Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching -- By: David S. Dockery

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 12:1 (Fall 1994)
Article: Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching
Author: David S. Dockery


Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching

David S. Dockery

Vice President for Academic Administration
Dean, School of Theology
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, KY 40280

The church has used the Bible in a variety of ways. Because of the multifaceted character of the Bible, its use and interpretation have taken a variety of forms. We will briefly examine some of these uses, some basic principles of interpretation, an overview of the interpretation of the Bible throughout the history of the church, and some principles for applying the Bible in our modem context.

The goal of this entire survey is to enable us to set forth a model for interpreting the New Testament for preaching.

Biblical Interpretation: The New Testament Pattern

The writers of the New Testament adopted a Christological understanding of the Old Testament. This pattern was based on the way that Jesus Christ Himself read the Old Testament text. Following the current rabbinical practices, the apostles employed various approaches to the Old Testament. Moral injunctions were generally interpreted literally. Other Old Testament passages took on an obvious Christological reference, primarily through the use of typological interpretations. Yet no single image or pattern, no one motif or theme adequately expresses the apostles’ interpretation of the Old Testament. The New Testament emphasizes that numerous themes, images, and motifs of revelation and response are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The note of Philip’s jubilant words, “We have found Him” (John 1:45), was echoed by the New Testament writers as the way to interpret the Old Testament events, pictures, and ideas. It was not so much one fulfillment idea, but a harmony of notes presented in a variety of ways by different methods of interpretation.

Jesus became the direct and primary source for the church’s understanding of the Old Testament. The apostles, probably subconsciously rather than intentionally, practiced the procedures of interpretation followed by later Judaism. Jewish context, however, in which the New Testament was born, was not the primary aspect or the formation of Christian interpretation. At the heart of their interpretation a Christocentric perspective can be found. What was needed was a

perspective that could transform Torah into the Messianic Torah. Through the pattern that Jesus had set and through His exalted Lordship expressed through the Holy Spirit, Jesus served as the ongoing source of the early churches’ approach to the Scriptures.1

The Use of the...
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