Do Christian preachers actually need to preach from the Bible? Apparently yes and apparently no. Apparently ‘yes’ in that it seems some preachers feel obliged to at least use a verse from the Scriptures to pre-empt their message which may not necessarily bear any relationship to that verse. And apparently ‘no’ because some preachers don’t even feel the need to use even a verse of Scripture, or make any reference to it! Whether you preach topically or expositorily you must undertake the process of exegesis.
Exegesis is the process of getting out (‘ex’) of the text what is truly there in the first place. The opposite to exegesis is eisegesis. This is the process of putting into the text something that wasn’t intended by the author. So let’s explore how to do eisegesis (although most people don’t actually need to be instructed on how to do this!).
When a preacher has something to say and uses a Scripture text to say it, chances are he/she is about to commit the error of eisegesis. This is actually the wrong starting point for sound preaching. The bedfellow of eisegesis is allegorisation. Allegorising a Scriptural passage is fraught with hermeneutical problems. It might be argued that most preachers lack the hermeneutical skills to rightly divide to Word using allegorisation. In some respects allegorisation of a Bible text is almost a ‘blank cheque’ for the preacher to make the Bible say whatever they want. Here is an alarming real life example of this from Dr John MacArthur-
An extreme example of the perils of allegorizing was the young couple that came to one of our assistant pastors to get counseling about their marital problems. He began talking with them, and after about thirty minutes he asked them, “Why did you ever get married? You are miles apart!” “Oh” said the husband. “It was the sermon the pastor preached in our church.” “And what was it?” “Well, he preached on Jerico.” “Jerico! What does that have to do with marriage?” “Well, he said that God’s people claimed a city, marched around it seven times, and the walls fell down. He said if a young man believed God had given him a certain young girl, he could claim her, march around her seven times, and the walls of her heart would fall down. So that’s what I did, and we got married.” “That can’t be true,” said our assistant pastor. “You are kidding aren’t you?” “No, it’s true,” said the husband. “And there were many other couples who got married because of the same sermon!”
I recently attended a pastors’ conference where the keynote speaker allegorised the story of Abraham in Genesis 15. Each of the vultures that swooped Abram’s sacrifice were made to allegorically represent a challenge that Abraham and his successive generations faced. The first vulture that Abram faced according to this preacher was the “vulture of barrenness”. Due to his inability to deal with this vulture, because of his lack of faith(!), he had to wait 25 years before he received the fulfilment of what God had promised. Needless to say I was staggered to hear this, but even more staggered to realise that most of my colleagues accepted what was being said! The next vulture that swooped was the “vulture of famine” which tormented Isaac in Genesis 26. Then came Jacob’s “vulture of disappointment”, and so on. While the preacher actually had some good points throughout his message based on his own life experience, the Scriptures had been thoroughly morphed to fit into his sermon.
Eisegesis is at best unwise, and at worse really dangerous!
Exegesis seeks to discover the intended meaning of a passage. It demands that the preacher do his homework to learn the historical, cultural, and Biblical contexts. For example, in 1Corinthians 11 we read of women wearing head coverings. Without doing proper exegesis we might assume this was akin to some kind of “hat”. But if we were to do exegesis on this passage we would learn that historically these head coverings were more akin to Middle Eastern veils, rather than Western hats. Secondly, we would learn that women wore these head coverings as a statement of modesty and propriety which were a public statement of their morals. Thirdly, we would discover the context of Scripture does not prescribe that all women should do this.
I would recommend that every preacher should read Fee Stewart’s book How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth. They elaborate on these things very adequately.
To do exegesis the correct principles of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) need to be understood.
The first principle is context. Always read the entire passage/chapter/book before preaching from a single verse. I would recommend referencing several translations of a passage also, and unless you are a linguistic scholar, avoid trying to expound the original languages. If preaching on any verse from 1Corinthians, answer the following questions: What were the main issues Paul was addressing in this epistle? What problems were confronting the Corinthian church at the time of this epistle?
The second principle is consistency. Never interpret a text so that your interpretation contradicts the overall message of Scripture. Should women keep silent in church based on one obscure verse of Scripture? Should we obey every instruction in Scripture without doing proper exegesis? What about this verse-?
(2 Tim 4:13 NIV) When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
By failing to preach from the Bible, preachers are actually preaching without any real authority. We must preach Scripture, but it is imperative that we do correct exegesis. Without it we preach eisegetically which can cause people to abandon sound principles of judgment and even justify wrong living. Yes, exegesis is important!
HOUSES HAVE FRAMES.
BODIES HAVE SKELETONS.
BUT APPARENTLY SERMONS
DON’T NEED STRUCTURE!
I remember how difficult it was trying to tell an older preacher that his preaching was terrible, woops, I mean sub-optimal. When he asked why I thought this was so, I replied that not only couldn’t most of our congregation understand what he was actually trying to say, I myself actually had no idea what he had just said. When I asked him if he himself could actually tell me in one sentence what he had just preached, he couldn’t. Then he launched into a tirade about why he didn’t want to preach like every other preacher.
What he didn’t want to do was preach a sermon which had a pre-set structure. What he actually needed to do was preach to a structure, learn the craft, then improvise from there. I explained to him some of the principles of communication which were peculiar to preaching. You see, preaching is not like giving a lecture, a talk, or a presentation. All of those things happen in churches, but they are not necessarily preaching. Preaching is a different form of communication because it demands a response. It is an appeal. It is also a form of earnest pleading for people to change. It is too important an opportunity to just ramble, waffle, or just make-it-up-as-you-go-along! It demands that it has a structure so that it can be followed and understand by its audience.
PRINCIPLE #1 – SIMPLICITY
When you know what you have to say, then simplify it into one sentence. Chances are that if you can’t then you probably don’t know what you have to say. Simplicity also demands that you aim to limit what you say. Don’t try to say too much about a lot, rather say a little about a little. Keep it simple.
PRINCIPLE #2 – THEME
Now this is where the fork in the road between average preachers and good preachers divides. If a preacher starts off talking about the love of God and then introduces the story of Noah before talking about the seven churches of Revelation and their relationship to the Harlot of Babylon who is in cahoots with the World Bank which has caused global unemployment and made the world a terribly unloving place, then that preacher is not paying attention to their theme. The theme of a message should be the thread that weaves its way through the whole message.
PRINCIPLE #3 – PROPOSITION
After people have heard what you have to say, what do you want them to do? Whatever you propose that they should do is called your proposition. Every sermon conclusion should integrate the proposition into it. When you get to the conclusion of your message and you say- “Therefore…” it should be obvious by then what you expect your hearers to do because you have preached simply, stuck to your theme, and known exactly what you wanted your listeners to do.
These three principles will give a message necessary structure.
Andrew Corbett, December 2002
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