Proclamation & Application
For pastors, the application of Scripture is a process that begins with preparation. Perhaps this seems like a daunting task to pastors. It often feels as if the job is never done; visitations, crisis management, weddings, funerals, and births all require significant time investments. Nevertheless, the pastor must be diligent to devote sufficient time to sermon preparation. He should also consult the vast supply of resources available to assist in study. Pastors should be familiar with language tools such as grammars, lexicons, and exegetical dictionaries; they should also utilize reference works such as Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, Old and New Testament introductions, and commentaries. The pastor may be alone in his study, but he can be surrounded by many counselors in the form of books!
Of course the most important object of study is the Bible itself. As the pastor engages with the text of Scripture, his job is to move from study to sermon. The first task is to create a sermon outline that mirrors the outline of the text. The organization of texts is often genre-specific, so pastors should pay careful attention to genre while in the outlining process. Consider this example from the genre of Old Testament narrative. In Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, we first highlight five initial cautions:
- Be careful not to preach or teach a text while being ignorant of its literary context.
- Be careful not to impose alien structural divisions on the text.
- Be careful not to allegorize Old Testament narratives.
- Be careful not to impose unstated elements onto the narrative.
- Be ready to address familiar characters from a fresh perspective (743).
Next, there are four major steps:
- Identify and interpret the scenes of the narrative cycle.
- Analyze the scenes to determine the span of text for the sermon.
- Determine the structure of the textual unit.
- Design the sermon around the structure of the textual unit (743, 750–51).
Each genre will require a slightly different process, but the main point remains the same: the rhetorical structure of your sermon should mirror the literary structure of your passage (743).
Finally, the sermon is not complete until it is applied to the lives of the hearers: “We glorify Christ when we live out what we know” (784). We know that the Bible is the Word of God and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible gives us propositional truths that are to be obeyed (Matt 7:24), and it is just as relevant to us as it was to its original readers. It is true that contemporary readers face challenges that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible. We can’t just point to a given chapter and verse in the Bible to address contemporary issues such as recreational marijuana, stem-cell research, or euthanasia. Yet we can rest assured that the Bible gives us concrete universal principles “that are expressed in the text in such a way that they are valid for the people of God in all cultures” (789).
An Interview on Biblical Interpretation
In conjunction with our new course on biblical interpretation at The Gospel Coalition, I was interviewed by Fred Zaspel at Books at a Glance. In Part 7, we discuss proclamation and application—the proper end of biblical interpretation. You can listen below: