Reverse Engineering the Logic of Scripture

Undertaken in a considered and textually respectful way, reverse engineering actually serves to preserve rather than pervert meaning.

Particularly in the New Testament epistles it is vitally important to remember that these were originally documents designed to be read, and also studied. This means that the line of logic would be preserved in the worship of the church precisely because they would often be conveyed in their entirety, with their holistic concerns being allowed to breathe fresh air. In our own context, where preaching occupies between 30 to 45 minutes of our service, and where exegetical work is required to unpack and apply the meaning of verse or a paragraph, we can run the risk of diluted, or even distorting what the biblical author meant.

 

I believe that the systematic expository preaching of Scripture is not the only means of teaching the gathered church, but that it is the best. There are few models which can match working book by book, verse by verse, in terms of the exposure gained to the texture of Scripture’s concerns and expression, and the original authorial intent which God contrived, and through which he spoke. As with any asset, however, there are costs entailed in the upkeep of this approach, and there are risks of loss and damage if it is not handled appropriately. Dull and boring procedural plods through a passage with cursory application, a ‘take it or leave it, here’s what it says’ approach which never desires or aims at the believer’s heart, and a whole host of other risks attend teaching through the Bible in a linear systematic way. One other danger, which may not be so obvious, is that of missing the logic of the passage we are studying.

That last statement might seem contrary to the aim and to the realisation of expository preaching. Surely it is the lightweight, hummingbird, thematic, cherry-picked, life-coach approach to preaching which ignores logic? Surely as expository preachers exegesis is our bread and butter, our concern with the meaning of what a passage says reaching down to the atomic level of individual units of meaning, of tenses, cases, and prepositions? How in that surgical environment could the logic of a text be missed? The answer is that both the author and the readers/hearers of biblical text inhabited a thought-world with its own norms and assumptions, with its own points of contact with the world and with the conscience. There are times when the line of a passage rests on a shared assumption, there are times when an entire cultural milieu is the operating system for how truth is taught. In some ways these matters are resolved by context, but they are also often reliant on structure.

Particularly in the New Testament epistles it is vitally important to remember that these were originally documents designed to be read, and also studied. This means that the line of logic would be preserved in the worship of the church precisely because they would often be conveyed in their entirety, with their holistic concerns being allowed to breathe fresh air. In our own context, where preaching occupies between 30 to 45 minutes of our service, and where exegetical work is required to unpack and apply the meaning of verse or a paragraph, we can run the risk of diluted, or even distorting what the biblical author meant. This might mean that we at times break up the structure of passage, reverse engineer it, perhaps even invert the order in which we approach verses. A recent passages that I have preached on might illustrate this:

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