I’m a little late with this, but l want in this post to identify what I see as the Main Theme (MTh) of Genesis. In the last post, we looked at the structure of the book and saw that it is built around a series of generation or genealogical accounts.
As mentioned in the first post in this series, I take as the MTh of the Bible as a whole, King and Kingdom, and I want to show each book of the Bible contributes to and is a component part of that one big motif. Remember, the Bible is not 66 books, so much as one book in 66 sections.
I want to assert that the MTh of Genesis is The Foundations of the Kingdom. The reason I do so is that, as we have seen, it is built around the records of the beginnings of all the human families that pave the way for all God’s dealing with mankind in the rest of the biblical narrative; but also because we have in Genesis the foundation stones for almost every biblical truth and doctrine.
Here we have the origins of everything we know and are familiar with – the universe, life, death, sin, marriage, families, covenants, languages, nations, cities, cultures, religions and even redemption itself.
1. The foundation of Theology: the science of God – Genesis reveals God as Creator, King and determined Redeemer.
- atheism (no God) – assumes existence of God; doesn’t seek to prove or define God
- polytheism (many Gods) – God = ‘elohim’, a plural noun followed by singular verb; the polytheist finds himself in a terrifying world since he doesn’t believe in just one god but many, doesn’t know who to turn to for what and is bewildered because of the possibility of gods in conflict.
- pantheism (God and universe are one, world is a body of which God is the soul) – God always existed, the world didn’t; they are utterly distinct.
2. The foundation of Cosmogony: the science of the universe – Genesis teaches that the whole universe has come into being by the will and act of God.
- It denies evolution (infinite becoming), materialism (eternity of matter), fatalism (chance).
3. The foundation of Anthropology: the science of humankind – Genesis establishes the nature of humans as being made of the dust of the earth and given life by the breath of God; made in the image of God and distinct from the rest of the created order.
4. The foundation of Sociology: the science of society – Genesis teaches that society is based on the family unit, established through marriage between a nan and a woman
5. The foundation of hamartiology: the science of sin – Genesis reveals that sin is rebellion against the loving authority of God and that it affects the whole of the human race.
6. The foundation of Ethnology: the science of the races – Genesis shows how the human race was broken up and divided by God because of its corporate act of godlessness
7. The foundation of Soteriology: the science of salvation – Genesis teaches that salvation must come from God; having sinned, man’s only hope is in God who takes the iniative as Redeemer with the first blood sacrifice of atonement implicitly referred to before the end of chapter 3.
8. The foundation of Election – Genesis places a great stress on election, God’s choosing. God chooses those through whom he will work out his redemptive plans. Out of the world he chooses Noah and his family; out of the new world he chooses Abraham and his family; out of Isaac’s sons he chooses Jacob and not Esau etc, etc. He often goes aganist the normal pattern, choosing other than the firstborn
9. The foundation of Covenant – Three of the great covenants which regulate human life on earth and pave the way for the saving work of the cross in the New Testament
- Adamic: Genesis 3v15: the promise of redemption through the seed (singular) of the woman
- Noahic: Genesis 9vv1-7: the promise of the continuity of the seasons and no more universal floods
- Abrahamic: Genesis 12vv1-7: the promises of personal blessing ( a great name), territorial blessing (a great land), national blessing (a great nation) and spiritual blessing (grace to all nations through his descendants)
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of Genesis as the foundation for the rest of the Bible. The Bible without Genesis would be, in the words of one writer, “like a building without a ground floor or a bridge with no support.” Genesis is, in some ways, the most important single book ever written and without it so much of the rest of the Bible would be unintelligible. Genesis is quoted from over 200 times in the New Testament. In fact chapters 1-11 are quoted more than 100 times in the New Testament. It’s not just mentioned but you’ll find it being quoted word for word over 165 times in the New Testament.
