Archive for January, 2007

Hints for Happiness with Hebrew

For those of you who are convinced that preaching the OT demands (or at least would be greatly aided by) a knowledge of Hebrew, Dennis Magary offers the following advice in Preaching the Old Testament:

  • Determine first if you are an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Knowing this will greatly influence the most effective way of learning Hebrew vocabulary, which is a vital discipline but is also rather relative to each learner. If you have a process that works for you, please share it with the rest of us.
  • Perform a comprehensive review of basic morphology and syntax. Helpful in this regard is a detailed review of the many verb endings and pronominal suffixes. A good place to start would be your elementary Hebrew book.
  • Have on hand the pertinent reference material, such as Waltke/O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Chisholm’s From Exegesis to Exposition. Personally, Waltke/O’Connor is probably more comprehensive than the everyday pastor would need. It is also somewhat dated, given the progress that is being made in Hebrew studies.
  • Listen to the text being read orally. There are a number of resources on line and for purchase that the diligent preacher can listen to with text in hand. In my opinion, this would be a luxury.
  • Read the text. Although pretty straight-forward, Magary offers some practical ways of doing this, e.g. (1) read with a parallel version in hand, (2) read a few verses as part of your devotional times, and (3) read with others who know Hebrew, such as a fellow pastor in your church or area [btw, I think this is a great idea].
  • Take advantage of computer-assisted study of the Hebrew text. Personally, I use Bibleworks and find it invaluable.
  • Most importantly, always use the Hebrew Bible in preparation for teaching and preaching. Until the preacher acquires some polished skill, this may be labor intensive. However, I’ve found that such hard work is always rewarded. If this sounds like a daunting task, I would recommend starting conservatively. That is, plan to preach one or two psalms a year or preach one of the minor prophets (e.g. Habakkuk, Obadiah). The benefit would be that you spend time using your Hebrew, but it’s not as toilsome on a weekly basis as preaching through the book of Genesis. If you need work at narrative, which is actually easier Hebrew than poetry, try Jonah (or Ruth). Most people are so familiar with the story of Jonah that reading the Hebrew is easier. Once you get more comfortable using your Hebrew (or Aramaic), you can then branch out into larger books, such as Genesis or Samuel.

In my opinion, the key is to stretch yourself. Preach and read the Hebrew text early and often.

I’m looking forward to the next chapter, “Preaching from the Historical Books.” I hope my comments don’t get me kicked out of the posse here at Expository Thoughts . . . intrigued?

In the meantime, any thoughts or hints on using biblical Hebrew?

Lost in Translation

In the next chapter of Preaching the Old Testament, Dennis R. Magary gives some tips for “Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy.” Of course, just the title implies at least two presuppositions: (1) some (at least) cursory knowledge of Hebrew and (2) the belief that Hebrew is important to preaching the OT.

In the last post, I ended with the following question, “Do you think one can preach the OT without a working knowledge of Hebrew?” Of the few answers, they typically amounted to something like, “Yes, but…” That is, typically most preachers seem to believe that the First Testament can be preached effectively without the languages but that knowing Hebrew would greatly impact their preaching. Magary’s purpose in this chapter is not to convince his reader that knowing Hebrew is important. He assumes that his reader already believes that. However, he does offer the following comments, which I would like to use as a launching point about the importance of Hebrew.

The whole point of studying Hebrew and Greek in seminary is to be able to have direct access to the biblical text—the very foundation for Christian faith and practice—in the languages in which God’s Word was originally given. (p. 30)

As fine as contemporary translations are, as carefully as they have been prepared, a translation is still a translation. It is and will always be at least one step removed from the original. (p. 30)

…those whom God has raised up to speak his Word, to explain to each age what he has revealed to us about himself and what we need to know to live life before him…need to understand what he has said. The ability to read and study the Scriptures in the languages in which they were written ensures a more accurate understanding.

