Exegesis: You’re Doing it Wrong

December 31, 2011

When it comes to mishandling Scripture, few people can match the death-defying logical leaps of biblical daredevil Joseph Prince. Pastor of Singapore megachurch New Creation Church, Prince has been invited to speak at various Hillsongs conferences and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. His television show, Destined to Reign, reaches millions daily.

What makes a pastor such a coveted international speaker? Sound, grammatical-historical biblical interpretation, you say? No. That would be boring. What people really want is an approach to Scripture that makes the Bible seem like a puzzle book with “Jabez Prayer”-like secrets waiting to be unlocked by the newest hermeneutical Evel Knievel.

Here’s an excerpt from one of this week’s devotional gems at JosephPrinceonline.com:

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” Luke 2:40

The verse says that the grace of God was upon Jesus. The Bible also says that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. (Romans 5:20) And when you put the two together, you may find yourself asking, “If the grace of God was upon Jesus, does it mean that He sinned?”

No, Jesus did not sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21) So there must be another explanation as to why God’s grace was upon Jesus. There must be another explanation as to why someone can abound in God’s grace even when he has not sinned.

Let’s look at the word “grace” when it is first mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 6:8 says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. Noah’s name means “rest”. So the verse is telling us that rest found grace. In other words, when you rest, you find grace!

So grace was upon Jesus because His life was a life of rest and trust in His Father.

Let’s watch that again in slow motion.

Noah’s name means rest.

Noah found grace.

Therefore, rest found grace.

Therefore, if we rest, we will find grace.

See how easy that was? No need for those expensive Bible commentaries and long hours studying Hebrew. All you need is a Hebrew name book. Let’s try some ourselves.

Esau means hairy.

In Malachi 1, God says, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…”

Therefore, God hates hairy people.

Let’s try a Noah one.

Noah means rest.

After the flood, Noah got drunk and exposed himself.

Therefore, when we rest, we should get drunk and … hmm … perhaps this is one of those “don’t try this at home” interpretive stunts.

Good exegesis is hard. It requires lots of study and knowledge of the original languages, culture and context. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Joseph Prince, the author of Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living, prefers an easier hermeneutical approach.

Effortless indeed.

Charisma magazine profiled Prince last year. It would seem that Prince’s interpretive approach lends itself to a word-of-faith type message. The article quotes Prince’s book, Unmerited Favor:

Because of the cross, we can today expect good, we can expect success, we can expect promotion, increase and the abundant life. It is all because of our wonderful Lord Jesus. If we have Him, we have everything and more, and can be a blessing to others.

His message is, predictably, popular in the U.S., where his televised services are broadcast on TBN, ABC Family Channel and several other networks. Charisma quotes one enthused viewer:

Linda Lee Bingham of New Jersey said understanding grace has enabled her to better trust and rest in God. “Good things are popping into my life faster than I can imagine,” she says. “I started a new business project a few months ago and already have 10 employees. The work is finished on the cross, and I’m just enjoying the ride.”

That’s right Linda Lee. Jesus bled on the cross so that you could get your Amway business off the ground. PTL!

To get a real flavor for the interpretive stylings of Joseph Prince, check out the video below. Skip ahead to the 9:00 minute mark to learn:

  • that Luke 21:25-26 contains a prediction of the March 2011 Japanese tsunami and nuclear crisis;
  • that ouranos [misspelled uranos by Prince] is the ancient Greek word for uranium [an element first discovered in 1789 AD]; and
  • that taking communion will neutralize the radiation in your body from the Japanese nuclear leak.

Can’t get enough Prince? In this next video, Prince explains how the book of Deuteronomy and the cartoonish map in the back of his Bible enabled him to predict the discovery of an offshore natural gas deposit near (actually, nowhere near) Haifa.

Kind of makes Harold Camping look like a top-notch biblical scholar, doesn’t he?


  1. I think his name, Joseph Prince, represents the heights to which he is destined to ascend in Christendom, second only to Pharoah Osteen, of course.

    • Joseph Prince is actually a name he chose for himself. I’ve seen various sites claiming that his birth name is Xenonamandar Jegahusiee Singh, but I can’t verify that.

  2. This post reminded me what Kierkegaard once said,

    “(1) In paganism, and everything pagan, the mark of the God-relationship is happiness, prosperity; being God’s loved one is marked by being successful in everything, etc.

    (2) In Judaism begins the shift: being God’s friend, etc. is expressed by suffering. Yet this suffering is essentially only for a time, a test— then come happiness and prosperity, even in this life. But it is to be distinguished essentially from all paganism in that, here, to be loved of God is after all not quite so straightforward as being a Pamphilius of fortune.

    (3) In Christianity being loved by God is suffering, continual suffering, the closer to God the more suffering, yet with eternity’s consolation and the spirit’s testimony that this is God’s love, this is what it means to dare to love God.

    The gradation in God’s majesty corresponds to these three stages.

    In paganism God’s majesty is simply a superlative of a human majesty—and the distinguishing mark is therefore its straightforwardness.

    First in Christianity does God’s majesty become pure majesty, different in kind from what it is to be human, paradoxical majesty and therefore distinguishable by suffering.”

    Prosperity messages/gospels, solely for the sake of oneself, have always rubbed me the wrong way. I am sure some truths dwell within what Prince is stating, perhaps ever so slightly, like the shadows of a summer nights bonfire. For example: without rest one can not truly capture and understand that which is right in their midst. It is only in a rested mind that one can fully comprehend grace and make it one with oneself. On the other hand, it could be said that to truly rest one must have grace. Chicken before the egg or egg before the chicken?

    While exegesis is important and the lack of intellectual thought within evangelical circles has been cause of great frustration, caution must be taken in all of that, lest one put the cart before the horse or worse yet…entirely forget the horse.

    Good thoughts.

    • What’s the source, Philip? Really good stuff, that.

    • Philip, that’s a really interesting quote. I’ve only read a fraction of the Kierkegaard I own. I might need to remedy that.
      I should clarify that I don’t take any issue with the claim that rest can lead to grace. What I take issue with is the manhandling of the biblical text in an effort to prove a point that simply isn’t found in the text.

      • I fully understand and agree with you, however, I feel that, perhaps, we are all guilty of doing likewise from time to time.

    • That may have been true of most of the ancient people on whom we have bestowed the condescending moniker “pagan”, However, their are many non-fundamentalist Christians like myself who owe a lot to the spiritual insights of present-day neopaganism, such as a respect for and connection to the earth and our fellow creatures, and a detachment from man-made ideas of prosperity that cause so much destruction. The ancient polytheistic cultures that Kierkegaard and Chesterton and others love to deride seemed to have the same problem as Christians like Prince do, which was exposure to a materialistic, empire-building social structure that at its very core replaces the Divine with the individual. That’s no more fundamental to paganism than it is to Christianity or any other belief system. It’s a direct result of self-deification which happens to people of all faiths, including me.

      • Agreed! However, it must be noted that while Kierkegaard and Chesterton had their share of opinions on “the pagans”, I believe that they both held a deep respect and, I would even go so far as to say, reverence for them. Neither one of them would remove paganism, but rather, add to it Grace. Like a good marriage, Grace unites with nature, redeeming and perfecting it.

  3. another you’re doing it wrong in print

  4. […] Cognitive Discopants, the blogger asks, What people really want is an approach to Scripture that makes the Bible seem […]

  5. If we were to give Jesus Christ His proper place in our lives, we would not be susceptible to Christian leaders. Some are more well-intentioned than others, but all distract us from the only Shepherd we should have.

  6. Those clips were very entertaining. Almost makes me want to change my own name to something theatrical and vaguely Biblical and start my own sideshow.

    • My favorite was the “picture of Joseph”. I think you should try it. Maybe call yourself Esther McQueen or something. Remember, all it takes to gather adherents is to follow the Jerusalem Post and look for news stories that sound vaguely like badly misinterpreted Old Testament passages.

      • I already have a map in the back of my Bible, some glittery clothes, and an excellent internet site that translates Hebrew and Greek for you if you type the sentences into a box. I’m well on my way.

  7. It’s guys like this that make me feel like I’m not missing much in NA evangelicalism.

  8. “Therefore, God hates hairy people.”

    :: looks at own limbs ::

    I’m in trouble.

  9. this is hilarious! really good stuff.

  10. I met Joseph Prince and his wife at an informal dinner in Jakarta in 2003. I heard him teach about grace at a leadership seminar that year, and his vision for his church to be a blessing to those in need.. In early 2005, after the tsunami hit Aceh in December 2004, his church in Singapore responded to the tremendous need. I personally dedicated two community centers built with donations from New Creation Church. Those centers, operated by an Indonesian NGO, are still open today, serving the people of Aceh.

    I haven’t seen Joseph in years. I hear a lot of comments (like those on this website) about his message and his exegesis. When I do, I remember the man I met, the meal we shared and the way his church responded when people were in need, Do Christ-like actions excuse bad exegesis? Perhaps not, but for me, they cover a multitude of comments.

    • Beautiful

  11. I just wanted to pop in and say I am really enjoying your blog! I really relate with the issues you write about.

    This Joseph guy is one of the reasons I am afraid of mainstream Christianity.

  12. The experiment in Prince exegesis made me laugh this morning, but now I am crying for the church. Thanks, and thanks.

