Often, biblical authority is lost in the transition from the biblical text to the contemporary application. Somewhere in that gap, we (sometimes) sever ties to the author’s intent and forsake all biblical authority. It is in the sermon’s application that we often hear the commandments of men preached as the doctrines of God. In fact, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, largely, was a primer in correct application: “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you.” The implication: If the biblical author controls his meaning (and he does), then he also controls the application of his meaning. The next few articles will be devoted to correcting this application problem, a problem few even know exists.
Allow the Biblical Text to Drive the Application
Kaiser correctly diagnosed the problem: When an application has only a superficial connection to the author’s verbal meaning, then it must be judged as a wrong application.1Walter C. Kaiser, jr., “Inner Biblical Exegesis as a Model for Bridging the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ Gap: Hos 12:1-6,” JETS 28 (Mar 1985): 34 We explored this “bridging the gap” concept in a previous article, but now we must go further.
We must discover the genuine relationship(s) between the biblical author’s “single meaning” and its abiding “significance.” These parameters remain in place:
- Every preaching-text has a “single meaning;” therefore,
- Every preaching-text has a “timeless principle;” however,
- That “timeless principle” can apply to multiple situations.
In moving from the biblical author’s “single meaning” to the “specific application” of his meaning, we must find legitimate applicatory relationships between the two. The following are some points of consideration.
Considerations in Point-to-Point Application
- Make sure the text’s purpose and application match.
- Make sure the text’s emphasis approximates the contemporary situation’s emphasis.
- Look for “commonalities” between the original audience and the contemporary one.2See Ramesh Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament, BSac 143 (1986): 208-15.
- Do both audiences belong to the universal church?
- Do both share things such as God’s attributes, God’s law, etc.?
- Do both share the expectation that God’s Word is relevant today?
- Do both share the idea that the OT provides background to NT?
- Be aware of unique cultural situations which don’t apply today.
- Be cognizant of when the biblical author is addressing/correcting a problem.
- Be mindful of the continuity and discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church.
- Make certain you can trace-back any application directly to the text. If you have to over-explain it, a legitimate relationship likely doesn’t exist between the text and your application.
Point-to-Point Example: 1 Corinthians 9:7-11
Earlier, we examined how the Apostle Paul applied Deuteronomy 25:4 (“muzzling the ox”) in 1 Corinthians 9:7-11. Deuteronomy 24-25 memorializes a list of civil laws illustrating the moral way God would have His people behave. Paul recognized Deuteronomy 25:4 establishes a “timeless principle.” In the original context, some of the crop was given to feed the ox who performed the labor. The “timeless principle” is: If animals deserve to be compensated for their labors, people deserve to be compensated for their labors, too. Paul transferred that to his present-day audience in this way: “The plowman should plow in hope . . . of sharing in the crop” (1 Cor. 9:10).
The specific application Paul made was to gospel preachers, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel”(1 Cor. 9:14).
Let’s track the legitimate relationship between the single meaning of Moses and the specific application of Paul.
Moses’ Single Meaning:
The ox should get food from one who benefits from his labors.
The Timeless Principle:
People should be compensated from one who benefits from his labors.
Paul’s Specific Application:
Gospel ministers should be provided for by those who benefit from their labors.
The “timeless principle” is single, but it may be applied to other areas as well. If you are a business owner, provide for your employees who labor on your behalf; if someone does repair work on your home, provide fairly for him/her—even generously—if you are able; if someone teaches your children, provide for them to the extent you can. In short, do unto others as you would have done unto you.
One great tragedy in preaching is when our application has only a loose connection to the biblical text—or worse, an illegitimate one. Weak applicatory connections reduce the gospel preacher to nothing more than a motivational speaker. This happens all too often.
Ground your application in solid, biblical authority. Then, watch the Spirit use it to change men’s hearts.
|1||Walter C. Kaiser, jr., “Inner Biblical Exegesis as a Model for Bridging the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ Gap: Hos 12:1-6,” JETS 28 (Mar 1985): 34|
|2||See Ramesh Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 3: Application Theory in Relation to the New Testament, BSac 143 (1986): 208-15.|