Exegetical  Exposition

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

There are many types of homilies, sermons, and lessons that can be given in the process of preaching or teaching the Bible.  The message could be topical, or biographical, or doctrinal, or issue-related.  It could be in the form of a declaration, or in a teaching style, or dialogue with the congregation.  And it could be of any length.  There is great variety out there; and some variety will be healthy in any group.  But at the heart of it all is the question of the relationship of the message to Holy Scripture.  After all, we are to teach and preach “the Word”--His Word, and not our clever ideas.  And so exegetical exposition would comply with this instruction most clearly.  When you do expository preaching and teaching, your message will be tied closely to the text, so that the people will know that the ideas are from God, and so that God can bless His Word that goes forth.  Our clever homilies with their practical suggestions will only be efficacious if they come from and through the Word of the LORD.

 

Make it a practice that your sermons and lessons are clearly expository--that is, the substance of the entire message is derived from the text of Scripture, in its contexts, in the way that it was written. Go through the passage, the unit, so that all the parts are covered and related.  And the people will learn more Scripture in the process, in addition to the theme, point, or doctrine that makes the main thrust of the exposition.  There will be many occasions on which one would use other types of presentation; but this should be at the heart of any ministry that is to preach or teach the Word. 

 

And God will bless it.  And people will take to it quickly, and not wish you to go back to the clever homily or the message that is only loosely tied to some text.  I have found especially meaningful the exposition of the Old Testament in general, and the Psalms in particular. People just do not hear messages from this part of the Bible, but many of them know the Old Testament and love the psalms, which gives the expositor the immediate road into their hearts.  If you start doing this, i.e., developing and delivering exegetical expositions from the Old Testament, you will do it regularly.

 

Putting such a message together takes a good bit of effort as well.  Having done all the exegetical work‑‑determining the best text, defining the words, interpreting the figures of speech, looking at the structure and genre, relating it to the culture, and sorting out the biblical theology‑‑it will take some time to put it into proper homiletical form. Even in teaching a Bible class one would want to recast the raw data for the appropriate presentation. But certainly for an expository presentation (a formal sermon, an informal teaching, a written article) one needs to rearrange the material and select what is to be used and then add the homiletical parts that will make it more effective. The shorter the time one has to speak, the more work it will take to shape the message‑‑and say anything of substance.  For me, even now, it will take 10 to 15 to 20 hours to prepare an exposition, depending on the passage, and the amount of time I have to speak. The exegetical part is half of it; the additional work to develop the exposition will take as much time.

 

The following pages will trace some of these additional steps in developing the exposition‑‑whether a written exposition, an informal class, or a preached sermon.  The arrangement of an exegetical exposition is the same in each case, even though the style of presentation may change.

 

 

 

THE SYNTHESIS OF THE PASSAGE

 

The synthesis of a passage will begin with an exegetical outline and then form an exegetical summary.  In doing the synthesis of a passage we are trying to articulate the structure and the unity of the text. The steps listed below, if followed, will safeguard that the exposition covers all the passage (not leaving parts out that do not fit the message), and that it covers it in the correct way, so that the message has unity and progression and clarity. With practice some of this procedure will come almost by instinct; but in the beginning the steps should be followed to ensure a full and accurate  synthesis.  I am using a psalm as the example, but the method works with any passage in the Bible, Old or New Testament.

 

Developing an Exegetical Outline

 

An exegetical outline is an outline that describes in your own words the contents

of the passage.  It is to be written in full sentences (= complete thoughts) and not topics. It is to be historical and descriptive in its wording. And it must interpret and not retain high figures. For our example we will work through Psalm 2.[1] Note the procedure, step‑by‑step.

 

Step One: Summarize the Verses (or main Clauses in Narrative)

 

Write a brief summary statement for each line of poetry (which usually means

each English verse) . Do not retain the figures of speech in your wording unless it is a common idiom, but give an interpretive meaning where possible. Do not restate if the parallelism does, but interpret the whole verse as a unit. Use complete sentences. Do not worry about final form at this stage, only the accuracy of interpretation. For Psalm 2 these summaries are workable:

 

1.       The psalmist expresses amazement that the nations scheme a rebellion that cannot succeed.

2.       The psalmist says that these earthly kings have decided to oppose the LORD and His King.

3.       The psalmist quotes their resolution to rebel against the authority of the LORD and His king.

4.       The psalmist reveals that the LORD holds the rebels in contempt.

5.       The psalmist predicts that one day the LORD, declaring judgment in anger, will terrify these rebels.

6.       The psalmist quotes the LORD’s declaration that He has installed His king upon the throne in Zion.

7.       The psalmist quotes the king’s resolve to recite the covenant statute that declares him to be the anointed king.