I guess that if you cornered me, I would also answer like some of you, “Yes, but…” However, I would quickly follow the “but” with, “why would you want to?” That is, why would any preacher spend his life reading, studying, and preaching without recourse to (what is closest to) the inspired text. In other words, the reason the languages play such an important role in my preaching and teaching is that a biblically-defined view of inspiration takes the graphe (the written documents) as what is God-breathed (per 2 Tim 3:16). Simply put, I think it would be a shame to sit under preaching week end and week out that is informed only by the reading of uninspired text(s) and uninspired commentaries on the text. As Magary seems to be saying above, albeit with less dogmatic language than what I have used, there is always something lost in the act of translation.

I will list some of Magary’s helpful hints in a separate post.

An Interlude (a thought on preaching the OT)

While we wait with anticipation for Randy’s next post on Preaching the Old Testament here is an excellent thought from John Sailhamer on the relationship between the OT and the NT. His article is refreshingly different because he doesn’t buy in to the common idea that the OT must be interpreted through the grid of the NT:

The NT is not so much a guide to understanding the OT as it is the goal of understanding the OT. Unless we understand the OT picture of the Messiah, we will not understand the NT picture of Jesus. The OT, not the NT, is the messianic searchlight (11).”

From John H. Sailhamer, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible” JETS44/1 (March 2001) 5-23.

Challenges to Preaching the OT

I would like to have begun my series on Preaching the Old Testament with the assumption that there was no need to persuade our readers about the importance of preaching the First Testament. That way, I could have jumped directly to chapter two and brought the convicting message that to preach from the Hebrew Bible demands (of all things) that we know Hebrew.

However, while I was rereading Scott Gibson’s first chapter, “Challenges to Preaching the Old Testament,” I began to realize that many out there may be thinking the same thoughts as the preachers he quotes. Without going into detail, here are the barriers he identifies that are often cited for failing to preach the OT:

  • Hebrew is harder than Greek. (I’ll let the hearty “Amen” die down before preceding.) This will be the subject of our next post.
  • OT culture is foreign.
  • The OT is irrelevant. We may never actually say this, but I bet we’ve thought about it.
  • The NT is more familiar. Thus, preparation for preaching is much easier. I must admit that I often still find it easier to preach a three-point sermon from a Pauline epistle than to take a congregation through an OT narrative. However, part of that is because most congregations are so uneducated in the OT that it is difficult to “bring them up to speed” effectively. More on this later.
  • There is no need for the OT because of Christ.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the first chapter. As a fitting beginning for this series, how about some interaction…

  • Do you see yourself in any of these?
  • How have you wrestled through these issues?
  • Are there other challenges that you can think of?
  • Finally (in preparation for the next post), do you think one can preach the OT without a working knowledge of Hebrew? Why or why not?

With Appreciation…Here’s My First Post

First, I would like to thank the guys here at Expository Thoughts for the privilege of being associated with them.

Second, Paul, I hope that the series I’m planning does not interfere with any plans you have for posts based upon your DMin intensive.

Third, I would like to make my initial contribution to Expository Thoughts a series of posts interacting wgibson.jpgith the recent book, Preaching the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). This work, written in honor of Walter C. Kaiser Jr., is a series of essays by some major scholars of our day, who have at some point crossed paths with Kaiser. The brevity of each chapter provides a fitting starting point for some good interaction on this subject. Lord willing, my comments, both laudatory and critical, will be helpful to our readers as we all labor to preach the First Testament effectively and appropriately.

My first post should come in the next day or so, but to whet your appetite, here’s a quote from the foreword by Haddon Robinson:

[R]educing the Old Testament to an anthology of illustrations for sermons based on the Gospels or the Epistles slights the Old Testament authors who were theologians in their own right. They were skilled authors who conveyed God’s message through such genres as story, proverb, and poetry, and their messages had their own purposes, but certainly they did not write to provide illustrations for other biblical writers (p. 14).

Weekend Round-Up (Spurgeon the expositor? and other items)

Here are a few items worthy of mention to our readers:

  • Was Spurgeon an expository preacher? Phil Johnson has a brief yet excellent answer here. (This is a hard question to take in considering the thousands of sermons Spurgeon must have preached. I’m not aware of any full treatment/examination of Spurgeon’s preaching style in print but it would make for a great study. As one who has actually preached some of Spurgeon’s sermons for special occasions, I would call them flowing anthems of Christocentric toposition. However, as Phil points out, one should not confuse a topical message by Spurgeon with the typical topical fare of our day).
  • Bret Capranica has a practical series he’s calling “Expository Convictions” (currently at part six).
  • John Brand is now blogging across the Pond (see here).
  • Baptism, baptism, and baptism
  • If you’re standing before the book and behind the sacred desk this Sunday. . . Preach the Word!

