woman weeping at the 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins? None other than
the classic children’s book author P.L. Travers. But these were not tears of
joy or gratitude. Travers hated the movie.”[i]
Countless original authors no doubt share P.L. Travers’ sentiments regarding artistic license taken by later interpreters of their work. In many ways, as contemporary Christian exegetes of the Scriptures, we are guilty of doing the same thing. Only thirty years had passed between P.L. Travers’ publishing Mary Poppins and the aforementioned world premier of the film by the same title with a reported devastating damage done to her original intended meaning. So, how in the world can we as preachers, teachers, and students of the Scriptures interpret the original intended meaning of the text written over two millennia earlier?
Any sincere interpreter of the Scriptures would surely agree with Fee and Stuart’s classic hermeneutical principle, “A text cannot mean what it never meant.”[i] So, how can we determine the author’s original intended meaning? Well, to answer that question we must first understand the uniqueness of the biblical text. As you doubtless already know we must take a close look at the genre of literature, the historical context, the author, the original readers, and all of the other principles for good interpretation. But the purpose of this blog today will be to answer the question of the role of the third person of the Godhead in illumining the biblical passage.
First, we are dealing with text written by a man inspired by God to write for a specific purpose (2 Timothy 3:16). Understanding the man is important. However, we must remember that we are attempting to understand a text that is written in a fashion that God the Holy Spirit inspired the human author to write.[ii] So, our doctrine of inspiration plays a key role in our hermeneutical approach. It is imperative then that we allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the text that He inspired for our understanding.
Second, as human beings we are incapable of understanding the things of God without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Whether you are a lay teacher with no formal training in hermeneutics or if you are a formally trained biblical scholar or somewhere in between—you cannot understand the God-breathed Scriptures without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Paul instructed believers in his first Corinthian correspondence that the things of the Holy Spirit must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
Therefore, we must approach the text as the divinely inspired Word of God that it is. Proper hermeneutical principles will lead us to the proper interpretation of the text. When we have determined that our interpretation of the text is correct, “the Holy Spirit’s illumination guides us to use what we learned in the real world, first in our own lives and then in the lives of those who hear us preach”.[iii]
In conclusion, we must approach the text as a sinful but saved human being that has humbled one’s self through prayer and repentance to allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach us the original intended meaning of the original Author—the Holy Spirit! (Click to Tweet) We must approach the text with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16)! When we do that, we will not grieve the original Author for our perversion His original intended meaning of Holy Scriptures.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH—DR. RANDY PRESSNELL
Husband. Father. Granddad. Senior Pastor of FBC, Oneida, TN. Former college administrator and Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministries.
Randy has served as both vocational and bi-vocational pastor to Tennessee and Kentucky churches since 1978. Randy has served on the Advisory Council of Ministers for Carson-Newman College as well as the J. Harold Smith Bible Institute and Pastor Training Center where he also served as an instructor. He has been active in Disaster Relief where he also taught training in evangelism. He served 12 years on the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
[i] Gordan D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, 1993), 26.
[ii] Wayne McDill, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, 2nd ed., (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 68.
[iii] Jerry Vines and Adam B. Dooley, Passion in the Pulpit: How to Exegete the Emotion of Scripture, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018), 143.