Sorry, It May Not Be Exposition!

I believe it is beyond dispute that there is scarcely a pastor who would not claim to be an expository preacher-teacher. Midst all the different personalities, speaking styles, and even “denominations,” surely today’s preachers want to be considered expositional in their handling of the Scriptures from the pulpit.

However, the same pastors realize that such is not the reality. While they are, they would tell you that many other preachers are not engaged in Bible exposition. [1] That is why pastors make that very point by periodically announcing such to their congregations.

  • “We go verse by verse through the Scriptures to make sure we are preaching and teaching what the Word actually says.”
  • “This church is marked by expository preaching.”
  • “We exposit the Scriptures in our ministries.”
  • “If you want to hear what the Bible says, not what men say, then you are at the right place. We tell you what the Bible teaches.”

After such pastoral assertions, you may hear a hearty “Amen” from the congregation (even from those who rarely say “Amen”). 

In today’s Bible-believing churches, the congregations have been taught that such is the standard and that their pastor meets that criteria. When the preacher announces that he is committed to that, God’s people are again convinced that what they are hearing from the pulpit is Bible exposition.

The primary reason some preachers-teacher are not considered expositional is the belief that topical sermons are not expositional. Another second reason, perhaps ranking right under that, is the all too common abuse and misuse of Scripture — preaching on a single verse and taking it out of its context. Using the Bible to say things it does or does not say in that particular passage is “INposition,” not EXpostion.[2]

Nevertheless, the failure to be expositional is far wider than those two typical allegations.


Five Types Of Sermons That Are Not Expository Preaching

#1 — Systematic Theological Preaching:

For some, a passage of Scripture is merely a place to find a word or prevalent theme to form the basis for a general theological study.

If the verse or passage . . . .

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into that heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”

 . . . is talking about — our future, or future inheritance, heaven, God’s love, God’s preparation for His people — then the sermon is marked by a systematic study of that doctrinal truth. [3]

It is not that anything said is not biblical, but that the passage is merely used as a repository of words or themes that allow one to teach biblical doctrines. Teaching the doctrines found in the passage is not exposition. The preacher is merely drawing out of the passage the biblical doctrines that are found within the verse and/or passage. The marker of such an approach is that the preacher is turning to a host of different passages that all relate to that particular doctrine(s).

It is not that teaching on a particular doctrine is an illegitimate approach to Bible teaching. In fact, that is why classes in “systematic theology” are typically part of a seminary education. Those entering the ministry are shown the unfolding of a biblical doctrine across the pages of Scripture. 

Nevertheless, it is not exposition if the “How” or “why” the writer calling up this-or-that doctrinal truth in this passage is left unexplained. That is the hard work of exposition.

It is not sermonic exposition if it is not used to expose how that particular truth or doctrine within the passage further’s the argument of the passage.


#2 — Skyscraper Preaching:

Skyscraper” . . . . because it is story upon story. 

Who hasn’t heard this kind of sermon? The Scriptures are used to give occasion for telling a story. The preacher highlights various verses, stories, illustrations, and examples that form the bulk of the sermon. The sermon’s stories are the focus and far more remembered than the passage. The sermon is littered with stories about how . . . .

  • that has happened in one’s life or the life of another
  • that truth works in life and living
  • someone who violated that truth faced serious consequences
  • spiritually minded the speaker is in understanding and apply this-or-that truth
  • etc.

The sermon is not so much about what the verse or passage teaches, but the building of interesting, shocking, amazing, and/or frightening examples, one after another, story upon story. It is all designed to move the emotions and leads one to believe that what the speaker is saying is found in the Scriptures or that passage. The story is reputed to be the point of the verse or passage.

Again, the stories may illuminate or illustrate biblical truths, but it is not expository preaching. It is story-telling, accurately or inaccurately, supposedly making a point that is reputed to be what the biblical writer is teaching.


#3 — Old Mother Hubbard Preaching:

I say, “Old Mother Hubbard” because I think about that poem as an example of such preaching.

“First of all, notice that she was “old.” She wasn’t young, middle age, but just “old.” The word “old” just says it all. This was a woman who had a lot of years behind her.

Her name was “Mother Hubbard.” That is what people called her. When you wanted to refer to her, everyone knew who you were talking about when you said “Mother Hubbard.”

Now the word “Hubbard” comes from the Greek language, and it means . . . . “

Just about every word of the verse or passage is examined. This sermonic format features “word studies,” and biblical cross-referencing, or at times resembles an “Amplified Bible” (though the value of such a “translation” is often disparaged.) 

This approach spends its sermonic time making sure that the listeners understand every word or phrase that can be explained. The meaning of every word or phrase is carefully squeezed out (sometimes beyond its need, and/or legitimate meaning and expositional understanding within the passage). [5]

While fully understanding what the words of a verse or passage actually mean is basic to exegesis, and should take place in the pastor’s study to ensure that the preacher understands what is being said by the author, the audience is now brought into the self-same process. 

The study has moved into the auditorium. 

The kitchen has become the dining room.

Most of the message becomes pedantic, academic, and literary.

The trees and not the forest becomes the focus. 

One begins to wonder, “Do any of the words, when put together in a sentence and/or added to a paragraph, make a primary point that God is declaring about life and living?” What is the argument or point that the writer is pursuing and accomplishing? [11]

Yes, there is a place for clarifying the meaning of this-or-that word or phrase. Nevertheless, “Keil and Delitzsch” or “Vine’s Word Studies Of The Bible” are not designed to become the main course of the sermonic journey, as God’s people get lost in the theological weeds. 

“Commentaries” are designed for the study, not the pulpit.

Being a “coming to you live commentary” is not expositional preaching.


#4 — Abracadabra Preaching:

This dates back to the days when only the clergy could understand the Bible. The belief was that the laity lacked the ability to grasp what was being said. It took a “man of the cloth” to help someone understand this Book! The preacher was that individual who alone can really tell you what that verse or passage is actually teaching.

With this form of sermonic composition, the pastor’s unique insights, discovered by his in-depth and consummate study of the Scriptures. It is marked by pastors who love the “novel.” They gravitate towards and latch onto unique and unusual meanings of a verse or passage. 

It is almost as if without such insightful and novel points, the pastor has not earned his salary or used his time in the study to dig out such wisdom. He must be considered the most perceptive and knowledgeable since he is the preacher.

Had the typical Bible reader read this-or-that passage, he would have never seen it or grasp “the real meaning” of the verse or passage.  

The “pastoral conjurer” can find so much more in the simple and plain meaning of the passage — words that match, meanings that would allude the lay reader, connections that few would have ever made, and truths that few have thought of until now. 

Of course, there are some difficult passages and even books (The Revelation of John, Ecclesiastes, et al). Of course, there are times when we read a passage of Scripture and come to realize that more is being said in a verse or passage than we have seen before — people and preachers.

But time and time again, the conjurer finds “insights” that the average reader of the Bible would have never realized When that happens over and over, there is something other than “exposition” happening. We are dealing with a biblical conjurer, an “expository conjurer.” He finds truths and principles that few, if any would have ever seen in the passage. [6]

And that is the real point. We sincerely believe that God’s people can read the Scriptures, and understand what is being said. We believe that the Scriptures are simple and clear enough, that when people even hear it read, they can understand what is being said — as was the case in the oral culture of early Bible days. That is why we encourage daily Bible reading.

A “Bible Magician” engages in “eisegesis” (puts in meaning that was not there), not “exegesis” (pulls out the meaning that was there). He pulls things out that are not there, or were put in before he pulled them out.  

He makes “coins” appear out of nowhere. But really, he put them in place, and then he suddenly discovered them to the wonderment of all — walla! [7] [9]

The typical response is “appreciation & praise” — “I would never have gotten that out of just reading the passage! He is amazing! Are we fortunate that we have a pastor who is so intelligent and learned!”


#5 — Self-Promotional Preaching:

This type of preaching is marked by a preaching approach is primarily exhortation and application, more than exposition. It exhorts or challenges God’s people to live and live out biblical and spiritual standards and always implies that the preacher-teacher himself has reached those standards.

The argument of the passage is not as important as the general biblical topic of the passage to which the preacher can so clearly exhort and personally connect with. 

Topics such as prayer, passionate godliness, glorifying God, putting to death the sin nature, selflessness, et al. are the exhortatory focus. The sermonic task is to subtly imply (and sometimes not so subtly) how God’s people need to reach the level of spirituality and godliness that the preacher has reached. The exhortations and admonitions are for those listening, delivered by one who has attained such.  

The stark contrast is the kind of sermons that are so purposefully transparent that you struggle with respecting your pastor because he opens up the doors and reveals his ungodly shortcomings and spiritual deficiencies. [8]

The antithesis is preaching that clearly implies that there is little-to-no spiritual struggle. That sanctification is not progressive. The exhortations and admonitions of the Scriptures are for thee, not me. The argument of the passage is not as important as making certain that you realize that the preacher-teacher has himself arrived regarding the general topic of the verse or passage.


#6 — Springboard Preaching:

The verse or passage is merely a repository of possible theological words or phrases that the preacher-teacher can springboard off to talk about whatever he desires. Makeup whatever three or more points you want.   

