What is “exposition”?

What happens when a word reaches beyond any meaningful consensus and everyone makes a claim to its use? This is exactly the problem with the word “expository” as in “everyone claims to be an expository preacher.” It is no stretch to say that many preachers consider themselves expository preachers yet there is little agreement about what the word means. A survey of standard books on preaching will reveal that various authors all emphasize different perspectives (e.g., Robinson, D. A. Carson, Kaiser, Lloyd-Jones, Vines, Olford, Greidanus, Broadus, et al). This was a question we considered at some length in our first D.Min session today and one all preachers should carefully consider.

An examination of terminology raises difficult questions: Can there be biblical preaching that is not expository? Can there be exposition that is not preaching? Is exposition limited to a verse, a paragraph, or something else? Can topical preaching be expositional? The questions could be multiplied at this point. As a reference point I offer Richard Mayhue’s foundational definition from Rediscovering Expository Preaching.

Expository preaching is preaching that focuses predominantly on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s). Exposition normally concentrates on a single text of Scripture, but it is sometimes possible for a thematic/theological message or a historical/biographical discourse to be expository in nature. An exposition may treat any length of passage.

Following is a helpful summary of the essential elements of expository preaching:
1.The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
2.The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
3.The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4.The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
5.The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.

4 responses to this post.

  1. This is a great post, Paul–one that stimulates discussion about a very crucial question. And how we answer it week in and week out has much to do with the overall trajectories of our various ministries. On the one hand, we can define exposition so broadly that it is anything but definitive. For example, saying that expository preaching is any preaching that simply explains the text surely needs some additional qualification as to what we mean by “explain[ing] the text.” On the other hand, we can become so narrow and restrictive in our definition that we eliminate a large swath of effective and Christ-honoring ministry of His Word. This is sometimes done when essential components of exposition are themselves defined as exposition.

    So, without actually offering a definition of my own at this point, I’d like to pose a further question. What is the relationship between exegesis and exposition?

  2. It seems like 1 and 4 are givens if you just take 2, 3, and 5 as your foundation. Did I say “foundation”?

  3. […] Rethinking “Expository Preaching” This time last year I was sitting in a doctoral seminar and we were talking about how one defines “expository preaching.” A quick survey of fifty or more definitions reveals that few agree and many have strong points but still leave-out key aspects. I think one of the best expanded definitions has been penned by Richard Mayhue (see here). […]

  4. Posted by Jesse on February 15, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    Chris asked, “What is the relationship between exegesis and exposition?”

    I think that it is a crucial relationship. Without exegesis, either our own or someone else’s work, how can the preacher understand the text much less explain it to others?

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