Expository Thoughts welcomes Randy McKinion

It is our joy to welcome the newest contributor to Expository Thoughts, Randy McKinion. His gifts will certainly raise the bar in various ways and will be a welcome addition here. Please give Randy our customary warm golf clap of welcome.

A Case for Consecutive Exposition

Once a pastor has committed himself to the faithful exposition of God’s Word—often known as expository preaching—he is faced with the question of what exactly to preach on a weekly basis. The Word of God, of course, but which specific passages? There are three basic approaches a preacher can follow.  

First, he can select a different passage every week, with each passage having little or no relationship to the previous one. In this way, each passage would be handled in an expository fashion, but there would be no deliberate flow or cohesiveness from one week to the next. For example, he might preach Ephesians 5:22-24 the first week, Psalm 119:9-16 the second week, Mark 10:13-16 the third week, and so on. You might call this random exposition. 

Second, he can select a group of passages, each of which deal with the same topic or theme, and then preach them week after week until the series is completed. For example, he could do a series on having a biblical view of God’s Word by preaching Psalm 19:7-11 the first week, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the second week, 1 Peter 2:1-3 the third week, etc., until he is ready to move on to the next series. You could call this thematic exposition. 

There is a third approach, however, which I believe is the best option for the preacher who is in the pulpit on a regular basis, and that is consecutive exposition. Put simply, consecutive exposition consists of preaching verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible. On Sunday mornings I have most recently preached through the entirety of Philippians and Habakkuk, and I am currently preaching through 1 Peter. Last week I preached 1 Peter 2:4-8, this Sunday I will preach 1 Peter 2:9-10, followed by 1 Peter 2:11-12 the next week, and so on. When I complete 1 Peter, I may take a few weeks to do some “stand-alone” messages—or even a brief series of thematic exposition—but sooner than later I will start again on the very first verse of a new book. This is consecutive exposition.  

All things being equal, I highly recommend this as the primary approach for a pastor to take. There may be strategic times to step back from a book study, but I believe there are the most advantages to consistent consecutive exposition. Why do I say that? For several reasons, most of which I have probably borrowed from others, but here they are: 

1. It introduces the congregation to a wide range of Scripture. 

2. It ensures that infrequently traveled areas of Scripture are covered. 

3. It increases the probability of accurate interpretation. 

4. It cultivates sound habits of personal Bible study in the congregation. 

5. It saves the preacher time on:

  • selecting the next passage
  • planning the next series
  • studying the historical background and literary context of the next passage

6. It enables the preacher to plan ahead with ease. 

7. It prevents the preacher from:

  • constantly gravitating toward favorite passages or themes
  • avoiding passages that are difficult to interpret
  • avoiding passages that confront his beliefs or lifestyle
  • targeting the sin of specific individuals in the congregation
  • using the pulpit to battle theological opponents in the church

8. It provides opportunity for both the preacher and the congregation to see that all of Scripture is indeed profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, even those passages which don’t initially seem relevant to their lives.  

Questions to consider:  

  • What are some other advantages to consecutive exposition?
  • What are some potential disadvantages?
  • What are some good reasons to depart from consecutive exposition from time to time? 

Expository Preaching: A Display of What is There

There is something to be said for being concise. Maybe that’s why my favorite definition of expository preaching consists of only six words: a display of what is there. 

What I like about this definition (which is not original with me, by the way) is how it so simply captures the two core elements of expositional preaching—accurate interpretation and clear proclamation. Expository preaching, in other words, involves discovering what is there in the biblical text (accurate interpretation) and putting it on display (clear proclamation). If the goal of the preacher is to expose the meaning of God’s Word to His people, both are indispensable.  

Discovering What Is There (Exegesis)  

As one of my seminary professors used to say, the first job of an expositor is to make a beeline for a correct interpretation of the text. In other words, once the expositor has selected the passage he intends to preach, his immediate goal is to exegete this passage thoroughly, coming to a precise and accurate understanding of the author’s original intent. Put another way, he must be a student before he is a preacher, and a careful one at that.  

