Richard L. Mayhue
Vice President and Dean
Professor of Pastoral Ministries
The Master's Seminary
Biblical preaching's authenticity is significantly tarnished by contemporary communicators' being more concerned with personal relevance than God's revelation. Scripture unmistakably requires a proclamation focused on God's will and mankind's obligation to obey. With men wholly committed to God's Word, the expository method commends itself as preaching that is true to the Bible. The method presupposes an exegetical process to extract the God-intended meaning of Scripture and an explanation of that meaning in a contemporary understandable way. The biblical essence and apostolic spirit of expository preaching needs to be recaptured in the training of men newly committed to "preaching the Word."
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The Master's Seminary joins with others in accepting the urgent responsibility for transmitting the Pauline legacy to "preach the Word" (2 Tim 4:2). The current series of articles in The Master's Seminary Journal signal an effort to instill in twenty-first century preachers a pattern of biblical preaching inherited from their predecessors.
Every generation shares the kind of dire circumstances that Amos prophesied
for Israel: "`Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord GOD, `When I will
send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
but rather for hearing the words of the LORD'" (Amos 8:11). The last several
centuries have proven this need again.
In an explanation of Heb 8:10, the Puritan commentator William Gouge (1575-1653) remarked,
Ministers are herein to imitate God, and, to their best endeavour, to instruct people in the mysteries of godliness, and to teach them what to believe and practice, and then to stir them up in act and deed, to do what they are instructed to do. Their labor otherwise is likely to be in vain. Neglect of this course is a main cause that men fall into as many errors as they do in these days.
To this editorial by Gouge, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) adds a word about nineteenth-century England:
I may add that this last remark has gained more force in our times; it is among uninstructed flocks that the wolves of popery make havoc; sound teaching is the best protection from the heresies which ravage right and left among us.
John Broadus (1827-1895) decried the death of good preaching in America, too. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) noted,
The supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching. This is a day in which one of our great perils is that of doing a thousand little things to the neglect of the one thing, which is preaching. 
The following typical laments evidence that little improvement had been made by the mid-twentieth century:
Except for the growing worldliness of its members, the pulpit is the church's weak spot.
But the glory of the Christian pulpit is a borrowed glow. . . . To an alarming extent the glory is departing from the pulpit of the twentieth century. . . . The Word of God has been denied the throne and given a subordinate place.
Yet it remains true that "whatever be the marks of the contemporary pulpit, the centrality of Biblical preaching is not one of them."
In a tradition that focuses on the centrality of the written Word few subjects are more important than the interpretation and proclamation of that Word. Everyone stresses the necessity of a solid exegesis of the text, but few are adept at providing such an exegesis and preaching effectively from it.
By the mid-1980's a national Congress on Biblical Exposition (COBE) convened to urge a return to true biblical exposition. COBE's recurring theme demanded that the American church must return to true biblical preaching or else the western world would continue its descent toward a valueless culture. Commenting on the uniqueness of America in contemporary culture, Os Guiness noted with concern that ". . . in all my studies I have yet to see a Western society where the church pews are so full and the sermons so empty."
John MacArthur's review of preaching patterns in the late 80's led him to observe,
Specifically, evangelical preaching ought to reflect our conviction that God's Word is infallible and inerrant. Too often it does not. In fact, there is a discernible trend in contemporary evangelicalism away from biblical preaching and a drift toward an experience-centered, pragma-tic, topical approach in the pulpit.
As the 90's dawn, an irresistible urge for a focus in the pulpit on the relevant seemingly exists, with a resultant inattention to God's revelation. Siegfried Meuer alerted the 1960's to the same "contemporary danger." He likened the direction of his day to the earlier trends of Harry Emerson Fosdick who wrote in the 20's, "The sermon is uninteresting because it has no connection with the real interests of the people. . . . The sermon must tackle a real problem." Meuer noted that Fosdick opened the floodgate for philosophy and psychology to inundate the modern pulpit with unbelief.
