At times there is a need to establish the “applicational biblical audience” because the understanding of that passage is not uniformly taught or preached. Because, there are other voices out there who maintain that this-or-that passage is for a different audience, there is the need to take the time to argue your position.* It is important to the audience’s . . .
#1) attentiveness and response during the rest of the message
#2) continued understanding or interpretation of the passage.
I assume that both are important to the speaker — attention & continuance. The reason we are even teaching and preaching on a particular biblical passage is that . . . .
we believe that we are correct in our understanding of the passage, and
we want to persuade those who are listening (or will be – these days).
Surely, none are teaching or preaching is not “expressive,” but persuasive. It is not for the purposes of merely getting our “interpretation” out there — expressed. Rather, a speaker’s aim to be persuaded.
Beyond any immediate persuasion, we also have a long-term vantage. We seek to present such an understanding that our presentation of the context, argument, words, flow of thought, and grammar all support our “interpretation” well beyond the immediate moment.**
Dr. Stephen Davey illustrates the desire to accomplish this immediate and long-term purpose when addressing his understanding or interpretation of Romans 7:14-17.
There happens to be quite a controversy over this passage as to just who Paul is referring to.
It is not a small argument over interpretation.
In fact, it is the most important thing to decide before you begin to study this text.
Who Paul is referring to will make all the difference in the world not only in the interpretation of the text, but in the application of the text.
Who is Paul talking about when he says in Romans, chapter 7 —
- verse 14,
I am . . . sold into bondage to sin.
• verse 18,
For I know that nothing good dwells in me . . .
- verse 21,
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
If Paul is talking about an unbeliever, it will make all the difference in the world as you interpret and apply this text. If Paul is talking about a believer, that will have huge implications as well. Of whom is Paul speaking?
— Stephen Davey – The Battle Begins
This is but a small excerpt of the message which extensively argues for Davey’s biblical understanding of the passage found in Romans 7. As he states early on . . . .
“Today, I want to begin a series of studies entitled, “The War Within”. I am not sure how long it will take. In fact, as I studied and prepared, it became obvious that all I would be able to do is introduce a paragraph in Romans, chapter 7. ”
— Stephen Davey – The Battle Begins
That is primarily the case because Davey spends almost all his time arguing for his position. No surprise that at the end of his message, he is still arguing that Paul is describing himself . . . .
“No, my friends. As one author wrote, “Paul is describing a mature Christian, one who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine, spiritual standard. The more spiritual a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be.iv The more Paul grew up in Christ, the more aware he was of this body of flesh, this body of death he had to battle!”
— Stephen Davey – The Battle Begins
As Davey stated, “It will make all the difference in the world as you interpret and apply this text.”
Nevertheless, it not only makes all the difference in the world as you interpret and apply the text, but it makes all the difference as to whether or not your audience even actively listens and whether or not your audience is only presently or initially persuaded.
You may well lose their attention if they do not believe that the text has application to them. They may see the passage as speaking to . . .
- only the historical audience
- unbelievers who have rejected the salvation that is inChrist
- believers who are immature
- believers who are mature
- believers who are just at a different stage in their walk with Christ
You may fail at any long-term persuasion if or when they hear that passage “counter argued.” They may only agree with you at the moment because you have failed at various levels.
- You have not even stated that there are alternate positions to which your audience may well be exposed.
- You have not identified the strongest of the various possible understandings of this passage. You have identified only the least potent.
- You have not addressed the strongest argument(s) for any single or other position.
- You have not addressed the most difficult hurdle of your interpretation of the passage.
- You have not identified the strongest argument and/or the highest hurdle that any alternate positions will have to clear to reject your interpretation.
Let me expand on some of these points and identify the rhetorical technique what is called “Inoculation Theory.”
Inoculation Theory: Classical Rhetorical recognizes that you can do things while speaking which can give durability to your message. Because of the many voices coming at your audience in our day, you may want to take some steps to help prevent a person from being convinced today of a biblical truth and then changing to an alternate position tomorrow.
◊ Recognizing The Existence Of Alternate Positions: One way to do this is by merely mentioning the fact that you understand that there are other positions concerning this passage or biblical concept.
There will be those who because of their trust of you, will be more resistant to later rejecting what you have taught because they believe that you could have responded to the other position if given the opportunity.
◊ Actually Stating & Highlighting The Alternate Position: On yet another level, you could actually identify and briefly state the nature of the major argument of various alternate positions. Davey identifies SIX alternate views on the passage.
“If Paul is talking about a believer, that will have huge implications as well.
Of whom is Paul speaking?