You only need a word or a phrase to make it seem like you are using the passage as the basis of your message. Just quote the passage which has the word or phrase, and jump in and paddle anywhere you want to go.

The argument of the passage, or how the verse and verses fit into that argument as a whole, is not essential to those who springboard. It only takes a “word” or “phrase” from the passage to invent whatever sermonic points the preacher would like to make up.

i.e. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.”  

“The will of God” — that is what guided Paul in life. First, the will of God is different for every one of us, as it was for Saul-Paul. Second, The will of God may mean that we will face some very difficult events of life, as did Paul. And third, the will of God for you often includes other partners who can encourage you, as was Barnabas to the Great Apostle Paul.


i.e. “Abraham looked up. . . . ” that is what we need to do! We need to “look up.” First of all, for the return of our Lord . . .

Again, it is not that what is being said or even may be said is biblically inaccurate, or even taught in other places in the Bible, but it does not come out of the passage! One could springboard off the same passage with another set of main points that are entirely different.

What you are saying may be biblically founded, but it is not an expository message.


#7 — Simulated Expository Preaching:

Preaching through a passage “verse by verse” is almost the definition of “expository preaching.” That phrase, “verse-by-verse” is the catchphrase for those who tout that they are being expositional — “Amen preacher!”

Actually, it is merely a running commentary on the obvious. The preacher is merely reading and expanding on what each of the verses is teaching, with little-to-no regard as to how the verses build on each other and build into the argument being made.

The listeners can see what the verse says. They have read it with you, probably read it prior to hearing today’s sermon, and understand what is being said. Nevertheless, we will go through the passage verse by verse and explain its meaning unconnected to the argument being made.

To read each verse, offering some expanded elucidations, verse after verse, is not exposition, but a running commentary on the obvious. I know that is what the passage says, I see the words, but how do these words and truths advance the argument being made”? [9]

i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The Lord sees us a flock of which He is the Shepherd. Like any shepherd, he is there to meet the needs of the flock.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” The picture is one of sheep lying down in abundant pastures of green grass, grass enough to meet every need and then to also provide waters, still waters that don’t frighten, but calm.

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” David now moves to the obvious application to us as God’s people and speaks about restoration, restoration of the soul. . . . and not only restoration but direction and leading. The Lord only leads His sheep in paths that are godly and honor His name.


However, David is making a far greater and broader argument by such a Psalm. These verses are designed to contribute to that all-embracing argument and purpose of the passage — That There Is Good Reason For Trusting The Shepherd During Some of Your Most Difficult Days.



Unfortunately, most congregations do not understand the actual nature of the sermon they are hearing. While they are instructed to value expository sermons, they have little-to-no idea that such is not what is being presented. They are told and believe that this is exposition and what they should learn to appreciate.

They will give a hearty “Amen” to such a pastoral claim even if they have no idea that what they are hearing is far short of an exposition of the passage. The listeners have been taught and believe that this is exposition. 

However, the sermon never helps them understand the argument of the passage.

What is the writer’s point, and how does the other content contribute to that point? [10]

It is an expository sermon when the argument of the passage is understood, revealed, and the implications of that argument are applied to the lives of those listening.



1. “. . . there is so much preaching today that is not expositional. . . . most of the preaching in pulpits today is far from expositional.”


2. Whether or not topical sermons are expositional is a discussion for another time. Let me just say that a topical sermon, a sermon on any biblical topic, can be as expository as a sermon that deals with a singular passage. it merely requires that you deal with the each of the topical passages as you would a singular passage.

Some would also point to preachers who take verses out of context — “There are countless examples of biblical texts preached out of context.” [1]


3. “Systematic Theology” is a standard approach to the study of the Scriptures in a seminary education. The 10 or 12 major doctrines of the Bible are examined across the pages of the Old and New Testaments. For instance, the doctrine of “God” (sometimes called “theology proper”). From Genesis to Revelation, there are passages on who God is. God’s creation of the world, attributes of God, the plan of God, the trinity of the Godhead, etc., are all followed by a list of various verses to establish the biblical doctrines of Scripture. If you look at a church’s statement of faith you will see those various doctrines supported by such biblical citations.


4. One present-day example is “Chiasms.” As Dr. Svigel, of Dallas Theological Seminary, stated, he was certain that he could create a chiasm out of any portion of Scripture.


5. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus”

First of all, notice “The Person” — it was Paul speaking. Paul was originally was named Saul. He became an Christian on the road to Damascus. When he was persecuting the Christians, and was on his way to arrest them, a bright light . . . . .

