Rhetoric & Homiletics: A Compass — A Critical Concept Regarding Expositional Preaching

A Critical Concept Regarding Expositional Preaching

 – Part 1 –

You can divide all of Scripture by two descriptives: Narrative and Grammatical. There are portions of Scripture laying out a historical account, and other portions make a point through language.  

When you are dealing with grammatical portions of the Scripture, such as the New Testament epistles, you are engaged in understanding the argument being made by the writer. The majority of the New Testament, outside of the four Gospel, Acts, and Revelation, builds grammatical arguments. Exposition in these portions of Scripture relies on your ability to follow the argument being made.  

When it comes to the grammatical portions of Scripture, you are following an argument that is being made.  Sometimes that argument includes one that is as large as the book as a whole – Romans 1-11, which then leads to the argument in 12:1 – “Therefore.”  Nevertheless, there are also smaller arguments being made within those large arguments.

Identifying and analyzing the arguments in a text is what the study and exposition of Scripture are about when dealing with the grammatical. The main objective is to understand and analyze the argumentation in a given passage. The activity that takes place is an analysis of an argument, and the tools are an understanding of l

For instance, understanding that words have been created and designed in every language to show the relationship between what is being said is basic to following the argument. Understanding how language has been designed and works involve knowing that there are words that provide clues to where a writer or speaker is going in his discourse. Therefore, words like “and” “but” “nevertheless” are grammatical indicators to the reader or listener.

If someone was speaking to you, and you heard the word “but,” your mind immediately knew that they were going to make a point that was at odds with what was just said. In fact, someone might even immediately respond to the word “but” and interrupt by saying – “No, No, there are no “but-s” when it comes to. . . . . .”  

Likewise, when the authors of non-narratives write, you need to understand language. It is language and grammatical structure that they are using to make their argument. You are following a grammatical argument. A passage of Scripture is not a repository of biblical words that allow one to go off in this-or-that direction, and then begin to teach systematic theology. There is an argument being made – a grammatical argument – that builds on an understanding of how language works. In fact, you may not even know what a word means without understanding the argument being made. That word could have two or three different meanings, but the language before and after it defines its meaning – i.e. “the love of God.” Is it the love we have for God, or the love God has for us?

The task of exposition is to identify and analyze the arguments in a text. In any particular passage, how should the words, phrases, sentences be understood as they carry out the task of making the argument?

Defining “exposition” as a study in “following the argument” is critical to an accurate exposing of the truth and meaning of a passage. How is the writer “reasoning” or “logic-ing” with the reader? I am not drawing a distinction between “reasoning,” “logic-ing,” or “arguing.” [1] The writers of the epistles are reasoning and/or arguing with us as readers.

Sometimes, in the use of language, a question is proposed to make the argument, or to reason with the reader.  Because . . .  that is how language works! i.e. “Know ye not that . . . ?” [2]

At other times, statements of fact and/or joint agreement are made to make the argument. Because . . .  that is how language and logic work – i.e. Paul on Mars Hill.

At other times, an explanation is given to further or move along the argument. Because . . .  that is how language, reasoning, and logic work – i.e. I Corinthians 8:4 about meat offered to idols and the nature of idols. The subject at hand is explained and accepted by both parties and understood as factual. [3]

At times, a historical fact is introduced to support the argument being made. Because . . .  that is how arguments are made – i.e. as Peter makes an argument in the narrative book of Acts – “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.” The hearers and/or readers might not have accepted the point being made until this-or that fact was introduced! The purpose of introducing this historical fact is to remove any doubt about the claim being made.

Sometimes, the writer sets up the argument he is going to make in the book or before the particular point. He is laying out theological truths, words, and concepts to provide an atmosphere for understanding, hearing, and agreeing with what he is about to say. – i.e. “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” Paul is going to address that exact issue in his book, and is setting them up for that argument!

The writers are putting forward an argument and seeking to persuade the hearer to accept. . . .

• something he did not accept, 

• something the writer did not know was or was not accepted, 

• what was already believed, with greater understanding or conviction

. . . prior to putting forward his reasoning, logic, or argument.

Understanding the arguments,
the biblical reasoning of the writer,
the logical flow of a passage
is crucial to legitimate Scriptural exposition!

1. While “reasoning” may be more tentative, as we try to reason through to a position. Argumentation is more directive.  “Argumentation” may be seen as involving a settled aim or goal.  A claim is being made by a proponent when it comes to argumentation.  With reasoning, things are more tentative and fluid.  There may be stronger textual indicators when it comes to reasoning versus argument – “therefore” is more the language of reasoning, while the imperative is more the grammar of argument.  “Reasoning” is seeking to get the reader to accept the point being made – “I beseech you by the mercies of God that you . . . . .  Argument removes any doubt, and demands acceptance – “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.”

2. Questions are part of arguments.  While there are questions that are polite ways to make a request – “Would you pass the butter down here?” in an argument, they are critical questions that are connected to the argument being made.  The question may seem harmless for the moment.  The question may not make a direct assertion.  The question does not demand only one conclusion.  Nevertheless, the answer to the question, or the fact that the question may not have been entertained before, forwards the argument.

3. Explanations are not arguments, but are designed to support the argument being made. Explanations answer questions that may be in a listener’s mind as to why, how, when, where this-or-that plays into the point being made.

There were “gaps” in understanding, that when explained, remove some of the resistance to being persuaded, and or at least allow the speaker to continue to make his argument. It does not necessarily prove the point, but it helps the listener/reader understand the point being made. The listener lacks the knowledge, or the full knowledge, before the explanation was given and can now put that into the equation. 


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