To become a seasoned expositor of God's Word requires a method, or a series of specific steps. Equally important, however, is one's starting point, which is, sadly, quite often lacking. One's starting point is important not only for learning how to become a better expositor, but also as a means of attaining reverence for God, another aspect of biblical exposition that is often overlooked. In this chapter, we will discuss the starting point for becoming a Bible expositor before we look at the process. In short, we start—and stay—with God.
I have had the high privilege and calling of teaching Bible Exposition classes for more than thirty years. Very often, when I finish a class on a book such as Isaiah or Hebrews, students will sigh and say, "Oh, if we could only go back to the beginning of the Bible and do what we are doing now, it would be so tremendously rewarding!"
I agree—such is the richness of God's Word. However, I remind them that if we were to do that, they would be in seminary for twenty or more years and never leave our campus or go to minister to churches or institutions. Yet it is in response to this desire, and through God's sovereignty, that the current volume, The Expositor's Handbook: Old Testament Edition, has come into existence.
What most intrigued me about writing this series was the vision of B&H Academic to make the Bible the primary text. It is not that Bible research and commentaries are unimportant; there are wonderful resources available with which God has blessed His church throughout the centuries. But unfortunately too often, the more students progress in theological training, the less they use their Bibles. As my current and former students know, I do not permit computers in my classes. This is not punishment; it is intended as part of the process of hiding God's Word in their hearts—not their hard drives. And there are no quick solutions for accomplishing this. We all learn throughout our entire lives. I tell students to bring a Bible they can mark as we follow some of God's biblical trails. I hope that it will be a Bible they can take into the hospital room of someone facing death, use to comfort people in mourning or grief, or pull out as they witness to someone in the seat next to them on a bus or plane. What's more, I fear a time will come when around the world, even in America, the Bible may be the only resource available to God's people. Yet even then, owning a Bible could prove to be dangerous.
Of course, no single biblical resource could cover everything needed to be an expositor of God's Word or deal with every theological issue or current hotly debated topic. And such is not my intent. The purpose of this book is to establish some biblical boundaries based upon several divine, and immovable, truths for understanding and expositing God's Word. There are times, most would agree, when assistance is needed from a more seasoned believer in helping others better understand biblical truths. Acts 18:24-26 shows such an example, in Priscilla and Aquila:
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
My desire is that The Bible Expositor's Handbook will be used in the same way. And while no book can cover every issue, it will be shown that there are some issues you must be aware of if you are going to understand God's Word.
The discipline of hermeneutics can be defined as the rules by which the Bible is interpreted. With this in mind, hermeneutics serves an indispensable role in the formation of one's methodology. While a sound methodology is utterly important and cannot be overlooked, true, God-honoring lovers of God's Word need an even more fundamental starting point. Simply expressed, before the methodology (the how-to), we need to focus on—and prayerfully worship in Spirit and truth—the God to whom the Bible belongs.
Below are just a few examples (to which many more could be added) of some of the core biblical truths from which we can establish the irreplaceable point of beginning for biblical exposition. That beginning point entails knowing how to approach God and His Word. First, one must be humble before God, contrite in spirit, and trembling at His word. Isaiah 66:1-2 reads,
Thus says the Lord,
"Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being," declares the Lord.
"But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."
Note the three divine requirements for approaching God and His Word: being humble, being contrite of spirit, and being one who trembles (in fear or excitement) at His Word. All of these spiritual dispositions, it should be observed, are mocked by the world and by many who are considered to be part of "the Christian world."
Second, one must be a learner. In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus says, "Come . . . learn of me" (KJV), with the word learn serving, in the Greek, as the base word for disciple. A disciple, then, is a learner, and that is just what God calls us to be. He did not say, come and I will teach you a method. He says, come and learn of—and from—Me.
Third, one must hunger for the pure milk of God's Word. First Peter 2:1-3 states, "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." The biblical command here entails longing "for the pure milk of the word"—not theological studies (although that has its place), not coffee-table debates, and not philosophy. God wants us, even commands us, to long for the pure milk of His Word as a newborn baby would for his mother's milk. Sadly, often as we grow in our faith, we get "weaned away" from the pure milk of the Word, and we replace it with something else, wrongly concluding, "we can take it from here."
