Exegesis and Exposition (A Prolegomena= to speak before)
The goal of the sermon outcome should be that everyone senses so much love and forgiveness from God in
Christ that they say yes to whatever God wants.
We are saved from four things:
The gospel is for the believers! Why we do what we do is as important as what we do.
The Goal of the Preached Sermon:
• John Newton: Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, since we have seen his beauty are joined
to part no more.
• Likewise, William Cowper: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, and hear his pardoning voice, changes a
slave into a child and duty into choice.
Thomas Chalmer “The Expulsive Power of Spirits Affection”
The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without
Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and
never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [Charles H. Spurgeon sermon: Exposition of
Acts 13:13-49 published in 1904]
Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon
without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go
to hear him preach. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “A Prayer for the Church” (1867)]
Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertize it all over London, Mr. Baker, that
you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up
your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning,
middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be
merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the
ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the
grand doctrine of “believe and live.” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “Christ the Glory of His People”
Sooner by far would I go to a bare table, and eat from a wooden porringer something that would appease my
appetite, than I would go to a well-spread table on which there was nothing to eat. Yes, it is Christ, Christ,
Christ whom we have to preach; and if we leave him out, we leave out the very soul of the gospel. Christless
sermons make merriment for hell. Christless preachers, Christless Sunday school teachers, Christless class
leaders, Christless tract distributors—what are all these doing? They are simply setting the mill to grind
without putting any grist into the hopper, all their labor is in vain. If you leave Jesus Christ out, you are simply
beating the air, or going to war without any weapon with which you can smite the foe. [Charles Haddon
Spurgeon sermon: “Why the Gospel is Hidden” (2/11/1866)]
I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I
preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a
sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which
mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It
were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have
Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating
his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night,
lie down with him upon your tongue. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “A Bundle of Myrrh” (3/6/1864)]
What was the subject? What was Peter preaching upon? He was preaching Christ and him crucified. No other
subject ever does produce such effects as this. The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave
Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should he? Has he not come
on purpose that he may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine,
and shall shew it unto you”? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching
which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: may we determine to know
nothing among men but Christ and his cross. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon: “The Mediator, Judge, and
I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the
hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself,
brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the
apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often
asked me, “What is the secret of your success?” I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have
preached the gospel,—not about the gospel, but the gospel... (Charles, Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, 35).
The expositor is only to provide mouth and lips for the passage itself, so that the Word may advance . . . The
really great preachers . . . are, in fact, only the servants of the Scriptures. When they have spoken for a
time . . . the Word . . . gleams within the passage itself and is listened to: the voice makes itself heard . . . The
passage itself is the voice, the speech of God; the preacher is the mouth and the lips, and the congregation . . .
the ear in which the voice sounds . . . Only in order that the Word may advance—may go out into the enemy
walls to the prisoners world, and force its way through within—is preaching necessary (Gustaf Wingren,
quoted in Stott, BTW, pg. 132)
Sound doctrine (in preaching) doesn’t guarantee better programs or more efficient management structures or
an answer to the age-old problem of which came first—the bigger sanctuary or the bigger parking lot. If it’s
answers to questions like these you want, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Doctrine isn’t very useful in a
ministry of crowd management. But if you want practical help in promoting godliness in your church, fostering
love and unity, making disciples, and growing in grace, there’s nothing more practical than sound theology.
Could it be that some of us in ministry have lost our interest in sound theology because we’re not really doing
Christian ministry anymore? (Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 94).
Lectio Continua Method of Preaching
It is the Reformers in their desire to expose their congregations to the whole counsel of God who most
effectively developed the lectio continua method of preaching. That is, the method of preaching verse by
verse through books of the Bible.
For example, Luther and his clergy colleagues “undertook an extensive campaign of religious instruction
through the sermon. There were three public services on Sunday: from 5-6AM on the Pauline epistles, from
9-10AM on the Gospels . . . On Wednesdays on the Gospel of Matthew, Thursdays and Fridays on the
apostolic letters, and Saturday evening on John’s Gospel (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Luther also taught
through catechisms on Monday and Tuesdays).
John Calvin’s method was similar to Luther’s, yet perhaps even more systematic. From 1549 he preached
in Geneva twice every Sunday and in alternate weeks at a daily evening service. He tended to preach the
OT on weekdays and the NT or Psalms on Sundays. In the 15 year period from 1549 until he died, he
expounded Genesis, Deut, Judg, Job, some Psalms, 1 and 2 Sam, 1 Kgs, and all the prophets, and from the
NT a harmony of the Gospels, Acts, 1 and 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, 1 and 2 Thess, the the 3 Pastoral Epistles.
A century later, Matthew Henry in his 25 year ministry (1687-1712) focused on the OT on Sunday AM and
on the NT each Sunday afternoon. In doing so, he worked through the whole Bible twice and during his
midweek lectures expounded the whole Psalter no less than 5 times (these expositions form the substance of
his famous commentary).
Benefits of the Lectio Continua
o (1) Helps the preacher grow personally in knowledge and obedience by his disciplined exposure to
o (2) Helps the preacher conserve time and energy used in choosing a sermon for each week.
o (3) Balances the preacher’s area of “expertise” and preferred topics with the breadth of God’s
thoughts in the Bible. In other words, it combats one’s tendency to choose a canon within the canon.
o (4) Sensitive matters can be addressed without the appearance of pointing a finger at persons or
problems in the church.
o (5) Gives the preacher accountability to not avoid skipping over what does suit his taste or
temperament on any given day.
o (6) Promotes biblical literacy in the preacher’s congregation by teaching them through example how
to study their Bibles. That is, it teaches a reproducible method of Bible study.
o (7) Forces the preacher to address a greater number of issues than what readily springs to mind.
o (8) Much research time can be saved because each new sermon does not require a new study of the
book’s or the passage’s authors, background, context, and cause. (Ryken’s Handbook)
o (9) Increases the likelihood of the pastor preaching the whole counsel of God over time.1
o (10) Increases the pastor’s God-given prophetic authority in the pulpit by grounding his preaching in
the divinely intended meaning of the text.
o (11) Increases the trustworthiness of the pastor’s preaching in the eyes of the congregation.
o (12) Increases the pastor’s God-given blessing in the pulpit by remaining faithful to the intention of
the One who sent him to preach. Presence, authority, sovereignty
o (13) Increases the congregation’s trust in the inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency of
Scripture. Creation, Decreation, Recreation, New Creation
o (14) Decreases their likelihood of being deceived by false teaching.
o (15) Best communicates that we need all 1189 chapters & 31,102 verses of the Bible for our
What Does It Mean to Preach the Whole Counsel of God?
The New Testament describes preaching in over sixty different ways. But by far the most important word
for preaching in the New Testament is the verb kerusso, which is employed sixty-one times itself while the
noun, kerux (preacher or herald) is seen three times (1 Tim 2:6; 2 Tim 1:11; 2 Pet 2:5). The term is a kingdom
term and refers to the proclamation of a message from a king. When the monarch has a message for his subjects,
he entrusts it to heralds, who announce it to the people without altering it or distorting it in any way. Thus, the
crowd of citizens gathers to hear from the king thru the proclamation of his spokesman.
But what is this message that the herald is commissioned to proclaim from the king? The New Testament
makes it clear. The most common message heralded when kerusso is used is the kingdom (e.g. Mt 3:2; 4:7; Lk
9:2) or the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 9:35; Lk 8:1).
As well, other messages preached (kerusso), which are organically related to this kingdom message, are the
gospel (Mk 1:14), the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:19); the Christ (Acts 8:5), Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23),
Christ raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:12), Jesus as the appointed judge (Acts 10:42), Son of God, Jesus Christ
(2 Cor 1:19), Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor 4:5), the hope of the gospel (Col 1:23), the gospel of God (1 Thess
2:9), repentance and forgiveness of sins (Lk 24:47); and the word (2 Tim 4:2).
When the noun, kerux, is used, we see that the herald proclaims: There is one God, and there is one
mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for sinners (1 Tim 2:5-6).
Importantly, the Apostle Paul adds here: For this I was appointed a preacher (1 Tim 2:7). Additionally, Paul
states elsewhere that the message of the herald is that the Savior Christ Jesus…abolished death and brought life
and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Again, Paul adds that it is for this proclaimed
message he was appointed a preacher (2 Tim 1:11).
Notably, unlike too many sermons today that are preached in the “imperative mode” (commands), with the
exception of the call for repentance (e.g. Mt 3:2; Lk 24:47), the message that is consistently heralded is in the
A.A. Alexander: “No man should grow up without opportunity of hearing the great body of scriptural truth laid open.”
indicative mode. In other words, the message(s) preached revealed something about the nature of things. And
that great declaration can be summarized by the announcement that the Kingdom is here because the Davidic
king himself, Christ Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and the devil through his cross and resurrection, is
reigning and ruling.
So the task of heralding/preaching requires centering on the message of the gospel of the kingdom, the
King of the kingdom, and the terms of the kingdom.
But how does this narrow message comport with the task of preaching the whole counsel of God?
I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
—Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27
D. A. Carson explains what the Apostle meant:
When Paul attests that this is what he proclaimed to the believers in Ephesus, the Ephesian elders to whom he
makes this bold asseveration know full well that he had managed this remarkable feat in only two and a half
In other words, whatever else Paul did, he certainly did not manage to go through every verse of the Old
Testament, line by line, with full-bore explanation. He simply did not have time.
What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving
nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole
counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently,
God’s purposes in the history of redemption (truths to be believed and a God to be worshiped),
an unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption, and destiny (a worldview that shapes all human
understanding and a Savior without whom there is no hope),
the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments to be obeyed and wisdom to be pursued, both in
our individual existence and in the community of the people of God), and
the pledges of transforming power both in this life and in the life to come (promises to be trusted and
hope to be anticipated). D. A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit,” in Preach the
Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, 177-178.
So to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom is not to ignore all the multifarious/diverse aspects of any
particular text, but it is to understand that any particular text is only a part of a grander, metanarrative that is
centered on the Kingdom of God. And the sum of these texts synthesizes and harmonizes to enhance the melody
of Scripture, which is nothing less than the gospel of the Kingdom of God. That is, the good news of God’s
purpose to glorify himself by establishing his saving reign, and covenantal presence over all of creation through
his king, Jesus Christ, and his work of new creation.
Central Theme (melody of Scripture): “Gods purpose to glorify Himself, by establishing His saving reign,
authority, and covenantal presence, over all creation, through His Messiah.” (Dr. Brian Payne)
(1) The biblical unity is a unity: of source (in God)2
• God’s sovereignty produced and guided the human authors and their situations, as well
as directly influencing & teaching them (2 Pet 1:21), so the resultant whole has a single
mind behind it (McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 41).
• The unity of the Bible is to be found in the first instance in its witness to this one God
• “Ever story has a central protagonist, and in the Bible that protagonist is God. He is the
central character, the actor whose presence unifies the story of universal history with its
myriads of changing characters” (Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, p. 1789).
(2) Of function (covenantal rule)3
• That is, God verbally establishes and formally ratifies the terms of the relationship b/t
himself and his people.
• A covenant is “a solemn promise made binding by an oath,” and as such has the
purpose of establishing or formalizing a relationship, and bears a historical character,
but it also establishes the terms of the relationship and the specifies the nature of the
parties in the covenant. The 10 Commandments are called a covenant in Deut 5:2. Note
that the commandments start off with a historical reference (v. 6; also v. 15) and
included promises (vv. 10, 16). The 1st 4 commandments pertain to the maintenance of
a relationship w/ God, and even the last 6 are tied up with that relationship, for one’s
relationship with God determines the character of one’s relationship with other people.
(3) Of narrative (the fulfillment of promise [which requires a fulfillment exegesis])4
• Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was
still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets
and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on
the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should
be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
• 3 implications from this passage (D. McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 41-2):
A. Jesus seems to be providing a reminder of his earthly teaching (v. 44; see Lk
9:22). He indicates that the content of his teaching is derived from Scripture
(which at that time was the OT)—& not just from a few verses, but from the
entirety of Scripture (“Law [Torah], Prophets [Nevi’im], and Psalms
[Khethuvim]”). Further, there is no 1 OT text that says that the Messiah would be
raised on the 3rd day. Just as the church later derived the doctrine of the Trinity,
not from a particular verse, but from the whole, so Jesus, & the apostles (see 1
Cor 15:4), perceived the resurrection of the Christ in the OT as a whole.
B. To understand the OT properly, then, it must be read in the light of the NT
C. The words “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” and
“repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all
nations” are syntactically dependent on “Thus it is written.” In other words,
“what is written” in the OT consists of 2 main elements: the death and
resurrection of Jesus and the preaching of this good news to the nations, including
Gentiles. Notably, the repentance & faith of the Gentile church is, according to
Jesus, one of the main messages of the OT. The church is not some kind of
afterthought unforeseen in the OT.
Jensen, “The Revelation of God” (the first 4 basis for unity are Jensen’s.) pg. 224
See Appendix 1
Contrast this approach with, for example, John Goldingay who writes: I want to write on the Old Testament without looking at it
through Christian lenses or even New Testament lenses (Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel, 20). Similarly Walter
Brueggemann (Theology of the Old Testament, 93, 107). But as Jim Hamilton points out, such an approach seems akin to a botanist
examining an acorn in order to predict what will sprout from the seed. How seriouslycould we take such a botanist professing
openness to the idea that the acorn might make potatoes? (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 46).
A biblical theology lens trains us to place any given passage in the sweep of the
single story. This way of reading the Bible gladly acknowledges the various genres in
Scripture—narrative, poetry, prophecy, letters. Yet while the Bible is not uniform, it
is unified. Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in
real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus—who himself said
that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the
Psalms”—shorthand for the whole Old Testament—“must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Alternatives to a biblical theology approach (from Dane Ortlund)
o The Gold Mine Approach – reading the Bible as a vast, cavernous, dark
mine, in which one occasionally stumbles upon a nugget of inspiration.
Result: confused reading.
o The Hero Approach – reading the Bible as a moral hall of fame that gives us
one example after another of heroic spiritual giants to emulate. Result:
o The Rules Approach – reading the Bible on the lookout for commands to
obey to subtly reinforce a sense of personal superiority. Result: Pharisaical
o The Artifact Approach – reading the Bible as an ancient document about
events in the Middle East a few thousand years ago that are irrelevant to my
life today. Result: bored reading.
o The Guidebook Approach – reading the Bible as a roadmap to tell me where
to work, whom to marry, and what shampoo to use. Result: anxious reading.
o The Doctrine Approach – reading the Bible as a theological repository to
plunder for ammunition for my next theology debate at Starbucks. Result:
There is some truth in each of these approaches. But to make any of
them the dominant lens is to turn the Bible into a book it was never
meant to be. A biblical theology approach takes the Bible on its own
terms—namely, that “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Jesus”
(2 Corinthians 1:20). Result: transforming reading.
Biblical theology invites you to read the Bible by plotting any passage
in the overarching narrative that culminates in Christ. The Bible is not
mainly commands with stories of grace sprinkled in. It is mainly a
story of grace with commands sprinkled in.
A biblical theology approach takes the Bible on its own terms—
namely, that “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes' in Jesus”
(2 Corinthians 1:20).
What about the weird parts? Some parts of the Bible, of course, seem to have
nothing to do with this story of grace.
o How, for example, do we read obscure Old Testament records of wayward
Israelite kings or wicked priests? The answer from the perspective of biblical
theology is this: We read them as stories increasingly heightening our longing
for a true king, a final priest, one who will lead as these men were meant to—
truly representing God to the people (king) and the people to God (priest).
o How do we read genealogies? As testimonies to the grace of God to real
individuals, carrying God’s promises down specific family lines in concrete
ways, promises that are never derailed, and which ultimately come to fruition
o How do we read Proverbs? As good news of wise help from another for
stumbling disciples like you and me.
A book of good news. Imagine jumping into the middle of a novel, reading a
sentence, and trying to understand all that the sentence means without placing it in the
sweep of the novel as a whole. That would confuse the reader, obscure the meaning,
and insult the author. The Bible is God’s autobiographical account of his personal
rescue mission to restore a lost world through his Son. Every verse contributes to that
message. The Bible is not a pep talk. Its not good advice. It is good news.
(4) Of message (the gospel of Jesus Christ).5 The gospel is the message that God has, is and will
overcome our sin through the life, death, burial, resurrection and continual intercession of his
Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
“Proleptic Participation” Sinclair Ferguson = (passed over the sins of those who were under the old covenant).
Said another way, the gospel is the scandalous news that through the death and resurrection of
Jesus, our disobedience cannot dent God’s approval of us and our obedience cannot help God’s
approval of us, as we look in trusting faith to Christ (Dane Ortlund).
When the gospel is embraced, it controls. It controls lives, affecting hearts, values, &
commitments (Chapell, Christ Centered Worship, 85).
B.B. Warfield on why the gospel is necessary for Christians: There is nothing in us or done by
us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We
must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true
of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as
long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our
relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian
graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness”
alone that we can rest.
• 1 Cor 15:1-4—15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you,
which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you
hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered
to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third
day in accordance with the Scriptures (note: the gospel is the message in which
• Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I
may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to
the gospel of the grace of God.
• Rom 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the
gospel of God.
• Rom 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son,
that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,
• Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to
salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
• Rom 2:16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according
to my gospel.
• Rom 15:16 that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the
gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the
• Rom 15:19 in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from
Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
• Rom 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish (sthri,xai; strengthen; make firm) you
according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation
of the mystery kept secret since the world began
• 1 Cor 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its
See Appendix 2 for a consideration of the gospel from both a narrow sense (of how one gets saved) and a broad sense (gospel of the
kingdom). Important in this discussion, contra the Pharisees, the people of Qumran, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, remembered the
redemptive-historical dimension of the OT. They recognized that the OT as a whole anticipated God’s ultimate deliverance of his
people. But the Qumran sectarians, just like the Pharisees, failed to recognize that God’s deliverance was ultimately focused on a
representative individual. As F.F. Bruce notes, whereas both the NT & the Qumran literature understand the OT eschatologically, “the
NT interpretation of the OT is not only eschatological but christological” (Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts, 68). Although the
Qumran community expected a messiah (or rather two—a kingly one and a priestly one), they differ from NT exegesis in that the
latter is Christological (McCartney, 324).
2 Cor 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door
was opened for me in the Lord,
• 2 Cor 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving
so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image
• 2 Cor 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted,
because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?
• Eph 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so
that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
• Philip 1:12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me
have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
• Philip 1:17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the
• Philip 2:22 But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has
served with me in the gospel.
• Col 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved
away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every
creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
• 1 Thess 2:2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at
Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God
in the midst of much conflict.
• 1 Thess 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel,
so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
• 1 Thess 2:8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you
not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear
to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked
night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you
the gospel of God.
• 1 Thess 3:2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of
Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,
• 2 Thess 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
• 1 Tim 1:10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers,
and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of
the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
• 2 Tim 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His
prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God
Of purpose (applying God’s Christocentric redemptive activity in history).
• How can a book that is focused on Christ apply to us? “The NT operates with a
principle that believers are identified with Christ.” Consequently, the NT frequently
extends the OT to apply to Christians (1 Cor 10:11; Rom 15:4) (McCartney, 49).
All Scripture has two authors, “one divine and at least one human.” Sensus Plenior (a fuller sense).
God intends something by what he speaks. He always speaks purposefully (there is a perlocutionary
By the grace of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Christians may adequately discern what
God intends to say and do in any passage of Scripture by prayerful, careful, and submissive attentiveness
to the words human authors use, in their respective literary, canonical, historical/cultural,
redemptive/historical and theological contexts.
Exegetical/Expositional Goal: Aiming for a Faith Response
• Think for a moment about this question: What one thing should I do to grow more as a Christian? If
someone asked you that question, how would you respond? Would you suggest some basic spiritual
discipline, such as reading the Bible, praying, finding accountability partners, repenting of sin, or
learning theology? The crowds brought this exact question to Jesus in John 6. His answer:
o Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The
work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent” (John 6:28-29).
Notice: they are asking Jesus what they must do to live a life that pleases God. Jesus
answers that the work of God is to believe. In other words, the Christian life is not about
doing, it is about believing. Getting this right is crucial to sanctification. Most of us are
naturally “doers.” We gladly embrace the next project, the next challenge, the next
assignment. So our pursuit of Christian maturity produces a lot of busy effort, but little
lasting change. Why? Because we are doing too much and believing too little.
“What is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue, in order to be
clothed by God? That we are empty of all good, to be filled by him? That we are slaves of sin, to be
freed by him? Blind, to be illumined by him? Lame, to be made straight by him? Weak, to be sustained
by him? To take away from us all occasion for glorying, that he alone may stand forth gloriously and
we glory in him (c.f. 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17)” (Calvin’s Institutes, Pref. 2).
PASSAGES in Scripture that Speak Particularly of the Life of Faith:
(1) Rom 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
(2) Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him . . .
(3) 1 Tim 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a
(4) Col 1:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4
since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope
which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
(5) 1 Thess 1:2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our
Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father 4 For we know, brothers loved by God,
that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in
the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for
your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much
affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
(6) 2 Thess 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your
faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater
(7) 1 Pet 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given
us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an
inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are
shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last
time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in
all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes
even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when
Jesus Christ is revealed.
(8) Gal. 2:20"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave
Himself up for me.”
(9) Gal 3:5-6 “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of
the law, or by hearing with faith. 6. just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as
(10) Gal. 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but
only faith working through love.
(11) 1 Cor 15:11 Whether it was then I or they, so we preached, and so you believed
(12) 2 Cor 5:6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in
the body we are absent from the Lord– 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good
courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his
deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
(13) 2 Cor 10:15…Our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be
greatly enlarged (i.e., as faith grows, apostolic influence enlarges).
(14) Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,3 concerning his Son,
who was descended from David according to the flesh, 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in
power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith
(u`pakoh.n pi,stewj)6 for the sake of his name among all the nations,
(15) Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching
of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages26 but
has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,
according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith (u`pakoh.n
pi,stewj) (Note that these are the bookends of Paul’s most systematic epistle).
Because the Holy Spirit is received by faith, our hearts are now renewed, and so put on new affections,
so that they are able to bring forth good works. For thus saith Ambrose: “Faith is the begetter of a
good will and of good actions.” . . . Hereby every man may see that this doctrine [of justification by
faith alone] is not to be accused, as forbidding good works; but rather is much to be commended,
because it showeth after what sort we must do good works. For without faith the nature of man can by
no means perform the works of the First or Second Table. Without faith, it cannot call upon God, hope
in God, bear the cross; but seeketh help from man, and trusteth in man’s help. So it cometh to pass that
all lusts and human counsels bear sway in the heart so long as faith and trust in God are absent.”
(Augsburg Confession. Article XX [written by Phiipp Melanchthon (1497-1560)]. Quoted from Philip
Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 1977, orig. 1877), 3:10-11, 24-25.
We come to the great and high deeds of divine grace and the true sanctifying of the Holy Spirit not
through our merit or powers, but through faith, which is a pure gift and favor of God. (The First
Helvetic Confession--Article XIII: composed by Swiss theologians at Basel Switzerland, 1536).
From it [faith] love grows as a fruit, and, by this love, come all kinds of virtues and good works. . . .This
faith comforts itself with the mercy of God, and not its works, even though it performs innumerable good
works. This faith is the true service which pleases God” (The First Helvetic Confession--Article XIV)
Peter Jensen asserts that the Christian life is the life of faith in the Son of God. “Why do you think God
chose faith as the salvation point? Why did he not choose love? Because faith is the very opposite of
pride & exaltation & glory. If he had said love, then there would have been something in us that would
have made us worthy of salvation. Faith is the empty hand grasping hold of the promises of God.
Case Study: Gossip
• Faith involves learning how to set the affections of our mind and heart on God….Faith requires a
continual rehearsing and delighting in the many privileges that are now in Christ (Steve Childers).
o There are some common heart idols that can manifest themselves in the surface sin of gossip:
The idol of approval (I want the approval of the people I’m talking to)
The idol of control (Using gossip as a way to manipulate/control others)
The idol of reputation (I want to feel important, so I cut someone else down verbally)
The idol of success (Someone is succeeding—and I’m not—so I gossip about him)
The idol of security (Talking about others masks my own insecurity)
The idol of pleasure (Someone else is enjoying life—and I’m not—so I attack him)
The idol of knowledge (Talking about people is a way of showing I know more)
The idol of recognition (Talking about others gets people to notice me)
Moo argues that “obedience” and “faith” are mutually interpreting. Obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves
obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Romans, 52.
The idol of respect (That person disrespected me, so I’m going to disrespect him).
o Let’s imagine that I have identified respect as the dominant idol that drives me to gossip. After I
acknowledge my sin and repent of it, I exercise faith in two ways:
1st, I pause and worship Jesus because he laid down aside his right to be respected,
becoming humbled to the point of death (Phil 2:5-11).
2nd, I remind myself of the gospel truth that I no longer need to crave the respect of others
because I have the approval of God through faith in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17-21). Whether
people respect me or not is immaterial: God’s grace has freed me from demanding my
own respect, and now I live for the fame and honor of Jesus (1 Cor 10:31).
What is exposition?
Exposition: This is a multidimensional words arising from a Latin root expositio, a setting forth. Biblical
exposition expounds, expresses, and exposes the Bible to an audience.
“To expound a Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. . . . The opposite of
exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there” [John Stott, “BTW” pg. 125-26].
What is “exegesis”?
The word is derived from the Greek verb exēgeisthai, which can mean “to lead” or “to explain.” In biblical
literature it is always used in the sense “to explain, interpret, or describe.”
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related (evxhgei/to) one by one the things that God had done among
the Gentiles through his ministry.
Luke 24:35 Then they told (evxhgou/nto) what had happened on the road, and how he was known to
them in the breaking of the bread.
Judges 7:13 When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling (evxhgou,menoj) a dream to his comrade.
And he said, "Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of
Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat."
The most illustrative NT use of exēgeisthai is in John 1:18:
Jn 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known
• “Exegesis” then means “explanation,” nearly always intended as explanation after careful consideration.
It is the process we go through in explaining any communication, whether written or oral. But usually
the assumption associated with “exegesis” is that this analysis is “scientific,” that one is trained in
understanding words and their relations, that one is careful to analyze correctly and not import meaning
illegitimately, and that one is not guilty of eisegesis (importing meaning unrelated to the text).
• More technically, “exegesis” refers to a linguistic-syntactical analysis to discern communicative intent.
That is, exegesis is the analysis of the significance of words and the relations into which they are set to
construct meaning. By placing specific words in specific contexts, meaning is conveyed, and exegesis
seeks to analyze the significance the significance of the particular words used and the relations into
which they are set to discern the intent of communication.
• For some, the terms “exegesis,” hermeneutics,” and “interpretation” are synonymous. In earlier times
the terms were distinguished, with interpretation encompassing both other words and including the
process of theologizing and application as well. Hermeneutics was seen as the rules and procedures
governing interpretation, and exegesis was limited to a search for past meaning. Exegesis focused on
historical context and grammatical relations to determine what the text meant at its origin.
Today, hermeneutics may well be the most comprehensive of the three terms in that it deals with the
whole process of understanding and appropriating texts. Distinctions can and should be made between
the three terms but with the realization that the boundaries between them are blurred.
Hermeneutics: “The science (principles) and art (task) by which the meaning of the biblical text is
Exegesis: The determination of the meaning of the biblical text in its historical, literary, and redemptivehistorical contexts.
Exegesis is rightly assumed to be a foundational task for doing theology. We need to understand the
intent of the text before we built theological systems on it, but in reality the implied objectivity often
associated with exegesis is misleading. Theology, however primitive, is already at work before we
come to the text. We all bring to the text theological assumptions and questions that motivate our work
and that both allow and hinder our efforts to see the significance of the relations in the text. Still, the
attempt not to impose our theologies on texts is demanded by any fair exegesis. We cannot come to the
text without presuppositions, but we can come to the text without presupposing what its meaning is.
The goal of exegesis is not merely information but a usable understanding. We have not understood a
text until we understand what it seeks to accomplish in its hearers, and exegesis is not successful until it
knows how the text should be used.
4 Necessary Horizons for Exegesis and Exposition: (1) Textual; (2) Epochal; (3) Canonical; (4)
• Revelation never stands by itself, but is always concerned either explicitly or implicitly with redemptive
accomplishment. God’s speech is invariably related to his actions. It is not going too far to say that
redemption is the raison d’etre of revelation. An unbiblical, quasi-gnostic notion of revelation
inevitably results when it is considered by itself or as providing self-evident general truths.
Consequently, revelation is either authentication or interpretation of God’s redemptive action (Gaffin,
Resurrection and Redemption, pg. 22).
• For some, however, the Bible is primarily a book that magically supplies guidance for personal
problems, or a sourcebook for ethics or politics, or a guide to meaningful existence.
• To be sure, the Bible is much more than William How stated: a golden casket where gems of truth are
stored. It is more than a bewildering collection of oracles, proverbs, poems, architectural directions,
annals, and prophecies. The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama (Clowney, The
Unfolding Mystery, 11).
• Unfortunately, many conservative evangelicals today treat the Bible more like the Encyclopedia
Britannica. If you know what you are looking for, good—but don’t read it as having a central plot. Or,
the Bible is treated as a handbook of timeless principles: Genesis for science; Leviticus for worship;
Deuteronomy for government; Proverbs for life; Daniel and Revelation for end-time predictions, etc.
• Unfortunately, in reality, this approach treats the Bible as a patchwork quilt of disparate pieces rather
than a single fabric.
• As Hans Frei made clear,7 the blame for not treating the biblical text as a single story is not the fault only
of the higher critics but of conservatives as well. In other words, the reader decides what he is looking
for—and then finds it. But, what is found is no longer the story of God’s work in Christ.
• Thus, Frei and his group (“narrative theology”; the Yale Divinity School; e.g. Brevard Childs) have
called for a return to a pre-critical way of reading Scripture. Of course, this doesn’t mean they reject the
last 2 centuries of biblical criticism (they embrace naturalistic presuppositions). Rather, they argue that
the modern way of reading Scripture has missed the point.
• Of course, given their somewhat Barthian view of Scripture,8 there are major concerns with this group.
However, rightfully, they insist on (1) the Bible as a narrative of saving events; (2) its Christ-centered
Postliberals and narrative theologians trace their lineage back to Frei’s “The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative” (1974).
Especially the Barthian reluctance to address the relationship between the narrative and factual history or other truth-claims. We
must remember that the story of Jesus can’t be separated from the truth claims of Jesus and his disciples. So “history-like” versus
“historical,” a distinction often used by Frei and other narrative theologians, isn’t helpful.
focus, and (c) the unity of the canon as a presupposition of the promise-fulfillment pattern of the
To be sure, this approach is not novel. Jesus Christ himself, in speaking with the religious leaders who
highly revered but failed to truly understand the Scriptures, said: “You search the Scriptures, for in them
you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come
to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
Through the Scriptures, Peter says (referring to the Old Testament), the “Spirit of Christ” revealed “ . . .
the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (1 Pet 1:11).
The sermons in Acts reflect this as well: Christ is preached from the OT. The 1st Christian sermons,
therefore, do not proclaim Moses as a great Christian leader, nor is the purpose to demonstrate Joshua’s
courage or David’s heart for the Lord. Gideon’s fleece is not a story of seeking the Lord’s will for our
lives. Rather, Scripture is all about Christ, from beginning to end.
As Horton points out, too often in conservative exegesis, there is a biblicism that is naïve and unbiblical:
the assumption that we’re simply looking for what is there in the text. Each time we go to the text, we
are starting from scratch (no blinders, no presuppositions). Unfortunately, this is not only impossible, it
blinds us to our presuppositions so that we can’t critique them. “To say that all of Scripture is about
Christ and that, therefore, whatever does not proclaim Christ is not sufficiently biblical, is not to impose
expectations on the text. Rather, it is to come to have certain expectations of the text because it is the
text itself which tells us to expect it!”
That is, if we know what we are looking for (the “big picture”), because the Bible itself sets forth that
goal, the system that arises naturally from the Bible itself, a “coherent discourse concerning God’s
redemptive drama” (Horton). Reading the parts in the light of that whole (redemptive-historical
interpretation), not only becomes fruitful but necessary.
Hence, the need for the various horizons when doing exegesis.
The Textual Horizon
“Spare no pains to seek more and more the most basic original sense of the biblical words, and let this
be the root-sense of everything additional” (J.T. Beck).
“Interpretation of the Bible involves both a linguistic side, focusing on the language of the Bible, and a
historical side, focusing on the events and contexts in which they occur. . . . Thus, we may speak of
grammatical-historical interpretation” . . . which “focuses on the original context” (textual horizon)
“The meaning of words and phrases; the effort to understand the cultural distance b/t text & reader; the
textual, historical, circumstantial, and social contexts; and the identification of genre, are the key
elements” of this horizon (McCartney, Let the Reader Understand, 158).
(1) Select a text. Choose a complete text (not a fragment to be used out of its context). Of course working
through a book of the Bible will greatly assist you here. Paragraph preaching is an excellent model to
follow when preaching the epistles—episode preaching when preaching the narratives.
(2) Determine the limits of the text. Seek to identify where a passage begins and ends. Look for a
complete unity of thought (paragraph or pericope).
A. Check the paragraphing indicated in the English translations. The New American Standard
Bible, for example, indicates a new paragraph by boldfacing the verse number of the first letter
in the new paragraph. The NIV and NKJV also do this.
