“Now, I’m no Greek scholar,” said the preacher, and it was at that point when I wanted to suggest he not go any further. Yet, further he went. He built a significant part of his sermon on what the passage said “in the original Greek.” Nevertheless, when he finished his explanation and subsequent application, he had proven his point—he was no Greek scholar. In fact, everything he said about the Greek text—everything—was dead wrong. He simply made stuff up to prove the point he was trying to make.
Why would he do that? Why would any of us do that? Specifically, why would we endeavor to speak of those things about which we claim to have no knowledge? Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive? If we are not experts on a particular subject, is it not possible to gain enough knowledge that we might get our facts right? Let me give some suggestions for speaking about subject matter for which we might be underqualified.
I’m No Expert
I often hear preachers qualifying what they are about to say with the disclaimer, “I’m no expert on this.” Of course, sometimes they do not use the disclaimer, but everyone knows they are out of their depth. For example, before introducing an illustration, a preacher might say, “I’m no legal expert,” or, “I’m not a doctor,” and then they proceed to discuss a legal or medical matter.
If you do not have a law or medical degree, perhaps you should not wade into those waters. However, an alternative would be to gather enough information to speak intelligently and factually on your chosen subject. For example, when I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount and came to the passage about trying to remove the speck from a brother’s eye, I made an appointment with my optometrist. I asked him about removing small foreign objects from people’s eyes. He explained that as an optometrist, he would only remove certain loose objects. He stayed away from metal and glass and other things that might cut or tear the eye, as well as objects embedded in the eyeball. Those things he would refer to an ophthalmologist.
Next, I went to see an ophthalmologist. He explained the care with which he would remove a foreign object, and he gave me one of the tools he would use—a diabetic syringe (which has a very fine needle). After asking several questions to make certain I would explain all this correctly to my congregation, I was able to make some well-informed application. I explained how delicate the eye is and how not everyone is qualified or has the right tools for removing small objects from an eye. Then I talked about how not everyone is qualified or has the right tools (knowledge, gifts, etc.) to deal with sin in the lives of others. Part of our qualification is to remove the large objects (obvious sins) from our own eyes. Only after inquiring from a couple of experts was I able to speak with some knowledge that I did not previously possess.
I’m No Scholar
Similar to the prior example, the fact is not every preacher is well-versed in the biblical languages. While I am an advocate of studying the languages, I do not see linguistic mastery as a prerequisite to pulpit ministry. So, if you are not an expert in the languages, you have two options. Either avoid talking about Greek and Hebrew in your sermons, or do some homework. By homework, I mean more than simply looking up a work in a concordance. A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Rogers and Rogers’ The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament are excellent for word studies, as is William Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Certain commentaries also offer insight into the languages. I suggest The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The New International Commentary on the New Testament and The New International Greek Testament Commentary as just a few of the more critical and scholarly works on the market. The bottom line is that neither giving a possible definition of a word helpful, nor is using technical parsing vocabulary. However, explaining the use of a word or phrase in context can add substance to your sermon. You simply need to do some homework.
I’m No Theologian
Unfortunately, I hear this a lot. I say unfortunately, because it is simply not true. Pastor, you are a theologian. You might be a bad one, but you are a theologian. I understand the sentiment: The preacher who says this is saying he is not a theologian in the sense he is not one who teaches theology or writes scholarly theological materials. However, as pastors, we are to be the resident theological authorities in our churches. Christians look to us to learn how to believe and interpret the Bible, and non-Christians look to us to know what Christians believe. We need to be good at this.
So maybe you don’t have an advanced theological education, and maybe you aren’t widely read. Allow me to encourage you to do something to remedy your situation. For one thing, a seminary education is more accessible than ever before. Find a reputable and accredited institution that will work for you. Another thing you can do is read. Read the kinds of things that will teach and challenge you. This might mean reading material that at first will be somewhat over your head, but we never grow if we don’t reach beyond our current limits. This will mean reading more than the bestsellers at the Christian bookstore. In addition to Bibles and commentaries, my desk currently is cluttered with academic books on eschatology, biblical social settings, and apologetics, as well as the latest issues of The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society and The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. I also always have Wayne Grudem’s and Millard Erickson’s systematic theologies nearby. Being well-read demands a significant amount of time and discipline, but the results are worth the effort.
Being competent in the pulpit requires a lot of hard work, but let us not forget that in all of this we are to be preachers and teachers of the Bible more than everything else. Linguistic study is rich and rewarding. Knowledge of various subjects can be beneficial. Theological depth is essential. However, if we are not good students and teachers of God’s Word, we are not fulfilling our calling. So read the Bible. Read it a lot. Study it. Meditate on it. Come to know if frontward and backward. You never will master the totality of Scripture, but you should “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (