What is a pericope?

More than once I have been asked what is a “pericope” (pronounced: pe-ri-ke-pee) as it pertains to preaching (we’ve discussed this once before here). Its importance is mainly felt in, but not limited to, narrative portions of Scripture (as well as poetic sections). When preaching a section of Scripture it is crucial to know where the section begins and ends and it is the pericope that provides the framework. There are many clues as to defining the shape of a pericope which might include transitional words, plot or scene changes, syntactical markers, etc. It might also be argued that the pericope gives a textual limit to the one meaning of a given text which is of first importance in understanding the original meaning of a biblical author. Kaiser is helpful in showing the importance of this in our preaching:

Words belong to sentences, and sentences usually belong to paragraphs, scenes, strophes, or larger units within the grammar of a genre. This is why I urge that a good expositional sermon never take less than a full paragraph, or its literary equivalent (e.g., a scene, a strope, or the like), as a basis. The reason is clear: Only the full paragraph, or its equivalent, contains on full idea or concept of that text. To split off some of its parts is to play with the text as it could be bent in any fashion in order to accomplish what we think is best (Preaching and Teaching the Old Testament, 54).

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Randy on October 2, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    So, if a pericope is part of a larger narrative composition, do you believe that the meaning inherent to the whole narrative as dictated by the smaller pericopes is of second importance?

  2. But you could use the paragraph, and then develop several sermons within that paragraph. Which I have had as many as five sermons within that paragraph.

  3. Good question, what do you think? Notice I said it “might be”. I’m not sure it comes down to which is more important but which supports the other. If you back me in a corner I would say that the message/meaning of the whole book is of first importance and all the various sections that make up the whole lend support to that overall singular meaning.

    So I would rewrite your question to reflect the following: The meaning inherent to the whole narrative as dictated by the smaller pericopes is supported by the same.

    If I’m reading him right, Kaiser is warning against those who would take a verse here or there and wrestle it from its larger context and divorce it from the overall purpose of the book.

    Tell me if I’m missing something.

  4. Charles,

    I hear what you’re saying. Kaiser is concerned with sermons that would take a verse out of context in such a way as to lose its meaning. So for example, one should not preach Matthew 7:1 and never once connect it to its near context (Mt. 7:1-6), it’s larger context in the Sermon on the Mount(Mt. 5-7), and its far context in Matthew’s Gospel.

    The problem that I have witnessed is that many preachers go down so many levels that its hard for the congregation not to see a text as a chopped-up stew.

  5. Paul,

    Question. Is Kaiser mainly refering to narrative passages, or is he including all passages in his paragraph guideline?

  6. Yes Paul, Kaiser is primarily considering OT narrative in the quote. However much of what he says could be applied across the board though not in every case.

  7. Thanks Paul.
    I have been teaching the youth at our church for about 3 years now. We have been through Galatians, and now are working on James. I am still growing in my abilities as an expositional teacher. Usually my biggest struggle in a given week is how much of a passage to teach.

    I must confess that last Sunday I taught the entire 35 min sermon on James 4:7a “Submit therefore to God.” In my defense I had to review after a week off to get back in to the context.

  8. […] MW: The process varies depending on the genre of Scripture, but right now I’m preaching through 1 Peter, so I’ll think in terms of a NT epistle. I start by line diagramming the pericope in Greek and then block diagramming it in the English translation I am preaching from (currently the NASB, although I confess that the ESV is really growing on me). This helps me understand and see the grammatical flow of the passage. As I’m doing this, I do most of my syntactical exegesis, paying special attention to conjunctions, prepositions, and adverbial participles (side note: as I was just writing this, my son Caleb came into the room with a Bible question—he wanted to know the significance of the conjunction “for” at the beginning of Ephesians 2:8!). My Greek is strong enough that I am often able to do much of this without cracking a grammar, but at some point I usually find myself in Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics seeking clarification on something. […]

  9. Posted by Deborah on April 20, 2007 at 7:58 am

    This is great information on pericope. I leave this site with a clear meaning of pericope. Thank you.

  10. Posted by ERuth on April 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Could you please give some examples of:

    * Old Testament (OT) Pericopy and
    * New Testament (NT) Pericopy .

    Thank you.

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