Criswell Theological Review 1.2 (1987) 309-334
[Copyright © 1987 by
digitally prepared for use at
Hermeneutics, exegesis, and proclamation form the crucial triad
with which every pastor must reckon. A proper biblical hermeneutic
provides the philosophical underpinnings which undergird the exe-
getical task. Likewise, a proper exegetical methodology provides the
foundation for the sermon. Then, of course, proper sermon delivery is
necessary to carry home God's truth to the hearer. This article will
attempt a discussion of these three aspects in both a descriptive and
evaluative manner. Hermeneutics as a philosophical base for exegesis
will comprise section one. Section two of the article will suggest a
methodology for exegesis from the field of Text Linguistics as an
augment to the traditional method of biblical exegesis. Finally, in
section three, the matter of proclamation will be briefly discussed.
I. Philosophical Basis of Exegesis
A discussion of the principles and practice of biblical exegesis
would not be complete without mention, however brief, of the philo-
sophical arena in which these issues stand today, The field of her-
meneutics, the science of interpretation, has undergone tremendous
upheaval in recent years. A host of new questions about the nature of
meaning are being asked. In the first section of this article, we offer
some tentative answers to the following questions which must be
addressed by the biblical exegete, since they will invariably affect his
310 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
1) What is the difference between traditional hermeneutics and
2) How does our understanding of the subject/object distinction
affect our theory and practice of interpretation?
3) What is the difference between what a text meant historically
and what it means today?
4) Is authorial intention a valid criterion for biblical interpre-
5) Is the distinction between "meaning" and "significance" a valid
distinction for the biblical exegete?
6) Does a text have one primary meaning or are multiple mean-
ings of equal validity possible?
7) How do the horizons of the interpreter affect exegesis?
8) What presuppositions about language and its nature inform
one's theory and practice of exegesis?
In an effort to offer some workable answers to these questions,
the first part of the article will attempt to outline some of the changes
which have taken place in hermeneutics since 1800. It is an apodictical
fact that the field of biblical interpretation has radically changed,
especially from the time of F. Schleiermacher onwards. Traditional
hermeneutics involved the formulation and implementation of proper
rules for interpretation. Primary attention was paid to the linguistic
aspects of textual interpretation, including grammar, syntax, vocabu-
lary, etc. Meaning was bound up in the text and awaited the inter-
preter to dig it out via proper exegesis. Traditional hermeneutics
assumed that a text contained a determinate meaning which with the
proper exegetical method could be discerned by an interpreter.
Modern hermeneutical theory is characterized by a twofold tran-
sition: the shift from a special/regional hermeneutical approach to
that of general hermeneutics, and the shift from a primarily epistemo-
logical outlook to an ontological one. The former was inaugurated by
the advent of Schleiermacher's hermeneutics while the latter shift
occurred with the advent of M. Heidegger's Being and Time.1 In
general, we may say that traditional hermeneutics focused on the text,
while sometimes neglecting the role of the interpreter, and modern
hermeneutics focuses on the reader/interpreter, while sometimes
neglecting the role of the text. It is our contention that a balanced
theory of interpretation must give advertence to both of these aspects
as in play every time interpretation takes place. Such a position seems
to be represented by men like P. Ricoeur in his Interpretation Theory:
1 M. Heidegger, Being and Time (Blackwell: Oxford, 1962).
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 311
Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning2 and E. D. Hirsch in his
Validity in Interpretation.3
Hermeneutical Theory Since 1800: an Historical Assessment
No discussion of hermeneutics would be complete without men-
tion of the father of modern hermeneutics, F. Schleiermacher. He
argued that interpretation consisted of two categories: grammatical
and technical or psychological.4 Grammatical interpretation focused
on the text itself and dealt with such matters as grammar, syntax, etc.
while technical interpretation focused on the mind of the author in an
attempt to reconstruct his psyche in order to determine his mental
process that led him to write what he did. Schleiermacher defines
authorial intention in a way which most, if not all, would agree today
is untenable for the simple reason that we cannot get into the author's
psyche. This problem is particularly acute when considering ancient
texts. The only hint at authorial intention we have is what the author
has deposited in his text. We cannot get behind the text to the author's
For our purposes, we note two important features of Schleier-
macher's hermeneutics. He emphasized that interpretation involved
both objective and subjective factors. Furthermore, he did not attempt
to dissolve the subject/object distinction as many later theoreticians
have attempted to do. Schleiermacher's recognition that interpretation
involved both objective and subjective factors should be a vital part
of a balanced theory of interpretation. If we inject the notion of the
interpreter's own horizons playing an integral part in meaning deter-
mination coupled with a more workable definition of authorial inten-
tion (see below), then Schleiermacher's basic scheme proves to be a
valuable hermeneutical method.
From Schleiermacher the history of modern hermeneutical theory
followed the trail of W. Dilthey to G. Frege to E. Husserl to M.
Heidegger to H. Gadamer. Space does not permit an analysis of
the contributions and insights of Dilthey, Frege, and Husserl. Yet
it is important to note that Heidegger was a student of Husserl
and could not agree with his mentor that objective knowledge was
possible. This point is crucial for it was Heidegger who ushered in
2 P. Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort
D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (
4 F. Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts (ed. H. Kim-
J. Duke and H. J. Forstman;
312 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the ontological revolution in hermeneutics. With it came an increasing
skepticism towards the possibility of achieving determinate meaning
in textual interpretation. Hence, we may say that Schleiermacher,
Frege and Husserl are representative of the school of thought that
determinate meaning and objectivity are possible in interpretation
while Heidegger and his student Gadamer are representative of the
view that there can be no determinate meaning and objectivity in
Heidegger has had a profound influence on contemporary her-
meneutical theory in his two works Being and Time5 and On the Way
to Language.6 It is to Heidegger that we owe the valuable insight of
hermeneutics as embracing the whole of man's existence. Heidegger
is an ontologist who posited "interpretation" as one of the funda-
mental modes of man's being. However, Heidegger's theory concern-
ing the historicity of all understanding forced him and his followers to
exaggerate the difference between past and present into a denial of
any continuity of meaning at all. In Heidegger, the shift is made from
the primacy of the text to the primacy of the interpreter. Indeed, for
Heidegger the interpreter is himself the source of meaning. Reality
for the interpreter is "disclosed" via his understanding. Heidegger
seems to disallow the cognoscibility of any objectively valid and
Our critique of Heidegger must be brief at this point. It is not our
purpose to critique captiously those with whom we disagree. Suffice it
to say that from our perspective he has overemphasized the role of
the interpreter in creating meaning by not allowing the text to com-
municate determinate meaning. His theory assumes the collapse of
the subject/object dichotomy and therefore the impossibility of objec-
tive textual meaning.
R. Bultmann may be the most influential figure in NT studies in
century. While teaching at the
found the philosophical framework for his approach to scripture
from his colleague, Heidegger. It is primarily through Bultmann that
Heidegger's philosophical existentialism has found its way into biblical
Bultmann's excellent article, "Is Exegesis without Presuppositions
Possible?" should be read by all who practice exegesis. Bultmann has
accurately emphasized the fact that one cannot come to any text from
a totally objective standpoint. The interpreter always brings his own
conceptual grid to the text. His first paragraph is worth quoting:
5 Heidegger, Being and Time.
6 Heidegger, On the Way to Language (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 313
The question whether exegesis without presuppositions is possible
must be answered affirmatively if "without presuppositions" means
"without presupposing the results of the exegesis." In this sense, exegesis
without presuppositions is not only possible but demanded. In another
sense, however, no exegesis is without presuppositions, inasmuch as the
exegete is not a tabula rasa, but on the contrary, approaches the text with
specific questions or with a specific way of raising questions and thus has
a certain idea of the subject matter with which the text is concerned.7
Yet Bultmann, following Heidegger, exaggerates this notion of
presuppositions and subjectivity by arguing that the text of the Bible
is not intended to be interpreted objectively but rather is to be a
"Subject" that determines the interpreter's existence. While we can
agree that the Scriptures do "speak" to us in a sense as subject to
object, we must reject the notion that with each approach to the text,
there is no valid or permanent meaning to be identified. By de-
emphasizing the cognitive aspects of textual meaning, and unduly
exalting the ontological notion of interpretation as "encounter," Bult-
mann injects into the main arteries of biblical exegesis an overdose of
Heideggerian ontology and existentialism.
We can all agree that interpretation does not involve a totally
passive subject who stands wholly apart from his text and interprets it
without any input from his own subjectivity. Like E. Kant, we have
all been awakened from our Cartesian dogmatic slumbers. Whatever
insights Heidegger, Bultmann and the like may press upon us in this
vein, we are the better for it. However, we must argue that meaning
is not a construct of the interpreter's subjectivity alone. It must be
forcefully stated in opposition to the correlation of interpretation with
ontology by Heidegger and Bultmann that they are doing nothing
more in the end than suggesting that the interpreter projects his own
subjectivity. Unless we maintain the otherness or objectivity of textual
meaning, then we must face squarely the fact that we could not
interpret at all. Heidegger's scheme ineluctably results in the complete
breakdown of the subject/object dichotomy, and it is this fact which
causes his "method," along with Bultmann's, to be methodologically
inadequate in biblical exegesis.s
7 R. Bultmann, "Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?" Existence and
Faith (ed. S. M. Ogden;
8 The so-called "New Hermeneutic" school of interpretation is one example of
exegesis which has followed the lead of Heidegger and Bultmann. For a critique of the
Hermeneutic, see A. Thiselton, The Two Horizons
1980) 352-56, and "The New Hermeneutic," New Testament Interpretation: Essays on
and Methods (ed. I. H.
314 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Like Heidegger's Being and Time, Gadamer's monumental work
Truth and Method9 must be reckoned with by evangelical exegetes. It
contains some crucial insights which should not be ignored by those
of us interested in text interpretation. Particularly helpful is his
emphasis that interpreters come to a given text with their own world-
view, presuppositions, or "horizon" as Gadamer uses the term, which
is different from that of the text. What is necessary is a "fusion of
horizons" for interpretation to take place.
However, Gadamer's system is not without its philosophical and
methodological flaws. Gadamer continues the attack on objective
textual interpretation by emphasizing that meaning is not to be identi-
fied with authorial intention. Furthermore, exegesis has no founda-
tional "methods" to be used in eliciting meaning from a given text.
According to Gadamer, our historicity eliminates the possibility of
discovering any determinate textual meaning and therefore objective
meaning is not possible.
Yet Gadamer does not want to proffer relativism in text interpre-
tation and hence he falls back on three concepts in an attempt to
extricate himself from ultimate hermeneutical nihilism. These are
1) tradition, 2) meaning repetition, and 3) fusion of horizons. The role
of tradition, as Gadamer sees it, is to enlarge the horizons of the text
for each passing generation such that tradition serves as a bridge
between the past and the present. The problem here is of course how
to mediate between two conflicting traditional interpretations. By
eliminating the possibility of objective textual meaning, Gadamer also
eliminates the criterion needed to make a choice between conflicting
interpretations and he is again left with relativism.
Gadamer seems to argue that a text does represent a repeatable
meaning and yet in the same paragraph turns around and suggests
that this is "not repetition of something past, but participation in a
present meaning."10 This creates confusion in that Gadamer seems to
be saying first that meaning is repeatable and then that it isn't. Such
reasoning leads Hirsch to point out: "This kind of reasoning stands as
eloquent testimony to the difficulties and self-contradictions that con-
front Gadamer's theory as soon as one asks the simple question: what
constitutes a valid interpretation?"11 While we can profit greatly from
Gadamer's statements about pre-understanding and "fusion of hori-
zons," we must reject his basic thesis that a text contains no deter-
9 H. G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward, 1975).
10 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 370.
11 Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, 252.
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 315
In Heidegger and Gadamer, the notion of understanding is not
conceived as a way of knowing but rather as a mode of being.
Somehow they never quite get around to answering the epistemo-
logical questions which were left in the wake of the ontological
revolution. What we need is a hermeneutical system which strikes a
proper balance between epistemology and ontology.
Hirsch of the
of Heidegger and Gadamer by arguing for the stability of textual
meaning in two important works: Validity in Interpretation and The
Aims of Interpretation.12 One of Hirsch's most important contribu-
tions is his emphasis on the distinction between "meaning" and "sig-
nificance." Drawing on A. Boeckh's division of his Encyclopaedie13
into the two sections labeled "Interpretation" and "Criticism," Hirsch
points out that "the object of interpretation is textual meaning in and
for itself and may be called the 'meaning' of the text." Conversely, the
object of criticism is textual meaning as it bears on something else.