Starting from a belief in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, as taught in 2 Timothy 3:16, we must accept the literal veracity of everything we find in these pages of God’s Word. Genesis 1:1 and all that follows is as much part of “all scripture” as any other part of the Bible. The book of Genesis does not tell us all we need to know but what we are told here is totally and completely true and accurate. If you don’t believe what Genesis says, why should you believe any other part of the Bible?
Next week: Route 66: Stop 2. What is the structure of the book of Exodus? How would you divide it up for an overview or for a series of messages? I would love to hear your suggestions either via the comments or by email to john(at)thebrands.org.uk
The historicity of Adam and Eve seems to be more and more under debate at the moment. Along with the correct interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis, what most, if not all, true evangelical believers held as a true and accurate record of what happened is now questioned openly, even by many taking to themselves the label of evangelical. Al Mohler has just blogged an excellent article on this.
Now, I do not believe that a literal interpretation of these passages of Scripture is necessary for saving faith, but I do wonder why genuine believers feel the need to doubt the biblical record. I don’t think they realise how their view of this part of the Bible impacts on their view of so much of the rest of the Bible.
Let me state clearly where I stand.
- I believe that the opening chapters of Genesis, as written, are an historical narrative record of precisely what happened.
- I believe the original author – Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – intended it to be read as narrative, not poetry, parable or allegory
- I believe that creation took place in six literal, i.e. 24 hour periods, days – to believe otherwise is to make nonsense of the whole Sabbath rest principle and is to abuse the language of the passage where the natural and usual meaning of word ‘yôm’ is a 24 hour period of time, not an indefinite period, and which, when accompanied by a number, such as 1st or 2nd, always means a 24 hour period
- I believe that Adam and Eve were real people, the first two of all people who inhabited planet earth and the only two in existence until the birth of their children; that from this one man and woman all other humans descend – to believe otherwise is to make nonsense, for example, of so many of Paul’s arguments about the first and second Adam. As Mohler says, “The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel. If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”
At the heart and root of this issue is the question of the authority of Scripture. To question the accuracy of this, or any other, portion of the Bible is to undermine the inspiration, inerrancy and reliability of Scripture. The implications are immense. If Genesis 1-3 is not true, how do I know any other part of the Bible can be relied on? If Genesis 1-3 is not meant to be taken literally, then why should I take the Gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ as literally true? And who is going to decide what is true and what is not?
Using all the acceptable principles of biblical interpretation, there is no other legitimate way to read this section of Scripture. To interpret it in any other way reflects a fear of man and so-called intellectual credibility.
In tomorrow’s post, as we get back on Route 66, we’ll look at some other foundational truths from Genesis.
Today we take our first stop along ‘Route 66′ as we try and sum up the Main Theme (MTh) and outline of each book of the Bible. (For an explanation of and background to all of this, see my post here.) But before we get into Genesis, let me say a brief word about the value of this overview approach to the Bible. One of the dangers of a commitment to detailed, systematic expository preaching is that we can get too focussed on the minutiae and lose sight of the big picture. We are so busy studying the trees that we can’t see the forest. It’s important, both for us as preachers and for our congregations that we keep a balance between the wide-angle lens and zoom lens approaches. Keeping the wide-angle in our mind all the time will help us interpret the smaller part of the text correctly in the broader context. It will also help our listeners grasp the unity of the Bible as a whole and of each unit within the Bible.
If I were back in settled, pastoral ministry, preaching to the same congregation week by week, every time I began a new series of sermons from a Bible book I would take at least one introductory message to do an overview and give the big picture. Then, as I worked my way through the book, or part of it, I would keep referring back to the big picture context. That’s one of the reason I think it’s helpful to do this initial exercise of identifying the MTh and the structural outline of the book. That will help us shape our sermon series in a way that is consistent with the book’s message and may also provide us with sub-titles and headings we can incorporate into our individual sermons, thereby reinforcing the connection.