8.       The psalmist quotes the king’s affirmation that the LORD promised to give him all the nations as his possession when he asks for it.

9.       The psalmist quotes the king’s affirmation that the LORD instructed him to destroy the nations that rebel.

10.     The psalmist exhorts the nations to heed his advice.

11.     The psalmist exhorts the nations to worship the LORD.

12.     The psalmist exhorts the nations to do homage to the LORD's king because His judgment is coming soon.

 

 

Step Two: Group the Summaries

 

Study your line-summaries to see which can be grouped into natural units, either by structure of the literary form of the psalm (if such is discernible), or by subject matter. For this psalm I suggest that the contents of  the verses indicate four sections of three verses each:

 

1‑3     The first three verses describe the activities of the rebellious nations that wish to overthrow the LORD and His king.

 

4‑6     The next three verses record the response of the LORD to their ridiculous plan.

 

7‑9     The next three verses all discuss the resolution of the king who shows his rights and privileges as the LORD's chosen.

 

10‑12 The last three verses all record the exhortations of the psalmist for these foolish nations to submit to the king and become true worshipers of the LORD.

 

 

Step Three: Summarize Each Group of Summaries

 

Once you have settled on the divisions of the passage, write summaries for each group. These summaries should include the contents of the verses subordinated under them, but with less detail than the individual summaries. These group summaries will now become Roman numerals of the psalm, and the verse summaries (or other summaries of sub‑sections) under them become sub‑points. 

 

The following is my final, polished exegetical outline of Psalm 2.  Realize, however, that it took some intermediate steps of condensing, editing, and rewriting to get to this point.

 

I.       The psalmist reveals how the nations foolishly desire to rebel against the LORD and His anointed king (1‑3).

 

A.      He is amazed at the tumultuous and vain resolves of the nations (1).

B.      He explains the resolve of the nations: they have united to end the authority of the LORD and His anointed king (2,3).              

 

1.       Rulers sit in conclave together against the LORD (2).

2.       They resolve to break away from His authority (3).

 

II.      The psalmist reveals the resolution of the LORD to set His king on Zion’s throne (4‑6).

 

A.      The sovereign LORD of heaven holds their feeble plan in contempt (4).

B.       The LORD will speak in His wrath against them to appoint His king (5,6).

 

1.       He will speak in His wrath and terrify them (5).

2.       He will announce the installation of His king in spite of them (6).

 

III.     The psalmist reveals the affirmations of the king to show by right he rules (7‑9).

 

A.      The king resolves  resolves to declare the statute of the covenant (7a).

B.      The king reiterates the promises of God in the covenant: coronation as a “son,” inheritance of the earth, and sovereign dominion (7b‑9).

 

1.       “Today” the LORD makes him king (7b).

2.       The LORD invites him to ask for his kingdom so that he may have dominion over the rebels (8,9).

 

IV.     The  psalmist exhorts the foolish nations to submit to the new king lest judgment come upon them quickly (10‑12).

 

A.      He calls for the leaders of the nations to use wisdom (10).

B.      He instructs them to serve God in submission to the king lest they be judged quickly (11).

C.      He announces a blessing for those who trust in Him (12).

 

 

                                               The Exegetical Summary or Synopsis

 

This is actually step four in the whole process of synthesis. What we want to do now is to write a one‑sentence summary of the entire passage. If you do this, you will be able to show the unity and the organization of the psalm.  (If you cannot do this at home with pen and paper and no pressures or time constraints, then you do not know the passage well enough and certainly will not be able to do it extemporaneously in a service).

 

The way to do this is to take the Roman numeral points you have written and put them together as a paragraph. Decide then which section of the passage will be the main idea, the central focus, or the climax (here I decided everything was leading up to the psalmist’s exhortation to the nations, and so that will be my central clause or sentence‑‑the other sections being subordinated).  So, first write the points together, and then start to edit, condense, revise to a shorter format:

 

 

The psalmist reveals how the nations foolishly desire to rebel

 

 

against the LORD and His anointed king.  The psalmist reveals the

 

 

resolution of the LORD to set His king on Zion’s throne.  The psalmist

 

 

reveals the affirmations of the king to show by what right he rules.  The

 

 

psalmist exhorts the foolish nations to submit to the king lest

 

 

judgment come on them quickly.

