Interpretive Principles and Practices
The Journey to the World of the Biblical Text
This is where the preacher will need to travel back to the original set- ting and context of the first hearers in order to bring the unchanging meaning of this particular book or passage with penetration and obvi- ous relevance into the world of today. It might seem strange to say that we must travel to first-century Corinth or Galatia in order to hear the Word of the living God for twenty-first-century London or Chicago, but it is absolutely true. If we do not wrestle with what our text meant to them, when it was first spoken or written, we shall never be able to apply its message with any sort of accuracy or penetration to our hear- ers today. This does not mean that we all need to be scholars in the original languages or in the biblical historical background, though we are thankful to God for those who are, and we can benefit greatly from their labors. But it is the genius of a teaching ministry, with time set apart for the study of the Scripture, to enable those who listen to the preaching to be as close to the situation of the original readers as it is possible to be so as to remove as many barriers to understanding as we can.
The expository preacher wants always to be giving the Bible back into the hands of the congregation. The Bible is not the preserve of the expert but the Word of God for everybody, everywhere. However, it does come to us in the form of words spoken by and to people in human history. There is a particularity about all its contents, tying its origin to a particular time and place, to specific spokesmen, and its purposes to particular groups of recipients. Yet what is revealed is of eternal significance and validity precisely because it is the “forever” Word of the infinite and eternal God, working in and from its original historical context but transcending those limitations as it addresses the whole human race across planet earth at every point of time.
God did not produce a book of rules or a set of systematized theo- logical propositions, though both can rightly be adduced from the Bible. Its fundamental format is neither abstract nor theoretical. God spoke to real people in real situations. He intervened in space-time his- tory, explaining his actions before and interpreting them afterwards. Scripture is the story of the loving purposes of God in our redemption from paradise lost in Eden, to the appearance of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. But if we don’t get right what the revelation of Scripture meant to its original recipients, we shall certainly not get right its meaning and significance for us today.