Human Authors, Words of the Spirit, and Preaching Christ
Human Authors, Words of the Spirit, and Preaching Christ
Before the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to "Preach the Word!" (2 Tim. 4:2), he admonished the pastor of the Ephesian church to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15). The handled Word becomes the preached Word. Richard B. Gaffin, lecturing on Reformed hermeneutics at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says,
The theme of hermeneutics has a particular focus in the direction of preaching. … I will focus on the hermeneutical side, but I always do that with an eye toward preaching. … Exegesis, the work in the study, ought to always be in the interests of the pulpit.
Sidney Greidanus suggests that the term "hermeneutist" best describes the task of the preacher because it expresses the fact that "(1) he interprets the Word, (2) he translates the Word, (3) he proclaims the Word, and (4) that these activities cannot be separated."
The preacher must not be like a television anchorperson delivering lines that someone else has written, having no personal investment in the material. Instead, the preacher should be delivering a sermon from God's Word that has first gripped their heart and shaken their mind, a sermon born from hours of wrestling with the text and delivered with the scars of hermeneutical and homiletical preparation apparent.
Michael Fabarez observes, in his book Preaching that Changes Lives,
Your weekdays, imagined by the naïve to consist of pastoral chitchat, hours of pleasure reading, and afternoon rounds of golf, are in fact days of intensive study that culminate in a spiritual battle called a sermon. As Bruce Thielemann writes, "The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and does not rest … . To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know that each time you do it that you must do it again." The life of preaching requires dedication to the ongoing rigors of weekly preparation and delivery.
What are we looking for?
One of the significant issues in hermeneutics, and therefore homiletics, is answering the question of what we are looking for when we interpret the Bible. Should preachers search for the single original intended meaning of the human author in the immediate and antecedent context alone, or should he also be looking for the fuller meaning of the divine author in the context of the entire Bible? The answer to that interpretive question will have a profound effect on the content and nature of sermons.
I contend that the Bible teaches us that no text is rightly interpreted apart from understanding its meaning in the context of the entire Bible and every text must be understood and interpreted in light of its relationship to Jesus Christ, the center of Scripture, and eschatological fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ.
Vern S. Poythress explains, in his article "Divine Meaning of Scripture,"
What is it at stake when the interpreter ignores divine intention: If the grammatical-historical exegesis pretends to pay attention to the human author alone, it distorts the nature of the human author's intention. Whether or not they were perfectly self-conscious about it, the human authors intend that their words should be received as words of the Spirit.
First Peter 1:10-12 is a pivotal text in this discussion:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
In this passage, Peter speaks of "the prophets" as representative of the Old Testament prophetic writers. Two things are clear in the text: first, it was "the Spirit of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:11) who spoke through the Old Testament prophets; and second, they understood that they were writing for a future people to whom the Messiah, about whom they wrote, would come. Though they knew about the Messiah and "made careful searches and inquiries" to know more, their understanding was limited.
These limitations have been removed for us in light of "these things which have now been announced" through the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:12). The message of the Old Testament prophets was always intended to have a fuller meaning and be of greater benefit to later generations via progressive revelation. As to where the prophets "searched and inquired carefully" (1 Pet. 1:10) regarding the promised Messiah, the answer is most likely the Scriptures.
This text not only permits the interpreter to exegete Old Testament texts in light of later New Testament revelation, it demands that the interpreter do so. This is because there is not always a confluence between the intention of the human and divine authors. While one must guard against anachronistic interpretations, the uniqueness and supernatural unity of biblical revelation demands that all of the parts be read in light of the whole for a full (or even adequate) determination of meaning. We must unapologetically approach the biblical text both hermeneutically and homiletically prejudiced by the centrality of Christ and his kingdom.
David Prince is Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and he blogs at www.davidprince.com.