This object is what Hirsch refers to as the "significance" of the text.14
Roughly speaking, such a division corresponds to the exegesis of
a text which seeks to determine the text's meaning and the application
of that meaning (as, for example, in preaching) to point out its
significance/application for today. Both meaning and significance or
interpretation and application are two foci which the exegete must
constantly keep in mind. Furthermore, because they tend to happen
concurrently, it is probably not wise to argue that in practice these
two foci can remain completely separated, although for the sake of
discussion, we may separate them for the purpose of investigation
Hirsch's categories of "meaning" and "significance" are important
and helpful for us. When the biblical exegete comes to a text of
Scripture, he can proceed on the premise that there is a determinate
meaning there. His job is to discover this meaning through exegesis.
Having done this, there remains the further task of applying this
meaning to modern day man.
Hirsch has also made a solid contribution in that his writings
stand as perhaps the best critique of Gadamerian hermeneutics. His
most telling criticism of the weaknesses of Gadamer's theory can be
found in Appendix II of, his Validity in Interpretation.15
12 E. Hirsch, The Aims of Interpretation (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1976).
13 A. Boeckh, Encyclopaedie und Methodologie der Philologischen Wissenschaften
14 Hirsch, Aims, 245-64.
15 Hirsch, Validity, 210-11.
316 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
A third valuable contribution of Hirsch to the contemporary
hermeneutical scene is his insistence upon authorial intention as a
criterion of validity in text interpretation. What do we mean by the
term "authorial intention?" It may be helpful to outline what we do
not mean. By this term, we do not mean the psychological experience
of the author for such is inaccessible. We do not mean the relation
between mental acts and mental objects as in Husserl's theory. We
do not mean the hoped for consequences of the author's writings.
Authorial intention is to be identified with textual meaning, with the
"sense of the whole" by which the author constructs, arranges and
relates each particular meaning of his work.16
We propose then that a text has one primary meaning with
multiple significances or applications of that meaning. Generally
speaking, a text will not have multiple meanings of equal validity.17
The key phrase here is "of equal validity" because some method and
norms are necessary to adjudicate meaning possibilities. Hirsch has
argued for such norms in his works. By way of illustration, we may
say that the one primary meaning of a text is like an iceberg. The tip
protrudes above water and is analogous to "meaning," but further
investigation continues to yield fuller and deeper "meaning" just as
the bulk of the iceberg is underwater. It is the same iceberg and
hence the same meaning. Various disciplines approach the "meaning"
iceberg in different ways. For example, a photographer would analyze
the iceberg from the standpoint of its aesthetic value. An ocean-
ographer would analyze it to obtain its scientific value, while a ship's
captain may analyze it so as to avoid any damage to his ship. It is the
same iceberg that all are analyzing, but it yields for each different
aspects of meaning. At no time do any of these "interpreters" inter-
pret the iceberg as a whale! The iceberg itself furnishes the con-
straints which guide and limit the interpreter's potential elicitation of
meaning. The kind of meaning we find in a text depends to some
extent on the kind of meaning for which we are looking. Sometimes
interpreters differ on a given text because they are looking for dif-
ferent kinds of meaning and from different perspectives. But it is the
iceberg/text which determines the meaning capable of being drawn
16 See the excellent article by E. Johnson, "Author's Intention and Biblical Inter-
pretation," Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the
have used here, is found on p. 414.
17 One exception to this would be the notion of sensus plenior. For a good
discussion of this topic, see D. Moo, "The Problem of Sensus Plenior," Hermeneutics,
Authority, and Canon
(eds. D. A. Carson and J. Woodbridge;
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 317
out, not the interpreters themselves, although they contribute to it. As
A. Thiselton says: "For there is an ongoing process of dialogue with
the text in which the text itself progressively corrects and reshapes the
interpreter's own questions and assumptions."18
Ricoeur, the French phenomenologist, is considered by many
today to be on the cutting edge in the field of hermeneutics. His work
has caught the attention of us all. In an important work entitled Inter-
pretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning,19 Ricoeur
defines discourse as a dialectic between event and meaning. Discourse
occurs as an event (conversation, the writing of a text, etc.) but as
soon as the conversation ceases or the text is written, the event ceases.
Yet the text as propositional content remains and this is the meaning
which can be reidentified. Written discourse awaits reactualization as
event by a reader.
A second dialectic which Ricoeur describes is that of Distancia-
tion and Appropriation.20 The Scriptures, for example, are distanced
from us historically and culturally in the sense that they were written
centuries ago by authors who are no longer around to tell us what
they mean. Furthermore, our own cultural horizons serve as a barrier
between us and the world of the text. The aim of all hermeneutics is
to struggle against cultural distance and historical alienation. This
goal is attained only insofar as interpretation actualizes the mean-
ing of a text for the present reader, a notion which Ricoeur calls
A crucial point in Ricoeur's theory is the fact that texts do have
determinate meaning which can be appropriated by a reader. He has
synthesized many of the insights of Gadamer into his theory without
coming under the spell of Gadamer's "cognitive atheism" in interpre-
tation, as Hirsch would call it.
What we have said to this point is that the crucial difference
between the two competing hermeneutical schools of thought is
whether a text has a determinate meaning or not. Heidegger, Gadamer,
Bultmann and company argue that it does not, while Hirsch, Ricoeur,
and company argue that it does. Evangelical exegetes must be aware
of the debate and its implications for our exegetical task.
Philosophical Conception of Language
Another crucial consideration for the biblical exegete is the nature
of language. Much discussion has occurred on this subject in recent
18 Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 439.
19 Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory, 8-12.
20 J. B. Thompson, ed., Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences
(London: Cambridge University, 1981) 131-44, 182-93.
318 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
years which has a direct bearing on biblical exegesis. When consider-
ing the language of the Bible, in our opinion the following presupposi-
tions are necessary: 1) language has a cognitive function; 2) language
can interpret reality; 3) language both expresses and interprets ulti-
mate reality by serving as a means of God's revelation to man.
The rise of analytic philosophy and logical positivism led to the
notion that the only reality which philosophy was to investigate is
language. Interestingly, this idea was long ago anticipated by Aristotle
and criticized in his Metaphysics. Failing to recognize that language
actually provides windows into reality, analytic philosophy has tended
to investigate language itself rather than any reality about which
language may speak.
Truth is a property of the sentence/proposition and the biblical
revelation is a propositional revelation where God has conveyed truth
about himself to us. The task of the exegete is to interpret accurately
these truth-bearing propositions which have been placed in linguistic
form. There is an ultimate referent beyond language (God) about
which language may speak.
Most of the non-evangelical and some of the neo-evangelical
theologian-exegetes have disallowed the propositional nature of God's
revelation in Scripture. One need only read the writings of K. Barth,
E. Brunner, Bultmann, and H. and R; Niebuhr along with a host of
others to see that this is the case. The modern biblical exegete must be
aware of the philosophical and theological one-sidedness of such an
approach to scripture. Revelation is both propositional and personal.
We may accept one aspect of revelation as being "encounter" and use
phenomenological categories in describing it. But, we must also recog-
nize the cognitive aspect of revelation as well.21
When we interpret a text from the Bible, we are seeking to
interpret the very words of God conveyed through human instru-
mentality and language. Such a mode of disclosure does not obviate
divine revelation. As R. Longacre so aptly puts it: "I think the moral
of the story is that rather than language and its categories veiling
reality, they are windows into it."22 It is our foundational principle
that God has so constructed language that it can be used by man to
describe reality, and by God to reveal reality, even such ultimate
reality as the nature and person of God himself.
We have attempted in this brief sketch to offer some tentative
answers to the eight questions at the beginning of this article. The
21 For an excellent discussion of this subject, see C.F. H. Henry, God, Revelation
Authority (6 vols.;
22 R. Longacre, The Grammar of Discourse (New York: Plenum, 1983) 345.
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 319
field of hermeneutics can be seen to be of great importance to the
exegesis of the biblical text. Evangelical theologians have shown a
willingness to engage the competing hermeneutical schools of thought
in dialogue, and as a result biblical exegesis from an evangelical
standpoint has been enhanced. The interested reader should pursue
Thiselton's The Two Horizons,23 Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the
Bible,24 edited by E. Radmacher and R. Preus, and New Testament
Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods,25 edited by I. H.
from an evangelical perspective. We as biblical exegetes must main-
tain a dialogue with not only the state of our own discipline, but with
what is taking place in other fields as well, especially when it may
relate specifically to the discipline of biblical studies.
II. Exegetical Methodology
Theory without practice is useless and practice without theory is
unserviceable and unproductive. The previous discussion on her-
meneutical theory was dedicated to the above maxim. One's approach
to biblical exegesis rests upon certain theoretical considerations which
are foundational to that approach. While it is not necessary to be a
thorough student of hermeneutical theory since Schleiermacher to
engage in exegesis, one should at least be acquainted with the present
state of the discussion.
The purpose of exegesis is to "lead out" the meaning which has
been deposited in the biblical text by the writer. Exegesis is of crucial
importance because it is the foundation for theology and preaching.
We cannot communicate the meaning of God's word via preaching
until we have understood it ourselves.
We will argue in the second part of this article that exegesis is
more than meaning determination which is arrived at only from a
combination of word studies with syntactical analysis on a sentence
level. Unfortunately, it is probably true that a great deal of exegesis
that goes on in the average pastor's study is little more than this. The
average pastor, plundered by an already too busy daily schedule,
resorts to an uncritical method of exegesis which results in an all too
shoddy interpretation of a given biblical text. He may look at a
sentence in his Greek NT, parse what he considers to be the key
23 Cf. n. 8 above.
24 Cf. n. 16 above.
Methods (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).
320 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
verbs, do word studies on key words, and then from this material
fashion a sermon. All of this is, of course, well and good as far as it
goes. The problem is that it does not go far enough.
Text Linguistics and Exegesis
We are thoroughly convinced that contemporary linguistic theory
has a great deal to offer the biblical exegete in terms of both theory
and method. The rise of Semantic analysis from the Chomskyian
revolution onwards has already found its way into biblical studies.
The field of discourse grammar (Text Linguistics as it is called in
course analysis is already proving to be a fruitful method in Bible
translation. By and large, however, the insights of contemporary lin-
guistic theory, discourse analysis, and the like have found their way
into biblical exegesis only in a limited way. This is evidenced by the
very few commentaries written from a discourse perspective rather
than the traditional sentence level or verse by verse perspective.
Many seminary professors, pastors and seminary students have little
or no knowledge of what is taking place in the field of discourse
grammar and its place in biblical studies.26
The question may be asked, "Is discourse grammar necessary in
text interpretation, especially in the study of the Scriptures?" We
believe that it is. Over a decade ago, Longacre was involved in
workshops which concentrated on the discourse structure of a number
sible to analyze correctly the grammar of a language without account-
ing for its discourse level features.
In earlier work, discourse analysis was regarded as an option open to the,
student of a language provided that he was interested, and provided that
he had a good start on the structure of lower levels (word, phrase,
clause). But early in the first workshop it was seen that all work on lower
levels is lacking in perspective and meets inevitable frustration when
the higher levels--especially discourse and paragraph--have not been
analyzed. . . discourse analysis emerges not as an option or as a luxury
for the serious student of a language but as a necessity.27
26 We have here in mind the work of J. Beekman, J. Callow, and M. Kopesec, The
Structure of Written Communication (
1981) as well as the application of this model to Bible translation. Furthermore, the
work of Longacre in various articles, his most recent book The Grammar of Discourse
(New York: Plenum, 1983), and a forthcoming volume on the Joseph story in Genesis is
proving to be fruitful in analysis of both OT and NT texts.
27 R. Longacre, ed., Discourse Grammar: Studies in Indigenous Languages of
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 321
It is our hope that this article can contribute to biblical exegesis
by integrating concepts and principles discovered by Beekman and
Callow, Longacre, and others in the field of discourse grammar and
applying them to a method of biblical exegesis. We are keenly aware
of the many fine books and articles of recent vintage which have been
written on the subject of exegesis. The reader will profit from consult-
ing them. The approach taken in this article is of course dependent
upon the time honored principles which have guided biblical exegetes
for centuries. Yet in some respects, our method will describe features
of text analysis not usually discussed in books and articles on biblical
exegesis. With this in mind, the following seven linguistic features of
texts are offered in an attempt to guide the exegete into a more
thorough and fruitful analysis of sacred discourse.
There are four major discourse types, all of which appear in
Scripture. They are: Narrative, Procedural, Expository, and Horta-
tory. Narrative discourse primarily tells a story or narrates a series of
events. Participants and events combine in a sequential chronological
framework in narrative discourse. The book of Genesis, the Gospels
and Acts are examples of narrative discourse. Procedural discourse
answers the question, "How is something done?" Again there is a
sequential chronological framework in this discourse type. An example
of this type would be certain sections of the Pentateuch where specific
instructions are given by God to Moses regarding the building of the
tabernacle, the priesthood, etc.