Six Major Views of Whom Paul is Speaking:
There are six major views of whom Paul is speaking in these verses in Romans, chapter 7. There are actually more than six, but these are the primary viewpoints.
— Stephen Davey
Later on, if or when an audience member hears one of those other positions, it is not brand new to them. By an exposure to that alternate position(s), they are less susceptible to being influenced by it.
◊ An Extensive Examination Of The — Or Some Of The — Most Popular Alternate Position(s): Stephen Davey does this in his message. Just about the whole content of his message addresses the position that Paul is speaking about his personal struggle.
◊ A Presentation Of The Strongest Argument Of An Alternate Position: You may need to identify the strongest argument which your interpretation must answer.
This may be Davey’s attempt to present the strongest argument for an alternate position.
“The truth is, we really cannot imagine the great apostle Paul, an incredible spiritual leader, struggling with sin!
That is why so many people come to this paragraph and suddenly change the rules of interpretation. “I” no longer means “I”.
Paul is not speaking literally anymore, he has now jumped into some sort of strange mysterious method of communicating where he says, “I do this,” but he really means an unbeliever, or an immature Christian, or himself before he got saved, or himself before he grew up.
No, my friends. As one author wrote, “Paul is describing a mature Christian, one who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine, spiritual standard. The more spiritual a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be.”
— Stephen Davey
◊ A Presentation Of The Strongest Argument: You need to identify the strongest argument which is supported by the passage. Now it is possible that you can argue from the “general tenor of Scripture,” and that to hold an alternate position violates what other passages clearly teach.
Nevertheless, identifying a high hurdle which must be cleared by alternate positions, from the actual passage is a strong way to prevent “theological recidivism” or “repeated interpretative oscillation.”
Davey attempts to do this and cites the very phrases within the passage that he believes are fairly high hurdles to clear.
Whether you hold his position or not, he is helping to inoculate his readers by citing phrases which will have to be cleared when other positions are presented.
“Do you know how I know Paul is not referring to an unbeliever? Because an unbeliever would never confess, as in verse 16, that God’s standard of holiness is good. He would never say, as in verse 22, that he with great joy agrees with the standard of God’s law. An unbeliever wants nothing to do with the law of God.
An unbeliever would never say, as in verse 18,
. . . nothing good dwells within me . . .
No, an unbeliever says, “You can’t believe how good I am . . . if you really knew me, you’d never say I might go to hell one day . . . in fact, God knows me so well, He knows I’m a pretty good guy!”
An unbeliever would never concur with God’s law which says, according to Romans, chapter 3, verse 10,
There is none righteous, not even one
God’s law says, according to Romans, chapter 3, verse 23,
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
An unbeliever would never say, “I hate sin.” Paul says, at the end of verse 15 of chapter 7,
. . . I am doing the very thing I hate.
An unbeliever does not hate sin, he looks for it; he plans it; he sets it up; he saves up his money and buys it; he encourages it; he applauds it. What he hates about sin are the consequences – he hates getting caught; he hates the brokenness and turmoil of relational sin; he hates the diseases of sexual sin; he hates the penalties and punishments of civil sin – but he does not hate sin.
Only a Christian hates sin. Only a Christian hates to offend God and bring dishonor to His name. Only a believer sees the wretchedness of his sin. Only a believer, though failing to practically meet the holy standard of God’s law, would still say, with David, in Psalm, chapter 119, verse 97a,
O how I love Your law! . . .
Of whom is Paul writing then? Not an unbeliever. ”
— Stephen Davey
Whether or not one knows or understands this rhetorical concept, it is at work all the time. When you are raising children, you desire to tell them ahead of time what to expect, so the “virus” or “disease” is not a shock to their system (i.e., “Here are some things that you are going to experience).
When a youth pastor is teaching or instructing teens in a youth group about what temptations will look like and how they show up in innocent garb, he is attempting to innoculate them before their first real exposure to this or that sinful temptation.
Beyond the need to make sure your audience knows who the audience is, it is worth noting that the Scriptures clearly recognize that there is a mixture of audiences to whom you are speaking every Sunday.
* Some such topics include
- Sermon on the Mount
- Matthew 234
- The Rapture & Tribulation
- Nature and Beginning of the Church
- Christian Liberties
- Music & the Church
- Spiritual Gifts
- The Carnal Christian
- Lordship of Jesus
* If you have little concern for whether or not the listeners understand and hold your position on that passage, then I am not sure of the purpose of teaching or preaching your understanding of the passage — just saying.
** If there are those who have little interest in having a long-term impact on their listeners and have little concern as to whether the audience is persuaded otherwise concerning the passage, then I am uncertain as to why we stand before an audience at all.
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Thanks for your interest!