The term expositional has been conflated with all sorts of ideas about what preaching is and how it is to be done. It is not that the word expositional has been emptied of meaning but that the term can be easily subjective to one’s own style of exposition. Today what counts for expositional can be general overview type sermons, thematic sermons, conversational sermons, and sermons that use the words on the page as springboards for general truths. But exegetical preaching is more direct, precise and rigorous. If you claim to engage in exegetical preaching it will be quite clear whether or not the sermon includes any meaningful exegesis or not. So what is exegetical preaching and how does it differ from expositional preaching? I can think of several distinguishing marks of exegetical preaching.
First, exegetical preaching or what I have called, “exegetical proclamation” is rooted in the grammar of the text. Grammar is important because it assumes that you know how the text fits together, which is part of syntax. It’s one thing to engage in word-study type bible exposition, its another thing to show connections like coordinating conjunctions, dependent clauses, cause, result, means and other aspects of the Biblical syntax that are filled with theological richness. Grammar is rich, deep and profound albeit challenging; however, its worth the work and the church will notice the depth and difference. Of course, no sermon can consist of a grammar lesson (more on this below). A sermon can include statements about what the Bible is saying without showing it from the text.
For those who desire to do serious exegesis in preaching and of course in their own studies, a working knowledge of Hebrew/Greek is essential; but especially Greek (being the much more nuanced of the two). The original languages today are out of fashion for many churches and most seminary pastors can be shown to abandon their knowledge of the languages shortly after leaving seminary and entering full-time ministry. Without question, the pressures of ministry will suck the life out of a pastor’s dedication to the original languages of Scripture— a bifurcation we must resist.
Second, exegetical preaching is also driven by the text itself. We do not bring to the text our “fancies”, as Calvin put it, we need to be driven by the text; we are servants of the word. That means our subject matter is dictated not by the pastor’s heart, vision, preference or personal pet doctrines but by exegesis itself. Exegesis therefore cannot be assumed, it must be demonstrated. People need to see how you “got there.” Sadly, too many great theologian/pastors assume their exegesis in their sermons rather than walking their people through it. There could be nothing better for the pastor than to see his people beginning to develop exegetical listening skills, exegetical thinking, and exegetical wisdom. Remember, milk is for infants, meat is for the mature and maturity is the goal of every ministry. Although spiritual maturity is not limited to growing in exegetical skill and biblical theology, it cannot take place apart from it.
Third, exegetical proclamation differs in expositional preaching in its depth of application. When the application of a sermon is rooted in the exegetical observations of the text, conviction can run deep because our conviction will not be based on the pastor’s perspective, the pastor’s experience, the pastor’s personality, strengths or weaknesses; it will be grounded in the deep theological observations which corresponds to the grammatical, text-driven exegesis of Scripture. This is an old Puritan practice. After making several exegetical observations, the Puritans would follow up with several practical uses of the theology that emerged from the exegesis and theology of the text.
Much of what qualifies today as expositional preaching begins and ends with application devoid of exegetical proof! Conversational preaching is meant to connect you to the personality, experience, zeal, tone and life of the preacher and, as hip, cool, and interesting as the pastor’s personality might be, this is not our task as preachers of God’s word:
Colossians 1:28–29 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
2 Timothy 4:1–5 1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
The reason why I prefer the term “exegetical proclamation” is because it conforms to the full-orbed nature of preaching. The text is not simply to be explained grammatically, syntactically, and logically, it is also logic “on fire”, meaning that our grammar should be emphatic in purpose. In other words, exegesis needs to be proclaimed, preached and the implications of which must be pressed upon the hearers. In my personal preaching I do a bit of extemporaneous preaching, going to relevant texts as I feel guided there to make important, previously unprepared connections. Thinking exegetically, and using a good translation (NASB), makes that phenomenon more fluid with greater effectiveness in preaching.
God’s word is worth the work. If we desire to be truly excellent in our preaching we may want to spend less time searching the internet for pithy illustrations and more time parsing grammar and praying that God would grant us the light we need to apply the richness of His sanctifying truth to the hearts of God’s people.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.