Four Ways To Exegete Your Text: Following Jonathan Edwards’ Practices


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Douglas A. Sweeney’s, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford).

One of the take aways from this book for those of us who preach or teach the Bible is the four different ways Edwards regularly approached studying the Bible. The four ways are Canonical, Christological, Redemptive-Historical, and Pedagogical exegesis. Think of them as supplements you take to boost your daily nutrient intake. Do you take any or any combination of them each week during sermon preparation?

These four approaches supplement what we normally think of as exegesis: historical-grammatical-literary. Edwards helps us remember why we need to move beyond the realms of word, historical, and literary studies. Here’s what we gain and how our congregation profits from the results of the following four exegetical practices:

Canonical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion fits with other Scriptures. Look for times when other Scripture provide vital additional information for the interpretation of your preaching portion.  Your congregants will appreciate seeing how God’s revelation works together to create meaning.I don’t recommend the common practice of showing listeners other Scripture that say the same thing as your preaching portion.

Christological Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion functions for the Church because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and dispatching His Spirit on those who believe. Your listeners will appreciate learning how all Scripture points to the grace of God in Christ. This will keep all sanctification efforts faith-based and help avoid the dreaded moralistic, self-help sermon application. And remember that when you remind the saints about the Gospel, any non-Christians in attendance get to hear the Good News too.

Redemptive-Historical Exegesis: This shows how your preaching portion is part of the meta-narrative flowing throughout Scripture. Your parishioners will profit from the times when you locate your passage in the Story of Redemption (creation, un-creation, recreation, new creation). They will begin to appreciate that salvation is something much larger than the personal, saved-to-go-to-heaven variety.
Pedagogical Exegesis: showing how Scripture guides faith and the Christian life; here we gain precepts for living life as a Christian. One of the great quotes from the book came from this section. It reminded me of my primary responsibility as a soul-watcher. Sweeney writes of Edwards:
“At the end of the day, however, he was a clergyman and teacher paid to unpack the text in a pedagogical way, with the formation of disciples at the forefront of his mind.” (p. 188)

Before Sunday I hope you will supplement your normal exegesis with one or more of these four approaches, all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Introducing My Second Most Important Resource


Since I just completed the blog series on preaching through Judges, I thought it was time for a lighter kind of post. Let’s face it. Preaching through Judges is tough sledding.

So, this week let me take a moment to encourage you to spend some time in sermon prep using some kind of thesaurus. Yes, it’s shallow, untheological advice.

My Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder gets used hard every week. Next to Logos Bible Software, the Wordfinder is the resource I use the most.

And, I should tell you that I use it all week-long, not just at the end of the week. You might think that the end of the week is the time for refining my sermon manuscript. My approach is slightly different.

The end of the week is the time when I am refining my thinking about the details of the sermon and the way in which I am communicating them. But all week-long–beginning Monday morning–I am continually working on my wording.

That’s where something like the RD Wordfinder comes into play. Even after doing my own word studies in Hebrew and Greek and after scanning my favorite commentators, there are times when I still don’t have a clear understanding of a concept. When that happens I turn to my RDW. Inevitably, the still-fuzzy concept clears up when I survey synonym options.

The selected synonym becomes an important part of that sermon segment. It helps me communicate the theology of the passage more clearly.

So, while some kind of thesaurus will help you massage your manuscript, it will also help you master the material in the early stages of sermon preparation.

Before Sunday, see if your thesaurus can help you gain clarity about your passage’s main theological concept.

Preach well this new year so God continues to receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Evaluate Your Critical First Hour Of Study Each Monday Morning


Last week I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. I am also currently teaching some keen students at LBC/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. My interaction confirmed that one Bible study exercise is critical: tracing the argument or flow of thought of the author.

I explained that this is how I spend my first hour of study every Monday morning. Before I try to figure out what a preaching portion means, I want to know how it means what it means. In other words, I spend the first hour show how the author makes meaning through the argument or flow of thought. I begin by asking the Lord, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” (Psalms 119:18) and then I dive into the text’s structure. I consider this to be the foundation for exposition.

This involves dividing the preaching portion into its smaller thought blocks, summarizing the meaning of the blocks, and writing out the logical transitions that the author uses to move from one block to the next.

