We talked about the starting point to becoming an expositor in So You Want to Be an Expositor? Part 1. But, what about expository preaching? There is a clear distinction between Bible exposition and expository preaching. While these two tasks are related, they are not identical. Bible exposition refers to the preparation or method of study. Expository preaching is an outlet for communicating the truths found in God’s Word through Bible exposition. If you want to be an expositor, you shouldn’t sermonize the text. You should strive to grow in your understanding of biblical truth. Your expository preaching will only be as good as your expository study.
Expository preaching is more than “expository calendaring”
You can set up your calendar to ensure that biblical texts are addressed in order (e.g., week 1, Phil 1:1–4; week 2, Phil 1:5–7, etc.) without being an expositor. To be sure, many would consider this approach to be expository preaching. But without solid Bible exposition, it is possible to preach verse by verse for years without ever explaining the true meaning of the text.
For instance, take what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first epistle. It was hugely corrective in nature. If you didn’t realize this, you could “calendar preach” through First Corinthians and ignorantly encourage your listeners to follow the example of this multifacetedly sinful church. The true expositor will focus more on the study of the content than on the delivery of that content.
An Illustration of the Importance of Bible Exposition to Expository Preaching
While conceding that there are different ways to approach the text, in this example I will confine the hermeneutical method to the oft-used trifold approach of Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book. This method includes observation—what the text says, interpretation—what the text means, and application—what we can apply to our lives. Let’s apply this approach to Job 8:3–7:
Does God pervert justice
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate.
Though your beginning was insignificant,
Yet your end will increase greatly.
This passage begins with a rhetorical question that asks if God would pervert justice. Assuming a negative answer, you might draw several interpretive conclusions from the passage. They could be about God delivering sinners over to the power of their transgressions. Or they could relate to seeking God and His compassion. You might even think that the overarching meaning of the text is connected to Jesus and His work in the Gospels. So, the application you present might be asking if anyone would like to partake in the same offer from God.
But, this interpretation is all wrong. You might reply, “This cannot be wrong! How could this possibly be contrary to Scripture?” Here we need to note a major truth: Scripture references are not fortune cookies or one-liners.
To correctly interpret a biblical text, you must ask whether there is another divine revelation that God has given earlier or later that gives clarification. In this case, He has. The dialogue in Job 8:3–7 comes from the lips of Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends. Yet when we come to the end of the book, God warns Eliphaz and others:
It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job. – Job 42:7–9
Twice in this section, God declares that Eliphaz and his two friends did not speak the truth concerning Him. People who quote from the book of Job often refer unwittingly to various passages from Job’s three friends. But God made clear that they did not speak accurately.
The point I’m trying to make is that you can follow a time-honored hermeneutical procedure with an expositional calendaring of the texts and unintentionally fail to do either sound Bible exposition or solid expository preaching.
The Continuity of Scripture
What is frequently omitted in such ill-advised approaches, then, is the continuity, cohesiveness, and unity of Scripture as a whole. Where does a verse occur in Scripture? Who is being addressed or written about? What information has God already given? What does He give later to clarify or expand?
Bible exposition should give special attention to the continuity of a given text. Undergirding this effort is a literal-grammatical hermeneutic. More and more people are abandoning this hermeneutic because they think it’s outdated and out of fashion. Yet the biblical writers themselves did not hold such a position.
Let us consider the example of the Bereans in Acts 17. They were more noble-minded than those at Thessalonica because they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so. For them to study, compare, and make conclusions, they would have had to have employed the literal-grammatical hermeneutic. That was the only way any claims in Scripture could have been evaluated. A literal-grammatical approach takes the biblical text at face value, rather than spiritualizing the historical elements of any given text.
One Final Prayer
The book of Luke records the day Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to His two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize Him. Before Jesus revealed to them who He was and is, He mildly rebuked and admonished them in Luke 24:25–27:
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Following this grand encounter with the risen Christ, they responded in true worship. Luke 24:32 says, “They said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'” May this hold true for you and for me. I pray that our hearts would burn within us as we study God’s Word and that our expository preaching will be used many times over to the glory of God as people feed on His Word and grow in true grace and knowledge of Him.
This series is adapted from Greg Harris’s The Bible Expositor’s Handbook—Old Testament Edition (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2018), Chapter One. Used with permission.