Faithlife Sermons

The Problem with Taking the Bible Too Seriously

Notes & Transcripts


  1. We used to live in Kentucky. In our town was a church that believed you must observe the Lord’s Supper with wine, not grape juice, since that is what Jesus used. As I recall, they also met in an upper room.
    • Ridiculous, you probably say.
    • Why would that matter? What possible good is served by such literalism.
  2. But the religious landscape is filled with such stories. Well-meaning people go far beyond respect to mindless observation and “obedience.”
    • The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven. This is based on a literal interpretation based on Revelation 7;14 and 14;1.
    • Some churches insist that their women wear head coverings based on 1 Corinthians 11;5.
    • Other churches will not allow women to participate in public ways in church based on 1 Timothy 2:12.
    • A small group of churches in the Appalachians handles live, poisonous snakes during their worship service, based on Mark 16:18.
  3. These people should not be ridiculed because of a sincere desire to obey the Bible. However, it should be observed that this approach to interpretation has produced a great number of problems both in divisions across Christendom as well as in the credibility of the Christian faith. Who wants to be a part of a religious tradition that drapes rattlesnakes and copper mouths around their necks?
  4. Today in our look at Christian apologetics we’re going to examine the idea of how to approach the Bible as it was intended.
    • The “science” of interpretation is called hermeneutics.
    • You use hermeneutics every day, every time you read something that requires interpretation: the comic strips, a road sign, the newspaper, or a business document.
    • There are certain rules that comprise good hermeneutics that we will discuss in this sermon.

I. What is the purpose of Scripture?

  1. When Paul wrote to the young man Timothy, he did so to instruct him about reclaiming his ministry, which Timothy had neglected for some reason.
  2. His instructions are a basic manual in building healthy churches.
    • Among other things, Paul told Timothy to “insist on and teach” these things.
    • Set the believers a [good] example so that they will respect you.
    • Give attention to the public reading of scripture. Paul believed this was a necessary part of church life.
  3. Writing to the Romans, Paul explained the importance and function of Scripture. “Whatever was written…was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4.
  4. He told Timothy in his second letter to him that scripture is “useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training….so that [we] may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16.
  5. Luke told Theophilus, the recipient of the Gospel of Luke, that he wrote the Gospel after careful investigation “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Luke 1:4.
  6. So scripture has a purpose, and its writers mean for us to take it seriously.

II. What does a text mean?

  1. First a word about the knowability of texts: In literary circles there has been a school of thought that texts have meaning apart from their author. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are examples of such.
  2. This school sought to banish the original author as the determiner of meaning and in so doing banished the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation.
  3. You can see the problems with this. A text of scripture is wrested from its original purpose and meaning. The author has no say in the future meaning of the text.
    • E.D. Hirsch Jr. Validity in Interpretation, said, “…the text had to represent somebody’s meaning—if not the author’s, then the critic’s. “ Page 3.
    • Further, “To banish the original author as the determiner of meaning was to reject the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation.” Page 5.
  4. Based on what we know scripture says it is for, we can assume that there is an implied meaning that is to accompany it. Not something that is imposed on the text by creative interpreters who ignore authorial intent.

III. Interpretation and Apologetics:

  1. The subject of interpretation is important to apologetics because unless one has a credible way of reading and understanding scripture there will be no credibility with others.
  2. Respect and intelligence with the text builds credibility with those we seek to teach and influence.
  3. Additionally, teaching smart methods of interpretation helps to build maturity and strength in those being taught.
  4. How many times have you seen someone abandon what they had because analysis created disillusionment and cynicism?
    • Maybe a church family that was inordinately strict.
    • Or a favorite proof text that proved to teach something else than what it was said to teach.
    • Or a failure to represent God in a way that is consistent with scripture.
    • Fee and Stuart comment about how some will apply a specific portion of a text very literally but not the whole text as in the case of tongues speaking and women keeping silent in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
    • Or the health and wealth gospel of Joel Osteen.

IV. Some Final Principles of Hermeneutics:

  1. The first and arguably most important principle is to understand that a text cannot mean what it never meant. The starting point of all textual work should be in trying to find what God meant when the text was originally spoken. Otherwise you have some goofy meanings being forced on the text.
  2. A second important principle is to understand that the Bible is not a flat document, all interpreted with the same template. So within the Bible you will find these kinds of literature.
    • History such as Exodus, Kings, or Acts.
    • Poetry such as Psalms or Song of Solomon.
    • Wisdom such as Ecclesiastes or Job.
    • Prophecy such as Isaiah or Joel.
    • Gospel such as Matthew or Mark.
    • Letters such as Romans, Colossians, or Titus.
    • And Apocrypha such as Revelation and some parts of Daniel.


  1. There are some good examples in the Bible of what happens when people do not approach the Bible as it was meant to be.
    • Israel after Babylonian captivity became fundamentalistic society. They majored in minutae but were unable to achieve the noble goals that God had intended for His word.
    • The Essene community is known for being the keepers of what is now known as The Dead Sea Scrolls. They lived in an exclusivist community in the hills around the Dead Sea, not wanting to be corrupted by the world.
    • The Mishnah is referred to without being specifically mentioned. It took the good intentions of the Decalogue and enlarged on it. Made it more demanding.
  2. The Bible is rich and good for us. It shows us how to live in an enriched way. But NOT if we impose our own meanings on it. It is not an e.e.cummings text to which we bring our own meaning. We can see the result of such approaches.
  3. Dear God, please help us to respect your word. Help us to be good and faithful students of its truths. Help us to grow up to the full stature of your Son. In Jesus' name. Amen.
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