(By the way, if you try this with Luke 15, you will discover that it would be impossible to end the sermon focusing on the younger brother and those prodigals which are usually encouraged to “come home.”)

It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of this first hour for understanding how meaning is made.

Below I’ve included an example of my mornings first hour.

Calvary Bible Church

May 8, 2016 AM

Judges 10:1-16

This is God’s Word.


10 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. Post-Abimelech judge #1 is Tola. In matter of fact fashion God records, “…there arose to save Israel…” It is a subtle reminder of our plight as Christians in this world.

3 After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. PA judge #2 is Jair. We learn some nice facts about him (“…30…30…30…”).

6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. In v. 6 we learn how many false gods there are to worship! Each region had their own deity. Each deity had the ability to lure God’s people away from God. As a whole God’s people took their affections away from God and they stopped serving Him.

 7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. In vv. 7-9 we read of the repeated experience of God’s people. Throughout the book of Judges we’ve seen this happen: God’s people commit idolatry, in anger God sells them into the hands of fierce enemies who oppress them, and “Israel was severely distressed.” It teaches us the devastating effect of worshiping false gods.

10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” We’ve also seen God’s people yell out to their real God to save them again and again. Like before, they make a clean confession: “We have sinned against you…” Let’s make sure we understand this confession. Why do they say they have sinned against the Lord? Where does this understanding come from? Look back at the OT…

But this time our God seems to have lost His patience! Look at vv. 11-14. He sounds very irritated with them! “Did I not save you from….I saved you….I will save you no more. God and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Wow! We have sayings like: “You made your bed, now go lie in it.” If God sticks to His guns, then His people are doomed. The false gods have enslaved them; they cannot save them.

Has the Lord’s patience run out?!

 15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. In v. 15 God’s people repeat their confession: “We have sinned…” Then they add, “do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” God’s people would rather face the judgment of God than face more oppression from their enemies.

Then, in v. 16 there is an act of genuine repentance: “So they put away the foreign gods…and served the Lord…” Repentance is a critical part of the Christian life…

Then, we learn that the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” A moment ago I mentioned that it seemed the Lord was becoming impatient with His people. Now we learn that the Lord has had enough of His people suffering at the hand of their enemies. This impatience, however, strikes the Lord after genuine repentance has taken place. If the Lord acts on His impatience over Israel’s misery, that can mean only good things for Israel!



This helps me see how the author presents theology for the Church. Since theology is conveyed through this narrative, I do not want to break the narrative flow in creating this sermon. Consider making this action in the first hour of study your foundation for Sunday’s exposition.

Preach well.



If you’re afternoon is free, there are still 5 seats available for tomorrow afternoon’s preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, PA campus). The title is: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes! We’ll discuss this topic while working through the infamous narrative of Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11.

Date: April 26, 2016
Time: 01:00-04:00 p.m.
Event: Spring Preaching Workshop
Topic: Preach the Text or Preach Christ? Yes!
Sponsor: Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School
Venue: Charles Frey Academic Center
Public: Public

Preach the Plot (part 3 of preaching through books of the Bible)

2014-12-20 20.09.36

If you ever try preaching through a long, Old Testament book of the Bible, I hope this series of posts will help. So far we’ve discussed

(1) selecting a theme to carry continuity throughout the sermon series;

(2) being prepared to go easy on the details so you can cover large portions of material.

In this post I want to remind you of how important the storyline is in a book like Judges (my current series). If you decide to preach through an  OT book that’s mostly narrative, it’s important to identify how the plot develops early on in the book. Because of the way stories work, the plot development most likely begins early in the book and is completed near the end of the book. All preaching portions in the middle somehow connect to this storyline.

For instance, the book of Judges opens with a command to go to war. Theological interpretation–how Judges functions for the Church–hinges on understanding our current battle to prevent the “Canaanization” of the Church (we could say, the Americanization of the Church: Christians adopting the thinking and practices of our culture).

God’s people have the stubborn tendency to worship idols. Someone has said that our hearts are an idol factory. I tend to think of our hearts as a worship factory–we will worship something.

However, seven times in chapter 1 we read, “…did not drive out…” Even though we learn that Israel “grew strong…” Davis described them as “a people clearly successful though certainly disobedient. Pragmatic success and spiritual failure.”