Now, first stop along the road, obviously, is GENESIS, and in practice what I want to do is look at the outline first to see what that reveals about the MTh. That’s the way it works when you are exegeting an expository unit and it should be the same here. Perhaps it is stating the obvious that the first step in attempting to discover the outline and MTh is to read the whole book through as a single unit.
Depending on which version you use there are about 38,000 words in the 50 chapters of Genesis. At what I am told is the average reading speed of 250 words a minute, that will take about 2.5 hours. A vital and worthwhile investment of time. Another suggestion is to listen to the whole book. In fact I would recommend doing this as well. I have just obtained the ESV on mp3s, read by the wonderful voice of Max McLean, and loaded it on to my Blackberry. I spend two hours a day driving to and from College and yesterday I started using the time to listen to the Bible recordings. In my first four journeys I listened to all but two chapters of Genesis and things strike you when you hear them in a way they might not when you read them, especially things that are repeated, and that is one of the essential things to look out for when we are trying to discern the skeleton of a book.
For example, yesterday as I was listening I was struck by the similarity between “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife..” in Genesis 3:17 and “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:2). I don’t, at this moment in time, want to make too much of that but it struck me as I listened, in a way it has not struck me before as I read.
The Structure of Genesis
Genesis is conspicuously structured around 10 ‘bookmarks’, ‘milestones’ or ‘divisions’ or whatever you want to call them.
Ten times you have a variation of the phrase “these are the generations of…” or, less helpfully and less accurately, “this is the account of...”. It’s a translation of the Hebrew phrase ‘elleh toledoth‘, which refers to genealogical records.
- 2:4 the ‘generations’ of the physical universe
- 5:1 the generations of Adam’s family line
- 6:9 the generations of Noah’s family line
- 10:1 the generations of Noah’s sons, interestingly focussing on Shem, the eldest, last because from here on all the focus is on the line of Shem from whom would come Abraham and the Hebrew people, probably named after ‘Eber’
- 11:10 the generations of Shem’s family line
- 11:27 the generations of Terah, dominated, of course, by Abra(ha)m
- 25:12 the generations of Ishmael, the briefest of the family records
- 25:19 the generations of Isaac’s family, dominated by Jacob
- 36:1 the generations of Esau’s family line
- 37:2 the generations of Jacob’s (Israel’s) family line, dominated by Joseph
Interestingly, the original Hebrew title of Genesis is bereshit, which means “in beginning”, the opening words of the book; but our English Bibles follow the Greek title, given by the translators of the Septuagint. The Greek word geneseos is a translation of the Hebrew word toledoth and means, among other things, “generation” or “origin”.
There is another clear division in Genesis at the end of ch.11. These two sections , 1-11 and 12-50 are often referred to as Primeval History and Patriarchal History.
- Chapters 1-11 give us an explanation of how everything exists and why everything that exists is in a mess and introduces us to the plan and promise of God to put it right.
- Chapters 12-25 show us how God, focussing on the families of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, establishes his covenant with them, with its universal blessings, and then begins to put in place the preparatory stages for the fulfilment of that covenant in the person of Christ, the one promised in 3:15.
As God raises up these various family lines, intervenes in their lives as he sovereignly chooses and providentially overrules; as he responds to their exercising of faith and trust; God is laying the foundations for the imperfect earthly kingdom that will picture the perfect heavenly kingdom that will be embodied in and ushered in by his Son.
Ok, that’s the structure and outline. In an overview I would take 2 or 3 minutes to highlight the main lessons and storyline in each of the 10 sections, building up to identifying the MTh of the book as a whole which arises out of that outline. That’s for next Wednesday, God willing
Now, that’s how I see it. How about you? How would you outline Genesis? I would love to hear your suggestions either via the comments or by email to john(at)thebrands.org.uk
In Van Valen’s biography of M’Cheyne that I commented on yesterday, there’s a great quote where M’Cheyne is warning against the “atmosphere of the classics” in his theological studies.
“Beware of the atmosphere of the classics…It is pernicious indeed; and you need much of the south wind breathing over the Scriptures to counteract it. True, we ought to know them; but only as chemists handle poisons to discover their qualities, not to infect their blood with them.”
