BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION FOR PREACHING
The interpretation of biblical texts for preaching can be thought of as occurring in
three interrelated phases. The first phase is what may be considered as the pre-critical
interpretation. The term pre-critical is not to be understood as indicating a lack of
seriousness with regards to the text or to suggest that it is any less than other
interpretations. Essentially, this interpretive phase represents the personal and
confessional reactions and impressions of the exegete to the biblical text under scrutiny.
Some ways generally associated with developing a pre-critical interpretation involve:
reading and possibly rereading entire book multiple times to gain a sense of
familiarity of text;
identifying a portion of text that interests you;
noting immediate reactions and impressions upon reading the biblical text;
a. What do you think about the text? Read the passage slowly and carefully
in a good formal translation (NRSV or NIV are recommended) or in the
original language if possible. Note what seems to you to be the major and
minor concerns in the passage and anything about the passage that you do
not understand. List your questions or points. As you proceed you will
find answers to some questions, and some points may begin to fit
b. As well as this, note your own reactions to the passage. What do you sense
(see, hear, feel, touch, taste and smell) about the text? Does it make you
feel comfortable/uncomfortable? Do you disagree or agree with its main
concerns? Do you read the passage from a particular point of view? Make
a note of these points.
reading and hearing the biblical text aloud using different inflections and/or
tones as well as from different viewpoints;
try making a literal, allegorical and typological interpretation of text.
a. are you able to remain faithful to the text when providing any of these
b. what theological issue(s) is/are at stake when making these kinds of
examination of text in light of denominational and cultural standards and
a. what points of contact does this text make with any contemporary
practices (church rituals, ethical conduct, life perspectives)?
consideration of faith issues related to and associated with biblical text.
a. Is this text relevant for preaching, teaching, etc (explain your response)?
These methods are essential for getting the text in view and moving towards a sound
interpretation of biblical texts for preaching.
The second phase of biblical interpretation is that of the critical interpretation.
The goal of this interpretive phase is to critically examine the biblical text using various
critical methodologies designed to get at what the text means. Four major areas of
concern are involved in this phase of interpretation.
Delimit the text
1. Textual limits
a. Identify and establish limits of the text (clear beginning and ending)
Text and Translation Issues
1. Text critical-concerns
a. Are there any major differences in translation? Are these due to
variant readings in the source manuscripts or to the nature (or bias) of
1. Identify syntactical structuring of text by paying attention to grammar and
2. Linguistic concerns
a. What are the pivotal words on which this text turns?
b. How would the word(s) have been understood in antiquity?
- What is the origin of the word(s)?
- How has the word(s) been used successively throughout the text
under examination or surrounding biblical texts?
c. Is there a need for the word(s) to be explained in order to communicate
the meaning of the text?
d. How can the meaning of the word(s) be concretely and vividly
conveyed to the reader?
1. Socio-Historical context
a. source-critical concerns
- Who was the author?
- What is the historical origin and setting (when/where/why) of text?
- What is the social location of the text (social
- Whom is the writer addressing? What is the social, political and
cultural context to which the passage is addressed? Does the
passage suggest anything about the kind of people that might have
been present in the author's community? How might this passage
have addressed concerns that were significant to the people of that
2. Literary-Historical Issues
a. What is the literary context? Where does the passage come in relation
to the whole work? What comes before and after the passage? How
does the passage relate, if at all, to the immediate context?
b. Form concerns
- What is the genre of the text?
- What is the structure of the text?
- How did the text function in its original setting?
c. Redaction concerns
- Can the approximate shape of text before it reached the hand of the
redactor(s) be determined?
- How has the redactor reshaped the tradition?
- Does the literary context cast light on the interpretation of the text
by the redactor?
- What situation in the redactor’s community might have called forth
- Has the writer used any sources? Can you tell if the sources have
been modified or changed? Have the final editor's own
perspectives influenced the recording of the passage? What words
and themes are of special significance for this editor?
d. Rhetorical concerns
- Are there any noticeable motifs/patterns/structures in the text?
- Are there any obvious rhetorical devices employed in the text?
(e.g. images, parallelism, repetition, word play, irony, humour
etc.)? Does the literary form help to express the writer's meaning?
New Literary Issues
1. Structural issues
- Can a binary structuring/tension (honor/shame, good/evil,
light/darkness, etc) be identified in the text?
- Is the structure of this text similar to other related biblical texts?
2. Narrative issues
- What event is described in the text?
- Who are the characters in the text?
- What are the settings in the text (time/space)?
- How is the story presented/told (narrative discourse [point of view,
time and space development, irony, etc.)?
- What is/are the conflict(s) and resolution(s)
Post Modern Issues
1. Deconstruction Issues
- What makes the meaning of the text inherently unstable?
- How can traditional interpretations of this text be destabilized and
- Does your interpretation differ significantly from popular
interpretations? If so, why?
2. Ideological issues
- Are conflicting ideas/voices/witnesses/views evident in the text?
- Does the text represent a dissenting voice/view from that of other
- Does your interpretation represent a particular ideology (political,
racial, socio-economic, gender, etc)?
3. Reader-Response issues
- From what social location do you interpret the text?
- How does your social location significantly differ from other social
locations and how does it impact overall interpretation of text?
(At this point, and no sooner, consult the best commentaries available to you.)
The final phase of interpretation is the post-critical interpretation. Simply stated, this
interpretive phase is the theological interpretation. For the preacher, this is the ultimate
goal of interpretation. Matters to be considered at this point are:
Two theological interpretations are made during this phase.
1. What is the theological claim(s) of the text? Consider the following
questions in your formulation of the textual theological claim.
What does the passage suggest about the issues of faith that were
of concern to the writer/editor or their community?
What aspects of the writer's theology are prominent - view of God?
of the community? of the world? of society and human
relationships? of history?
Is the writer challenging certain theological viewpoints?
2. What contemporary theological claim do you feel compelled to set forth in
light of your interpretive reflections? Consider the following questions in
your formulation of the theological claim for preaching.
What other interpretations have been given to the passage over the
Contemporary Implications of Theological Claim