 

 

This will take a little bit of working to get it into a workable form, unless you are very good with writing and editing. But if you go through the process you will be so involved with the ideas of this psalm that you will be able to think through it clearly and teach it without much need of outlines and manuscripts (which can deaden a presentation). You are not yet writing a sermon idea, but an apt summary of the contents of this psalm. It should be brief enough to be a summary in one good sentence; but it should be precise enough to fit this psalm and this one only. My final polished sentence summary for Psalm 2 is as follows:

 

The psalmist exhorts the pagan nations to abandon their ridiculous plans to

rebel against the LORD and His Anointed King and submit to the authority of this King whom God has ordained to possess the nations and end their rebellion.

 

There are other ways this could be summarized, of course.  But this is how I decided to word it. It fits this passage only. It adequately covers the main parts of the passage. And it puts the focus on the psalmist’s advice to the foolish people. In that sense the psalm is rather evangelistic!

 

 

 

 

THE EXPOSITION

 

 

Developing the Expository Outline

 

Having done an exegetical outline makes it rather easy to write an expositional outline‑‑and ensures that the message’s outline will actually fit the passage.

 

You take each of your Roman numeral points and change them into shorter and more direct objective, propositional statements. They will no longer be historical and descriptive; they will be timeless and theological‑‑but still fit the passage. The method to follow is to substitute, usually by abstracting ideas, to get to a general principle; the test to apply is to determine if the principle you write fits the original audience as well as your modern audience. These should be shorter statements because people will hear them and need to take them in. And they should (if possible) be worded in a way to make them memorable). At times‑‑not always‑‑I will use a “sign‑post” before the point (as below). Psalm 2 yields this homiletic or expository outline:

 

I.                    Folly: It is futile for humans to try to throw off God’s authority (1-3).

II.                 God’s Plan: God’s sovereign authority establishes His “Son’s” rule (4-6).         

III.               Messiah’s Claims: God’s anointed King will rule the world with absolute authority (7-9).

IV.              Wisdom: It is wise for humans to find refuge from God’s judgment by submitting to His Son (10-12).

 

The points are principles that cover the verses in those sections; but the wording of the point would be useful to the old audience as well as today--they are timeless truths (which is why you have to try to tie Old a d New Testaments together in forming the theology).

 

Under normal conditions I would not leave the metaphor “son” in the outline, or use the technical term “messiah.”  But in both ages these words would be clearly understood.  Moreover, in this passage my message will spend a great deal of time dealing with those two words, first in the Old Testament time and then as applied to Jesus in the New.  I can use them because they fit the psalm perfectly, and they fit the New Testament as well‑‑in a fuller sense.

 

 

The Expository Idea

 

Now, the final step in the synthesis is to reduce the exegetical summary to a shorter statement in the same manner as was done with the outline. This will be a clear, theological statement, worded to fit the original context as well as the modern audience. It is the central theme of the psalm‑‑and so of your message. It is the biblical theology of the passage that has been exegetically derived, condensed and put into a rhetorically effective statement. For Psalm 2 I have written:

 

It is wise to submit to the authority of the Messiah,

because God has declared that He will rule the world.

 

There are many details and related ideas in the passage, to be sure, but this captures the main point of the psalm. The delivery of the lesson or sermon will have to bring enough material from the text itself to show how this idea, as well as the outline, was developed. The expository idea simply provides an easy‑to‑remember summary statement of the exposition of the psalm.

 

After this has been developed, the expositor can develop the rest of the essentials for the message.

 

 

 

FORMULATING APPLICATIONS

 

It is a short step from discovering what the text meant to determining what it means to us today‑‑but it is a step often missed anyway.  One of the weakest parts of modern expositions is the application. Either there is no significant application at all, or what is given has not actually been derived very well from the text. The speaker may not know how to develop an application, or may assume it will be self‑evident if the message is profound (cleverness is in, clarity is out), or the speaker may have an agenda regardless of what text is being used.

 

A good exegetical exposition must include specific application to the audience. You must state clearly what you want your audience to know as a result of your exposition, what you want them to believe, and on the basis of that, what you want them to do (actually do‑‑not “realize, know, think, understand, remember,” etc., but “do"). It must be clear and positive. If it is negative (“do not do such and such”) you must state how to avoid it and what to do instead; if it is vague (“have greater faith”) you must tell them how to do that. In sum, you are answering the question “so what?” for your exposition.