That warning and label should be stamped on every book of liberal theology in our theological College libraries! Several years ago I embarked on a part-time Masters in Expository Preaching at a well-known evangelical College but only lasted two days of the course. We were going to spend most of the first six months of a two year course studying redaction criticism and the views of people like Butlmann. Why, I asked, are we spending time on the opinions of dead, discredited Germans? ‘The people in your pews need to know these things,’ I was told before I walked.
At the College where I serve we do not waste our time on such poison. From time to time we will make students aware that such posions exist and tell them something of their poisonous influence, but their time and ours is better spent on the rich, nutritious food of Scripture and the writings of those who hold God’s Word in high esteem.
Ever since reading Peter Mead’s review of Explosive Preaching, an excellent and stimulating book by Ron Boyd-MacMillen, a couple of years ago this whole comcept has fascinated me. Here’s part of Peter’s review (read the whole piece here)
“Here’s the 66:33:1 curriculum:
66 – Each student, by the end of the year, has to be ready to preach (without notes) a one-hour sermon on each of the 66 books of the Bible. This sermon is to include an outline of the content of the book, and contemporary application to the individual, the church and the nation of China. At the end of the year, 3 books would be selected at random, then the student has five seconds to launch into their message.
33 – Each student had to prepare 33 one-hour sermons on the life and work of Christ, each based on a single verse (only 10 allowed from outside the gospels). His whole ministry must be covered, from pre-existence to second coming (although I’d suggest His ministry extends beyond the second coming!) Interestingly, students are allowed one page of notes per sermon in this category!
1 – Each student has to prepare an “end-of time” sermon – any length (since time constraints are irrelevant in eternity). The goal is to help the student consider the whole salvation story from God’s point of view. Perhaps at the great feast we will get to enjoy such a sermon looking back over it all . . . but would we be ready to give the sermon?”
I would just love the opportunity to be part of a course like that – never mind to teach it. But I have an idea which I thought I would throw ‘out there’ into the blogosphere and engage some other creative minds. What I plan to do is take one book of the Bible a week, each Wednesday, for the next 66 weeks, and ask for suggestions from readers of this blog as to how, for each book, you would
- summarise what I call the Main Theme (MTh) of the book
- outline the book in such a way that reflects the inspired structure and underlines the MTh
When I teach Bible Overview at College, I use as the dominant MTh of motif of the Bible: King and Kingdom. This is shamelessly borrowed from Graeme Goldsworthy but, and I say this with great respect for Goldsworthy and all his insights, I think he’s missed something in his emphasis on The Kingdom. There is no Kingdom without a King and, if you can separate the two, surely the King is even more important than the Kingdom. Ultimately the Bible is all about King Jesus.
Let’s collaboratively do a Route 66 through the Bible
- identifying the MTh of each book e.g. Genesis: The Preparation of the Kingdom
- outlining the structure of the book
We will, obviously, start with Genesis next Wednesday, August 10th, and I would love to get suggestions and contributions from you. You can send them as a comment to this post or email them to me at john(at)thebrands.org.uk
Join me next week for the first stop along Route 66!
The Required Qualities for an Interpreter
Knowing the rules of biblical interpretation does not, in itself, ensure that a person will be a biblical interpreter. Hermeneutics, the science and art of biblical interpretation, requires not only the application of the right rules but also the possession of the right qualities.
Before we consider the rules and principles of correct biblical interpretation, we need to consider what the Bible has to say about those who would correctly interpret Scripture.
Paul exhorts Timothy to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2v15). By comparison the Bible identifies some who had cause to be ashamed because of their mishandling of Scripture and whose mishandling resulted from a wrong attitude.
The Prejudiced Professionals: Acts 13:27
These were the religious leaders of the day, the official interpreters of the sacred writings, who so misinterpreted the message that they knew so well and read and taught so regularly, that, through their misinterpretation, they justified their killing of Jesus, believing that by so doing they were being faithful to Scripture.
