Hermeneutics – Expository Preaching

201 word study dictionary

I read one author speak about some serious things that can happen when one commits themselves to expository preaching of the whole bible. The following quote raises the question if we are prepared to read the scriptures and allow them to change the way we think.

“One cannot be in the church long, and listen to many conversations, sermons, or teachings that appeal to the Bible for authority, without realizing that the Bible is vigorously employed by opposing parties to any debate, each believing that Scripture proves the validity of their ideas.

Thinking people realize that it is preposterous to think that the Bible can be fairly interpreted in a way that sustains opposite viewpoints. Therefore, opposing parties may both be wrong in their appeal to Scripture, or only one of them may be right, but both cannot possibly be right. The Bible is sordidly misused and abused by many people in order to make its statements fit the ideas they desire to promote.

This is not an accusation that such abuse of Scripture is intentional. It is simply an observation of reality. Humans are so psychologically disposed and emotionally compelled to be “right” that they will go to great lengths to prove their ideas and justify their behavior. Often, because of human fallibility plus the incredible difficulty of being truly objective, defenses and arguments are offered that fall far short of both credibility and integrity. In this milieu the Bible is often used in ways that are totally inappropriate to any standards of honest scholarship.

If we do, as we should, grant to all Bible students their integrity and sincere desire to know Biblical truth as distinguished from theory and human tradition, we must nevertheless suggest to all students that simply appealing to “what the Bible says” is never an end-all to argumentation.

Something very wrong seems to have developed among leaders and teachers in the church. Most of the problems in the church derive from its leaders. And the most glaring problem observable in church leaders is their unwillingness and/or inability to measure their concepts and formulate their doctrine by the strict, objective standard of Holy Scripture.

Leaders are pressured to give their church members the impression that “I am right, you can trust me” and “our church is right, don’t look elsewhere.” Without intending to do so, church leaders often search the Scripture for “proof texts” that will support their already settled conclusions.

But the only honest way to study the Bible is to read it, as much as possible, with absolute commitment to accept its demonstrable meaning however much that meaning may cancel previously held convictions. Following that path is risky and potentially costly.

I learned to use the necessary tools for scholarly Biblical exegesis and research and for 36 years I have immersed myself in as thorough Bible study as I know how to perform. In my second year of ministry a visiting preacher came to preach a week at the church I was pastoring. His messages were always responded to with statements such as: “that was refreshing… different… new…” etc.

Some of the things he taught I had never heard. While visiting personally and intimately with him during that week, I pumped him for information about Bible study tools and methodology. He made one statement that proved to be the salvation of my spiritual life and of my ministry. He said,

“The best thing you can do for yourself and for your church, is to learn to preach expositorially. Be honest with what you find, preach it courageously, and be willing to accept the consequences.”

That statement struck a chord in my heart, and I began to learn to study and to preach expositorially. Over the next 18 years I studied and preached through much of the OT and almost all of the NT, verse by verse. As I began to become somewhat proficient at the art, I began to hear statements from my church members, such as “that was refreshing… different… new…” etc.! I was being asked every year to travel to more and more places to preach a week at a time at other churches. I began writing, and was soon asked to contribute to brotherhood journals, which I did gladly.

But the method of studying “verse by verse” and in context, so necessary to expository preaching, produced some unexpected problems.

I was seeing many things in a different light than what was accepted as the norm within our denomination. Because I began more and more to preach these ideas that were outside the mainstream of our denominational mindset, my “popularity ride” began to get bumpy and the longer it continued the bumpier it got.

Two things proved to be my ultimate undoing with that denomination, and in my home church. Firstly, when I preached at other churches, I was often questioned, sometimes edgily, by the local preacher about some of my “new ideas.” Some of my contributions to brotherhood journals brought negative response from brethren in different places across the country. I found that I was often in conflict with my peers because of some of the things I believed and preached. Yet I did truly believe in what I was preaching and so I continued to preach my convictions, heedless of the consequences. Remarkably, though I was becoming more and more a center of controversy among preachers, the lay members received me readily and my popularity at home and as a traveling preacher grew.

