A Contextual Interview . . . .

Interview2  Providing Context Through An Interview

Many speakers/preachers use this rhetorical technique.  Sometimes it is used as “rhetorical foam filler” — consciously or unconsciously.  I say “unconsciously” because at times even when it is not purposefully used as “rhetorical filler, unthoughtfully there may be no real consideration given as to what will be and what will not be included in the contextual review.  What is the basis for including and not including contextual information?

This rhetorical technique is not executed by just covering what general context comes to mind during preparation — Typically it is said this way in the message . . . .

“Let me give you some context to what is happening.” 

If the speaker/teacher/preacher went back to re-read some of the contextual background of this-or-that passage, he might be surprised to discover . . . .

  • what is also part of the context,
  • what is even more relevant,
  • what has been forgotten, and/or
  • what really doesn’t matter for this particular message.

Think about adding this (at least in your mind) to that statement . . . .

“Let me give you some context to what is happening, which is important and relevant to understanding what is happening in the passage we are looking at.”

Even when it is necessary to establish a proper context, it is important to realize there are both a relevant and an irrelevant contextual material.*  Take out that pen and “redline” what is really unimportant during the time of your preparation and/or “pencil in” what you realize if left out will leave the listeners uncertain or confused.

This “biblical interview technique” is often used.  Sometimes there is little difference among examples. At other times there are subtle but distinct differences. . . .

i.e. — Begg uses a hypothetical motif containing a very limited amount of historical details.  He focuses on just one concept “you just believed.”   Begg, with Abraham images a conversation that includes little to no real historical details from the O.T. account concerning the life of Abraham (maybe — “where I came from”).

i.e. — While Wiersbe chooses and includes some of the various well known historical events concerning the life of Moses.

i.e., Now when Begg goes to Rahab, he touches on more historical detail because his aim is to make an additional and purposeful different point.  Not only to speak about believing and action, but also to point out who became a believer!

Neither is right or wrong.  It depends on your goal!  

Is the goal . . . .

  • to highlight a singular thought and shine the light on that one concept? — You will see this below with Begg on Abraham.
  • to set up some important and relevant background which reveals something very distinct from now? — i.e., That judge assume his responsibility in Israel far differently than this judge who was named Samson.
  • to provide necessary background just to understand what is even happening? – i.e. , The kingdom is now divided, and Israel is the northern kingdom.
  • to provide see the contrast of the context with what is happening now? — i.e., When Jesus first began ministry ______, but now a real change has occurred.  In the beginning _______, but now.
  • to see the steps which have brought us to this event? – i.e., When we first see Lot, he is with his uncle . . .  .

Contextual information can easily become “rhetorical foam filler” if you do not consciously know and understand what your purpose is in providing the contextual information!

I have provided two examples of using an interview to bring out details which are relevant to your particular point of the message.*

Alistair Begg – Book of James — Abraham & Rahab

And I wish that we could have Abraham right here

and we could put him up in the pulpit

and give my handheld microphone

and we would want to ask him — the question

Q: When God spoke to you Abraham — what did you do

Abraham:  —  (his answer) I believed him

Q: Did you do anything else, Abraham

Abraham: No — I just believed it

Q: Doesn’t that surprise you Abraham  — That you even believed it.

Abraham: It certainly does.

When I think about where I came from

and when I think about the orientation of my life

and when I think about God coming and speaking to me in the first instance

and then saying this to me

it is a mystery to me

it is a deep mystery to me

not only that God would come and speak

but that I would both hear his voice and believe what he said

Q: So you just believed.

Abraham: yea

Q: You didn’t do anything else.

Abraham: No.

Q: Okay

Well then it is Abrams faith — a lonely faith — or what James is saying here in Chapter two  — because apparently all he did it was we believe.

That’s what it says in Genesis 15:6 —  Abrams believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

He was justified

He was declared safe and secureand righteous before God**

on the strength of the Messiah — who would come.

— Alistair Begg

Now Begg goes to Rahab . . . .

Call my second witness

We’re not going to have as long with you Rahab — I’m sorry — but at least we will fit you in before the lunch break.

(from the most obvious witness the father of the faith — to the least likely witness)

I call Rahab to the stand.

Rahab, just a couple of general questions to begin with . . . 

What did you say your occupation was?

Thank you

And your background — Are you from the Jewish faith?

You’re a Canaanite — a Gentile —ahuh 

A Canaanite prostitute – yes

All right — Just so that the jury can be clear.

And what about your knowledge of God

(well she said)

I know that the Lord your God — is God in heaven above and on the earth below

All right.

