? Exegesis is the process of taking the original meaning out of the text and explaining it to others. Eisegesis is when you take a nice christianese lesson and place it onto the text. Aside from the obvious difference between demon possession, which Luke clearly meant to portray, and insanity and the fact that Legion was not the man’s name but the name of his possessor, Jones has failed to read this story in context. There are many stories about Jesus that focus on him reaching out to undesirables but this isn’t Luke’s focus here. Read Jesus’ final command to the man: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (8:39). The full implications of what has been done for him are laid out in Luke 11 when Jesus explains that once a strongman has been overpowered his plunder is taken away. Jesus has defeated Satan and his plunder (possessed men or women; Lk 13:16) are freed. Luke’s point is that the power of God Almighty has come among them and Jesus wields that power to overcome Satan and free his captives.

This passage is about bringing freedom to captives, but not in the sense that Jones portrays it. He has failed to exegete Luke’s point and therefore focuses on overcoming fear. The people were afraid. They were afraid of power, whether Satan’s or God’s. We are called to take up the power of God in Christ and use it to continue to do the work of the Kingdom, freeing those captive to Satan. May the result of our work earn the commendation of resulting in people returning home to: “tell how much God has done for you.”

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