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The Preacher and His Exegesis

October 20, 2006

Careful exegesis characterizes solid Bible preaching. If the preacher’s goal is to preach the Word, then he will preach what the Word says. When diligent exegesis characterizes his preaching, and when he is careful to preach what the Word says rather than what he has on his mind, then this preacher can preach any style of message. Topical messages are truly wonderful when they present the whole of Scripture. I personally enjoy preaching textual messages more than anything else. Exposition, when it presents the whole of the meaning of the passage, can provide the hearer with a rich and full exegesis of Scripture.

On the other hand, the absence of exegesis in topical messages turns the Word into a trampoline, from which the preacher can bounce from point to point. In the absence of careful exegesis, textual messages turn into a springboard into nearly unrelated topics shut your Bibles and let me talk to you tonight. More than once, I have endured “expositional” messages that reminded me more of a diving board display. The preacher said he would preach the passage verse-by-verse. But instead, he bounced on each verse a few times, did a spectacular swan dive into the pool, swam around for a bit, climbed back out, bounced on the diving board (the next verse) again, this time followed by a jackhammer dive, and so forth until he reached the end of his passage. This is not exposition, nor is it careful exegesis. This is that very special form of interpretation known as eisegesis.

Exegetical preaching carefully explains, unfolds, and illustrates the meaning of Scripture. In order to accomplish solid exegesis, the preacher himself must fully understand the passage. In my studies, I have encountered a very helpful method for examining a topic, text, or passage. This method was developed by Hermogoras nearly two hundred years before Christ. It utilizes a series of questions to ask of the issue. These questions should not be considered a replacement for careful exegesis. Rather, they are careful exegesis.

These questions will help the preacher to thoroughly examine the material from which he will preach. Although the questions will greatly aid the preacher in examination, they will not write his message for him. After a careful examination of the issue, the preacher still must arrange his points and prepare his presentation. But these questions will enable him to be thorough in his examination.

The questions divide into four categories: conjecture, definition, quality, and procedure. The questions of conjecture seek to get at the fundamentals of the issue. If we were dealing with the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, we would ask if stealing exists, and does it happen. Does stealing exist? Is it true? Where did it come from? How did it begin? What is its cause? Can it be changed? [1]

The questions of definition examine what essentially the issue is, asking how it can be defined, or what kind of thing or event it is. Again, on the issue of stealing, we would seek a precise definition of what constitutes stealing. What kind of thing is stealing? How would you classify it (to what larger class of things does it belong)? What are its parts and how are they related? [2]

The questions of quality are more complex. Thus far, the study focused on the fundamentals of the issue. Now, the study will focus on the issue, event, or act itself, seeking to establish the rightness or wrongness of the topic at hand. questions of quality divide into two categories: simple and comparative. [3] The first asks simply, is stealing right or wrong? Is it a good thing or bad thing? Should it be sought or avoided? Is it honorable or dishonorable? [4]

You could probably guess that the comparative questions of quality make comparisons between the issue and other, similar issues. In our study of the eighth commandment, you would compare stealing to borrowing or purchasing. Is stealing better or worse than something else? Is it more desirable or less desirable than some other alternative? Is it more or less right or more or less wrong than any other choice? Is stealing more or less honorable than any other option? Is it more or less base than another choice? [5]

Finally, one should ask questions of procedure. In this case, we will not have a series of questions to ask. Rather, we should simply consider what should or should not be done. In the case of the eighth commandment, we would seek to establish what the commandment requires and what the commandment forbids. In our questioning of the passage, we have moved from the theoretical to the practical, a direction that sound preaching should always take.

Again, we should always remember that these questions will neither write your message for you, nor will it give you a finished product. When one has answered these questions, he has a starting point of sound exegesis, and from there will be able to preach what the topic, text, or passage says.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Sharon Crowley, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994), p. 39
  2. IBID, p. 39
  3. IBID, p. 40
  4. IBID, p. 40
  5. IBID, p. 40
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