The focus of the exegetical process, of course, is what is there, actually there in the text. It sounds so obvious that it’s almost insulting, but this is not something to skip over lightly. I can’t tell you how many “expository” sermons I’ve heard which have contained so little of anything that is actually there in the passage supposedly being proclaimed. This kind of preaching always makes me wonder how much exegesis took place in the study.  

In contrast, the true expositor stays focused on discovering what is there in the passage he is to preach, and in the end, he knows the author’s intended meaning with accuracy and precision. Put simply, if you’re going to stand up before God’s people and proclaim, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” you had better be sure that this is what He said. Careful exegesis takes much time and effort (2 Tim 2:15), but the faithful preacher is convinced it is well worth it.  

Displaying What Is There (Homiletics)  

Lest all the blood, sweat, and tears of the exegetical process go to waste, the expositor must be committed to clarity in the pulpit. This involves a commitment to setting forth the meaning of the passage in a way that the people can understand. It also involves sharing the conviction of the apostle Paul who affirmed the need to make things clear in his own proclamation of divine truth (
Col 4:4).  

As a preacher, I spend considerable time seeking to articulate a clear thesis statement which captures the overall point of the text (what I call a proposition). I work equally hard to construct points of an outline and come up with illustrations of key concepts in the passage. I even endeavor to develop an introduction which goes somewhere beyond, “Please open your Bibles.” I also ponder how exactly to communicate the truth of the biblical text, oftentimes choosing my words very carefully. To some, all of this may seem misguided—after all, shouldn’t you just preach the Word? And didn’t Paul himself say that reliance upon rhetoric and fancy teaching techniques is a denial of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor 2:1-5)?  

My simple response is that I do all of these things not as a way to impress and wow the congregation, or bring more “power” to the message, but rather to display as clearly as possible the truths I have discovered during the exegetical process. In this way, my introduction, outline and illustrations are designed to lead the people into a clear understanding of what the passage teaches—to display what is there. 

To the degree that a preacher fails either to accurately interpret or clearly proclaim the biblical text, he has departed from expository preaching by failing to expose the meaning of God’s Word to His people. Think about it. On one hand, if he misinterprets the Word and clearly proclaims this errant interpretation of the passage, he has put something on display, but not the meaning of God’s Word. This is not faithful preaching. On the other hand, if he accurately interprets the passage and has a precise understanding of its meaning, and yet he is decidedly unclear in his presentation of the biblical text, he still has not exposed the meaning of God’s Word to His people. He may have this meaning hidden somewhere in his own mind, but he has not put it on display. For this reason, you might say that the most serious transgression in preaching is to be unbiblical, and the second is to be unclear. To be anything less than biblical and clear is to shortchange the people of God and be unfaithful to the divine mandate. 

In the end, perhaps few have said it better than John Stott in his classic book on preaching, Between Two Worlds. According to Stott, “To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed.” That is, he discovers what is there and puts it on display. And all of this to serve as the means through which God transforms the hearts of His people. What a privilege to be part of the process!

N.T. Wright Primer

Rarely a week passes without one of us being asked something like, “Why are so many giddy with excitement over N.T. Wright?” From a recent cover story in CT to a very popular site extolling all things Wright he is unquestionably the most prolific writer in the larger Protestant world. The sheer volume of his writing is amazing. What’s more he has proposed or restated a number of ideas that are outside the bounds of historically Protestant theology which raises caution flags for many people (and rightly so). Jim Hamilton has done us all a service in distilling the key perspectives of Wright into a manageable dialogue. Most Christians will never plunge the depths of Wright’s voluminous works but are most likely to encounter him in books like his popular Simply Christian. For that reason I am finishing a review of Simply Christian which should be ready to publish here in a week or two. Also of note, Hamilton has published a helpful review of Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God 

So can I recommend Wright to folks in my congregation or to readers of this blog? I have read his first book, his latest book and many in between and my answer is no. While there are nuggets that can be mined here and there, I have serious reservations about his articulation of key gospel truths which for all the witty prose still comes out jumbled and unclear after a fair reading.

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