The task of preaching is to present what the Bible says in a way that is practical and easy to understand. Sometimes this requires explaining concepts that are difficult to grasp. This leaves preachers with an uneasy dilemma: should we explain the Bible in all its depth or limit our teaching to its most basic truths?
A Harmful Trend
Preachers often resolve this dilemma by using unbiblical language to explain biblical concepts. Rather than using words the Bible itself uses, we use simpler words that are understood quicker and require less explanation. But this “solution” actually creates a larger problem: because we do not use the Bible’s own words and take the time to explain them, our people (and we) fail to understand and remember its teachings.
Three major concepts in the Bible are sin, salvation, and obedience. In fact, these concepts constitute a timeline for the major life periods of any saint. While the Bible uses a broad and meaningful range of words to fully present each concept, we often give our people simplistic and incomplete explanations:
- Sin. Instead of saying people sin, we say they “make mistakes”; instead of calling people sinners, we refer to them as “lost”; and instead of saying our world is sinful, we call it “broken.”
- Salvation. We call upon sinners to “accept Jesus into their heart,” “give their life to Christ,” or pray a “prayer of salvation.” We explain salvation as merely, “Jesus died for my sins.”
- Obedience. We urge our people to “surrender” every part of their lives to Jesus and step outside of their “comfort zones.”
Using Biblical Language
The solution to teaching the Bible’s concepts is to use its own language in our preaching. Vocabulary is as fundamental to theology as any other subject. We must introduce our people to the Bible’s words, explain how it uses them, and be faithful to use them in our preaching.
Consider how the Bible describes some of its major concepts:
- Sin. The Bible refers to sin as wrongdoing, rebellion, wickedness, adultery, and disobedience. Apart from Jesus, all people are sinners who are dead in sin and enslaved to it. The world is full of sinners who suffer the consequences of sin.
- Salvation. The Bible refers to salvation as redemption, atonement, propitiation, election, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. It calls upon sinners to believe, repent, and be baptized in order to be saved.
- Obedience. The Bible tests our love for Jesus by our obedience to Him. It tells us to walk as He did, live by His Spirit, obey His commands, and sacrifice for Him. It says we are under His lordship and He does not tolerate disobedience.
The Bible was not originally written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. So should you take my advice literally and begin using the original languages in your preaching?
Yes, you should – if you are adequately equipped to use the original languages accurately and responsibly. If not, the wording of a reliable English translation is enough to help your people (and you) develop a more complete understanding of the Bible’s major concepts.
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