Secondly, the product of my expositional study was a steadily growing pile of concepts that did not “fit” with what I had previously heard and simply accepted as truth on the basis of my confidence in those who taught me.

I awoke to the realization that, in order to “prove” my denominational party line I had been following the example of my peers in twisting the true meaning of some Bible verses, ignoring the true definition of some Bible words, and ignoring the historical, contextual, cultural setting of many verses.

Without intending to do so, I had used the Scriptures for my own sectarian purposes, “finding” in them what I needed to find even when it was not truly there. I discovered to my absolute dismay and heart-sickness that I had become just like the Pharisees with whom Jesus struggled.

Eventually the pile of inconsistencies became a mountain and I could no longer simply disregard the reality that something was dreadfully and fundamentally wrong with my spiritual and professional posture.

To the best of my ability I had been honest in my study and believed completely in the truths I had uncovered. But many of those truths were in direct conflict with the foundation stones of my denomination. I found that I could no longer preach the “party line” with integrity.

So I began to preach things that directly challenged the doctrinal peculiarities of our denominational. As a consequence I was eventually fired from a church I had pastored for 13 years. A year later my wife and I left the denomination of our birth to enter the mainstream of Christianity. This departure put me in a denominational no-man’s land, having no allegiance to any group,

and for the first time in my life totally free from any pressure to make my ideas fit with those of someone else.

I made a decision to conduct a hard-nosed re-examination of every doctrine I had ever held dear. I was determined to decide for myself what was really – and provably – true about all spiritual matters. Both my wife and I have pursued this re-examination together and have learned amazing things about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, and ourselves. We learned truths that would forever have remained hidden if we had not been able to simply take what the Scriptures honestly say and embrace those things without fear of the consequences.

But there is a correct methodology for this process and this methodology is the subject of this study. How do we remove the blinders of ideological pre-conditioning that each of us brings to Scripture?

The barest minimum of necessary components of objective Bible study will include:

  1. The text itself: the actual words and phrases as defined by authoritative scholarship. No text of Scripture can possibly be “understood” without brutal honesty as to exact meaning of words and phrases. Every word must be understood, as nearly as possible, in exactly the way the writer and original audience understood that word.
  2. The historical situation of the text. Serious Bible study includes study of the times, places, cultural/political situation and events surrounding the people doing the writing, and the people receiving the writing.
  3. Interpretation of the text in light of its historical situation. True understanding of the Biblical text sees the words and phrases as applied specifically to the times, places, cultural/ political situation and events surrounding writer and recipients.

The words of Scripture cannot be treated as if they arose in a vacuum. All Biblical text is time, history and culture bound. Ignoring this fact or devaluing its importance spells doom for serious Bible study. The Biblical text does not come to us in the form of timeless axioms. Every text was composed in a specific time/space framework. Thus Biblical writers do not generally attempt to explain what for them and their readers were common assumptions. Use of certain words, phrases and references was simply taken for granted because the writer knew the original readers would understand. The only way for us to likewise understand is to put ourselves in that original situation, if possible, through diligent historical study.

Do I Have The Courage To Stand Alone If Necessary?

Independent and honest research will occasionally turn up those “rare gems” of truth that runs counter to mainstream thought. If the new ideas are sufficiently “radical” the discoverer is faced with the dilemma of fully embracing that truth and risking ostracism – or worse – or simply keeping it to himself and refusing to share the truth that would set others free.

Where would we be if Peter, James, John, Paul and the other first century apostles and saints had not boldly preached the “Gospel” in the very face of a dangerous and threatening Jewish court that had already murdered their Master? Their indomitable courage is the foundation upon which the whole church rests.

Not every truth deserves equal commitment. But a person of integrity must be willing to embrace truth even when it flies in the face of all they have previously known.

They must be willing, at least for the sake of their own personal integrity, to be honest with what they find in Scripture. If circumstances exist that makes it advisable for them to withhold some revelation about their findings because they genuinely feel others “are not able to bear it,” then they have Jesus as their example (Jn. 16:12). We are never right to simply stick new ideas in other people’s faces when we know they have no way to deal with those ideas. But we are also culpable if we refuse to use our information to help others who may be open to it, and who may need it.”

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.