Expository discourse is different from the previous two types in
that it is set in a logical framework rather than a sequential chrono-
logical one: Expository discourse primarily explains or defines in some
way and is probably the most frequently employed discourse type.
Many of the Pauline epistles are said to be of this discourse type
although we have come to believe that most, if not all, of the exposi-
tory material in the Scripture is really hortatory in its semantic struc-
ture since truth is unto holiness. Nevertheless, there are large sections
of embedded exposition in the Scriptures.
Hortatory discourse may be defined as an attempt to prescribe a
course of action through a command, request, suggestion, etc. It tends
to answer the question, "What should be done?" Hebrews is an
example of hortatory discourse in the NT although it is usually defined
as expository in most commentaries. Recognizing in which discourse
genre an exegete is working is crucial to his exegesis.
This aspect of text analysis is somewhat analogous to Genre
Criticism. This leads to a crucial question which must be answered by
322 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
those who engage in biblical interpretation. What is the value and role
of higher criticism for biblical exegesis? There has been wide dis-
agreement concerning the viability of higher criticism as a method of
biblical interpretation. The Meier-Stulmacher debate illustrates the
point. The problem resides not so much in the methodology as with
the presuppositions of many who practice higher criticism. Penta-
teuchal criticism is illustrative of this point. It is commonplace to pick
up a commentary or an article on some aspect of pentateuchal studies
and observe that the author assumes at the outset some form of the
Documentary Hypothesis. Multiple redactors and traditions are em-
ployed to explain textual phenomena all in a very subjective way.
Would it not be better to assume the unity and integrity of the text
until proven otherwise? Linguistically, there are other explanations for
these textual phenomena which are just as valid and which are, in
fact, predicated on textual phenomena rather than the suggestion of
some elusive redactor. Linguist E. Wendland expresses the matter
quite well when he says:
I feel, for example, that some scholars suffer from a certain degree of
"linguo-centrism"; in other words, they often have difficulty in appreciat-
ing the distinctiveness and genius of a language and literature that lies.
outside of the Indo-European family of which they are so familiar. Thus,
when encountering a text such as the Hebrew Old Testament which
allegedly contains so many "problems," they quickly propose that the
text is, in fact, a patchwork, composed of fragments from sources J, E,
D, P, X, Y, and Z, rather than recognizing the possibility that they may
simply be dealing with a narrative style that is quite different from what
they are used to.28
D. A. Carson sounds a much needed warning regarding the use
of higher critical methodology when he says that
the situation is worsened by the fact that these 'hermeneutical principles'
are frequently handled, outside believing circles, as if they enable us to
practise our interpretive skills with such objective distance that we never
come under the authority of the God whose Word is being interpreted,
and never consider other personal, moral and spiritual factors which
have no less 'hermeneutical' influence in our attempts to interpret the
28 E. Wendland, "Biblical Hebrew Narrative Structure," Selected Technical
Articles Related to Translation 10 (1984) 35-36.
Themelios 5 (1980) 14.
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 323
Language as a Form-Meaning Composite
Language is a form/meaning composite which contains surface
structure=form and semantic/notional structure=meaning. By "form"
we mean the phonological, lexical, and grammatical structure of a
language. This is what has traditionally been called "grammar." The
notion of meaning is, like form, multidimensional It contains three
aspects: referential, situational, and structural.30 Referential meaning
refers to the subject matter of the discourse, i.e., what the text is
about. Situational meaning refers to the participants and the situation
in which communication takes place. By participants here we mean
author/speaker and reader/hearer rather than the participants who
may be a part of the referential content of the discourse itself. When
an exegete studies the background and provenance of a given biblical
text, he is engaged in analysis on this particular level. Structural
meaning refers to how the information in a discourse is "packaged"
and how these units of meaning relate to one another in the discourse.
Traditional grammatical analysis is subsumed in this category.
Meaning is communicated via surface structure. As we approach
the Bible, we must decode the meaning from the surface structure of
Hebrew or Greek and then encode that meaning in another surface
structure, namely, English. This is what takes place every time the
Bible is translated. Therefore, all translation is an interpretation. The
following diagram illustrates the process.
Greek Text English Translation
The key here is that the form of the source language and the
form of the receptor language are not totally congruent, yet the
meaning is capable of being understood, preserved and re-expressed
in the receptor language. This is crucial in that exegesis attempts
to understand the meaning of the source text and then re-express
that meaning in an English text (translation, essay, commentary, or
sermon). In this view, meaning has priority over form.
Exegesis must be practiced contextually. Sentence level gram-
mars, while valid, are not sufficiently descriptive of all the structural
30 Beekman, Callow, and Kopesec, The Semantic Structure, 8-13.
324 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
phenomena of a text. Following Longacre, we accept three basic
building blocks of communication: sentence, paragraph, and dis-
course. Sentences combine to form paragraphs and paragraphs com-
bine to form discourses. A discourse is always greater than the sum of
its parts and hence one's textual analysis cannot remain solely on the
sentence level. Just as there is a grammar of the sentence, there is also
a grammar of the paragraph and discourse as well.31
Most if not all of the Greek grammars appearing before 1965
view Koine Greek discourse with the presupposition that the supra-
sentence structure (paragraph and discourse) is basically non-linguistic.
Features of paragraphs and whole discourses seem not to have been
treated in any way. J. H. Moulton's famous three-volume A Grammar
of New Testament Greek32 appeared over a fifty-seven year span
with N. Turner authoring the third volume, Syntax, in 1963.33 In this
entire three-volume work, the supra-sentence level of Greek discourse
is never mentioned. A. T. Robertson's monumental A Grammar of the
Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research34 appeared
in 1923. His discussion of grammar and syntax focuses solely on the
clause and sentence level. Blass-Debrunner-Funk's A Greek Grammar
of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature was first
published in 1896 and passed through ten editions before being trans-
lated by Funk into English.35 While the notes by Funk are important
contributions to the work, the basic principles are the same as out-
lined by Blass and Debrunner. A concluding chapter entitled "Sentence
Structure" occasionally touches upon matters relative to discourse
features, but only in a tertiary way.
