Sermon Preparation

I love to study the Word and preach, but I've learned that neither can properly exist in a vacuum. I must know the text well enough to teach it with clarity, but I must also know my people well enough to help them apply it to their lives. That means I must genuinely love them, be involved in their lives (to the degree possible), and do my study with them in mind. For me, that has always been the greatest source of joy and encouragement in the ministry.

Regarding the text itself, I believe in the literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture. The specific hermeneutical principles I apply to a passage will vary depending on its literary format (narrative, parable, poetry, prophecy, and so on), but my goals are always the same: to discover what the passage says, what it means, and how it applies to my life. Once I've done that, I can teach it to others with accuracy and integrity.

A Bible passage may have many applications but it has only one meaning. My responsibility is to discover that meaning as accurately as possible with the study tools available to me. Toward that end I have assembled a reference library of approximately 1,200 volumes.

Study Method

I use a six-step study procedure, which I've briefly outline here. It is followed by a list of the primary hermeneutical principles I affirm.

1. Preparation

  • Prayer and purity are essential to every aspect of one's Christian life, but especially when dealing with God's Word. Consequently, I don't ever want to approach my studies with an impure heart (1 Pet. 2:1-3; James 1:21) or without seeking spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9).
  • The Spirit's illumination and guidance are essential to accurate, productive Bible study. He won't interpret the passage for me (2 Tim. 2:15), but He'll guide my studies and give insights that can't be discerned on a purely human level (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

2. Observation

  • In this step I determine what the passage says. I read and reread the text, noting vocabulary (individual words) and syntax (relation of words to each another). I observe the text in its original language and compare various translations.
  • I ask the text six questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? That unlocks the passage to by allowing me to focus on details I might otherwise overlook.
  • At this point I'm not concerned with interpreting what I observe. My goal is to squeeze every drop of information from the text and formulate that information into questions to be answered in the next step of the process.

3. Interpretation

  • Here I move beyond what the passage says and determine what it means. To do that I must reconstruct as much of the original context as possible (i.e. history, culture, geography, and language) by answering the questions I asked in the observation step.
  • This step always involves the most time and effort but it produces the precious reward of biblical truth. Study aids such as original language tools, commentaries, encyclopedias, systematic theologies, and Bible atlases are indispensable.

4. Consolidation

  • Raw biblical data doesn't always apply directly to every believer's life; biblical principles do. So I must discern the principles that govern the information I've learned.
  • Some principles are explicit, others implicit.
  • For example, Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) doesn't directly apply to me (I wasn't there, I'm not a Jewish Rabbi, and so on). However, our Lord's willingness to meet with Nicodemus tells us that He cares for individuals, He's personally involved in their lives, He's approachable, and He welcomes earnest inquires. Those are principles that apply to everyone.

5. Correlation

  • Here I insure that the principles I've formulated don't contradict what Scripture teaches elsewhere. Scripture is always consistent with itself (Ps. 119:160), so if there's a problem, I need to rethink my conclusions.

6. Application

  • Once I understand the passage and know that my principles are accurate, I'm ready to answer the question: What specific responses does God expect from me? Applying biblical truth is the ultimate goal of Bible study.

Hermeneutical Principles

1. The Clarity of Scripture

  • The clarity of Scripture addresses the question of how we can make sense out of a book so large and with so many perplexing passages. Scripture can be understood by studying its words with their corresponding grammatical structure and meaning. The Holy Spirit illuminates our minds, adding to our understanding of the text (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

2. Accommodation of Revelation

  • God accommodates His revelation to man via human languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).

3. Progressive Revelation

  • God's revelation becomes more complete and mature as we progress from the Old Testament to the New (Matt. 5:17; Col. 1:26-27; 2:16-17)

4. Scripture Interprets Scripture

  • The whole of Scripture is the context and guide for understanding the particular passages of Scripture.

5. The Analogy of Faith (Unity of Scripture)

  • Scripture contains a system of doctrine that is unified and non-contradictory.

6. The Unity of the Meaning of Scripture

  • Any given passage of Scripture has only one meaning.

7. Interpretation and Application

  • The ultimate goal of interpretation is application. Proper application depends on proper interpretation. There is only one interpretation, but there may be many applications.

8. The Priority of the Original Languages

  • Exegesis must be done in the original languages if it is to be competent and trustworthy.

9. The Necessity of Literal Interpretation

  • We must follow the normal and apparent sense of biblical words. We mustn't allegorize or spiritualize them.

10. Word and Grammatical Studies

  • Word and grammatical studies must be done with careful consideration of context.

11. Literary Mold or Genre

  • We must know a book's literary format (historical, poetry, wisdom, etc.) and be aware of figures of speech and larger literary forms such as parables and allegories. Some literary forms require special hermeneutical principles.