 

There are several important guidelines to keep in mind when drawing applications from the Old Testament passages:

 

1.          Isolate the timeless theological truth to be applied, but work within the corresponding “arena.”

 

When seeking to apply the message, be sure you apply the main theological idea of the passage. Individual applications can be made along the way f rom verse to verse. But at the end you are driving the main point home. This really should be your expository idea, if that has been done correctly. The old German proverb fits well here: “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.”

 

The difficult thing, however, is to make the theological idea the point and not the arena or setting in which it is revealed. For example, the laws in Leviticus 11‑15 all deal with holiness, sanctification‑‑that is the point behind the specifics. The laws cover food, childbirth, mildew, emissions, and the like. These are areas in which the theological principle will apply‑‑but it is the theology that is to be applied, not the detailed regulations of Israel’s laws. What I would do is note the setting and circumstances of the passage, especially if they are culturally tied to a people or a place like Israel. Then, I would look for a comparable arena, setting, or circumstance in my audience’s experience in which that theological point can be made. I may have to abstract some to get there, but that can be done. For example, sanctification will have an application to the way we live, what we eat, how we dress, and the like. If I am on a narrative like David and Goliath, I shall have to abstract the setting to conflicts, maybe even to spiritual warfare, to show how the people of God need faith to deal with attacks on the faithful. If it is a psalm, the task is usually easier, unless the circumstances of the psalm are specifically Israelite. But generally, prayer, praise, slander, gossip, inner guilt feelings, etc., run straight across the board in all ages.

 

2.                  Watch for distinctions between the testaments.

 

People do not pay much attention to this point‑‑it smacks of biblical literalism or dispensationalism (‑‑most of those who use these in a pejorative sense haven’t a clue as to what they are talking about). The point is that there are some major differences between the testaments. The New Testament may simply carry the Old Testament idea across; but more often it will modify an idea, and occasionally nullify it. While we affirm that all Scripture is profitable for instruction and righteousness, we must also recognize that often what it regulated has been changed or done away with‑‑holy war against the Canaanites, food and clothing restrictions, marriage laws with the relative, animal sacrifices, pilgrimages to Jerusalem, temple priesthood, removal from service for bodily defects, curses, and a host of others.

 

So you must state the timeless principle of the passage‑‑its theology; and then you must show how that worked out in Israel’s experience, and how it works out today. Leviticus 4 teaches that there is no acceptance by God without the atoning blood of a substitutionary sacrifice. That is true in both testaments; but the old is the type, and the new is the fulfillment. You must explain the type as well as the fulfillment. Your application must carry the truth to its New Testament fulfillment‑‑because we have a different and better covenant.

 

3.                  Distinguish between primary and secondary applications.

 

There will be times when you can legitimately derive an application from a passage, but it was not what the passage was primarily designed to do. For example, Psalm 2 makes its own direct and immediate application to unbelievers to submit to the LORD and His King. If you make your main application to Christians, either to be comforted by this, or to engage in evangelism like the psalmist seems to be, that is in there, implied, applicable‑‑but secondary. You cannot make the message to Christians: Be wise and submit to the Son. They have done that! But if your audience is almost all true believers, then you will tell what the main point is, and then say there are other applications that we as Christians can derive, such as . . . .

 

4.                  Do not elevate the application to interpretation.

 

In an application you are telling people what the text means to us, what you think we should do in response to it. Your suggestions can get quite specific. But too often different groups will make those applications the binding authority, as if they were Scripture. If the text does not state the application, you must be cautious about this. Affirm what it affirms as binding; suggest the applications that you would derive from it.  For example, if the text says “Train up a child in the way that he should go” and you decide that includes properly motivating the child‑‑fine, but do not say God is telling us to motivate our children. That may be wise, it may be helpful, it may be a very good suggestion, it may be taught elsewhere‑‑but that may be saying something very different than the Hebrew idea of “train” up a child, unless your exegesis has shown that the verb includes that idea. All I am stressing is that whatever you tell people to do had better be what the text is clearly telling them to do, or that is a clear implication from the text.  And if the text provides a general principle, then we can suggest ways to implement it, ways that harmonize with other clear teachings of Scripture.

