Preaching Texts You Do Not Understand

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One of the challenges that faces the preacher is the extent to which he concedes his ignorance or agnosticism over the meaning of a particular verse while in the pulpit.  No preacher wants to lose the authoritative `Thus saith the Lord!' dimension of proclamation; but nor should he give the congregation the impression of more certainty than he can justify.  Some obvious passages come to mind in this context: women's head coverings and baptisms for the dead being two classic examples.   I preached a third one on Sunday: 1 Timothy 2: 15, the verse concerning salvation through childbirth.

A few basic principles came to mind:

1.    I did not want to claim 100% certainty about what the verse meant because I did not have such; any attentive six year old could have skewered me at the coffee machine afterwards with a simple question.

2.    I was, however, confident in stating what the verse does not mean: it does not mean that the instrument of spiritual salvation for women is childbearing.  This contradicts the Bible's teaching on salvation as it is expounded elsewhere in much more straightforward passages, and places single and infertile women in an invidious position.  This narrows the field of possible meanings considerably.

3.    I was confident in outlining two approaches to the text which both had a certain amount of textual and theological support: that the reference is to the childbearing, the birth of Christ, which brings salvation; and that the reference is part of Paul's overall refutation of the false teaching in Ephesus which, among other things, appears to have downplayed the legitimacy of marriage; thus his comment is really saying to married women `Allow the Bible to set your agenda of what it means to be a woman, not these false teachers or the wider expectations of trendy Roman culture.'   Of the two, I find the latter more plausible but am not 100% convinced.  Sound commentators disagree on this point; and an amateur hack exegete like myself is not going to resolve the problem in a 30 minute sermon on a Sunday morning.

4.    I took a sufficiently large part of the text, in this case 1 Tim. 2:11-15, to allow me to make a clear application of the overall point Paul was making so as to relativise the specific complexities of this particular verse.   Thus, I aimed at retaining the authoritative aspect of proclamation while not claiming 100% certainty where I did not have any.

This may not be a perfect approach but I did avoid being skewered by a random six year old after the service.
Posted November 21, 2011 @ 10:07 AM by Carl Trueman

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