Interpretive Options

When you are preparing to preach a passage of Scripture there are always decisions to be made.  Some of them are relatively easy to make.  Others are harder to make, but the result is definite and clear.  Others are not easy to make, neither are they critical to orthdoxy.  So do you share the options with your listeners, or do you go for one option and present it (either strongly, if it is clear; or tentatively, if it is not clear)?

Some thoughts, although more could be added:

1. Don’t allow an academic discussion to overwhelm the main purpose and content of the message. If sharing the options with listeners would draw them away from the clear and central teaching of the passage, then think very very carefully before presenting the options.

2. Remember who you are preaching to – some groups just can’t handle options, others love them. As in all preaching, who you are preaching to is very significant.  Some groups would be confused and distracted by any apparent ambiguity in your presentation, but others love to get their teeth into such things (and appreciate the vulnerability of a preacher who doesn’t act like they have all the answers).

3. Don’t over-explain, sometimes interpretive options can be offered quite subtly. It is important to recognize the varied amount of explanation needed in such details of a message.  Sometimes we can make something bigger than it is, where it could be covered in two or three very brief sentences.  Even this might be effective sometimes: “Some people think he meant A, while others understand it to mean B.  Actually, either way doesn’t change the message of the whole passage…”

4. Recognize the opportunity to teach some Bible study skill. At the right time, with the right people, in the right passage, with the right words, this can be an opportunity to do some hermeneutics training within a message.

More thoughts . . . ?

3 thoughts on “Interpretive Options

  1. One thing that I try to do is point out what the options have in common. It is easy to see how views differ. But by noting commonalities you will less likely alienate those listeners who have views different than your own or the one you are presenting as most likely.

  2. I think you’ve covered this, maybe in not so many words, but I find that when a preacher lays out all or some of the interpretive options, it shows those listening that he/she has done the hard work and isn’t just “phoning it in”, lazily approaching the text, merely reading the text from his/her denominational or theological bias and ignoring the other equally evangelical, orthodox views.

    With certain passages, I think one can do a disservice to the text by presenting only their view. What’s more, a preacher can alienate entire groups of people by ignoring other valid interpretations. For instance, on more than one occasion, I’ve heard preachers present on eschatological view as the only option, hence alienating those who hold other positions, including those in their own church.

    In some cases, to present only one view can show a lethargic approach to scripture and a lack of humility on the part of the preacher.

  3. 4. Recognize the opportunity to teach some Bible study skill..

    It is true that every preacher should lead the congregation to a place of excitement of reading the Bible for themselves. Let us preachers create more Bereans in our midst, may God help us!

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