    • Thanks Ryan, although I’m not sure I can be friends with you. Judging from the size of that beard in your profile picture, you may be an Esau destined for perdition 😉

  13. […] to Cognitive Discopants for posting about this […]

  14. Good post! I re-blogged the first video and referenced back to you. It cracks me up that someone can get away with that at such a huge church and nobody seems to have fact checked him…

    • Matthew, it is shocking isn’t it? I think the answer may lie in the nature of the circles he moves in. The charismatic word-of-faith folks tend to play pretty fast-and-loose with biblical interpretation. They also tend not to be too overburdened with proper seminary education (although that is a gross generalization to which there will be exceptions). It produces an audience that is accustomed to the creative use of Scripture while lacking the tools to ask the necessary questions. But it sure is entertaining!

  15. How in the world can we do exegesis right? Honestly, exegesis is just a fancy term for literary criticism. It may seem ridiculous sometimes, but I don’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing.

    • Jeff, I wouldn’t deny that the subjectivity involved in interpreting a text may prevent us from ever finding “the meaning” of a text, but does that mean that any loopy interpretation (such as Prince’s) is as good as a sound historical-critical one? Or am I totally misunderstanding you?

      • I wouldn’t consider “Historical-critical” interpretations “exegesis.” If I labelled something “historical-critical,” I would call it, well, criticism, or reading. However, with exegesis, especially in the context of sermons and Biblical interpretation for life application, the “historical-critical” approach is inadequate. In a sermon context, exegesis entails taking a small passage and putting a spin on it to make it palatable to the listener. Truth and criticism don’t come into play.

        The historical-critical tradition uses secular standards for interpretation; it seeks to understand the truth or intention of the passage in context. Exegesis in churches doesn’t require such standards. Prince doesn’t need those standards because he uses his own standards of exegesis for the purpose of application for his audience and sermon.

        Exegesis takes already agreed-upon ideas and makes the interpretation fit; the historical-critical approach attempts to find the original meaning and make a conclusion. They’re practically opposites. It’s the difference between a commentary (exegesis) and a study (historical-critical).

        So I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong or even questionable. He has a context (a large church and following) and a goal, and he uses his own exegesis to pull it off; my dad’s 10-volume commentary is no different. Prince seeks to use the Bible to help his audience, or at least entertain them; so do plenty of preachers.

        It’s only questionable if you value the historical-critical approach, in which case, there’s no need to care or criticize what’s being preached from anybody. It’s not like criticism’s the preacher’s purpose in the first place.

      • It seems to me that what you’re describing is more eisegesis than exegesis. The latter involves the application of critical criteria to discern authorial intent.
        I don’t disagree that many preachers use the Biblical text like Prince does. They have a point they want to make and they scour the Bible for verses that can be taken out of context to support their point. It may be common, but, in my view, it is a complete abuse of the text.
        I’m puzzled by your last paragraph. I do value the historical-critical approach. I think it’s essential to a proper understanding of the Bible. Why would that mean that I would not care what preachers say about the Bible? Shouldn’t that make me all the more concerned that people claiming to interpret the “Word of God” are at least doing so from a sound footing?
        I guess I don’t see the stark dichotomy between proper critical exegesis and preaching. I think the former should inform the latter, otherwise the latter is nothing more than the idiosyncratic thoughts of the preacher.

      • We’re on the same page then. I used the “you” in the last paragraph poorly. I didn’t mean to target you. Thank you for the eisi-exe-gesis clarification.

        I would still suggest that there’s no way to get it “wrong” because the rules are too loose and the accountability systems are too weak, or non-existent. To get something “wrong” implies that there’s a right way to do it, and I’d say there isn’t.

        It’s nice when preachers use historical-critical information in their sermons, but they can only go so far with it because a full discussion of historical-critical research would be impossible and discouraging. There are simply too many approaches for a preacher to pull off a legitimate reading, especially considering the wide array of people in their congregations.

        Your observations about the extended logic of Prince’s reasoning made me laugh, and they’re a good reading of his logic. But I think it’s a leap of judgement to call him “wrong,” unless you just used “wrong” in the blog title to get attention (and connect to a meme). “[D]eath-defying logical leaps” they are, but wrong they are not.

      • Hmm, I get where you’re coming from, but I think your analysis is still a little too post-modern for me. So let me push back a bit. Suppose I grant you that (given the subjectivity of language and its interpretation) we cannot ever say that we have arrived at the “correct” reading of a text. Does that mean that we cannot call any particular interpretation “wrong”? I don’t think that follows.
        If you and I were sitting in my living room examining a globe and debating over the present location of the magnetic North pole, we would be in the same boat. You might place it here, I might place it there, but we’d have to concede that (from the limited perspective of my living room) we both lack the ability to “get it right”. The best we can do is make an (educated) estimate. But if Joseph Prince walked in the room and insisted that the magnetic North pole was in Ecuador, we’d both tell him he was “wrong”. We may not be able to give a definitive “right” answer, but because we do have some rough guidelines, we are able to rule out some answers as clearly “wrong”. It’s for this reason that I am comfortable claiming that Prince’s interpretations are flat wrong.