Fosdick's philosophy sounds alarmingly similar to the advice given in a recent publication on relevant contemporary preaching:
Unchurched people today are the ultimate consumers. We may not like it, but for every sermon we preach, they're asking, "Am I interested in that subject or not?" If they aren't, it doesn't matter how effective our delivery is; their minds will check out.
The implied conclusion is that pastors must preach what people want to hear rather than what God wants proclaimed. Such counsel sounds the alarm of 2 Tim 4:3: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires."
What is the necessary response? We assert that it is to redis-cover and reaffirm expository preaching for the coming generation of preachers facing all the spiritual opportunities and Satanic obstacles of a new millennium. We agree with Walter Kaiser's appraisal:
Regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered,
that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable,
authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scriptures with a new
purpose, passion, and power.
When warnings about a drift away from biblical preaching sound, the only reasonable response is a return to the scriptural roots of preaching to reaffirm its essential nature. In a reexamination of the heritage of biblical proclamation, two elements emerge: the mandates to preach and the manner of preaching.
Mandates to Preach
The gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation provide many examples and exhortations to preach the truth in fulfillment of God's will. As a reminder of the apostolic legacy and a reaffirmation of the scriptural authority for Bible-based preaching, five significant mandates are representative of the larger number of passages.
Matt 28:19-20 ` "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
1 Tim 4:13 ` "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching."
2 Tim 2:2 ` "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also."
2 Tim 4:2 ` "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."
Tit 2:1 ` "But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine."
In his discussion of khrssv (kryss, "I preach," "I proclaim") Friedrich notes at least thirty-three different verbs employed by NT writers to portray the richness of biblical preaching. In the following discussion, the four most prominent of these are examined briefly.
Kryss sees general use throughout the gospels, Acts, and the epistles. John the Baptist (Matt 3:1), Jesus (Matt 4:17), and Paul (Acts 28:31) all engaged in the action of preaching as indicated by this verb. To Timothy, Paul commended this same activity, telling him to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2).
Eaggelzv (Euaggeliz, "I preach the gospel") is practically interchangeable with kryss (Luke 8:1; Acts 8:4-5). Paul and Barnabas preached the good news of the Word of the Lord (Acts 15:35).
Martyrv (Martyre, "I testify," "I bear witness") is a legal term picturing the communication of truth from one who has a first-hand knowledge. John the Baptist bore witness to the light (John 1:7-8) and John the Apostle testified to the Word of God (Rev 1:2).
Didskv (didask, "I teach") focuses on the purpose and content of the message transmitted, without excluding elements of the three previous verbs. As part of the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples to teach (Matt 28:20). Paul recommended teaching to Timothy (1 Tim 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2). Teaching is sometimes associated with kryss (Matt 11:1) and euaggeliz (Acts 5:42). The content of what is taught focuses on the way of God (Matt 22:16) and the Word of God (Acts 18:11).
In addition to these four prominent words, there are many others that significantly enhance the biblical manner of communicating God's Word. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch invited Philip to "guide" (or "lead" (dhgv [hodge]) him through Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:31). Paul "explained" (or "laid out") (ktuhmi [ektithmi]) the kingdom of God (Acts 28:23; cf. 18:26). Paul told Timothy that he was to "entrust" (or "commit") (paratuhmi [paratithmi]) what he had heard from Paul to faithful men that they might teach others also (2 Tim 2:2).
Jesus's interaction with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus adds further dimensions to biblical preaching. He "explained" (or "interpreted") (diermhnev [diermneu]) the things about Himself in the OT, from Moses to the prophets (Luke 24:27). They in turn marveled at the way He had "opened" (or "explained") (dianogv [dianoig]) the Scriptures (Luke 24:32; cf. 24:45).
A study of additional words such as naggllv (anaggell, "I announce, declare") (Acts 20:27), naginskv (anaginsk, "I read") (1 Tim 4:13), parakalv (parakale, "I exhort, comfort") (1 Tim 4:13), jhgomai (exgeomai, "I declare") (Acts 15:12), lalv (lale, "I speak") (John 3:34), dialgomai (dialegomai, "I discuss, argue") (Acts 17:17), and fuggomai (phtheggomai, "I utter") would be profitable. Yet this brief survey is enough to conclude that the one common link in all the biblical terms in their contexts is a focus on the things of God and Scripture as exclusively central in the preacher's message. Without question, this feature alone marks the uniqueness of scriptural preaching. A biblical and theological content is the sine qua non of NT proclamation.
With this biblical foundation, an identification of the contem-porary mode
of NT preaching is possible.
Discussions about preaching divide it into three types: topical, backgrdal, and expositional. Topical messages usually combine a series of Bible verses that loosely connect with a theme. backgrdal preaching uses a short text or passage that generally serves as a gateway into whatever subject the preacher chooses to address. Neither the topical nor the backgrdal method represents a serious effort to interpret, understand, explain, or apply God's truth in the context of the Scripture(s) used.
By contrast, expositional preaching 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 expositional in nature. An exposition may treat any length of passage.
One way to clarify expository preaching is to identify what it is not:
Before proceeding further, consider the English word group "expose, exposition, expositor, expository." According to Webster, an exposition is a discourse to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand. Application of this to preaching requires that an expositor be one who explains Scripture by laying open the text to public view in order to set forth its meaning, explain what is difficult to understand, and make appropriate application.
John Calvin's centuries-old understanding of exposition is very similar:
First of all, Calvin understood preaching to be the explication of Scripture. The words of Scripture are the source and content of preaching. As an expositor, Calvin brought to the task of preaching all the skills of a humanist scholar. As an interpreter, Calvin explicated the text, seeking its natural, its true, its scriptural meaning. . . . Preaching is not only the explication of Scripture, it is also the application of Scripture. Just as Calvin explicated Scripture word by word, so he applied the Scripture sentence by sentence to the life and experience of his congregation.
Exposition is not so much defined by the form of the message as it is by the source and process through which the message was formed. Unger poignantly captures this sense:
No matter what the length of the portion explained may be, if it is handled in such a way that its real and essential meaning as it existed in the mind of the particular Biblical writer and as it exists in the light of the over-all context of Scripture is made plain and applied to the present-day needs of the hearers, it may properly be said to be expository preaching. . . . It is emphatically not preaching about the Bible, but preaching the Bible. "What saith the Lord" is the alpha and the omega of expository preaching. It begins in the Bible and ends in the Bible and all that intervenes springs from the Bible. In other words, expository preaching is Bible-centered preaching.
Two other definitions of exposition help clarify what it is:
In preaching, exposition is the detailed interpretation, logical amplification, and practical application of a passage of Scripture.
At its best, expository preaching is "the presentation of biblical truth, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, Spirit-guided study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies first to the life of the preacher and then through him to his congrega-tion."
In summary, the following minimal elements identify expository preaching:
The spirit of expository preaching is exemplified in two biblical texts:
And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading (Neh 8:8).
Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:26-27).
A particular example is Jesus' expounding of Isa 61:1-2 in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22). He later gave a thematic exposition of Himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27, 32, 44-47). Philip in Acts 8:27-35 expounded Isa 53:7-8 for the Ethiopian eunuch. Stephen preached a historical/biographical expository sermon to the Jews before they stoned him (Acts 7:2-53).
Greer Boyce has aptly summarized this definition of expository preaching:
In short, expository preaching demands that, by careful analysis of each text within its immediate context and the setting of the book to which it belongs, the full power of modern exegetical and theological scholarship be brought to bear upon our treatment of the Bible. The objective is not that the preacher may parade all this scholarship in the pulpit. Rather, it is that the preacher may speak faithfully out of solid knowledge of his text, and mount the pulpit steps as, at least, "a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
The preacher's final step is the most crucial and most perilous of all. It
is to relate the biblical message both faithfully and relevantly to modern
life. At this point all his skill as a craftsman must come into play. We
must be warned that faithful exposition of a text does not of itself produce
an effective sermon. We need also to be warned, however, that faithfulness
to the text is not to be sacrificed for the sake of what we presume to be
relevancy. This sacrifice too many modern preachers seem willing to make,
producing, as a result, sermons that are a compound of moralistic advice,
their own unau-thoritative and sometimes unwise opinions, and the latest
psychology. Expository preaching, by insisting that the message of the sermon
coincide with the theme of the text, calls the preacher back to his true
task: the proclamation of the Word of God in and through the
Discussing the biblical foundations and the definition of exposi-tory preaching, while essential, is relatively easy. The real challenge comes when one has to move from the classroom to the weekly pulpit. Unless the preacher understands clearly the expository process, he will never achieve his potential in the craft of expository preaching.
