What is the Difference Between Hermeneutics and Exegesis?
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
The difference between hermeneutics and exegesis is slight by definition. One might argue that exegesis is a tool employed by a hermeneutic. Miriam-Webster defines hermeneutic as “a method or principle of interpretation” and exegesis as “exposition, explanation - especially an explanation or critical interpretation of a text”. While the word “interpretation” exists in both definitions, it occurs as a variation or clarifying term for “exegesis” while it is the primary definition of a hermeneutic.
As for the purposes of Fee and Stuart (How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth), the terms have been restricted to a narrower definition.
Hermeneutics is defined as “seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts” (pp. 33). In other words, finding the application of the text to our lives today. The authors question the Bible’s meaning in the “here and now”. Hermeneutics also relies heavily upon a proper exegesis of the passage in question. Without a proper exegesis, the Christian can easily err in their interpretation of the scripture. A text can never mean what it was never meant to its original audience.
Exegesis is defined by Fee and Stuart as “the careful, systematic study of the scripture to discover the original, intended meaning” (p.27). In other words, to determine or understand what was said to the original audience “then and there”. To do this, the reader must consider the historical and literary context as well as the content. The original meanings and word choice are also important along with their grammatical relationships.
In this narrow scope of definition, hermeneutics and exegesis exist as two sides of a coin. One is of limited use without the other; however, when used together, they give us a more complete picture of the text.