Where Are We Going?
The journey from exegesis to exposition could be described as climbing a mountain, going up a ladder, or mining the depths. Whatever the metaphor, we are talking about the steps of constructing an expository sermon. It is the process a faithful preacher follows week in and week out. It might start on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, and it may not be finished until he steps onto the platform the next Sunday, but there is a process. The steps vary from preacher to preacher. The undertaking varies on the amount of time available, the expositor’s abilities with the original languages, the accessibility of tools and resources, and how many times the pastor needed to visit a sick church member, chair a committee meeting, or conduct a funeral in any given week. But the activity has no shortcuts and is ultimately one that relies not just on the preacher’s skills but on the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination, from start to finish.
At The MacArthur Center we want to help you preach. It’s our aim that these resources would help you handle the Word of God more faithfully and more effectively. The sermon ladder contains our summary of the steps that take you from text to pulpit, from exegesis to exposition. A sound seminary curriculum trains you to do this, and the skills take years of preaching ministry to establish. But here, for the seasoned expositor who wants to refresh his approach or the novice and aspiring teacher who needs an overview of the task before him, we offer the Preaching Ladder, the eight essential steps of How to Build an Expository Sermon.
How do I move from faithful exegesis to engaging exposition? How do I notice a hiphil verbal form in the text and explain its implications to the folks in the pews or the teenagers in the youth group? How does it translate? Not just to English, but to something helpful and understood. You need steps. Simple, practical, compositional steps. A process. A well-traveled road that you can follow week after week.
Most seminarians spend years learning the craft of exegesis—studying the biblical languages, hermeneutics, backgrounds, and theology. Exposition requires a synthesis of the information gleaned in exegesis that translates the meaning of the text to the sermon delivered to the people. Pastors must learn to glean the fruit of exegesis well and to communicate it to their congregations. How do you employ the craft of exegesis in a way that is faithful to the text and at the same time helpful to God’s people?
When approaching the art of preaching, it’s essential to understand the relationship between exegesis and exposition. A helpful picture to think about these two is a ladder.
On one side of the ladder is exegesis. “Exegesis” means “to draw out of”—you’re trying to pull the meaning of the text out through the study of the original languages, the historical and cultural background, and hermeneutics. This side of the ladder is technical and compels the preacher to spend time doing the hard work of thinking through what the text meant in the dusty streets of Ephesus. Exegesis is both reverent and accurate. The text is inspired by a holy God and it requires a workman that need not be ashamed. This is the crucial work of discovering the inspired author’s intention.
D.A. Carson clarifies,
Second-year Greek students may think of exegesis in terms of parsing, word study, syntactical analysis, and the like, but in reality exegesis is never so limited. Responsible exegesis will certainly resort to linguistic analysis, both lexis (analysis of the vocabulary) and syntax (analysis of the way words are related to each other). But it will also analyze the text at the level of the clause, the level of the sentence, the level of the discourse, and the level of the genre. It will seek to be sensitive to idiom, literary technique, metaphor, and lines of argument. It will ask how truth is conveyed in the rich plethora of literary genres found in the Bible.
The responsible exegete seeks to understand what the passage says. The work of the expositor cannot commence until the exegete has come to his conclusion.
On the other side of the ladder is exposition or homiletics. The text still means the same thing it did in Ephesus or at Sinai. But this side explores different implications of the text for believers today. You are not preaching at Sinai. You are preaching in Burbank or Beaver Falls. The message preached to the Israelites on the plains of Moab wasn’t just relevant to them. It’s relevant to us. If the other side of the ladder is a science, this side is an art. This explains why you can listen to ten sermons on Psalm 46 and none of them will sound exactly the same. A preacher’s arrangement, emphases, audience, and method will vary as he exposits the exact same text. But if it’s an expository sermon, each of those ten sermons will have the same authorially intended meaning of Psalm 46 at the center of the message.
John MacArthur says it this way,
The only logical response to inerrant Scripture … is to preach it expositionally. By expositionally, I mean preaching in such a way that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as it was intended by God. (REP, p. 35)
Good exposition is inextricably linked to faithful exegesis. The exposition of God’s Word flows from accurate exegesis of the inspired text. These are the two sides of the ladder; you climb the rungs of exegesis and then climb the rungs of exposition.
Supporting the rungs of the ladder are tips and tools to help you bridge the gap between exegesis and exposition. While preaching is more than tips and tools, you do need to say something and to say that something well. The MacArthur Center for Expository Preaching exists to equip you to use these tools effectively for the glory of God.