Dear Pastor,
Would you please remember that each time you preach a sermon, you’re not just expositing God’s Word to God’s people, admonishing them to align their beliefs and behavior with God’s will, but you’re also exposing them to your hermeneutical methodology that is the framework from which we understand and apply God’s Word?

Sadly, some who deliver the inspired text week after week forget the importance of hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) and the necessity of thinking straight. Sometimes the train of thought and the use of logic is so bizarre that it is almost impossible to draw a straight line from where a preacher started to where he/she ended up.

Why Are Fire Engines Red?

They have four wheels and eight men;
four plus eight is twelve;

twelve inches make a ruler;
a ruler is Queen Elizabeth;
Queen Elizabeth sails the seven seas;
the seven seas have fish;
the fish have fins;
the Finns hate the Russians;
the Russians are red;
fire engines are always rushin’;
so they’re red.

D. A. Carson in “Logical Fallacies” from Exegetical Fallacies (p. 87)

So are there any “rules of engagement” for understanding the Bible?

Some basic (but oft forgotten) principles are:

  • Do look for the clear, straightforward statements of the passage.
  • Don’t create some deep, far-reaching observation. Scripture has enough profound ideas in the passage.
  • Do your best to keep personal ideas from interfering with your observations. God doesn’t need any help with inspiration!
  • Don’t assume you have observed all there is. Keep looking!
  • Do look for a single idea or concept that the biblical author is seeking to communicate within a context. An idea answers the question “What is being communicated?” Apart from understanding what the author is trying to say to his readers, a correct interpretation is impossible.
  • Don’t forget that the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, not a book about you. He is the leading character and the One being written about and the One we are to learn to love and worship. Every other biblical character has a supporting role in the overall story of God.
  • Do ask God for insight to clearly see what He wants to change in His people (Ps. 119:18) before you unpack your admonishments from the pulpit.
  • Don’t forget: The Bible means what it says and says what it means; nothing more and nothing less.

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