It was the winter of 2003, and I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary working on a doctorate with an emphasis in preaching. After 12 years of full-time pulpit ministry and having won a preaching award the prior year at the Capital Bible Seminary, I thought I knew preaching pretty well. However, what I was about to learn under the tutelage of Dr. Timothy S. Warren would influence my preaching dramatically forever.
Seminary had taught me how to exegete Scripture thoroughly. It was my privilege to study Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, which laid the foundation for the development of the exegetical points which I fashioned, based on the emphasis of the biblical text. Next, I would make that huge jump and write my homiletical points. What I learned from Dr. Warren was that I was missing a major component in the process. From him, I learned about the theological step which would enable me to bridge the chasm between the exegetical and homiletical points.
Grant and Reed ask and then answer this pertinent question, “Is it really necessary to take this theological step? Yes, because it sharpens your knowledge of theological truth and because the theological step serves to check initial exegetical conclusions and to confirm interpretive decisions.”[i] The theological step reveals the timeless truth that the passage gives and bridges the gap between the exegetical and homiletical points.
The Development and Distinctness of Points
The preacher has an enormous challenge before him: He is called to proclaim the enduring truths of the Word of God, which are anchored in the nature of an unchanging God, to people who are vastly influenced by a rapidly shifting culture. How does the expositor apply these lasting truths to people in his generation and maintain accuracy and relevancy without compromising the authority of God’s Word? The answer is found in the three-fold method of sermon preparation that includes developing exegetical, theological and homiletical points. These steps are to follow your initial sermon preparation, which I call F.I.R.E. (familiarity, interpretation, relationship and employment).
The Greek word for exegesis is exeegeomai. It comes from two words which literally mean “to lead out.” Zodhiates defines this word as “to bring or lead out, declare thoroughly and particularly.”[ii] This word is used six times in the Greek New Testament; it is found in
Warren writes, “Once the exegetical conclusions have been sufficiently identified, the preacher begins the second process, the theological. Based on but going beyond the exegetical the (now) theologian seeks to identify the biblical theology of the passage. He is concerned with the reason why something was written, as well as with the content of what was written. He not only examines the product but investigates the procedures and presuppositions that went into the writing of the Scripture verses.
“His concern is neither with the final meaning of the teachings of the entire Bible (systematic theology) nor with the relevance of that meaning for today (contemporary application). These elements of the entire process will be bracketed out for the moment. His goal is to identify what the writer of the text in question regarded as truth from his particular historical/theological perspective.”[iii]
Your homiletical points are the preaching points. They are derived specifically from the theological points. The homiletical points should reflect the timeless truths of the Word of God and be geared toward your specific audience. Remember, the exegetical and theological points each should only have one meaning. Moreover, the preaching points are directed to your specific audience based on the theological points so they can have various applications. Nonetheless, your homiletical points should be true to the ageless nature of the theological points lest you preach as one without authority!
Beginning the Process
Locating the theological points is not equivalent to locating a needle in the haystack. God the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the inspired biblical, human author convey their message through the various genres of Scripture. Sidney Greidanus lists seven: narrative, prophecy, wisdom, psalm, gospel, epistle, and apocalypse.”[iv] A proper understanding of literary forms is essential to determine the exegetical and theological points.
It is important for the exegete to know that “A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatical-historical hermeneutic. When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.”[v] In other words, the Bible is not just to be understood by mystics but was written for public consumption.
Although the Bible is to be understood by a normal reading of Scripture, it is not to be treated mundanely. Bernard Ramm gives four excellent requirements for the biblical exegete. “The first spiritual qualification of the interpreter is that he be born again. The second spiritual qualification is that a man have a passion to know God’s Word. The third spiritual qualification is this: Let the interpreter have a deep reverence for God. The final spiritual qualification is that of utter dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct.”[vi]
Finding the Theological Points
The entire Bible is inspired by God and profitable (
Does the Bible have a sensus plenior or “fuller sense” since the Scripture has dual authorship, which consists of a human and divine author? Hebrew scholar Walter Kaiser doesn’t think so. He opines, “This theory of sensus plenior would make the inspired writer a secondary element in the process and even a nuisance at times, while God, the principal author, is viewed as supplying directly to interpreters many additional meanings that exceed those originally intended by the human authors.”[vii]
Peter’s assessment of the Old Testament prophets doesn’t agree with Kaiser’s squabble with the belief of sensus plenior.
Daniel didn’t fully grasp his own prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel (
The interpreter of the Bible should heed the caveat of Elliott E. Johnson, who shares: “While the divine Author’s intended meaning may exceed the human author’s conscious meanings, yet the shared single meaning of the text is the basis of and has control over any related fuller sense and reference.”[viii] The context of the passage should be the driving factor in understanding the meaning as given by the divine and human authors.
