Interpretive Principles and Practices
through Christ in the eternal kingdom, beyond the present gospel age? As Martin Luther said, “We can only read the Bible forwards, but we have to understand it backwards.” We must always read the Old Testament in the light of the New if we are not to reinstitute sacramental religion or look for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Recognizing the different types of gospel materials, understanding the intricacies of apostolic theological argument, looking for the affective, emotional ingredients of biblical poetry—these and other genre-specific tools will be a great help to the Bible preacher in allowing the text to speak for itself in its own authentic voice.
All too often, evangelical preaching has put every text through the same mincing machine of a particular systematized theology so that its content is dissected and laid out in terms of doctrinal propositions with ethical applications, in an identical way, irrespective of whether the original was poetry or prose, proverb or parable. This can give expository preaching a bad name because its content is abstract and predictable, which often becomes irrelevant and boring to the hearers. It also fails to recognize that the God of the Bible, whose love of variety and end- less ingenuity are reflected in his physical creation, is hardly likely to reveal himself with any less diversity in his inspired written text. Good expositors learn to work with the literary distinctives of the genres and not to iron them out into a standard, flattened three-point sermon. We need to learn how to value and benefit from the intricate arguments and precise vocabulary of the epistle, the twist in a parable, the punch line of a gospel pronouncement story, the provocation of a wisdom say- ing, the turning point of a narrative, the multiple fulfillment levels of a prophecy, and the emotive, affective ingredients of a poem.
The Return Journey: Applying the Biblical Text
Every expositor knows that once the meaning of the biblical text has been stated and explained, its application to the contemporary hearers still remains to be spelled out. Some preachers assert that this is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and not for us to try to accomplish. But the pattern of the New Testament epistles strongly underlines the practical application of the propositional teaching content, and while we know we cannot ourselves root God’s Word into anyone’s life, we should surely expect the Holy Spirit graciously to do this work as we apply the Word to our current situations. Application that is faithful and authentic is largely stimulated by context. To understand the original significance helps us to direct God’s truth in its life-changing power