The fault of the religious leaders lay not only in that they were ignorant of Jesus’ true identity but that they did not rightly understand the voices of the prophets, blinded, as they were by, their legalistic prejudices. It shows that it is possible to be an expert in the letter of the Scriptures and yet blinded to the one of whom they speak – cf. John 5vv39-40.
The Duplicitous Deceivers: 2 Corinthians 4:2
Paul condemns unequivocally those who deliberately mishandle the scriptures for their own evil ends.
The word ‘cunning’ (ESV) is, in the Greek, a conjunction of two words meaning ‘capable of anything’ and refers to a man who will do anything to achieve his own ends,
The word ‘tamper’ (ESV), in the Greek, refers to someone who adulterates the goods in order to make a quick profit.
Such motives and attitudes are utterly incompatible with Scripture. Not for Paul, says the commentator Tasker, “the subtleties of the unscrupulous politician or the subterfuges of the ingratiating salesman.”
So, what are the qualities required by those who have no need to be ashamed and who ‘cut it straight’?
Saving faith and the help of the Holy Spirit are necessary in order to understand and properly interpret Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4
Nicodemus was a professional, though perhaps not as prejudiced as many others. However, although he was “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10), he could not correctly understand the Scriptures he was teaching, especially in regard to the person and work of Christ.
The dedicated Christian reads a passage and its truth is self-evident to him. It is so simple and so obvious when he explains it clearly to his non-Christian friend, but that friend fails to grasp its significance. Try as he may, the Christian cannot communicate the simplest of biblical truths; it is as though there is a barrier of understanding between them. That is because the Bible contains spiritual truths that can only be understood by those who are spiritually alive.
When someone told Charles Spurgeon of the way that someone had failed to understand a biblical truth although it had been spelled out to him as simply as a-b-c, Spurgeon said that the friend’s problem was that he was d-e-f.
True interpreters of the Scriptures need to be guided in their interpretation by the same Spirit who inspired the writers of Scripture and is given to all who come to faith in Christ.
The understanding and acceptance of Scripture is one of the marks of grace. Though being a Christian is no guarantee that you will accurately interpret every passage in the Bible, it is foundational for properly understanding spiritual truth.
When we read the Scriptures, we are reading the mind of God. We need the author, the Holy Spirit, to be its interpreter to us: 1 Corinthians 2:7-v16
Even though a man or woman is converted, they still need the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit every time they approach or open God’s Word. There can be no true understanding of Scripture without an inward work of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned.
Illumination is the perception of truth brought about through the agency of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the word ‘revelation’ is sometimes used to refer, not to the making known by God of truth which would otherwise not be known, but of the understanding, given by the Holy Spirit, of what is contained in Scripture (John 15:26; 16:12-13; Ephesians 1:17)
A true understanding of God’s Word requires a heart that is receptive to Christ and in touch with him. This means that every time we come to read, study or consider the Scriptures, we need to ask for the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, e.g. in the words of Psalm 119:18. Otherwise it is perfectly possible, and sadly the experience of all too many Christians, to sit under the Word and not understand it; indeed, sometimes even to resist it.
“The decisive point here is that the believer…no matter how brilliant, needs the message. Convicted of sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness and feeling poor and needy, he stands, existentially, in exactly the position to which the Word of God is addressed. Only from such a position does it make sense; and for this reason the best hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) is a broken and contrite heart.” 
If the biblical interpreter does not accept the total inspiration and ultimate authority of Scripture it will be impossible to correctly interpret them: 2 Timothy 3:16
If, as we come to the Scriptures, we entertain doubts as to the reliability and accuracy of the biblical text, we will always be vulnerable to being led into error.