It’s quite good — it’s not very good but at least it is a help to us — concerning what you have to say.

Now we really want to talk to you Rahab —  about these spies and what you did with the spies  — can you just tell us what you did with the spies

(this is all in Joshua chapter two incidentally — and is also part of our assigned homework)

What did you do with the spies

Well I gave  — I took the spies into my house

I hid them up on the roof

I looked after them for a while

and I made sure that they could sneak out because the gates of the city were locked — and made sure they could sneak out entirely unharmed.

And then maybe one final question Rahab  — why  — why was it that you did this?

Well it just seemed to me — that a person who believes in the living God — Who is sovereign and compassionate — would act in this way.

It just seems to me — that someone who believes — albeit — however fledgeling a belief — would do — what ought to be done.

And you see Rahab’s faith stands in direct contrast to the armchair philanthropists up in verse sixteen — if one of you says go I wish you well keep warm and well fed but does nothing about his physical needs what good is it — no good

If we had done that in the relationship the spies what good would that have been to the spies, no good to the spies at all — they would have been in the clink.

— Alistair Begg

Here is another example, but this message is by Warren Wiersbe and focuses on how the glory of God strengthens men in ministry, as in the life of Moses.

Warran Wiersbe calls up some of the past events related to the life of Moses.  All the events he chooses (even those he calls up for good humor sake) which are selected are selected because of their relevancy — because he wanted to highlight the hardships Moses endured.   ALL are contextually relevant to the point of his message!

Now if Moses were interviewed on 20/20 — or sixty minutes — or a Good Morning America — or LARRY KING LIVE

They’d have a bit of a problem with it.

I just imagine some interviewer saying . . . .

I: Now Moses you’ve had a very very successful career.

Moses: Well I don’t know about that

I started off — uhm — getting my picture on every post office bulletin board in Egypt.

I had murdered a man and  — although I think that was in self-defense. I won’t go into it now but — but uh ( …He killed a man).

And more than once during my years as a leader I wanted to quit — in fact once I wanted to die — I said — Lord if this is the way it is going to be  — take me now.

(Now you’ve never said that  — Moses did.)

I: Well you – uh —  I understand that Moses that you — ah — a very outstanding career you were in the university in Egypt and were learned in all of the wisdom of Egypt.

Moses: yea — yea 

I appreciated all of that.

But they never taught me what I needed

Never told me not to open up a sea.

Never told me how to — ugh — feed two million people in the wilderness.

Never told me how to fight battles with the enemy.

I learned things like how to make papyrus and — how to design a pyramid — how to embalm people.

I: Well OK — if you’ve had such a rough time.

Moses: Yes . . .

They criticized me right and left.

They didn’t like the way I led them.

They didn’t like the way I fed them.

They didn’t like my wife

Yea – they criticized me — had a rough time

I: What kept you going?

You’re education —

Moses: No

I: Your brother —

Moses:  — ahem — Let’s not talk about him.

I’ll tell you what kept me going, says Moses — I always looked for the glory of God.

Now there are four occasions in our ministry when we must see the glory of God.

I want to list those four occasions for you — and then we’re going to look at four events in the life of Moses that illustrate those occasions.

Wiersbe highlights the “hardship events” from the life of Moses because it is relevant to the main point he is making!

Wiersbe never weaves in or brings up  — floating in the ark of bulrushes, Pharaoh’s daughter, the early years of Moses, his identification with the people of God, fleeing for his life, etc.

You could weave these events in, but without some artful weaving, they are not relevant to either the ministry of Moses while leading the people of God, or for a message which will begin with a reference to God’s glory starting at the burning bush (which is what his message does – message link).

Either way, very light on historical detail or not, the aim is to provide the biblical context to my Old or New Testament passage by using an interview method.

My aim is to quantify what is happening in the above examples so we can purposefully, consciously, and/or knowingly determine what we want to do and/or what we are doing.


*As you well recognize, when you need to establish a context for the passage of Scripture, in many cases there is a vast amount of material you could include to build that context.  However, not all is neessary, relevant or usefulto the point you are making in your message.

Think about what you want to pull out from all the “context” which you could include.  Focus on the elements of the context which are . . . .

  • absolutely necessary,
  • relevant, and also
  • the most useful to the point which you are making in your message.

** Notice how Begg uses “safe and secure” as a way to further define the results of being declared righteous!  Because you can define something by what it does, accomplishes, procures, effects — another rhetorical technique (topoi — defining by what it does) which we will address at a later time.

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