B. Consider how what goes before and after your text influences the interpretation of the text.
Would broadening the scope of your text by a verse or two in either direction alter your
understanding of the text?
C. Look for literary clues: introductory statements; indications of time, place, or location; and
concluding summary statements.
D. Look for thematic elements that hold a passage together and set if off from surrounding verses.
Reoccurring phrases or words are a valuable clue.
E. Finally, consider the way commentators arrange the text into sections.
(3) Explore the text (read the entire book and the particular passage repeatedly. If you have the ability you
should read directly from the original languages). This is the observation stage.
(4) Learn as much as possible about the historical, cultural, and literary context of the passage.
(resource and reference stage) Broadly speaking, this means learning as much as possible about the
world, which the document emerges. More narrowly, the concern is to learn as much as possible about
the specific context and content of the entire work and then the specific context of the passage being
studied. Exegesis usually focuses on specific passages of a document, but a given pericope can be
understood only in light of the whole. Understanding of the whole, however, presupposes understanding
the individual parts. This is the horizontal hermeneutical circle; interpretation takes place in the
continual movement of knowing the part from the whole and the whole from the part. Attention must be
given to the purpose and location of the whole document and then to the location within the document of
the passage in question. The relation to passages immediately preceding and following the pericope
being studied is among the most important relations for understanding. Also involved is the ability to
perceive relations to other practices or writings, most importantly, quotations or allusions to the OT, but
also cultural aspects of Judaism or the Greco-Roman world (such as attitudes toward impurity or
emperor worship). Some people distinguish between the context and the cotext of a passage, with the
former referring to the historical and sociological setting of the text (historical and social context) and
the latter referring to the sentences and paragraphs surrounding the passage and related to it (literary
context). Both aspects are necessary before we begin a detailed analysis of a particular passage (Grant
• Concerning the cotext, unless we can grasp the whole b/4 attempting to dissect the parts, interpretation is
doomed. Without a situation to give a particular verse or passage content, it becomes meaningless. In
Scripture, the cotext provides the situation behind the text. In fact, there is no meaning apart from
context, only several possible meanings. (Osborne).
Literary Context (Cotext) (Daniel Doriani, p. 44 “Getting the Message”)
. Studies the written text
. Can ignore identity of author
. Can study words in themselves
. Considers what any competent reader hears.
. Is accessible to any attentive reader
. Rewards intensive study of one text.
• The most crucial principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning. The Holy
Spirit moved the appointed writers to connect their words, sentences, and paragraphs into a literary
whole in the normal way that people use language to communicate. Envision how a text would
appear if the sentences weren’t linked together to form a unified message.
o E.g.: We heard some remarkable news on television the other night. The referee blew the
holding penalty in the end zone to cost the 49ers the Super Bowl. Lint on the filter was
keeping the dryer from functioning efficiently. Ice on the road required the commissioner of
the league to cancel the games. The deacon got stuck in the elevator because it
malfunctioned. Monday class has to be cancelled due to the professor’s mission trip.
Communication doesn’t work this way. We don’t string together randomly selected
truths when we are seeking to communicate. Sentences build on previous sentences
and lead into subsequent sentences in order to create a intelligible message.
• Duvall and Hays (Grasping God’s Word) argues that to ignore this, we can twist the Scriptures and
“prove” virtually anything. For example, consider a man seeking counsel from God’s Word about
whether to ask his girlfriend to marry him. As he dances around the Bible, he finds a couple of
verses that provide the answer he desires: 1 Cor 7:36c: “They should get married.” John 13:27:
“What you are about to do, do quickly.”
o But context protects us from committing this error. Indeed, the 1 Corinthians’ context
reveals that Paul is actually saying that it’s better not to marry. And in the passage from John,
the phrase refers to Judas’s betraying Jesus and has nothing to do with marriage.
o By honoring the literary context, we are honoring what God has to say rather than putting
words in his mouth.
• Finding the literary context of any passage consists of 3 steps:
1. Identify how the book is divided into paragraphs or sections
• Things that mark changes or transitions include:
o Conjunctions (e.g. therefore, then, but)
Change of genre (e.g. from a greeting to a prayer)
Changes of topic or theme (main idea)
Changes in time, location or setting.
Grammatical changes (e.g. subject, object, pronouns, verb tense, person or
2. Summarize the main idea of each section.
• In doing this, consider two things:
o The topic or main idea of the section
o What the authors says about the topic or main idea
3. Explain how your particular passage relates to the surrounding sections.
• Ideally (and ministry isn’t typically done in ideal conditions),you summarize the main
idea of each section of the book before you begin the exegetical task.
• However, due to time limitations, if you do nothing else besides summarizing the idea of
what comes before and what comes after your passage, most interpretative mistakes can
. Studies the people and culture receiving a text
. Stresses identity of author and audience
. Stresses author’s intent as he uses words
. Considers what the original audience heard.
. Is accessible to readers who know background
. Rewards cumulative study of many texts.
• The central principle here is that Scripture was “God’s Word to other people before it became God’s
Word to us. This crucial truth leads us to a fundamental interpretive principle: For our interpretation
of text of Scripture to be in force, it must be consistent with the historical-cultural context of that
o The most important thing to know about historical context is why the biblical writer is
writing his text.
o Having said that, background /historical-cultural context studies are helpful as well. This
includes information about the author, the audience—their background, circumstances, and
relationship—as well as geographical, social, religious, economic, and political elements
linked to the text. This exercise includes both the historical cultural context of the book that
contains the passage and the specific historical-cultural context of the passage itself.
Tools for Identifying Historical-Cultural Context (Background)
o Bible Handbooks (Ryken’s is excellent)
o Old Testament and New Testament Introductions and Surveys
o Bible Atlases
o Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
o Background Commentaries
o Special Studies in Ancient Life and Culture
o Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman)
o Introductions in Study Bibles (ESV, MacArthur, and Holman)
The methods for studying historical and literary context differ considerably, but both begin by finding
the main themes and purposes of the book to be studied. If you plan to study or teach a series of lessons
from one book of the Bible, your first step is to read your entire book to gain a view of the whole. What
is the main theme? What are the main divisions? What issues come up repeatedly? Who is the author?
What prompted him to write? Who is the intended audience? Are they believers or not, faithful or not,
or Jewish, Gentile, or mixed? How much do they know? What are their needs and concerns?
You can answer many of these questions yourself by reading your book carefully, noting the author’s
statements of purpose. For example, John wrote his gospel to bring people to faith & eternal life (Jn
20:31). He wrote his 1st letter to give genuine believers assurance of their faith & salvation (1 Jn 5:13).
Jude wrote to contend for the faith against false teachers (Jude 3). Luke wrote to give his readers an
orderly and accurate account of the life of Christ, in order to strengthen them in their faith (Luke 1:1-4).
• If you cannot find a statement of purpose in a book, try to formulate one. For example, Paul wrote
Galatians to refute false teachers who were perverting his gospel, and to reestablish the Galatians in the
gospel of grace and justification by faith alone. Old Testament books rarely make explicit statements of
purpose, but we can readily see that Genesis is about the beginnings of humanity and of the covenant
people, and that Exodus is about Israel’s escape from Egypt and the beginning of her national life.
• After you have examined the book yourself, read an introduction that covers the same ground and
compare notes. If time is short, or you are studying only one text from a book rather than doing a series,
you may want to go directly to a reference work.
• With regard to the literary context, chapter and verse divisions in our Bible created one of the biggest
hurdles to the process of interpretation. It wasn’t until the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. that verse
divisions began to appear on the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish Masoretes. “The standard division of the
OT into verses which has come down to our own day and is found in most translations as well as in the
Hebrew original was fixed by the Masoretic family of Ben Asher about A.D. 900.” (F.F. Bruce, “The
Books and the Parchments.”; pg. 118). Bruce adds: “The division into chapters, on the other hand, is
much later, and was first carried through by Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro in 1244.” (pg. 118)
o Others attribute the division into chapters to Stephen Langton, professor at the University of
Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury, in A.D. 1228.