The sermon series will relate to this action of God’s people making sure they remain separate from the world (in a true, biblical sense of separation). Story after story show God’s people failing and God graciously intervening to keep them from becoming destroyed. He remains faithful to His covenant for the sake of His reputation.

So, be prepared to communicate the theology that runs through the storyline of your narrative for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Before Sunday, if you are planning on preaching a narrative text, check to be sure you have traced the storyline.

P.P.S. The image above is a slide that shows how the big idea is found in narratives. If you want more detail on finding the big ideas in narratives and other genres, check out my book, Preaching With Accuracy.

Preaching Through Daniel (part 5): Let the Rising Action Carry the Story that Carries the Theology


Earlier I pointed out that in narratives, such as the opening chapters of Daniel, the story carries the theology. Let’s add to that: the plot or rising action carries the story that carries the theology. Here’s an example from Daniel chapter 2.

The theology is carried by a king’s dilemma: he doesn’t understand his dreams. He has limited wisdom and so do his so-called wise men (2:14, 18). Daniel, however, is confident that he is able to interpret the king’s dream because Daniel’s God possesses wisdom (v. 20), He also “gives wisdom to the wise” (v. 21), including Daniel (v. 23).

That’s all historical data provided in the narrative. But a sermon is created when we understand that Daniel represents all God’s people. Through faith in Christ–more on that in another post–all God’s people obtain wisdom. Daniel closes with: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above…” These wise men and women will be the ones who inhabit God’s “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” (v. 44).

This explains how the plot fits in with Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream (vv. 31-45). Without this move, the content of the king’s dream is disconnected from the plot. Throughout history God gives kingdoms to rulers, but one day, He will give His eternal kingdom to all the wise. Before then, however, the wise in the book of Daniel are the ones God uses to represent Him in a kingdom ruled by the ungodly. That’s us in our world.

But all of this starts by allowing the rising action of the plot to carry the story that carries the theology. Lots of sermons are created apart from the storyline. That happens when major points and/or principles are disconnected from the plot. In other words, preachers are tempted to focus on isolated data within the story rather than the story itself.

Before Sunday, if you’re preaching a narrative Text, see if the subject of your sermon matches the subject of the rising action within the plot.

May our Lord receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through Daniel (Part 2): Story First, Then Visions


If you have read Daniel recently, you may recall that the book begins as a narrative or story. In my previous post I pointed out that Daniel gives us its purpose at the beginning and end of the book (the description of Daniel and his friends and also the description of all God’s people as they enter eternity).

In Daniel, the story comes first and then the visions follow. That means that the story forms the foundation for the meaning of the visions. Or, you could say it this way: the visions mean something in relationship to the story. The two sections are connected. And while the visions may be difficult to understand concerning their details, they function by urging God’s people to remain godly in an ungodly world.

There is no need to shy away from preaching the visionary chapters (7-12). And yet, as you can imagine, preachers are far more prone to preach chapters 1-6 (story) than to preach through the last six chapters (visions). That may be because we tend to separate the two sections.

Lord willing, in weeks to come I will move through the book of Daniel and show how these first two characteristics work:

1. The beginning and ending contain Daniel’s purpose (the same with Revelation)

2. The genre (type of literature) at the beginning of Daniel (narrative) provides the foundation for meaning for the visions. (In Revelation, the opening chapters containing the letters to the seven churches provide the foundation for meaning for the visions that follow.)

I hope this helps you if you are ever thinking about preaching through some of the apocalyptic books in the Bible.

Preach a good sermon, will ya?! And let’s do so so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching Through The Book of Daniel (What Was I Thinking?!)


I began preaching through the book of Daniel on the first Sunday in June, 2015. I was hoping Jesus would return before then, but He didn’t.

For the next several posts, I will be sharing some of the things I learned from preaching through a largely apocalyptic book. The posts may help if you’re planning to teach or preach through Daniel some day. They will also help if your teaching and preaching plan includes preaching any apocalyptic material. Apocalyptic books seem to share characteristics, like this first one:

Pay attention to the way Daniel begins and ends.