Every Christian has the right and responsibility to investigate and interpret the Word of God for themselves: Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15
This was one of the great foundations of the Protestant Reformation. Until then people had depended on the church to study and interpret the Scriptures for them. The Scriptures were not available in the language of the common people. But Paul exhorts Timothy to become a diligent student of the Word of God himself.
There is a danger that though believers may sit under faithful ministry of God’s Word, they come to rely solely on that and are ‘spoon fed’. We need to feed our own souls and discover the glorious truths of Scripture for ourselves.
Acts 17:11 gives us an example of the necessary balance. The Berean Christians not only received the ministry of the Apostle Paul with openness and attentiveness but also examined the Scriptures every day for themselves.
In order to understand Scripture correctly we must make use of the ordinary means available to us.
God has provided us with all sorts of means to help us come to a correct understanding of his Word, and though ultimately we are dependent on the help of his Holy Spirit as we have seen, yet there are aids available to us that we should make use of.
This includes commentaries, devotional studies, concordances and Bible dictionaries. Reliable writings will help us avoid mistakes in interpreting Scripture and we shouldn’t ignore the gifts God has given to others. It is pseudo-spiritual to boast of studying the Bible to the exclusion of all other books.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It seems odd to me that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to them should think so little of what he revealed to others.”
Above all, this must refer to the preaching of the Word, the God-given means of grace by which anyone can come to a sufficient understanding of Scripture.
“This obviously has important implications for the public meetings of the Church. Believers go to these looking for an enhanced understanding of Scripture; and those who lead them are charged with providing it. It is a fine test, although not the only one, of our meetings: do they help believers grow in understanding of the Word of God?” 
The primary purpose of Scripture is to change lives not increase knowledge: 1 Corinthians 10:1-15; James 1:22-25;
We need the help of the Holy Spirit in order to understand Scripture, and we need to understand Scripture before we can apply it, but understanding without application will profit us nothing. James warns us against seeing and recognising ourselves in God’s Word and not acting on what we are told. Paul solemnly warns us, using the example of the Israelites of old, that the greatest spiritual privileges, not personally embraced and applied, will lead to destruction. They wanted the spiritual privileges of being the people of God but didn’t want to forsake their sin and, as a result, many died.
The ability to rightly interpret and handle Scripture can be lost through lack of discipline and application: Hebrews 6:11-14
There were those among the Hebrew believers who had “become dull of hearing” over a period of time while others had “their powers of discernment trained by constant practice.”
- How Preachers become traitors to Jesus
- Judges seems to be the book to preach through at the moment – Carl Trueman and The Cripplegate
- Sinclair Ferguson’s Four steps to kill sin
- I always enjoy Bill Mounce’s articles on the Koinonia blog. This is an interesting piece on What makes an Accurate Translation, a subject I have been studying a lot about recently
- Here are two excellent video clips on hermeneuctics and preaching, featuring a discussion between Don Carson and John Piper
I have to admit that probably my favourite writer of the moment is Carl Trueman. His blog writing, especially is insightful, erudite, witty and God honouring – and he’s British!
Over on the Reformation 21 blog he has written an excellent piece on Preaching and Self-Reference where, among other things, he makes some very helpful comments, including drawing a couple of lessons from Paul’s preaching. Here’s a quote, but do read the whole piece:
While Paul does on occasion refer to himself, it seems to be in two basic ways. First, he will speak about his pre-conversion life as a means of magnifying the grace of God (eg. Acts 26, 1 Tim. 1). Second, he will on occasion boast – but when he does this he is sarcastically adopting the strategy of his critics as a means of making their position look ridiculous, not as a means of making himself look big (2 Cor. 11; note especially the rationale he gives in 2 Cor. 11:30). Indeed, on the one occasion where he possibly does talk about a spectacular experience he has had, he uses the third person as a means of deflecting attention from himself (2 Cor. 12). The one thing he never does is give random tidbit insights into his private life for the purpose of making himself look like one of the guys, or somebody special etc. Preachers need to do the same, to avoid preaching themselves and to avoid preparing the ground for celebrification.