As a frame of reference for discussion, we propose that the expository process
include four standard elements: preparing the expositor, processing and
principlizing the biblical text(s), pulling the expository message together,
and preaching the exposition. The four phases need equal emphasis if the
exposition is to be fully effective in the sight of both God and the
Preparing the Expositor 
Since God should be the source of expository messages, one who delivers such a message should enjoy intimate communion with God. This is the only way the message can be given with greatest accuracy, clarity, and passion.
Seven areas of preparation qualify a man to stand in the pulpit and declare, "Thus saith the Lord!":
Processing and Principlizing the Biblical Text
A man in tune with God's Spirit and Word is ready to begin a process to discover not only what God originally meant by what He said, but also appropriate principles and applications for today.
Pulling the Expository Message Together
At the third stage the expositor has finished his deep study and asks himself, "How can I blend my findings in such a way that my flock will understand the Bible and its requirements for their lives today?" In a sense, the art of exposition commences here.
Nolan Howington uses a graphic description to relate exegesis and exposition: "Thus an exegete is like a diver bringing up pearls from the ocean bed; an expositor is like the jeweler who arrays them in orderly fashion and in proper relation to each other."
Titles, outlines, introductions, illustrations, and conclusions enter the process at this stage. The message moves from the raw materials mined by exegesis to the finished product of exposition, which the hearers hopefully will find interesting, convicting, and compelling. The key to this step is remembering what distinguishes exposition: explain-ing the text, especially parts that are hard to understand or apply. It is equally important to remember not only the text, but the audience as well.
F. B. Meyer offers this advice when thinking of the listeners and what sermonic form the message will take:
There are five considerations that must be met in every successful sermon.
There should be an appeal to the Reason, to the Conscience, to the Imagination,
to the Emotions, and to the Will; and for each of these there is no method
so serviceable as systematic
Preaching the Exposition
The final decision to be made by the expositor relates to his preaching mode, whether from memory or from notes. This step is perhaps the most neglected in preparation by those committed to true exposition. Too often expositors assume that proper work done in the study will ensure that the pulpit will care for itself. It is true that there is no substitute for hard work in the study, but equally hard work in the pulpit will reward both the preacher and the flock to a much greater degree. James Stalker effectively draws attention to this challenge:
Ministers do not get enough of result in the attention, satisfaction and delight of their hearers for the work they do; and the failure is in the vehicle of communication between the study and the congrega-tion`that is to say, in the delivery of the sermon. What I am pleading for is, that there should be more work to show for the coal consumed.
At the point of delivery, it is essential for the expositor to be clear in his purpose. Otherwise, the message preached may be far afield from the message studied and the message of Scripture. J. I. Packer makes this point by contrasting what preaching is not with what it is:
The purpose of preaching is not to stir people to action while bypassing their minds, so that they never see what reason God gives them for doing what the preacher requires of them (that is manipula-tion); nor is the purpose to stock people's minds with truth, no matter how vital and clear, which then lies fallow and does not become the seed-bed and source of changed lives (that is academicism). . . . The purpose of preaching is to inform, persuade, and call forth an appropriate response to the God whose message and instruction are being delivered.
Also of importance is the language used in communicating the message. It should be clear, understandable, picturesque, and most of all, biblical. The following strong warning issued over twenty years ago is still applicable:
I urge adherence to Biblical terminology. Much modern preaching has taken a psychological and sociological turn. It is mysterious and mystical. It sets forth psychiatric ideas, often using the terms of the psychiatrist rather than those of the Christian evangelist. It speaks of repression, fixations, traumas, neuroses, and syndromes, world without end. I claim that in the main these are not terms that the Holy Spirit can use effectively.