  16. […] some bad exegesis for your perusal. Ouch is all I can say. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  17. I am still enjoying reading backwards through the blog. I feel like i am starting to notice a pattern though. Post after post highlights an interesting, often unjustifiable leap of logic by some uninformed preacher or theologian. I get that, and youre informative about it. What i dont get is how you arrive at the conclusion that historical criticism is the answer. Dont get me wrong – i love historical criticism! Both higher and lower textual criticism, and cultural contextual study are valuable. Preachers using other methods of commentary may as well admit theyre making things up, perhaps. But two objections arise. 1. Do you really think most of the Bible can be read in historical context for authorial intent, when we know so little of the point of origin and manuscript history for each text? The torah, for instance, may contain centuries or even millenia of oral tradition, but is likely only from the first millenium BCE. 2. Why should authorial intent matter in the first place?

  18. Like any of you have the final word on the “Word” either? So judgemental indeed. I was raised Catholic and left the church when I was quite young. I found Joel Osteen and for the first time I could stomach a sermon. Now I found Joseph Prince. I don’t care what his name is, was or may be in the future. I was never big into the Bible. The Catholic Mass sermons are usually focused on the gospels. All I know is it brought me back from believing in only spirituality to a loving and kind Jesus. For me, that is enough. I’ll proceed from here. I admire the poster who said he met the man and felt his compassion and what he did for the tsunami victims/families. Did any of you do anything for any disaster victims in your country? He’s not doing any harm and for some he gives a great deal of hope. You all talk intellectual nonsense. You don’t get that’s not the point. So many disenchanted people are just looking for something to hold on to, just to have enough hope to face another day, not a strict interpretation of the Bible. And if millions of people do enjoy Prince’s interpretation, nothing anyone can do about it except get on a blog and hate, criticize and judge.

    • Hi. I just saw your post. Very good!

      • Thanks, Ali. I didn’t mean to fly off the handle like that but come on,
        let’s try and look at all sides of an argument. I, too, enjoy Prince’s Greek and Hebrew word interpretations…fascinating. I’m sure Jesus appreciates everyone’s sincere preachings and smiles at them. God bless.

  19. I enjoy listening to Joseph Prince. He has ingnited a thirst in me to investigate the Greek and Hebrew origins of the Word. I understand what you wrote about him. However you could be pinned down as well. Verse after verse in the Bible speaks of loving others, of patience and forgiveness. I do understand the need to hold leaders accountable. But we are still to love them, pray for them, forgive them…. even help them by encouragement. None of them are perfect.

    So watch out….. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. God bless you. Ali in IL <

  20. If your article wasn’t so obviously biased against Prince and his message it might be taken more seriously. Let facts do the work rather than opinions.
    I’ve been a Christian for well over 25 years. I have no doubt as to my gift of salvation nor my standing before Our Heavenly Father due to His grace and grace alone. Among other things, I’ve read many books by various authors over the years – some good, some not so. Many sermons read and heard. All these and more have served to meet my ongoing desire to know and love God. While I’d heard about Pastor Prince before it wasn’t until the last couple of months that I’d taken notice of his ministry. I have watched the tv program and numerous videos and now find myself looking forward to his next messages.
    I’m aware of the reps of some “mega church” ministries and how they sometimes twist and turn messages to meet their agendas. I do not find this with Pastor Prince at all. In fact, he presents the Gospel with a heart felt enthusiasm and an obvious concern for accuracy that is sorely lacking in today’s church. While we keep in mind we are all human, our dependence for truth is always upon The Lord.
    I guess the reason his ministry has grown as it has is that there is a real hunger from so many for insight and knowledge of the Gospel message. How simple the message really is rather than the complex and complicated rules driven agenda so many ‘teachers’ have persuaded others to buy into.
    Prince regularly reveals insights into Gospel stories that on the surface looked complete. This is one of the marks of his ministry I find most interesting. I also find that his books are also informative and uplifting
    I could go on. But for me, Pastor Prince’s ministry is a welcome breeze of fresh air, dispersing a stagnant fog of some clutter.
    Thank God for the Prince ministry.

    • I like your reply, Mike. He grows on me more and more every time I watch him. I’m now reading his book, “Destined to Reign”. A great assist to his sermons. His ministry is so easy yet extremely powerful in its effect, I feel.

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