Of course, Text Linguistics as a discipline was not in existence
when these grammars were written. From a sentence level perspec-
tive, they are excellent treatments of the subject. We are simply
pointing out that the biblical exegete must acknowledge the fact that
a great deal is happening in the text above the sentence level and,
furthermore, his exegetical methodology must provide the tools to
investigate meaning beyond that level.
31 For evidence of paragraph grammatically see Longacre, "The Paragraph as a
Grammatical Unit," Discourse and Syntax (Syntax and Semantics; 18 vols.; ed. Talmy
32 J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (3rd ed.; 3 vols.; Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1908).
33 J. H. Moulton and N. Turner, Syntax, vol. 3 in A Grammar of New Testament
Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963).
34 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of
Research (4th ed.;
35 F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and
Christian Literature (tr.
R. Funk; Chicago:
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 325
The Hierarchical Structure of Texts
Texts are hierarchically structured such that the organizing prin-
ciple of surface structure in discourse is the notion of hierarchy. The
following illustrates the levels of communication found in texts.
1) Whole discourse--highest level of language
2) Paragraph--viewed as a structural unit
4) Clause |
5) Phrase |
6) Word levels | levels 4-8 are usually
7) Stem | called grammar
8) Morpheme |
These textual units of meaning may embed lower levels within
them in such a way that a text is characterized by recursive embed-
ding. A given discourse may embed discourses and paragraphs, a
paragraph may embed paragraphs and sentences, and so on down the
line. For example, the book of Acts is an example of narrative dis-
course, but it contains chunks of embedded expository and hortatory
discourse. Stephen's speech in Acts 7 functions in the text of Acts as
an embedded expository discourse in the surface structure form of a
speech/sermon. This notion of recursive embedding is important for
the biblical exegete and the homiletician in that its recognition will
allow one to better analyze and outline a text accurately.
Most of the biblical exegesis in vogue today is intra-sentential,
i.e., the exegete spends most of his time studying the syntax of the
text from the clause level on down. What those of us in discourse
grammar are advocating for biblical studies is that we also take into
consideration the upper levels of communication as well including the
sentence, paragraph, and discourse. In other words, biblical exegesis
should not be limited to intra-sentential analysis, but must be expanded
to include inter-sentential analysis as well.
Consider the following two sentences. Sl "He slept for seventeen
hours." S2 "He was dead tired." These two sentences share a semantic
level relationship of result-reason. S2 is the reason for S1, The same
kind of relationship could have been expressed in a single sentence:
"He slept for seventeen hours because he was dead tired." Here, the
reason-proposition is subordinated in a causal clause. Thus, semantic
level relationships exist intra-sententially as well as inter-sententially.
Furthermore, the same kind of semantic relationship could exist
between two paragraphs such that a given paragraph P2 could be the
reason for paragraph Pl, The point in all of this for the exegete is the
fact that we must consider the overall context of sentence, paragraph,
326 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
and discourse in text interpretation, as well as paying attention to the
semantic relationships that exist between sentences, paragraphs and
even embedded discourses in a given text. A finite network of com-
munication relations is suggested in Beekman and Callow's Semantic
Structure of Written Communication.36 A text can be propositionalized
according to these semantic level relationships to determine the propo-
Paying special attention to paragraph boundaries in the text is
crucial to a proper analysis. The exegete should become aware of the
ways in which paragraph onset is marked in Hebrew and Greek
discourse structure. In Greek, a number of particles and conjunctions
can mark paragraph onset. Back reference or certain characteristic
constituents at the beginning of a paragraph are used as well. For
example, the vocative in Greek often marks the beginning of a new
paragraph. In the epistle of James, eleven of the fourteen vocatives
function as devices to mark paragraph onset. Tense spans can also
serve to mark paragraph boundaries. "For example, a string of present
tense verbs may be interrupted with tense shift and such change may
mark paragraph onset. Such an analysis serves the exegete well in his
attempt to find a valid structure to the text. All of the features
mentioned so far are surface structure features. There is a semantic
level feature as well which identifies paragraphs in a given text.
Thematic unity often aids in marking the onset or the conclusion of a
paragraph. Each paragraph is constructed around a particular theme
or participant. Usually a change in theme or participant engenders a
change in paragraph as well.
It is crucial for the exegete to recognize that a written discourse
contains main line information as well as ancillary information. Infor-
mation which is on the event line of a narrative discourse or the theme
line of an expository discourse is more salient than that which appears
in the supportive material. Longacre has suggested the notion of verb
ranking as a means whereby the exegete can determine what is main
line material and what is not. For example, in English, the simple past
tense is used in narrative discourse to tell a story. By extracting the
verbs in past tense, one gets the backbone or event line of the story.
Sentences containing other verb tenses or verbals such as participles
and infinitives are usually supportive material. In the Hebrew of the
OT, for example, the waw consecutive plus the imperfect (preterite)
is used to carry on the event line in narrative discourse. This tense
36 Beekman and Callow, Semantic Structure, 112.
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 327
form is always verb initial in its clause and can not have a noun phrase
or negative preceding it. Characteristically, clauses which begin in
this way (with the preterite) are expressive of the story line in the
narrative. By extracting these verbs and placing them in order one
gets a usually well-formed outline of the story.37
The book of Hebrews is an example of hortatory discourse with
sections of embedded exposition. The most salient verb forms are the
imperatives and hortatory subjunctives. The main thrust of the book
is centered around the clauses containing these verb forms. Yet,
Hebrews is usually analyzed by exegetes as an expository discourse
and the thematic material centered around the embedded sections of
exposition such as the atonement or the High Priesthood of Christ,
both concepts of which are important to the book, but neither of
which constitutes its main theme. The point here is that the entire
verbal system of a language needs to be evaluated to determine what
part each tense form plays in the overall discourses.
The main line material of any text will be the material which is
most important to the exegete and preacher if he wants to stay true to
the emphasis placed by the text itself. On the other hand, the suppor-
tive material will be viewed as just that, material which supports the
main theme or story line of a given discourse. If the exegete/pastor
analyzes a text and assigns the theme to supportive material, he has
misplaced the emphasis which the text itself has marked. Thus, when
he preaches the text, the subordinate material becomes the primary
thrust of his message and he has missed the emphasis altogether.