When I teach homiletics myself, and deal with this subject I say that personal experience can be overused and it is wise for preachers not to draw too often from their own life or experience. Allusions of this kind come across with greater force when they are used infrequently. My advice is generally when you are referring to yourself, do so in a self-deprecating way so you could not be misconstrued as setting forth an example to be followed. In this way you are constantly encouraging your listeners to look to Jesus as the one to be imitated and you are downplaying your own significance.
I will always be grateful to God for the three years of training I received at The Bible Training Institute in Glasgow. As our beloved and hugely respected Principal, Dr Geoff Grogan, used to say: “BTI – Best Training Imaginable!”.
It was a brilliant, solid grounding in the Scriptures and doctrines of the Christian faith and, under God, established my ministry on a sure, unwavering Biblical foundation. What a blessing.
However, as I look back, I have often felt the lack of one key ingredient in that training – a detailed hermeneutics course. As a general training for ministry it couldn’t provide specialist areas for every sphere of ministry, and yet, having been involed in theolgical training myself for gour years now, I have come to realise how indispensable a good grounding in hermeneutics is. Over the years I have had to teach myself hermeneutics and happily admit now that it is a part of my preaching preparation that I take great delight in. It provides an endless source of insights into the biblical text and profoundly enriches preaching and teaching.
I thought I’d post, on an irregular basis, some hermeneutical principles and practices and hopefully, as others engage with me, we can sharped up one another’s thinking.
I. The Need for Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics has been defined as ”…finding the meaning of an author’s words and phrases, and of explaining it to others; exegesis; particularly applied to the interpretation of the Scriptures.” (Webster’s Dictionary)
It cannot be stressed too strongly that anyone engaged in Christian ministry in general and in the preaching ministry in particular must constantly be looking at the whole question of hermeneutics. If we are going to communicate the Word of God accurately and effectively then we need to handle the Word properly. This means reviewing again and again the sacred science of hermeneutics. If you are not prepared to do this then your vocation to be a preacher is seriously called into question.
As evangelical, biblical Christians we believe “that God has spoken to us” (Hebrews 1:1-2); our task as preachers is to know what He has said and communicate it for the benefit of others.
According to F F Bruce, hermeneutics is “an explanation of what is not immediately plain in the Bible” and it arises out of “the multifaceted character of the Bible”. For this reason “its interpretation takes a variety of forms”.
Arising out of our conviction that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it is therefore authoritative for everything to do with doctrinal belief and ethical conduct, we are left with no choice but to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the task of hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics recognises that Holy Scripture is
a revelation of God
that originates with God.
Our task is to make sure that what we preach is
true about God and truly comes from God.
When handling Holy Scripture we always need to keep in mind that the biblical documents are ancient, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek at various times between 1500 BC and 100 AD, reflecting several different historical and cultural settings. “Each biblical document, and each part of a biblical document, must be studied in its context – both its immediate literary context and the wider situation in which it appeared.”
There are several key points always to be kept in mind when we are engaged in the work of biblical interpretation.
- Interpreters of a biblical text are endeavouring to make clear what has been said by another, so they need to steer clear of their own opinions, impressions, and ideas. If we say more than what the text is actually saying, then we are in danger of importing into the text what is not really there.
- Interpreters must always keep in mind that although they are handling the Word of God, the form in which it has reached us is in the words of men. So the original human writer, the reason he wrote, the kind of response he was looking for from the original readers and the historical situation he addressed must always be in our thinking. In the best sense of the word, this is what we mean by a critical approach to the sacred text.
- Interpreters also need to remember that so much depends on proper interpretation, for it is from Scripture that we derive our understanding of God and all the major Christian doctrines (eg. Salvation, holiness, the Church, Christian living etc).
- Interpretation that is done properly is a built in safe-guard against false teaching, liberalism and heresy. It is worth mentioning that all the major sects and cults claim to be Bible-based, but their doctrines rely on strange interpretation of the biblical text.