Fourth, one should strive to grow in grace and knowledge. In 2 Peter 3:18 the author exhorts us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." Both grace and knowledge are required for spiritual growth. To grow in grace only, and not have that bound to true biblical knowledge, has no boundaries or basis for evaluation. Since the beginning of the church, many people have called—and still call today—virtually anything "growing in grace," even if what is done is contrary to Scripture. Simply put, growing in grace must have solid biblical evidence for it, otherwise, it is not truly growing in God's grace, no matter how well meaning it may be. Paul thus warned the church in Colossians 2:18, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind." Paul concluded Colossians 2 this way: "These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (v. 23). Many at the church in Colossae would have considered most or all of these components to be wonderful aspects of their Christian spiritual growth. Yet God—by means of the apostle Paul—did not find them to be acceptable to Him.
So to grow only in grace has no biblical boundaries for how that is accomplished or measured, or even if it has occurred at all. In a similar manner, the other extreme is valid to consider: to grow only in knowledge without grace not only treats God's Word as a mere textbook, but also removes God Himself from the hermeneutical task. God does not permit either extreme in true biblical exposition.
Fifth, one must receive the Word with great eagerness. Acts 17:11 describes the Jews at the synagogue of Berea: "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." The prayer of the "Berean Christian" might be best summed up by Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes, that I may behold / Wonderful things from Your law." From this psalm about the truthfulness and treasure of God's Word comes this prayer that God would open our eyes to behold wonderful truths in His Word. God is the ultimate teacher; God is the ultimate author; and God is the ultimate illuminator of His Word. And, while I do not want to sound overly mystical, there will always be a spiritual component to true biblical exposition that the world will never understand. Being a "Berean Christian," then, is not only recommended, it is required for those delving into this book and for any other book that presents itself as teaching biblical truths. A "Berean Christian," then, will carefully search the Scriptures to see whether what is being presented is true or not.
In summary, the fundamental starting point of true biblical exposition, that is, the irreplaceable point of beginning and staying, is to come humbly before God, contrite in spirit, and trembling at His word (Isa 66:1-2); to come as learners, as His disciples (Matt 11:29); to hunger for the pure milk of God's Word (1 Pet 2:1-3); to strive to grow in grace (from the inside out while walking with Him) and knowledge (true, biblical knowledge, not our mere emotion); and to receive the Word with great eagerness. For those who find these core biblical truths unimportant or overly simplistic, read—and fear—Jesus's rebuke of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7, who after doing so many things right "had left their first love."
One might ask why we need another book about Bible exposition. To answer this question, it is important to explain a few terms. This book will assume a clear distinction between Bible exposition and expository preaching or teaching. While these two tasks are related, they are not identical. I will use Bible exposition to refer to the expositional method and the expositional preparation. Expository preaching and teaching, however, are outlets for the truths you have found in God's Word in your expositional studies. Therefore, this handbook will focus primarily on the content part and secondarily on the methodology undergirding that content. In other words, we are not seeking to sermonize the text but to grow in our understanding of biblical truth. Undergirding this approach are two important convictions:
It is important not to reverse this process. You can set up your calendar to ensure that all biblical texts are addressed in a particular order (e.g., week 1, Phil 1:1-4; week 2, Phil 1:5-7, etc.). To be sure, many would consider this approach to be expository preaching. But without solid Bible exposition (expository preparation), it is possible to use this method for years without ever addressing what the book is actually about. For instance, if you did not know that virtually everything Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first epistle was extremely corrective in nature for what they were doing wrong, you could "calendar preach" through 1 Corinthians and ignorantly encourage your listeners to follow the same example of this multifacetedly sinful church. That is why this handbook will focus more on the study of the content than on the delivery of that content. One way we hope to achieve this goal is by implementing the hermeneutical methods you may have already been taught and applying them to key biblical texts. This approach will not only help readers grow in the understanding of God's Word, but also make readers become more aware of some of the obstacles to learning.