Macrostructure in Texts
Every text contains a macrostructure, an overall theme or point
of the text. The exegete must determine what this overall thrust is
because then he can more readily see how all of the units of the
text fit together to achieve this overall theme. Careful consideration
of the verb structure of a discourse will aid in determining the
Peak Structure in Texts
Sometimes a text contains what Longacre calls peak. This textual
phenomenon is quite common in discourse and its recognition will aid
the biblical exegete in his analysis of a given text. Longacre defines
peak as a "zone of turbulence" in the overall flow of the discourse. At
Peak, routine features of the event line may be distorted or phased
37 R. Longacre, "Verb Ranking and the Constituent Structure of Discourse,"
Journal of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest 5 (1982) 177-202.
328 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
out. In short, Peak is any episode-like unit set apart by special surface
structure features and corresponding to the climax or denouement in
the notional/semantic structure.38
Longacre notes several surface structure features which can be
used to mark Peak. The employment of extra words at the important
point of the story via paraphrase, parallelism and tautologies may be
used to mark the Peak of a discourse. The effect of such devices slows
down the story so that this part does not go by too fast. Another
feature is a concentration of participants at a given point resulting in
the "crowded stage" effect. Heightened vividness may be used to
mark Peak by a shift in the nominal/verbal balance, tense shift, or a
shift to a more specific person as from third person to second or first
person. This kind of marking usually occurs in narrative discourse.
Change of pace may be used to mark Peak as in a shift to short, crisp
sentences or a shift to long run-on type sentences.39
An example of this phenomenon occurs in the Flood narrative in
Gen 6:9-9:17 where Longacre posits 2 peaks: an action peak in -
24 where the destructiveness of the flood reaches its apex, and a
didactic peak in 9:1-17 where the covenant concept comes into pri-
mary focus.40 The action peak describes the ever-mounting flood
waters until finally the tops of mountains are covered. The author uses
a great deal of paraphrase and paraphrase within paraphrase at this
point in the story. Longacre notes that much of this paraphrase, which
would normally be collateral material in the discourse, is presented
with event line verbs. These are not normally used in backgrounded
material such as paraphrase. Here, however, at the action peak of the
story, the event line tense is extended to backgrounded material. The
created is analogous to the use of slow motion at the
of a film.
In the book of Philemon, the peak of the book is found in the
third major paragraph (vv 17-20). Philemon is an example of horta-
tory discourse where Paul desires Philemon to receive the runaway
slave Onesimus back into his home. Up until v 17 there is not a single
imperatival verb form. Yet when we come to this paragraph there are
three imperatives which occur, the first being proslabou, "receive
him. . . ." In the preceding paragraph there are seventeen verb forms
and five of these are verbals. In this paragraph, however, there is a
total of eleven verbs and not one of them is a verbal. There is a wide
38 Longacre, Grammar of Discourse, 24.
39 Ibid., 25-38.
40 R. Longacre, "Interpreting Biblical Stories," Discourse and Literature (ed.
Teun A. van Dijk;
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 329
range of mode shift in the verbs of these four verses as well, including
the imperative, the indicative, and the optative. Tense shift is also
well represented as the present, aorist, and future tenses all occur.
The sentence structure of this paragraph is quite different from the
rest of the book in that Paul shifts to short almost staccato sentences
with very little preposed and postposed material. This added "punch"
is further magnified by the increase in finite verb forms. All of these
combine to mark vv 17-20 as the hortatory
Notice also how v 17, which contains the first imperative of the book
functions as a good statement of Philemon's macrostructure: "Receive
him as you would receive me."
In summary fashion, we are suggesting that biblical exegetes
should acknowledge the contribution that contemporary linguistic
theory is making to the field of biblical interpretation. In terms of
method, we suggest that text analysis begin with the original text. A
preliminary translation should be made at the outset. This translation
will serve as a guide and will be modified perhaps several times until
the conclusion of the exegetical process when a final translation can
be made. Several readings of the text should be made to get a sense
of the whole before breaking it down into its constituent parts. Take
the telescopic view before subjecting the text to your exegetical
microscope. A text is always more than the sum of its parts and the
parts cannot be interpreted except in light of the whole. Analyze the
hierarchical structure of the text making tentative paragraph breaks.
These may be modified upon further investigation. Analyze the verbal
structure to get an idea of the event line or theme line of the text. Pay
close attention to material that is thematic and determine how the
subordinating ideas support it. Watch for features that may be marking
Peak, especially in a narrative discourse. Determine the macrostructure
and analyze how the constituent structure of the text contributes to it.
Take note of participant reference in narrative discourse. Observe
how participants are introduced and integrated into the overall dis-
course as well as how they are phased out. At this point, the ground-
work has been laid for a microscopic view of the text. Dig into the
clause level structure, making grammatical decisions aided by your
telescopic view. Any necessary word studies should be done but
always paying close attention to context since words are defined by
Propositionalizing the text as in the Beekman-Callow model will
aid the exegete in determining the semantic level relationships that
330 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
exist in inter-clausal connections.41 In this way intra-sentential, inter-
sentential and inter-clausal relationships can be identified and one can
better see the meaning being communicated.
A recognition of these features of language and discourse will aid
the exegete to achieve a more fruitful analysis of his text. They are not
offered in any attempt to be exhaustive as a methodology, nor are they
offered as a replacement for the standard exegetical methods which
have been used for centuries. It is our hope that these insights from
contemporary linguistic theory and practice can subsidize biblical
exegesis as it is normally practiced.
III. From Exegesis to Proclamation
Sermon delivery is the counterpart of exegesis. However, the
bridge from exegesis to proclamation is not easily built. Many pastors
complete their exegetical work, fashion it into a well-organized
sermon, and then enter the pulpit only to see their sermon die in the
delivery process. Without a good delivery much of the sermon, as
well as the meaning and significance of the biblical text, is lost as far
as the audience is concerned.
If preaching is to be truly communicative, five aspects of delivery
must be mastered by the preacher. 1. The first crucial area of delivery
is what may be called the mechanical aspects. This includes such
matters as breathing, articulating, pitch, inflection, vocal variation,
etc. 2. Mental aspects of sermon delivery take us behind the spoken
word to the mental dynamics that produce them. Communication is
enhanced when a speaker learns to see what he says before he says it.
3. A third aspect of sermon delivery is the psychological aspect. Here
the preacher-audience dynamic is the central focus. 4. The rhetorical
aspect of sermon delivery focuses on the use of words and sentences
effectively and persuasively. One cannot effectively communicate
without carefully considering his audience. 5. The fifth aspect of
sermon delivery is the spiritual aspect which emphasizes the role of
the Holy Spirit who vitalizes a sermon in the life of the preacher and
Aristotle's Rhetorical Triad
One of the best frameworks for analyzing the total communica-
tion situation as described in these five aspects of sermon delivery
41 Beekman and Callow, Semantic Structure, for the list of communication rela-
tions which undergird all discourse and the methodology for analyzing the semantic
propositional structure of a text.
