Summary: Teaching by example how to rightly interpret Holy Scripture
I hope to eradicate or greatly diminish bad biblical interpretation in churches. To arm both preacher and congregation against the shoddy Scriptural analysis of many in the Christian market place. Let's teach the church how to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Theologians and other "churchies" can't speak English. They live on some weird planet with other people who only speak with big 50 dollar words and know nothing about the real world. At least that is how I have been described by some over the years. Maybe they are right! On the other hand, theologians have an important purpose in the church. They are the navigators who keep the good ship heading in the right direction. They are trainers and mentors of the Master's assistant shepherds. Two of the theologian's most important tools are exegesis and hermeneutics.
Exegesis comes from a Greek word exegeomai meaning to explain, and is used in Greek writing of the interpretation of sacred things. Hermeneutics also comes from a similar Greek word hermeneia meaning to interpret. Proper exegesis and hermeneutics is not some air-head, sky-pilot process, but is an attempt to speak the timeless words of God to the man on the street in his language. It is therefore important for every preacher to understand.
This sermon continues the topic begun in chapter 7. It teaches how the preacher can begin introducing some deeper principles of exegesis and hermeneutics at the lay level, in order to teach the congregation how to apply timeless biblical truths to their own lives today.
We will look at the purpose of interpretation: that it is not to twist the scriptures but to rightly understand them. We will look at some of the dubious methods used to twist the scriptures. We will summarize some of the basic principles of hermeneutics that you should have learned in Bible College, seminary or theology school and give and example of how to preach that in a sermon for lay ears.
Why Interpret at All
A large number of Christians ask the innocent rhetorical question, why interpret at all; why not just obey what the Bible says? The problem with that kind of comment is that people often do not understand that ALL reading of the Bible is interpretation. We see the Bible through many filters.
One filter is time. We did not live when the writer did and so must learn to understand or interpret his era in order to better understand what he wrote. Another filter is culture. We do not live in the culture of the writer and so must learn to understand or interpret what he means by certain words or phrases. We do not speak the language of the writer on our streets. The Bible has been translated into our language, but words, even the same words, often mean very different things in two different languages. Often there is no exact equivalent and so we must try to interpret what are the closest words in our language to the words used by the author.
Many words in the King James Bible no longer have the same meaning today. For instance, King James "conversation" means "conduct" in modern English, and so on. So we must rightly interpret even a particular Bible translation. We must interpret the dialects of our language. The same word in the Highlands of Scotland, the Great Plains of the American heartland and the forests of Tasmania may mean three different things, so we must interpret what it means in our dialect. An example is the Great Commandment of Christianity, love. When Christians use that word, it often needs correct interpretation, because to someone outside the church it may mean sex, to another it may mean a mushy emotion and to another it may mean charitable deeds.
In his book Hermeneutics: A Text-Book (1988, Standard Publishing Co.) D. R. Dungan identifies a number of questionable ways that people interpret the Bible. A method popular among some we could call mystical interpretation that the correct explanation can only come through a divinely appointed interpreter in the "right" church. This is similar to a method we could call hierarchical interpretation, that only denominational leaders have the "right" interpretation. Another similar method could be called spiritual interpretation and is popular among some who claim inspiration from the Holy Spirit for their twisted analysis of scripture.
A method we could call allegorical interpretation is popular among those who want to read miraculous history such as the parting of the Red Sea or Jesus' healings as mere allegories. Yet another method we could call rational interpretation, that method applied by those who want to rationalize away God's existence or his universe-filling power. Yet another could be called apologetic interpretation, which tries to harmonize the Bible with science and history.