The focus and purpose of Daniel is found at the beginning and end of the book. This is important because all of the incredibly difficult-to-understand visions in the final six chapters find their meaning in connection with the focus/purpose found at the edges.

So, in Daniel 1:4 the “youths” are described as “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning…” Then, in Daniel 12:3 God’s people who will be delivered in the end are described as “those who are wise…”

Daniel is structured to signal all professing Christians to make sure that this description fits them. Those that remain godly in an ungodly world are the wise. These are genuine Believers. They understand what God is doing in the world and what He expects of them. These are the ones that know how to navigate a world where the ungodly are in power (more on that in another post). These are the ones that know what to do with information about the coming age of final salvation and final judgment.

Usually, I would end with a, “Before Sunday…,” assignment, but that will be a little more difficult with these posts. Unless, of course you’re teaching/preaching apocalyptic material. If so, check to see where your theme and purpose for the book comes from. Often the beginning and end will supply this critical information for biblical preaching so that God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach a good sermon, will ya?!


P.S. A Christ-centered interpretation will show how Christ is “made unto us wisdom…”


How Much Speculation Is In Your Exposition?



Shortly after graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary, I preached a sermon in chapel at Appalachian Bible College. I was working at the time for, what used to be called, Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary. I don’t remember the sermon, but vividly remember the late, beloved preaching professor of ABC, Dr. Paul Reiter, giving feedback.

He kindly urged me to get rid of phrases like, “I think…” or “I believe…” His reasoning was that these phrases took away from the authority of Scripture and from my responsibility as a preacher. I took his critique to heart.

Through over 20 years of preaching each Sunday, teaching preaching students, and listening to hundreds of sermons, I’ve come realize we preachers have a strong tendency to pepper our exposition with speculation. Instead of breaking news, we announce breaking speculation.
The fact that it happens frequently says something about the Bible and something about our understanding of preaching.
First, the habit highlights the need to carefully understand the doctrine known as the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. I believe in that doctrine, but also believe it downplays the difficulty of Scripture. It is the difficulty of Scripture that causes us to frequently announce breaking speculations in the form of, “Well, I think Paul is saying this…” or “Scholars believe that Paul is…”
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Harris writes, “Although Paul has not identified the ‘thorn,’ commentators have not been slow to attempt the impossible.”
And I am far too guilty of wasting valuable sermon time announcing breaking speculation. Never have I been so aware of this as while recently preaching through the book of Daniel. Imagine what our exposition of Daniel would sound like if we stuck with exposition sans speculation!
This habit also says a lot about our understanding of preaching. God didn’t authorize me to announce speculation, but His revelation. Dr. Reiter was right when he told me to preach, “This is what the Lord says, not what you think.”
Before Sunday, look over your exposition and see how much speculation is in it. Ask God to help you balance good scholarship with faithful preaching so He receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
In emails or Facebook posts to my preacher friends, I’ll often end my note with the playful challenge, “Preach a good sermon, will ya?!” I consider you one of them, so…
Preach a good sermon, will ya?!

“I do not think it means what you think it means”: Carefully Defining Your Definitions


First, I hope you’ve seen the Princess Bride. But, that’s not important right now.

If you’re an expositor, you spend a lot of sermon time defining key terms in your preaching portion. For instance, how many times over the years have you explained that grace is God’s unmerited favor? That is a good starter-definition, but it needs some fleshing out.

For instance, what is the “favor” part? We probably do a better job explaining the “unmerited” part. But the “favor” part is very important. Especially since the word, “grace,” to most of our listeners doesn’t do anything to them. Grace does something for them (even though they might not know exactly what that is).

So, I try to be careful to define my definitions as much as possible/needed. In the case of grace, for instance, I want to make sure everyone in the house knows that the unmerited “favor includes things like God’s forgiveness and cleansing and supernatural assistance to live for Him. Stuff like that.

Carefully defining our definitions is especially helpful with very familiar Christian terms like grace, mercy,  and salvation.

Before Sunday, see if your sermon contains key terms that needed extra special attention. Look for those terms that you keep using in the sermon and make sure your definitions are defined. This will add another layer of theological depth and clarity to your preaching. Plus, you may find there are some well-known definitions that could use a makeover.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).