Scripture Twisting (or, Kneading!)

February 18, 2013

For much of the past year I’ve been teaching through the book of Ezekiel in the adult class at my church, Northmoreland Baptist. Last year while in ch. 4 I was asked if I’d ever heard of Ezekiel Bread. I’d not. Forgot all about it until yesterday when the same person brought me a loaf (months later).


It’s not bad when toasted. Not a lot different in flavor from some other multi-grain breads I’ve eaten. Might even be good for you—though I’ll take some of the claims on the wrapper with several grains of salt!

It’s interesting, however, that people will take one verse as normative and directive and claim to have found the perfect bread, but ignore the verses around the one they’ve “claimed.” 🙂 In this case, the bakery even includes an ellipsis at the end of the verse! I doubt they would sell as much bread to gullible Christians if they had included the rest of v. 9: “You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.” And they would sell even less if the baking instructions were followed—this bread was to be baked over human excrement! (v. 12). Even Ezekiel found that to be objectionable, so God allowed the use of cow dung instead (v. 15). Also note that those who ate this bread would “waste away” (v. 17)…. 🙂

If people would only learn to read the context, but that seems to be a scarce ability. We were in ch. 37 yesterday where I recounted the Mormon explanation that the two “sticks” (of Judah and Joseph/Ephraim, vv. 15–17) were really the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Though the text very clearly says that the union of the two sticks (another of Ezekiel’s object lessons) teaches that they “will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms” (v. 22). When it’s the Mormons performing this sort of hermeneutical juggling act, most Christians are skeptical, but when a Christian tries to sell bread based on an equally absurd hermeneutic, they seem to think that it’s “marvelous”!

Why aren’t we content to use texts in their context? Are we afraid that God’s purpose in giving them to us isn’t exciting enough? That people will listen better or respond better to our preaching if we can spruce up the text? Is creativity a commendable quality in an exegete? I’m glad to see some creativity in how a message is presented (I used two inscribed wooden sticks yesterday in Ezek. 37), but I shudder when a preacher’s creativity affects (or worse, “effects”!) his exegesis—when it determines the content of his preaching. There we have absolutely no right to be creative. We are subject to what one preacher has called

“the magnificent tyranny of the Gospel!”
[Donald Cogan, Stewards of Grace (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1958), 48, as cited in Stott, Between Two Worlds, 127.]

“In being committed to preach a passage of Scripture in context, expositionally, taking as the point of the message the point of the passage, we hear from God those things that we do not already intend to hear when we set out.”
[Mark Dever, “Expositional Preaching as a Mark of a Healthy Church,” SBJT 3 (1999): 61.]

Exegesis is “a discipline of the utmost rigour.”
[Stott, Between Two Worlds, 127.]

Hermeneutical “creativity” is what prompted a 19th century writer to remark,

I always think of the tricks of those ingenious gentlemen who entertain the public by rubbing a sovereign between their hands till it becomes a canary, and drawing out of their coat sleeves half-a-dozen brilliant glass globes filled with water, and with four or five goldfish swimming in each of them. For myself, I like to listen to a good preacher, and I have no objection in the world to be amused by the tricks of a clever conjuror; but I prefer to keep the conjuring and the preaching separate: conjuring on Sunday morning, conjuring in church, conjuring with texts of Scripture, is not quite to my taste.
[R. W. Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching, the 1876 Yale Lectures (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1877), 127; cited in Stott, Between Two Worlds, 132.]

(I’ve probably cited some of these last few quotes before. They are among my favorites on the subject, as is Stott’s book on preaching from which most of the quotes come.)

One response to Scripture Twisting (or, Kneading!)

  1. This is just excellent.