Second, notice “The”Position” — he calls himself an Apostle. Now, to be an apostle, you have had to seen the risen Christ. There is no where in the Gospels where you find that “Saul” saw the risen Christ. Had he, he might have been persuaded. But he was confronted by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. . . . .

Third, notice “The Permission” — “by the will of God. God’s will is what guided him and is what guides us in life. When we talk about the will of God . . . .

Fourth, notice “The Promise” — There was a promise, a guarantee, a surety given in the Gospel . . .

Fifth, notice “The Patronage” — Jesus Christ is who Paul now serves.

“Our practice of preaching from texts has accustomed people to try what they can discover in single sentences, and even single phrases, of the Bible, and to disregard the general current and structure of the argument or history: the minute exposition of clause after clause will confirm their evil habit. They seem to think that the best way to get a right conception of the Rhine, or of the Falls of Niagara, is to examine separate drops of the water under a microscope. The expository method which I have followed for some years past is likely, I think, to lead people to read the Bible as they read other books, and to look not merely at separate thoughts and fragments of separate thoughts, at isolated facts and the most insignificant circumstances connected with isolated facts, but at facts and thoughts in masses, and as they are grouped by the Scriptural writers themselves.” — R. W. Dale Yale Lectures, 1876


6. “I always think of the tricks of those ingenious gentle men who entertain the public by rubbing a sovereign between their hands till it becomes a canary, and drawing out of their coat sleeves half-a-dozen brilliant glass globes filled with water, and with four or five goldfish swimming in each of them. For myself, I like to listen to a good preacher, and I have no objection in the world to be amused by the tricks of a clever conjurer; but I prefer to keep the conjuring and the preaching separate: conjuring on Sunday morning, conjuring in church, conjuring with texts of Scripture, is not quite to my taste.” — R. W. Dale Yale Lectures, 1876


Sometimes the “unique insight” involves a ‘number,’ or the repetition of a word, or a matching passage of Scripture that repeats a phrase, or a so-called literary pattern (chiasms [4]), or a word that could be translated far differently, or a new and unique way to translate the verse, a new take on a well-known and understood passage, et al.

i.e. “Look at this pattern. In chapter 1, then in chapter 2 the same word is used. In Chapter 4 we see that word again, and it appears four more times in the first 7 chapters.”

i.e. “Now this word can be translated and should be translated ‘family guest room’ not ‘Inn.’ Joseph and Mary found that there was no room in the family guest room to lay down Jesus, and therefore they laid him in a manger.” [link].

i.e. “The same word is used in Hesitations 3:2. Here it highlights the point that when you pray . . . “

i.e. “The word is used 20 times by John in his Gospel.”

i.e. “The same grammatical construction is used in I Peter, and there it speaks of . . . . .”


Many might forget that during Bible days, the oral reading of the Scriptures was how most people heard the Word of God. They did not have a “Bible” or “book of the Bible” in hand. They could not do all the linguistic gymnastics that pass for exegesis and exposition today, and reading the Bible was sufficient for life and godliness.


7. “the conjurer, when we hear the congregation declaring was that amazing what he got out of that we should not immediately assume that the news is good for the little I know about magic, I’m forced to conclude that the rabbit was in there before he pulled it out of there and the reason I got in there is because he put it in there so that he could pull it out. There are some tremendous sermons where the reason he got it out is because he had previously put it in.” — Alistair Begg


8. I have heard some pastors speak about how they struggle in their marriage, with various temptations, or even with pornography. It is like “social media” at times. Some sins need to be personally battled, not publicly announced!


9. After 2000 years of Bible history, writers, teaching, it is more than probable that one’s novel understanding of this-or-that verse or passage is questionable. Go back to some of the early church fathers, who were much closer to the life of Christ and the birth of the Christian faith, and determine how they understood the Scriptures.

“Some preachers choose texts with apparently no other purpose than to display their own wonderful ingenuity.” — R. W. Dale, Yale Lectures, 1876


10. I Corinthians 8 is an ideal example.

A contention is made in verse 1 — “knowledge puffeth up.” That is followed by a series of verses about what we “know.” We know the truth about who God is and, therefore, the meat offered to idols that are not gods. Then, the point is made that not every man has that knowledge as he seeks to make the argument that we are not to let our knowledge puff us up and disregard our brother and cause him to stumble.

An expository sermon should show how the verses build the argument which Paul makes about Christian liberty.

Other Articles On Expository Preaching

Rhetoric & Homiletics: Expository Preaching? Hardly!

Rhetoric & Homiletics: Why Are We Still Talking About Expository Preaching?

Rhetoric & Homiletics: 10 Ways To Describe Expository Preaching

Rhetoric & Homiletics: Undermining Expositional Preaching


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