Preaching from the Old Testament has been exceptionally challenging for many ministers. The challenge to preach theologically accurate messages while showing the text’s relevance is daunting. Hebrew scholar Robert B. Chisholm Jr. writes in From Exegesis to Exposition, “The interpreter must go beneath the surface of what the text says and probe more deeply into what it meant in its ancient Israelite context, for this is the key to understanding what it means theologically for the people of God of all ages.”[ix]
The majority of the Old Testament is written in narrative form. Steven D. Mathewson gives some necessary guidance in his excellent work titled The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. He first addresses the development of the exegetical idea where he proffers, “This is a sentence statement of the author’s intended meaning that reflects the time and culture of the original audience. It uses the language of the text, including the names of characters in the story.”[x]
He continues, “The next expression is the theological idea. The theological expression of the big idea states it in timeless language that applies to God’s people living in any state of salvation history.”[xi] The timeless truth is not a hidden principle that is nearly impossible to find. “While it is true that the Bible speaks of timeless truths, this is not because of a unique form with latent principles, but because language uses shared types of meaning and because the Bible talks about a unique subject matter—theological revelation.”[xii]
In particular, what should the exegete be looking for in order to determine the enduring truths of a passage from the Old Testament? How does the New Testament writer use the Old Testament? Greidanus emphasizes the redemptive historical perspective, “Because God progressively works out His redemptive plan in human history, the New Testament writers can preach Christ from the Old Testament as the culmination of a long series of redemptive acts.”[xiii]
Certainly Greidanus is not alone in his focus. Bryan Chapell concurs with Greidanus when he writes, “Following the creation passages at the outset of Genesis, all of Scripture is a record of God’s dealings with a corrupted world and its creatures…It reveals an ongoing drama whereby God systematically, personally and progressively discloses the necessity and detail of His plan to use the Son to redeem and restore creation.”[xiv]
However, doesn’t the New Testament also use the Old Testament to instruct morally and spiritually? Observe how Paul uses the Old Testament in
Jeffrey Arthurs has struck the right biblical balance in the above discussion. He astutely observes, “This kind of preaching, sometimes called ‘historical redemptive’ or ‘Christ-centered,’ often is contrasted with preaching that uses the Old Testament stories to draw moral principles. It seems to me that both approaches find warrant in the way the New Testament uses the Old.”[xv] The preacher of the Scripture would learn much about interpreting the Bible by how the New Testament writers use the Old Testament.
There are some key questions that need to be asked to identify the timeless truths in a passage. Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix hit the theological nail on the head when they ask the following questions: “What is God doing in the text? What does the passage teach about the person or character of God? What does it say about the nature and need of man? What about God’s activity with humanity?”[xvi] The answers to these questions will give the exegete the pertinent information to show the lasting truths in a text which also reveals the relevance in the passage.
Furthermore, the interpreter should look for various themes that reveal the abiding truths in a passage. Ramesh Richard lists the following: Motifs that reflect the nature of God, man, sin, evil, salvation, morality and Satan; motifs that exhibit the created order (e.g., marriage); motifs that transcend culture and time (e.g., homosexuality); motifs that reflect individual or corporate spirituality; and motifs that are repeated by words or events in Scripture (e.g., “God opposes the proud” in
Now, let’s apply what we’ve learned to an Old Testament and a New Testament text. Let’s say you are preaching through the book of Jonah and the next preaching portion you will proclaim is
You have observed the text (
Next, you want to find the timeless truths in the passage that relate to God’s people today. Sadly, Jonah didn’t treasure God’s precious nature as do many people today. The first theological point could be: Appreciate God’s gracious and merciful nature (
The homiletical points should be developed to leave a lasting impression on those who will hear the message. You will want to spend adequate time writing these points for the ear. Let me propose the following two homiletical points based on
For our New Testament passage, we will examine
Now, let’s develop our exegetical points. Our first point might be stated: James and John ask Jesus to sit on His right and left hand in the kingdom (
Our second step is to develop the theological points. There is a key word that helps the exegete develop his theological points. It is the word “Now” in
Once you have established your theological truths, it’s time to write your homiletical points. It is critical that you present these points in a memorable fashion because it is the take-home truths from the message. Point number one could be proclaimed: Ignoring the cross leads to selfish ambition (
In conclusion, I pray you would experience the same sense of sermon wholeness that I’ve known by allowing the theological step to bridge that large crevice between the exegetical and homiletical points. I’m convinced that when this step is added to your sermon preparation, the people to whom you minister will walk away from your sermons with a full assurance that not only have they heard from God, but understand how the timeless truths of God’s Word applies to them.
[i] Reg Grant and John Reed, The Power Sermon (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 1993), 31.
[ii] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 1993), 604.
[iii] Timothy S. Warren’s Class Notes, The Expositional Process, 12.
[iv] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 23.
[v] Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2000), 33.
[vi] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1970), 13.
[vii] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 109-110.
[viii] Elliott E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 53.
[ix] Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., From Exegesis to Exposition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 149.
[x] Steven D. Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 83.
[xii] Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics, 231.
[xiii] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 195.
[xiv] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 292-293.
[xv] Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching with Variety (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007), 66.
[xvi] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 123.
[xvii] Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 174.