Another crucial matter is the dynamics of speech, i.e. audience relationship and communicative effectiveness. Vines and Allen outline three basic principles for every expositor:
In short, effective communication from the pulpit must be informed by Aristotle's rhetorical triad of logos, ethos, and pathos. This involves a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and here is where there is no substitute for thorough exegesis. It involves a thorough knowledge of the speaker-audience dynamic such that the preacher must speak from integrity and his audience must know of his sincerity and genuineness. Finally, it involves a knowledge of people and how they respond to the spoken word.
Above all, the expositor must expound the Word like Paul did in Corinth (1 Cor 2:1-5). He did not come as a clever orator or scholarly genius; he did not arrive with his own message; he did not preach with personal confidence in his own strength. Rather, Paul preached the testimony of God and Christ's death, and this, with well-placed confidence in God's power to make the message life-changing. Unless this kind of wholesale dependence on God marks the modern expositor's preaching, his exposition will lack the divine dimension that only God can provide.
In summary, of the four steps of the complete expository experience`preparing
the expositor, processing and principlizing the biblical text, pulling the
expository message together, and preaching the exposition`no phase can be
omitted without seriously jeopardizing the truthfulness or usefulness of
God's Word mediated through the expositor.
Expository preaching best emulates biblical preaching both in content and style. This is the chief benefit. Besides this, other advantages listed in random order include the following:
As the twentieth century sets and a new millennium dawns, we must reclaim the method and art of expository preaching for the coming generation. No one said it would be easy. It is quite the opposite. No other method of preaching requires so much work. At the same time, no other method rewards so richly.
If the suggestions which have been offered are well founded, it will be obvious that expository preaching is a difficult task. It requires much close study of Scripture in general, and much special study of the particular passage to be treated. To make a discourse which shall be explanatory and yet truly oratorical, bearing a rich mass of details but not burdened with them, full of Scripture and abounding in practical applications, to bring even dull, uninformed, and unspiritual minds into interested and profitable contact with an extended portion of the Bible`of course, this must be difficult.
While the growing trend among today's preachers is toward consumer satisfaction and contemporary relevancy, we reaffirm that biblical preaching must be first directed toward divine satisfaction and kingdom relevance. Reflect carefully on Mark Steege's clarion call to expositional preaching and its note of biblical authority:
Through our preaching the Lord seeks to change men's lives. We are to be evangelists, to awaken men to their high calling in Christ. We are to be heralds, proclaiming the messages of God to men. We are to be ambassadors, calling men to be reconciled to God. We are to be shepherds, nourishing and caring for men day by day. We are to be stewards of the mysteries of God, giving men the proper Word for their every need. We are to be witnesses, telling men of all that God has done for them. We are to be overseers, urging men to live their lives to God. We are to be ministers, preparing men to minister with us to others. As we reflect on each of these phases of our work, what emphasis each gives to the importance of preaching! What a task the Lord has given us!
Although R. L. Dabney wrote over a century ago, we join him today in urging,
. . . that the expository method (understood as that which explains extended passages of Scripture in course) be restored to that equal place which it held in the primitive and Reformed Churches; for, first, this is obviously the only natural and efficient way to do that which is the sole legitimate end of preaching, convey the whole message of God to the people.
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Exposition of Scripture, exposition worthy of its name, is of the very essence
of preaching. It follows that it is a serious error to recommend expository
preaching as one of several legitimate methods. Nor is it at all satisfactory,
after the manner of many conservatives, to extol the expository method as
the best. All preaching must be expository. Only expository preaching can
Exposition of Scripture, exposition worthy of its name, is of the very essence of preaching. It follows that it is a serious error to recommend expository preaching as one of several legitimate methods. Nor is it at all satisfactory, after the manner of many conservatives, to extol the expository method as the best. All preaching must be expository. Only expository preaching can be Scriptural.