 

5.                  Be clear, direct, and specific.

 

The application should be very clear to the listeners, clear that it came from the text, and clear in its meaning. At times, applications are left in general forms without any specific points being made. And at times too many points are being made.  Some of this is simply poor preparation; but a conclusion with its precisely worded application(s) should be carefully written and learned as part of the expository  preparation.  It is too difficult to pull the ideas together extemporaneously at the end of an exposition if they have not been worked out already.

 

Once a conclusion is written, that is, once you know what you think the passage is saying, then you are in a good position to write the introduction‑‑and not before. A good introduction gets the audience’s attention, introduces the subject matter, and (most importantly) creates or uncovers the need that you know your passage will address.

 

 

 

CORRELATION

 

Our objective in correlation is to link the passage being expounded with other passages of Scripture that teach the same or a related theological idea(s). Correlation is important because (1) it shows the unity of Scripture and especially the continuing relevance of the Old Testament in the New Testament world. (2) Correlation will also provide corroboration for the derived theological idea and its application.  (3) Moreover, correlation with a New Testament passage will show how the theological truth of the passage will be expressed in a different setting, perhaps in a different culture.

 

It is important to follow some guidelines when making correlations:

 

1.                  Correlate the theological ideas of the passages.

 

You are to correlate what the passage is teaching. There are many similar stories, events, settings, and circumstances in the Bible; but correlating these would not provide much help for the exposition. You are trying to find where else in the Bible the same truth is being taught.  This may be difficult to do at first, but in time as you teach and preach from the Bible it will come quickly and naturally.

 

2.                  Be sure to correlate your idea with the New Testament, especially the apostolic writings.

 

Ultimately we want to know where such an idea is taught or confirmed in the New Testament. But there are some difficulties to be avoided in doing this:

 

a.         You can correlate with passages in the Gospels, of course, but that often has additional problems. You may find you have to do a lot of explaining about the Gospel passage in order to make the link, whereas the apostolic writings state directly the doctrines and the instructions. In fact, much of the method we have been studying for exegesis applies also to the Gospels, because they are very much like Old Testament literature.  They describe activities that take place under the Law.  So when preaching or teaching from the Gospels the expositor must correlate with the epistles as well.  This is seldom done--and this is part of the reason why there is so much doctrinal confusion.

 

b.         You may find correlations when the New Testament passage quotes your passage, but some of these need qualification. The New Testament may at times make a specific application from your passage, but it may not be the main idea. Be sure that if you correlate the passage it is taking in the whole context. Romans 8 does this with Psalm 44; but 1 Corinthians 15 is making a typological interpretation about first fruits pointing to the resurrection of Jesus from Leviticus 23.  If you were expounding Leviticus 23, you would be looking for New Testament teachings on thanksgiving for your correlation.  You can bring in the typology, but that will not be the main thrust of an exposition of Leviticus 23.

 

c.                   Be careful about relying on second sources for the correlation. At times they aligns passages that do indeed have the same theological message, but at times they make connections that are not quite the same.

 

3.                  Do not make your correlated New Testament passage the message.

 

It is often easy to end up teaching or preaching the New Testament text rather than the passage you were expounding.  This can lead to eisegesis if you are not careful.  If the exposition comes from the Old Testament passage, then that has the message to be declared. The correlated material is to show that that idea is indeed taught elsewhere in Scripture.  If you want to expound a New Testament passage you have correlated, then do so instead (and relate the background from the Old)..

 

4.                  Keep to the point.

 

It is easy to see correlations with every idea in a passage, but after a while that is simply overwhelming for people. You should do as many as you think possible along the way of the exposition, but keep one or two main connections for the conclusion.  That is easier for people top take in.

 

Be very careful here: it is easy to come up with an idea you would like to teach from a passage, an idea you know about from another portion of Scripture, and make that correlation instead of finding the correct New Testament connection with the theological idea of the passage. That will not be very helpful; in fact, it may confuse people as to the meaning of the passage and the method of studying Scripture.

 

 

 

REMEMBER:  You are simply trying to expound a passage of Scripture, showing people what the passage means based on your careful exegesis, how you know that, what its relevance is, and where those ideas are clearly taught in other parts of the Bible. You may have to show changes between cultures, covenants, or contexts in the process; but the people will soon grow to think biblically, contextually, exegetically. And that is the whole idea.

 


 

[1] If you want to see scores of samples of the outlining procedure, see my work on Genesis (Creation and Blessing) and Leviticus (Holiness to the LORD).  Each unit of those books is outlined exegetically, and then homiletically.