The chapter & verse references do help us identify & locate passages quickly. They
enable us to avoid vague references like these found respectively in Heb 2:6; 3:7; and
5:6: “there is a place where someone has testified,” introducing Ps 8:4-6; “as the Holy
Spirit says,” quoting Ps 95:7-11; or “and he (God) says in another place,” indicating Ps
110:4). (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, pg 217). But unfortunately they have also
contributed to the widespread practice of elevating individual verses to the status of
independent units of thought. Each verse is treated like a complete expression of truth
that, like a number in a phone book, has no connection to what precedes or follows—
each is a “quote for the day” or “proof text” considered in isolation from its biblical
context. There is simply no justification for routinely treating individual verses as
independent thought units that contain autonomous expressions of truth. As written
communication, readuers must understand biblical statements as integral parts of the
larger units where they occur. Detached from their contexts, individual verses may take
on meanings never intended by their writers. To qualify as the text’s intended meaning,
an interpretation must be compatible with the total thought and the specific intention of
the immediate context and the book context.” (Klein, Hubbard, 217).
(5) Determine the significance of the Genre both of the whole work and of the individual passage.
• This is important in understanding the Bible for several reasons (see Michael Lawrence, Biblical
Theology in the Life of the Church, 44):
• 1st, distinct genres tend to have distinct rules/patterns of communicating. For instance, a promise
and a proverb have quite different functions: the former entails a commitment, whereas the latter
states what is only generally true. Furthermore, certain word patterns are so closely associated
with a genre that their use almost immediately defines what one is looking at & how to interpret
it. E.g.: “once upon a time…” signals fairy tale, not history, while “Dear Joe…love, Sally”
signals epistle, not a legal brief.
• 2nd, the Bible consists of multiple genres. Yes, the whole Bible is true, & it needs to be read
literally, but reading the legal statues of Exodus literally looks different than reading the poetry
of Psalm 17 literally. Otherwise, we risk saying that David in Ps 17 contracted the 2nd
commandment by describing God as having wings like a mother hen under which he could hid.
• 3rd, it helps with books or passages that feel culturally foreign & difficult to grasp. Two examples
are genealogies & apocalyptic literature. Do we apply the rules of genre from narrative or
epistle? Some have done that & it produces boring genealogies & fantastical apocalyptic.
• Narrative—Makes up 40 % of the OT & 60 % of the NT. Narrative provides the overall framework
within which we understand all the other genres. How do we exegete narrative?
o Preliminary Thoughts:
The primary goal of narrative analysis is to discern the activity of God as he achieves
salvation (Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work, 166).
Should historical texts be treated mainly for their exemplary value or for their
contribution to and place in salvation history? In exemplary preaching the characters
in the narrative serve as examples of godly or godless living as the case may be. A
particular character, for example, Nehemiah, may be chosen as the means of teaching
principles of leadership or some quality. Yet, to take this approach often involves the
preacher in some very big assumptions about the character. Are principles of
excellent leadership the only lessons to learn from Nehemiah? Biblical characters,
even major ones, are frequently ambiguous as to their exemplary value. It is not
always clear whether some characteristics or action is recounted intentionally as a
blemish or as a virtue. We need to evaluate the biblical characters, even the great
heroes of the faith, in the light of the larger perspective of salvation history. In opting
for a salvation history approach we do not thereby rule out any appeal to biblical
characterization. It is a matter of the perspective of the text as a whole.
The gospel thrust of narrative texts come either from the covenant promises (epoch
A: up to the first part of Solomon’s reign) or the prophetic eschatology (epoch B: the
split of the kingdom onward), both of which provide the biblical-theological context
for the texts. It is impossible to understand the theological function of a given text
unless we understand how it relates to the promise of the covenant or to the
eschatology of the prophets.
Crucial points in preaching narrative:
• It is crucial to locate the episode into the context of the narratives that
surround it; likewise relate it to the book as a whole and the redemptive
historical context. What role does this narrative play in the overall narrative
(of the book and the canon)?
• To accomplish this, consider the following guidelines:
a. Be aware of the overall story of the OT. Explore how the character or
episode fits into the big picture.
b. Study the overall themes and message of the book of the Bible that your
episode is in. Read a summary statement of the book in your dictionary,
encyclopedia, handbook, Intro to OT, etc.
c. Read the entire larger episode. For example, when studying Abraham,
read the entire Abrahamic narrative (Gen 12-25)
d. As a minimum, read three chapters: the entire chapter in which episode
occurs, the chapter that precedes it, and the chapter that follows.
• The story is never complete in itself & belongs as part of the one big story of
salvation culminating in Jesus Christ. Simply telling a story based on a piece
of historical narrative, however complete in itself, is not Christian preaching.
A sermon involves the application of biblical truths to the present hearers.
• Biblical theology is the antidote to dehistoricizing the biblical message.
Story-telling sermons can easily be hijacked by an existential philosophy. The
value of the story according to this approach is not that it tells us what actually
happened in history, but only that it increases our personal self-understanding.
• In short: The exemplary sermon is more inclined to lead us to ask, How does
this character or event testify to my existence? By contrast, the redemptivehistorical approach is more inclined to lead us to ask, How does this event or
character testify to Christ? Let us never forget that our existence is only
properly defined in terms of our being either in Christ our outside of Christ. If
we really want to know how a text testifies to our existence, it must do so via
its testimony to Christ.
• The approach to OT narrative is similar to that of the Gospels. One of the
differences, however, is that the episodes in the OT are usually longer than
those in the New. In the Gospels most of the stories are only a few verses
long. Furthermore, the context analyzed was usually the paragraphs
immediately preceding and immediately following. So the analysis of the
Gospels are fairly compact. The episodes w/I the OT narrative, however, are
usually longer, often involving entire chapters (Duvall).
o Six crucial elements of narrative: (Duvall)
(1) Plot: Is an expansion of the What? and the How? questions. Plot is the organizing
structure that ties narrative together. Plot is also the feature that ties individual episodes
into a larger coherent story. For example, in the narrative about Abraham (Gen 12-25)
there are numerous short episodes about his life (he receives the promise, he goes to
Egypt, he rescues Lot, he sends Hagar way, etc). All of these shorter episodes are part of
the larger plot of the story that deals with God’s promise to Abraham & the fulfillment
of that promise. Most narrative plots have three basic components. The story starts off
with exposition, in which the basic setting is described and the main series of events
begins. Second, is conflict. Usually something in the exposition part of the story is
characterized by incompleteness, disorder, or unfilled desire, and this shortcoming leads
to conflict. Third, causality: it explores how one event leads logically to the next.
Example: “The king died and the queen died is a story. “The king died and the queen
dies of grief, is a plot. “The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, is a simple story, but
“God sent Babylon to destroy Jerusalem because of Israel’s sin is a plot. (Paul House).
(2) Setting: Deals with the questions When? And Where? The setting is important. The
events of the narrative take place against a backdrop, and the backdrop affects how we
understand the story. Note particularly when anyone leaves the Promised Land. It was
connected to their covenant relationship with God. Third, the place setting is also
important, especially since it changes several times in the story. Readers should know
when the major events in the narratives occurred and where they took place.
Abram’s Birth: 2166 B.C.
Isaac’s Birth: 2066 B.C.
Jacob’s Birth: 2006 B.C.
Joseph’s Birth: 1916 B.C.
Joseph Taken to Egypt: 1899 B.C.
Joseph’s Death: 1806 B.C.
Moses’ Birth: 1526 B.C.
Joshua’s Birth: 1476 B.C.
Exodus: 1446 B.C.
Moses’ Death: 1406 B.C.
Conquest of Canaan: c.a. 1406-1399 B.C.
Joshua’s Death: 1366 B.C.
Saul Anointed King: 1051 B.C.
David Born: 1041 B.C.
David becomes King: (1010 B.C.)
Solomon becomes King (970 B.C.)
Solomon begins to build temple: 966 B.C.
Kingdom splits (931 B.C.)
Northern Kingdom destroyed by Assyria: 722 B.C.
Southern Kingdom’s deportment: 605 B.C.--586 B.C.
Exile ends: 538 B.C.
Rebuilds Temple: 520-516 B.C.
Ezra and Nehemiah: worked after the return: 450 B.C.
(3) Characters: Characters are the answer to the Who? Question, and are critical to
(4) Viewpoint of the Narrator: The author is the one responsible for conveying the meaning
to the readers through the story. Sometimes the narrator expresses his view to us clearly
by using summary statements or judgment statements. However, the narrator often stays
neutral. The meaning he conveys through the story is an implicit meaning, not an explicit
one. He lets the characters and their actions speak for themselves. The narrator can also
appear to be positive toward an event when in reality he is not. In these cases he usually
gives subtle clues as to his true point of view. For example, 1 Kings 1-11, which focuses
on the splendor and grandeur of Solomon’s kingdom. Solomon’s wisdom and wealth are
stressed. The narrator seems to be extolling Solomon and his empire. However, he is not
telling the story w/ a straight face. He starts to drop clues: Solomon showed his love for
the Lord by walking according to the statues of his father David, except he offered
sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. Solomon accumulated horses (10:26;
c.f. Deut 17:16) wives (11:3; cf. Deut 17:17) and silver (10: 27; Deut. 17:17). Earlier in
the story, Solomon took 7 yrs. to build the temple (6:38) but 13 yrs. for his own house
(5) Comparison/Contrast (Achan and Rahab) (Saul and David)
(6) Irony: Used to describe situations where the literal or surface meaning of an event or
episode is quite different—sometimes opposite—of the narrator’s intended meaning.
