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Expository Preaching Defined – Part 2

Properly Interpreted Biblical Passage

Expository Preaching is: “The oral proclamation of a properly interpreted passage of Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by a God-called messenger, to an assembled body, for the glory of God and the accomplishment of His purposes.”

In the previous post I addressed the first aspect of my definition of expository preaching: oral proclamation. In this article I will develop the idea of properly interpreting a biblical passage

interpreting a biblical passageIn simple terms biblical interpretation is the process of determining the biblical author’s intended meaning for the original listeners and drawing implications for contemporary man. Preachers and Bible teachers must be firmly committed to that task. The quest to discover the ideas and thoughts of the Spirit-inspired original author should be as free from the subjective notions of the interpreter as is humanly possible.         

Over the course of life individuals are influenced by a multiplicity of factors. These factors help to create a person’s worldview. They also assist in leading a person to hold certain non-negotiable presuppositions related to politics, social issues, and even spiritual matters. A person’s family heritage, life experiences, socio-economic situation, education, and other like matters work in unison to contribute to his or her unique personality and outlook on life. While individuality is a good thing, it can have a devastatingly negative impact in the work of biblical interpretation. The subjectivity and individuality of the interpreter must be removed from the work of exegeting and interpreting God’s Word. Pulling that off, however, is where the difficulty lies.

As it relates to the process of interpreting a biblical passage, one of my favorite expressions is, “Move yourself out of the way.” Often I trouble some of my students with comments such as, “There are things in the Bible that I don’t like,” or “If I were God I would have not said …” Some students simply can’t fathom such statements and view them as sacrilegious. I merely am pointing out that as an individual I hold certain thoughts that run against the grain of biblical truth. I calm my students by stating that although I might not like everything in God’s Word, I have surrendered my thoughts, feelings, and opinions to the sovereignty of God and the authority of His Word. I then state that God simply was not interested in my opinion when He breathed His Word. I stress that God has told us to preach and teach HIS Word, not ours.

Many preachers and teachers find it beyond impossible, however, not to view a selected biblical passage from within the subjectivity of their own opinions. Many simply have not been trained to do otherwise. Yet, superimposing one’s worldview and presuppositions upon God’s Word is something that, in my estimation, is among the highest forms of sacrilege. It is what biblical scholars term eisegesis, or reading into a passage something the original author did not intend. Viewing a passage through the lens of the preacher’s opinion is the real sacrilege.

In order to quell the impact of human subjectivity in interpreting a selected passage of Scripture the preacher/teacher must possess an aptitude for biblical exegesis and practical hermeneutics. Paul stressed that among the preacher/teacher’s foremost tasks is “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”[1] The process of orthotomeo (rightly dividing) literally means to make a straight cut. The idea of precision and skill is implied. Therefore, the preacher/teacher should be able to dissect accurately and skillfully the selected text in order to determine the meaning the original author had in mind. This is the beginning of the process of exegesis.

Interpeting a biblical passageExegesis is the process of bringing the truth of the text out of its life situation. The idea comes from the Greek verb exegeomai meaning to lead out of. The goal, then, is to draw or lead out of the text the intended meaning of the original author. The preacher/teacher (the exegete) should study the passage from the perspective of historical context, linguistics, genre, syntax and grammar, and the etymology and usage of words within the selected text.[2]

Hermeneutics is the process of translating, interpreting, or even explaining. In simple terms exegesis can be viewed as the science of determining meaning while hermeneutics can be understood as the art of interpreting a text for the benefit of the contemporary audience.[3]

Simply put, pure biblical exposition takes place only when the selected passage has been studied by one who has surrendered himself to the sovereignty of God and the authority of His Word. He has no interest in looking into the Scriptures to confirm or verify his own opinions or particular worldview. He looks into the Scripture to discover only what God has said through that awesome process of verbal-plenary inspiration. The Christ-honoring preacher/teacher readily will change his view if the Scripture indicates something that contradicts his opinions. He is submissive in attitude, surrendered in spirit, and subservient to his Lord!

I trust this discussion of interpreting a passage from the Bible has been helpful. In the next post I will discuss the concept of the God-called messenger.

Tony Guthrie, Ph.D.

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[1] 2 Timothy 2:15

[2] See Appendix 1 for overview of the Process of Exegesis

[3] For further clarification see: Harold T. Bryson, Expository Preaching: The Art of Preaching Through a Book of the Bible, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1995), 144-146.

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