If we lived in a perfect world, and each reader of the Bible were perfect, then without any real impediment we could read the Scripture, understand it perfectly, and teach it to others. If only.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for exposition, because every person would have the mental and spiritual faculty with which to read and understand. However, in our fallen condition, we need both revelation (God giving us the truth in the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit) and illumination (God giving us understanding of the Scripture through the same Spirit).
Here is the truth: we all bring our own ideas to the Bible. And this is a problem.
One of the great expositors of our times, John R.W. Stott, wrote about this in his book Understanding the Bible. He pointed to Isaiah 29:11-12, which says:
(11) And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” (12) And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”
Because the people of Israel were rebellious toward God, His truth was kept from them, like a sealed book. The people themselves were like an illiterate person who could not read. Thus there were two barriers to understanding the truth. It is the latter we want to consider in this post.
One of the great dangers in our exposition of the Bible are the presuppositions, both explicit and implicit, that we bring to our study of it. Because of our sinful condition, none of us approach the text as a blank slate. Because of sin, we all have a blurred vision of the text that must be corrected. We should pursue an unfettered look at God’s Word but none should presume their freedom from unwarranted bias.
The great challenge is to let the Bible address our presuppositions, rather than the other way around. Think of them as filters (frameworks) through which we read Scripture. Left unchallenged, those preexisting notions color our exposition of the text and alter its true meaning. David Helm correctly notes that some use the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination.
What might be some examples of presuppositions that misrepresent God’s truth? The list could on and on. Examples might include theological frameworks (prosperity gospel, dispensationalism, Calvinism, Arminianism, covenant), methodological (therapeutic framework, felt needs, social activism), political (conservatism, progressive-ism, Marxism), or even personal issues and background. Nothing of these are wrong in and of themselves. However, we must remember that the text is king and that all of our assumptions must be governed by it, and not the other way around.