Summary: Let's diminish bad Bible interpretation in the pulpit.
In this lesson I hope to eradicate or greatly diminish bad biblical interpretation in churches. I also hope to arm both preacher and congregation against the shoddy Scriptural analysis of many televangelists and popular Christian writers.
You can give a man a fish or teach him how to catch his own and feed him for life. Giving a church the tools to rightly interpret the Bible will serve them well for life. Substandard biblical interpretation is not just the domain of badly educated televangelists and those who write light Christian reading, but it so pervades the Christian landscape today that many preachers and their congregations need a complete overhaul in regard to interpreting biblical truth.
There are two opposite extreme views of doctrine today. On the naïve extreme are those who teach that doctrine is irrelevant, impractical or divisive, and yet that teaching is itself doctrine. On the other extreme is denominationalism, those who overly emphasize non-essential doctrines and brand those who disagree with their narrow views as heretics.
The Bible says that doctrine is important. People were astonished at Christ's doctrine (Matthew 7:8). He taught people to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:12). Jesus' parables were doctrine (Mark 4:2). He taught people how to discern that his doctrine was right (John 7:17). The early church continued in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). Those who taught contrary doctrines were avoided (Romans 16:17).
Paul warned the Ephesians not be carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and told Timothy to warn people not to teach any other doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). He wrote to Timothy to give attention in his preaching to doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13) and that preachers who labor in doctrine are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). The Bible is profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16). We are warned that some will not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3). Titus was told to teach what is consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ do not have God and we ought not to receive their teachings into our homes (2 John 1:9-10).
This lesson will explore giving a sermon on introducing biblical interpretation to a congregation. It is not the purpose of this lesson to teach a preacher how to become a good exegete. There are plenty of excellent books and seminary or Bible College courses available on the topics of exegesis and hermeneutics that cover that far more thoroughly. This lesson will specifically encourage you to begin introducing right biblical interpretation to the congregation, so that they can be armed against the many heresies and biblically illiterate preaching in the popular Christian media today.
The Sermon on Exegesis
If you have never taken a class on hermeneutics or exegesis do so. It is a failure of some Bible Colleges that they do not make such a class mandatory. If taking a class is not convenient, urgently buy a half-dozen good books on the subject as time and finances permit, for a variety of opinions and approaches.
The exegetical process involves several key components: God, the author, the text, the ancient audience, their historical context, and the modern audience. If we include God in the process, this is called revealed exegesis. If we don’t believe in the importance of any one of these components, our exegesis will be hampered. Much modern textual criticism of the Bible either leaves God out of the picture or starts with the presupposition that God doesn‘t operate in the way that biblical authors claim. This is so-called rational exegesis, as if belief in God is somehow irrational. However, not everyone who uses the term rational exegesis discounts God. Sometimes it is used in opposition to the assumption that the Bible cannot be understood in rational human terms.
Another bigoted presupposition is that when what was written does not match the exegete’s experience he claims that the ancient writer could not have been telling the truth. Even deeply convicted believers of the Bible often mishandle the text by reading modern experience backwards, assuming that it is the same. This kind of assumption is not good interpretation. We preachers need to gently teach our audience how to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
The golden rule of hermeneutics is that if the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.
Pick a Scripture that is often misunderstood and badly exegeted in the popular Christian media. There are many of them, but if you are not well educated in theology, you may be at a loss. Any good book on exegesis such as Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson (1996, Baker Books) or How to Read the Bible for all its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993, Zondervan) will give you plenty of ideas for a start. If you want to become a master exegete, may I suggest buying about 20 of the best books on exegesis over time and studying them diligently? If it takes you 5 years, it will be well worth the effort.