A brief example might help illustrate the importance of moving from Bible exposition to expository preaching and teaching. While conceding that there are different ways to approach the text, we will confine our method to the oft-used trifold approach of Howard Hendricks's Living by the Book, which includes (1) observation— what the text says, (2) interpretation—what the text means, and (3) application— what we can apply to our lives. This hermeneutical approach will be applied to Job 8:3-7, a discourse spoken by Eliphaz:
Does God pervert justice
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you And restore your righteous estate.
Though your beginning was insignificant,
Yet your end will increase greatly.
Although one could make a number of observations about this text, we will limit ourselves to one, namely that it begins with a rhetorical question that asks if Almighty God would pervert justice. Assuming a negative answer, a reader might draw several interpretive conclusions related to God delivering sinners into the power of the transgressions committed and then related to imploring one to seek God and His compassion. Further, the overarching meaning of the text might even be connected to Jesus and His work in the Gospels. Finally, an application might ask if anyone would like to partake of the same offer from God.
The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it is all wrong. You might reply, "This cannot be wrong! How could this possibly be wrong or contrary to Scripture?" Here we need to note a major truth: Scripture references are not fortune cookies or one-liners. One must consider whether there is other divine revelation that God has given earlier or later that gives clarification. In this case He has. The dialogue in Job 8:3-7 comes from the lips of Eliphaz, one of Job's friends. Yet when we come to the end of the book, God warns Eliphaz and others:
After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has. Now take seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Then My servant Job will pray for you. I will surely accept his prayer and not deal with you as your folly deserves. For you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has." Then Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job's prayer. (Job 42:7-9 HCSB)
Twice in this section God declares that Eliphaz and his two friends did not speak the truth concerning Him, and God strongly warned "that I may not do with you according to your folly." People who cite or quote from the book of Job often refer unwittingly to various passages from Job's three friends whom God says do not speak accurately concerning Him. Granted, some of these same concepts or truths may be found elsewhere in Scripture; that is not the point here. The point is that you can follow a time-honored hermeneutical procedure with an expositional calendaring of the texts and unintentionally fail to do either sound Bible exposition or the solid biblical expository teaching or preaching that would follow.
What is frequently omitted in such ill-advised approaches, then, is the continuity, cohesiveness, and unity of Scripture as a whole, which will be one of the primary emphases of The Bible Expositor's Handbook. Where does a verse occur in Scripture? Who is being addressed or written about? What information has God already given? What does He give later to clarify or expand? This is a lifetime of learning for all of us, and no one ever learns all of it. Although we cannot cover everything in the Bible, there certainly are things we must cover.
That Bible exposition should give special attention to the continuity and assimilation of a given text is a focus of the present study; undergirding this effort is a literal-grammatical hermeneutic. More and more people are abandoning this hermeneutic as being outdated and out of fashion. Yet I will argue that the biblical writers themselves do not hold such a position. To clarify what I mean by literal-grammatical, let us consider the example above of the Bereans in Acts 17 who (1) were more noble-minded than those at Thessalonica, (2) because they received the word with great eagerness, (3) examining the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so. It is evident from this text that those so described received God's Word, studied it carefully, and examined it daily to see whether these things were true. For them to study, compare, and make conclusions, they would have had to have employed the literal-grammatical hermeneutic, because that was the only way by which any of the claims could have been evaluated.
A literal-grammatical approach, then, takes the biblical text at face value, rather than an approach that spiritualizes much of the historical elements of a given text. Such spiritualizing approaches, however, often differ wildly from one interpreter to the next. Before abandoning the literal-grammatical hermeneutic, one ought to consider if such an approach fits within the unfolding message of Scripture. And while we cannot consider all the verses of the Bible, we can apply this approach to key verses. We will begin the next chapter with Jesus's own understanding of the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.
We note one final item for this first chapter, and we do so by going to the Luke 24 account of Jesus with His two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the day He arose from the dead. Before Jesus revealed to them who He was and is, He mildly rebuked and admonished them in Luke 24:25-27:
And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.