It Models How One Should Take the Text and Study It On Its Own Terms
Take the root word of expository: expose. Our desire is to take the text on its own terms. Recently, someone commented that too many preachers have messages in search of a text. Praise God that he gives messages — just make sure those messages do justice to the text rather than simply doing justice to one’s pet topics.
The New Testament makes it easy on the preacher to find the theme. In fact, the Apostle Paul expertly introduces and unpacks theme upon theme in his epistles, leaving no doubt as to the direction. One man on the pastor search committee which called me noted that the majority of applicates for the pastor preached from the Sermon on the Mount (myself included). Why? For me, as a young preacher, the theme was crystal clear. One has to bring a lot of personal baggage to miss the themes in these passages.
Yet, there are other literary forms, aren’t there? The historical narratives, the wisdom literature, the prophets — many times, they fail to contain nice, compact layout. It takes work and prayer and study and prayer and wisdom … and prayer. While we will deal with literary forms in Part 10, we must realize that the Bible consists of works in different genres such as history, narrative, poetry, prophetic, and apocalyptic language. You cannot read history the same way you would poetry — history is more concrete while poetry often uses imagery to convey a concrete principle. And so forth. An understanding of the literary forms is crucial when taking the Scriptures on its own terms.
How Do We Take the Scriptures On Their Own Terms?
First, understand that this Book is an inspired Book. God wrote it. Yes, 66 books from 40 authors comprise this library known as the Holy Scriptures, but it has one author who inspired one book to show one strain of his redemptive work grounding in history. The Bible is about how God progressively unfolds his plan to his people for his purpose and glory. While as preachers and pastors we will deal with critics of the doctrine of inspiration who embrace worldviews such as liberalism, higher criticism, to the critics found in the emergent church who deny the certainty of knowledge in general and the Scriptures specifically — we hold to 2 Timothy 3:16 which says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The doctrine of inspiration is not a free pass to forsake studying these issues — but it provides the groundwork and the foundation to say, “Yes, God inspired this — and what I don’t understand, I know God gave it and will provide other Scriptures that I do understand to shed light on the ones I do not.”
Secondly, realize that the Scriptures are given by God as the sole mode of revealing himself. A.W. Pink rightly notes:
God has given us a clear revelation of Himself in creation, in the constitution of man (physical, mental, and moral), in His government of this world (as evinced in the annals of history), in the advent to this earth of His incarnate Son, and in the Holy Scriptures.[source]
Once the doctrine of revelation (God revealing himself in the Scriptures) and inspiration (God breathed out the Scriptures) are undermined, liberalism and a general mistrust on the authority of the Scriptures result. It becomes a book of inspirational thoughts or simply a book to be critiqued and studied — but not one to be obeyed.
Steps Taken By the Expository Preacher Regarding the Text’s Seriousness
(1) Pray that the Holy Spirit opens your heart and mind to not only the authority and inspiration of His Word, but also to the sins in your heart which may hinder communion with Him. The Scriptures are infallible, but we are not. Pray that God would lead you toward Christlikeness — which is what he predestined us to in Christ (Romans 8:29).
(2) Pour over the Scriptures first. While commentaries are quite helpful (some are, I should say), one must approach the Scriptures first. One professor told the story of how he’d go as a teenager and raid his dad’s office when his dad served as a pastor. As he walked out of his dad’s office with an arm-full of books, his dad noted, “You know, son, the Bible is a pretty good book, too!” The Spirit gives us the Scriptures to help us interpret the Scriptures as well. Go there first.
(3) Go to the original languages. If you know Greek and Hebrew, use it. Get back to the originals. If you don’t, find a good computer program like BibleWorks or a Strong’s concordance for a greater understanding. While we may understand sufficiently in the English, all English translations are just that — translations.
(4) Go to the commentaries which hold to the Bible as the Word of God. Too many scholars write commentaries to debate whether what the Bible says is actually so. They embrace various critical methods which question the truthfulness of the Scriptures. Pastors don’t have time to engage in such nonsense. Go to the old commentaries like Calvin and Spurgeon and Luther who trust the Scriptures. Find more recent commentators like R. Kent Hughes, J.M. Boice, Phil Ryken, and Derek Kidner. Monergism.com also has a ton of links to sites containing solid resources to Bible-believing preachers and teachers.
(5) Read biographies of faithful expository preachers. Iain Murray’s biography on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Marsden’s biography on Jonathan Edwards, among others show you how the study and love of Scripture was not simply a professional endeavor, but a life-calling. These biographies will motivate preachers to the blessed pursuit of biblical study. Even sketches found at various places such as here and here are helpful.
(6) Get under good expositional preaching at a local church. Good expositional preachers will model how to study and how to take the text on its own terms. But notice I said “at a local church.” Academic institutions may be helpful, but preaching divorced from the local church context lacks true authenticity in that you are preaching to the untrained layperson. Study coupled with putting the fruit of that study on the ‘bottom shelf,’ if you will shows the relevance of expository preaching in general and study in particular in the life of the average Christian.