This is done to present the meaning w/ more force. (As seen w/ Solomon)
• Note, Wayne McDill offers the helpful alliteration:
o New Situation
Parable—Essentially, a parable is a pictorial comparison between something familiar & known a
spiritual truth or reality. The picture is typically functional, though realistic. How do we exegete
o Most importantly: “What’s the main point or points?”
o Pay attention to repetition, the reversal of expectations, or changes in voice from first to third
o The conclusion or main point is typically at the end, & usually centers on the nature of the
kingdom or the King.
o Context is king, so interpret parables in light of the context of the larger surrounding
narrative. Don’t treat them as if they were a random collection. The parables, by their very
nature as self-contained stories, can easily be separated from their context and end up saying
something that seems to fly in the face of the gospel emphasis. If the discipline of redaction
criticism has taught us anything it is that the biblical documents in general, and the Gospels
in particular, have been carefully crafted to convey a message.
o In the case of the parable in question, we should, in our own thinking, place it in the context
of the Gospel’s linking of Jesus to the salvation history of the Old Testament, and all that
such a link implies. The preacher should read and reread the several chapters that surround
the parable and note how impossible it is to deal with it in any other way that as part of the
message of what Jesus has come to do for us.
Poetry—One third of the OT (which is more than the whole NT) is poetry. It exists by itself (the
Psalms), but is also found throughout other genres (e.g. Wisdom & Prophecy). How do we exegete
o The most common feature of Hebrew poetic structure is parallelism in three different forms
—synonymous (an idea is repeated for emphasis), synthetic (one idea builds upon another),
& antithetical (one idea is contrasted with another).
o Other features include word play, alliteration & alphabetic acrostic, repetition, hyperbole,
contrast, metonymy (substitution), & synecdoche (the whole stands for the part or vice
o It uses metaphor & simile, figurative images, irony, & euphemism
o Key: remember it’s a poem. A literal reading will look different than a literal reading of
Wisdom—Wisdom literature is about skill at living in God’s world & in light of God’s character.
Wisdom is the fruit of the fear of the Lord, which means being correctly oriented toward God & the
creation he’s made, including other people. It speaks of what is generally true, but it also addresses
what appear to be the exceptions to that general truth. How do we exegete wisdom literature?
o We need to recognize that wisdom literature comes to us in multiple forms, or sub-genres.
Drama (Job, SOS)
Sayings (Prov 9-31)
Autobiographical confession & admonition (Ecc, Prov 1-8)
o Whatever the form, the key in interpretation is to read it in context & according to its stated
Job intends to address the problem of unjust suffering
Ecclesiastes intends to realistically address the point of life.
The Proverbs intends to engender the fear of God & then show that fear (or lack of it)
demonstrates itself in all sorts of contexts. It is emphatically not law code.
Song of Solomon is a celebration of human love in marriage that points beyond itself
to God’s love for his people.
Prophecy-Contains both narrative & poetry, but what sets them apart as their own genre is the
presence of the prophetic oracle: Thus says the Lord. The prophets arrive on the biblical scene as
attorneys for the prosecution, arguing God’s case in a covenant lawsuit against Israel for breaking
the covenant. But not only do they make the case, they prophetically warn of the judgment to come
(calling for repentance) & prophetically proclaim the salvation to come (calling for faith). How do
we exegete prophecy?
o The basic feature—and problem-of interpretation is the promise-fulfillment dynamic. This is
what divides interpreters. When, where, and how a prophecy is fulfilled helps us understand
o One important aspect of prophecy is the prophetic foreshortening of events. The prophets see
the mountains on the distant horizon as a single, two-dimensional line. Once we actually get
there in history & travel into those mountains, we discover that there are multiple ranges
broad distances apart. This means that most, if not all, prophecies have multiple horizons of
o A common feature of prophecy is to use the language & images of the past in order to
describe the future. Creation, garden of Eden imagery, the flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, & the
exodus are all used to describe future events. These provide a theological understanding of
what’s happening, not necessarily a literal understanding.
o Quite a bit of prophecy is not predictive, but descriptive (typological). For example, the NT
understands that much of King David’s life anticipates the Messiah.
o As always, context is king. In the case of prophecy, the shape of the story of the Bible as a
whole is crucial. Revelation is progressive, & in the revelation of Jesus Christ, we’ve been
given both the main point & the end of the story. This means that we have an advantage over
OT readers. We work from the story of the whole Bible back to the prophecy, not the other
way around. As 1 Pet 1:10-13 asserts, the gospel gives us clearer vision than even the OT
prophets had. Therefore the NT determines the ultimate meaning of OT prophecy, not the
other way around.
Epistles--To generalize, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and the Epistles interpret it. The
apostles self-consciously understood themselves to be the recipients of & the fulfillment of the OT
promises in light of what Christ had done. Therefore the primary “context” of NT epistles is the OT.
How do we exegete epistles?
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Occasional Nature—More than the Gospels,
Acts, or the Book of Revelation, the Epistles are singularly aimed at a particular church,
churches, or individuals, and in each case they address specific situations or problems.
The occasional nature of the Epistles means that they are not to be preached in the
same way that one would read & preach universal maxims, which are based on what
unifies people in their common human experience and written to a broad, largely
unknown audience. As a result of their occasional nature, preaching the Epistles thus
demands that one understand & expound the letter against its own historical backdrop
in order to make sense of the letter itself and to make sense of it for the congregation.
Practically this means that in ascertaining the particular point of a passage, the
preacher must be careful to interpret it against the backdrop to which it was written,
in order to ascertain not only its meaning, but its significance as well. For in the
Epistles, it is the application of the author’s theology to a concrete situation which
provides the clue to the larger theological import of the text.
• The more one understands the letter’s historical context, the more the meaning
and significance of the letter become clear, and vice versa.
Preaching the Epistles in view of their occasional nature thus requires that one
ask, first, what is being said in a given passage, understood in its literary
context. Having ascertained as well as possible the content and flow of the
argument, the interpreter must then go on to ask why it was said, and why it
was said this particular way, given its historical context.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Discursive Structure--This is the second aspect
which makes preaching the Epistles distinct. Unlike the other biblical genres, in which there
are periodic discursive sections, the epistles are characterized by their propositional
argumentation. This means that the flow of the argument of the Epistles is established by a
series of interrelated assertions in which the various statements are related to one another
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Main Points—The main point of the text is that
one assertion which may be restated ways in various ways throughout the passage, which is
supported by all of the other propositions in the paragraph, and which itself supports no other
proposition in the passage. One is ready to preach from the Epistles when one can state
explicitly what the main point of the text is, and how it is supported throughout the text.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Imperative Exhortations--The danger in
preaching the Epistles is that the imperatives of the text will be separated from the indicative
theological statements upon which they are inseparably based, or from the fulfillment of the
promises to which they inevitably lead. When this occurs, the gospel of God’s grace is
perverted either into a demand for a life lived out before God on the basis of human
achievement on the one hand (legalism), or into the kind of “easy believism” which fails to
recognize that the growing life of obedience which inextricably flows from trusting in God’s
promises in the power of the Spirit is the evidence of genuine conversion on the other hand
(license). Thus, in preaching in the Epistles, the imperatives of the text must always be
grounded in their indicative substantiation.
o Preaching the Epistles in View of Their Whole--Preaching from the epistles demands of
the preacher that the message of the document be taken as a whole even if only a selection of
texts, or just one verse, is to be expounded. It is no good to say that we dealt with the
justification element three weeks ago & now we are following Paul into the imperatives &
injunctions for Christian living. Paul wasn’t anticipating a three week gap between his
exposition of the gospel & his defining of the implications of the gospel in our lives. Nor
was he anticipating that some people would not be present for the reading of the whole
epistle and would hear part of its message out of context.
Apocalyptic—The point & purpose of apocalyptic literature is to give God’s people hope in the
midst of present sufferings based on god’s certain victory over their enemies, both now & in the
future. To do that, apocalyptic draws heavily on the images of the past, as well as other stylized
imagery. The point is to review the sweep of history & show it’s culmination in the victory of God’s
kingdom. How do we exegete apocalyptic?
o Two main examples in the Bible are Daniel & Revelation. But neither is merely apocalyptic.
