How We Read Scripture

There has been an interesting discussion going on under some recent posts here on the nature of interpretation, the role of scholarship, etc. in preaching.

To help me stay on track, I try to picture myself sitting in a gathering of Christians who are going to hear the writer's letter read (maybe for the 3rd or 10th time). What would their approach be? Would they be reading between the lines? Would one turn to the other and say, "This is what Paul is saying to me. What does it mean to you?" Would they take a sentence out of context and derive some obscure "spiritual" lesson? I think most if not all would agree that they would not do anything close to that - no more than you would do that with a letter you received.

I've been recently studying and preaching from Romans. I've found a number of commentaries enormously helpful in understanding some of the intricacies of the letter and also pointing out things that I did not see in my own reading of the text. I've been able to understand the book more fully. But I still maintain that Romans is understandable by the people sitting in the pew. I teach and preach because that is one of God's ways of building the Body - not because I have greater insight.

I wrote the other day that when we preach, we are modeling how our people should approach the Bible. Think about that! We have younger Christians sitting in our congregations wondering what to do with this book! And if we preach obscurity, I believe that we are creating an impression that none of us wants to create - that the "average person" would not be able to get that insight, so why bother reading. Instead, I want to take them systematically through a text and help them see the logical argument so that they learn how to approach Scripture on their own: understanding the meaning of the text before they attempt to make application to their lives. Only that prevents horoscope-type applications that are often far removed from the meaning of the author.

Check out what Malcolm Light said here about this subject. Thanks, Malcolm!! Great points! And thanks to KP and Bumble for your comments too.


Anonymous said...

Ahem, it's me again (hope you don't mind - but it's your fault for keep bringing up interesting topics).

First of all, the early Christians would not ask "What does it mean to me?" because the whole individualizing of interpretation was a rather modern development (may be from the renaissance/reformation period when individuals dare to question the authority of the collective). Have you noticed that almost all the "you" in the New Testament was plural in the Greek?

In the early churches, it had always been the job of the trained leaders to define "What does it mean to you." And did they read between the lines, and derive some obscure meaning out of it? Yes they did for more than a thousand of years, until the Reformation got people back on track.

And so, for the last two thousand years, our understanding of the Bible had moved from a centralized "What does it mean to you?" to a decentralized "What does it mean to me?" And this is precisely where expositional preaching would equip the people of God properly for the new privileges they have.

Personally, I think Small Group Inductive Bible Study would equip people better for that task rather than expositional preaching. This is because in IBS, you could ask "What does it mean to you personally?" and follow it up with "How did you derive to that conclusion?" and "How do you know it's true?" Then in the context of the community of discipleship, we are getting back to the plural "you" of Scripture, where a personal interpretation/application would be authenticated by the community of the people of God.

But that could be my bias.

Anonymous said...

PS: Christianity Today has this short outline of "Traditions in Bible Reading" in the early churches, check it out at

From that, I would say that the individualistic interpretation of Scripture is similar to the Gnostics, the expositional interpretation would followed the Antiochian and Syrian traditions. I myself, a wimpy postmodern, so I settled for Latin/Augustinian school of interpretation so I can have more rooms to wiggle :)

Peter Bogert said...

HA!! Wiggle away you postmodernist, you!!

I think that personal application is essential, but that has to be tied to good exegesis.

I'd have to disagree with you about inductive Bible studies being better than preaching. God has ordained preaching - and did so in a time when discussion of ideas was very much a culturally popular thing! I'd encourage you to visit and catch Mark Dever's comments on preaching.

Have a great day! You know, if you didn't live so far away, we could do lunch (grin).

Anonymous said...

Even as a "postmodernist", and trying to be "seeker-sensitive", and try to "wiggle" as much as I can, I do take on the vow of "expositional preaching" and strive for it everytime (but sometimes I screwed-up and failed). Here're my proofs so far:

I am not living too far from you. It is you who live too far from me. If you ever come out this way, let me know and we can get together too.