Exegesis for Preaching

Seminary training, though not absolutely necessary, is extremely helpful for pastors and church leaders. While it is good to be in an academic environment amongst peers who share in the educational quest, and while exposure to theology, biblical studies and history expand our horizons, probably the most important reason to go to seminary is to learn the biblical languages.

This past year I have been preaching my way through 1 Peter and am struck each and every time I do sermon prep how helped I am from my three years of Greek under the tutelage of Clint Humfrey and Pierre Constant at TBS. I am not at all adept at languages and found Greek to be a struggle, but I am so glad that it was a course requirement! It has proven to be the backbone to how I handle my text for preaching.

As a help and as an apology for Greek exegesis in preaching, I thought that I would share the method that I learned at TBS and demonstrate a little of how I use it in regular ministry.

In first year Greek we learn the basic rules of the grammar. This involves paradigm (nouns and verbs) and vocabulary memorization and basic translation–usually of 1 John. The brutal part of the year is learning participles. In second year we spend our time unlearning what was taught in first year. We found out that the basic rules of grammar have many exceptions and what we think we know about the (for example) genitive is shattered by the whole host of uses it and other parts of a sentence have. Second year is spent learning syntax as well, with the final part of the year given to what is called “phrasing.” In our fourth semester at TBS we worked through Galatians.

For me, third year is where the rubber really hit the road in terms of seeing how Greek exegesis applies to ministry–especially preaching. One of the benefits of studying at TBS is that the professors also have a lot of ministerial experience and gear their classes to praxis. In third year we learned grammatical diagramming, discourse analysis and homiletical outlining–all of which I use to this day. In fifth semester we had to summarise Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and make a workbook out of our summaries. We also translated our way through Philippians, utilizing the excellent commentary by Peter O’Brien. In the sixth semester we dove deep into diagramming and worked through 2 Corinthians using Murray Harris’ (also) excellent commentary. We also had to write an exegetical paper on an assigned text from 2 Corinthians.

Of all of the books that we used, the one that I have found to be most practical is the workbook by George H. Guthrie and J. Scott Duvall, Biblical Greek Exegesis: A Graded Approach to Learning Intermediate and Advanced Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998). The book is divided into two sections, the first on a graded approach to syntax that explains how to do grammatical diagramming. It is a section full of charts, biblical examples and exercises that bring the student through the exegetical process in a user-friendly way. The second section is on exegetical method and basically provides the steps one goes through in exegesis.

My basic approach to exegesis is as follows (see image above for an illustration):

1} Set up my ready-made template by copying and pasting my Greek text into a text-box at the top of the page and in the main text-box in the centre of the page.

2} Break down the verse(s) in the main text-box, usually by identifying and separating prepositions, conjunctions and verbs (I sometimes like to embolden the verbs so that they jump out at me).

3} Parse each word, even the ones that are easy like conjunctions and pronouns. I usually leave the article un-parsed. I find that parsing really forces me to slow down and think about the text.

4} Do a rough translation that goes in the third text-box on the right-hand side of the page, trying to be as literal as possible.

5} Grammatically diagram the text seeing how prepositional phrases relate to verbs, what are the subordinating clauses and how do they relate to the main point. Determine how words are being used (i.e. objective vs. subjective genitive, etc). This section requires the use of a good grammar like Wallace’s and a good lexicon like BDAG or Louw-Nida. The results of this part of the study should be noted in the bottom text-box that is dedicated to exegetical notes.

6} Consult a good exegetical commentary or two (or more) like those in the Word or NIGTC series. These will often challenge your initial exegesis and require you to think harder about some of the interpretive decisions you’ve made. Quotes and references should be noted in the notes text-box at the bottom.

7} Determine a homiletical outline that will form the structure of your sermon.

8} Consult homiletical and applicational commentaries for help in terms of applying the text. Such could include the Preaching the Word series edited by R. Kent Hughes or the Reformed Expository Series as well as the NIV Application Commentaries. I am also thrilled with the Ancient Christian Commentary Series that runs like a commentary, but is a collection of quotes from church fathers. It not only makes for useful insights into the text, but also provides good quotes that could be used in sermons.

So many students want to do just two years of Greek and I am constantly telling them, “Do third year!” Diagramming, discourse analysis, exegetical method, etc., are all so important for our approach to the text–I really believe that I would be missing out had I not done this course.

I am deeply thankful to TBS for its high regard for the biblical languages. It is one of the best aspects of my education that I will carry with me for the rest of my ministry.


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Filed under education, greek, preaching, tbs

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