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The Nonsense of Ignoring the Original Sense

1 February 2008

pulpit-3As I review The Integrity of Preaching by John Knox which I finished this week, this quote stands out to me as both true and hard at the same time. I have earlier blogged on preaching from the secondary meaning of scripture, examples of which we have in the preaching of Jesus. And yet these words from John Knox prove to be a very fair warning of the danger inherent in excesses of this practice:

The tendency to neglect the original sense is enhanced by a not uncommon view of the nature of the Bible as the Word of God. As such, according to this view, it is not only infallible, but also incalculably weighty and mysteriously pregnant. There is literally no limit to what the text may mean. Whatever the words suggest to the interpreter–or, as he would often say it, whatever the Holy Spirit imparts–must be what, or at least a part of what, the text is intended to convey. Since the meaning the words had for its readers does not in any degree determine or limit their real meaning, why trouble to inquire into it? Thus it happens that the preacher’s own conceptions take precedence to the words of Scripture itself, and the very affirmation of the Bible’s unlimited meaning amounts to a denial to it of any definitive meaning at all. Perhaps none of us would express himself quite as the preacher did who said, “I am not mathematician, no biologist, neither grammarian, but when it comes to handling the Bible, I knocks down verbs, breaks up prepositions, and jumps over adjectives”; but not infrequently we act with equal arrogance, riding roughshod over the clearly intended meaning of the text in order to make our own point. It is amazing, when you think about it, that one can do this under the impression that in thus disregarding the original meaning of the words of Scripture one is in some way exalting the Word of God.” (pp. 37-38)

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