Daniel is prophetic literature & Revelation is a prophetic epistle.
o Literary context is important. Biblical apocalyptic draws specifically on biblical images from
the OT (Babylon, plagues), as well as “stock” images from the wider genre (the horn,
celestial bodies, etc).
o Apocalyptic provides a schematization of history, but that scheme isn’t necessarily
chronological. For example, each series of seven plagues in Revelation (seals, trumpets,
bowls) ends with the end of the world. And yet, it would be easy to read the series as
sequential. So how many times does the world end? In fact, there is a pattern in these series.
History is recapitulated from different perspectives, leading to the climax of the last two
o Without going into a detailed treatment of the various approaches to interpreting Revelation,
the main point is clear. God’s people can endure present suffering because of their
confidence that God wins. And they know he wins, not because of prophetic revelation, but
because of what Christ has already accomplished in the past, through his death &
(6) Determine the structure of a passage. Thought is always structured or it is nonsensical. In discerning
the structure of a passage, we are able to follow the flow of the author’s logic and come to
understanding. Some structures are set by convention (such as letters) or chronology (narratives).
Others provide insight through creative arrangement, using such features as parallelism, etc. One of the
most important questions to keep asking the text is “What has prominence”? What has the author
emphasized by repetition, placement, or some other device?
(7) Determine the syntax of the passage. If analysis of structure deals w/ the general flow of the thought
in a passage, syntax is concerned with the flow of thought in detail and how individual clauses, phrases,
and words relate to each other. With narrative texts, the overall syntax may be rather straightforward
and obvious. With more discursive material, often the syntax is quite complex (cf. Eph 1:3-14).
(8) Determine the significance of individual words or constructions (Semantics). Discerning how
specific words convey meaning is crucial, but exegesis is more than word studies (word studies are often
misleading). Words have a conventional range of meaning, ways we expect them to be used. These
meanings (dictionary definitions) make up the semantic field of a word. Any aspect of a word’s meaning
—but not all of it—may be used in a given context, or the word may be even used creatively in a new
way. Word studies show the etymology of words, which may be of no significance for later meaning.
Such work must be done, but it does not show what a word means in a given context. One can only
know that meaning by discerning the relations in the context.
(9) Do Discourse Analysis. Discourse (units of connected text that are longer than paragraphs) Analysis:
the study of the way authors put sentences and paragraphs together to make their points. It discovers the
main ideas of sections of the Bible and explores the way authors present and defend their ideas through
logic and rhetoric. Each discourse, deals w/ a single topic or story & has a beginning, development, &
conclusion. Naturally, we relate to the larger discourses
A. To begin this analysis, it helps to begin w/ a least a rough idea of the theme before the detailed
analysis begins. Authors scatter clues that help readers find their main topics and ideas (Doriani,
(a) Location—The main idea frequently occurs in the first or the last sentence of a section
or a paragraph, or in both.
(b) Restatement—Authors restate, repeat, or return to the main concept. For example,
James says 3 times in 2:14-26, in slightly different ways, that faith w/o works is dead.
(c) Direct Address—Authors may address their hearers before stating a main idea. (Hear O
Israel, Brothers, Dear Friends)
(d) Introductory Formulas—To draw attention to their chief points, authors introduce them
w/ phrases like “I— want you to know,” or “I write these things to you so that.”
(e) Concluding Formulas—Look for words that summarize a discussion, such as therefore,
B. General Principles for Discourse Analysis (Doriani, 81ff)
(a) Look for words & phrases that explicitly connect one idea to another (and, but, if, then,
therefore, for, so that, because, so, since, when, just as, in order that, while, after, etc).
(b) Look for implicit and understated connections
(c) To capture the message of the Bible, we need to study paragraphs more than single
words or even sentences. That is, discourse analysis works on paragraphs, whole
chapters, and even larger segments of books, as well as sentences.
(d) Consider Galatians: Paul wrote it to a group of churches he founded in the Roman
province of Galatia during his 1st missionary journey. They were healthy until the
Judaizers visited them preaching the law and the claim that Paul’s gospel lacked
authority since he was not really an apostle and so Paul responded w/ a letter. It is
possible to see the whole book as a simple discourse where Paul defends his apostleship
and asserts the true purpose of the law.
Transcend the historical-critical approach with a theological-canonical interpretation.
Biblical exegesis does not deal merely with individual books but also with the relations between them
(biblical theology) in coming to understand the parts in light of the whole. This step requires both the
epochal horizon & the canonical horizon. That is, a purely analytical/synchronic approach (which
concentrates on the details of revelation at any given point like a series of still shots—Historical
Horizon) very easily leads to the fragmentation of the Bible that distorts the unity created by the divine
Author (Goldsworthy, PTWB, 26). For instance, in 1980 a book appeared where in the opening pages
the author argues that the best way to refute Christians who argue that Jesus is prophesied in the OT is to
use grammatical-historical exegesis to determine what the text really means. The author argues that this
procedure will conclusively demonstrate that the original meaning of the OT prophecies have nothing to
do with Jesus. Ironically, the advocates the same exegetical method espoused in most Christian books
on biblical interpretation (S. Levine, You Take Jesus, I’ll Take God: How to Refute Christian
The Epochal Horizon
It is at this stage one considers the diachronic unity of revelation (synthetic approach). This is where the
details begin to be put together in sequence to form the big picture (Goldsworthy, PWB, 27).9
As Clowney points out, God did not accomplish his purpose all at once. He did not send Christ to be
born of Eve by the gates of Eden, nor did he inscribe the whole Bible on the tablets of stone given to
Moses at Sinai. Rather, God showed himself to be the Lord of times and seasons (Acts 1:7). The story
of God’s saving work is framed in epochs, in periods of history that God determines by his word of
promise (Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 12).
This horizon is concerned with how the revelation of God was understood in its time, and what the total
picture is that was built up over the whole historical process.10
Where is the passage in redemptive-history and what is the significance of that? The most obvious
epochal division is b/t the OT and the NT. But there are also other divisions.
Knowing this horizon is important for at least two reasons: first, if this question were asked each time, it
could clear up the tendency to convert a significant event in redemptive history into an unhistorical
pattern for us today (e.g. theocracy in Israel, temple worship, tongues in Acts, etc).
Secondly, by knowing this horizon, one can come to terms with the “gospel” hope in the particular text
With regard to the OT, the “gospel” thrust of narrative texts comes either from the covenant promises
(epoch A) or the prophetic eschatology (epoch B), both of which provide the biblical-theological context
for the texts (Goldsworthy).
It is impossible to understand the theological function of a given text unless we understand how it relates
to the promises of the covenant or to the eschatology of the prophets.
When we consider the nature of prophetic eschatology in more detail, we see that it is like a secondstage rocket propelling the Abrahamic covenant towards its fulfillment.
Helpful in this regard is Vaughan Roberts’ work in dividing the Bible into eight main epochs in God’s
plan to restore his kingdom.11
(1) The pattern of the kingdom—The Garden of Eden. Here we see the world as God designed it to
be. God’s people, Adam and Eve, live in God’s place, the garden, under his rule as they submit to
(2) The perished kingdom—The results of Adam and Eve’s defiance against God are disastrous. They
are no longer God’s people (they turn away from him and he turns away from them). They are no
longer in God’s place (they are exiled from the garden). They are no longer under God’s rule, so
they do not enjoy his blessing. Instead they face his curse and judgment.
• Actually, the entire discourse and canonical position of Genesis 3-11 is highly
significant b/c these chapters offer not one but 4 pictures of humankind’s rebellion
against and alienation from God (as Genesis 1-2 in its portrayal of the pattern of the
kingdom describes the relationship b/t God, man and creation was it was originally
intended to be), which communicate the need for God’s gracious intervention. The 4
Genesis is the classic account of the fall. From a literary point of view, it can be seen as
“the prototypical biblical tragedy,” with the basic temptation to “be like God” (Gen 3:5).
This rebellion results in alienation from God.
Genesis 4 illustrates how alienation from God produces alienation from one’s fellow
Caveat: A purely synthetic approach may impose a simplistic unity that overlooks much of the diversity in the Bible. Biblical
theology requires an amalgam of 2 perspectives on the biblical material: analytic/synchronic and synthetic/diachronic.
Several scholars were recently asked to summarize the central message of the Bible in one sentence. Their conclusions are found in
God’s Big Picture