42 J. Vines, A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery (Chicago: Moody, 1986).
Vines/Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 331
(excepting the spiritual aspect) is that which Aristotle formulated
centuries ago in his Rhetoric under the rubrics of logos, ethos, and
pathos. If we could place anyone textbook on the required reading
list in all of the homiletics courses in seminaries today, it would be
By logos, Aristotle referred to the use of logic and formal methods
of persuasion. The use of induction and deduction are fundamental
modes of rhetorical persuasion and should be used by the Christian
persuader. The Pauline epistles are filled with material of an inductive
and deductive nature.
Ethos refers to the impression which the preacher himself makes
upon the audience. As far as the audience is concerned, the validity of
what the preacher says will be proportional to the integrity which his
audience perceives him to display.
Pathos describes the appeal to the emotions in an audience by
means of the speaker's rhetorical technique. Although some preachers
disparage the use of any emotion in a sermon, and others absolutely
abuse it, we must recognize that there is a valid use of the emotional
appeal in preaching.
Aristotle defines the function of rhetoric as not only the art of
persuasion, but also--to discover the available means of persuasion in
a given case."43 His rhetorical triad of logos, pathos, and ethos are the
means of persuasion in any spoken or written discourse.
Preaching as Persuasion
Preaching is a form of persuasion. Every sermon should have a
hortatory purpose as its underlying base. The simple reason for this is
that we do not preach for the sake of preaching or even just to
communicate truths, but we preach for a verdict. The Scriptures
make it abundantly clear that truth is unto holiness. However, it seems
to us that some have lost sight of the fact that preaching should be
geared to persuading people to respond. Some sermons are little more
than a rehearsal of Bible history with no clear attempt to persuade the
listener to any course of action. Other sermons are didactic in nature
and while they contain excellent information, they never are persua-
sive because the preacher fails to tie the teaching to a prescribed
course of action.
There are of course those who question the validity of the use of
persuasion in preaching at all. Perhaps this is so because some within
the ranks of the Christian ministry have become more like manipu-
lators rather than persuaders. They have taken the philosophical stance
43 The Rhetoric of Aristotle (ed,
& cr. Lane Cooper;
332 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
of Utilitarianism with its characteristic maxim "the end justifies the
Biblical Basis for Preaching as Persuasion
Yet we must say that there is an adequate biblical basis for
persuasion in preaching. A study of Paul's preaching ministry will
reveal that he was a persuader in the finest sense of that term. For
example, in Acts 13:43, we are told that Paul, in speaking to Chris-
tians, "persuaded them to continue in the grace of God." Acts 18:4
fact that Paul preached in
"persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." 2 Cor is perhaps the
clearest passage where Paul mentions his attempt to persuade men as
well as one of his motivations: "Knowing therefore the terror of the
Lord, we persuade men. . . ." The particular word for "persuade" in
this verse means to persuade or to induce one bywords to believe.
The appeal to fear is not altogether an unworthy one. Of course,
there should be no unreasonable or excessive use of fear in preaching.
Scare tactics for the sake of fear are totally unwarranted. Yet fear is a
genuine emotion of the human psyche. A doctor who wishes to cause
his patient to abstain from smoking does not hesitate to make an
appeal to fear. The Scriptures speak of the reality of entering eternity
unprepared to meet God in the most fearful terms. Preachers should
not hesitate to sermonize about that which God himself has revealed
in his word.
Paul summarizes the preacher's attitude toward the subject of
persuasion in preaching in 1 Thess 2:3-8 when he says,
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile;
but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even
so we speak; not as pleasing men but God, which trieth our hearts. For
neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of
covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of
you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the
apostles of Christ. But were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth
her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to
have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own
souls because ye were dear unto us (KJV).
There is an extreme to which some preachers go which must be
avoided. It is possible to be too persuasive in one's sermon delivery.
We have all heard sermons from well-meaning preachers who bom-
barded the congregation with one imperative after another. Such a
concatenation of command forms bunched together in a sermon are
not usually persuasive. They give the impression that the preacher is
God's legislator who angrily barks forth "thou shalt nots." Such a
Vines/ Allen: HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS, AND PROCLAMATION 333
preacher's motive was pure, namely, to persuade the people to do
what the Bible says they should do. However, his technique did not
take into account the psychological and rhetorical aspects of sermon
delivery and audience reception.
In further development of this point, we should like to discuss
briefly the notion of mitigation in discourse. No one likes to be told
that a particular course of action they have chosen is wrong. Further-
more, no one likes to be told to do things. The wise preacher will
learn to employ mitigation in his preaching.
For example, suppose a teacher is lecturing his class and the
room temperature is too warm. He has at his disposal any number of
ways of communicating to someone in the class that he prefers them
to open a door. He may say to someone, "Bill, open the door." Or he
could say, "Bill, would you please open the door?" The first form of
address is harsh and direct, employing an imperatival form. The
second form of address is somewhat mitigated with the employment
of the word "please" and the interrogative "would you." There are
other ways even more mitigated in which he could communicate his
desire for the door to be opened. He could say, "Would someone
please open the door?" Here the shift from a specific person to the
general "someone" mitigates the request even further. Another option
available to the teacher would be to say, "I wish that door were open
so it would be cooler in here." Here, there is no imperative or
interrogative, but a simple declarative statement. Chances are some-
one would open the door after hearing such a statement. Or take the
statement, "It's warm in here." The surface structure is one of a
declarative sentence with no mention whatsoever of the word "door."
Yet the underlying notional structure of this statement (given the
context in which we have placed it) might be one of command in the
sense that we could add the unstated sentence, "Open the door." All
of this goes to show that there are any number of ways a speaker may
mitigate his commands to an audience.
Preachers need to learn, to make wise use of mitigation in their
preaching. The NT writers employed a variety of mitigated forms of
expression in an attempt to persuade their readers to a particular
course of action.
In short, effective communication from the pulpit must be in-
formed by Aristotle's rhetorical triad of logos, ethos, and pathos. This
involves a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and here is
where there is no substitute for thorough exegesis. It involves a
thorough knowledge of the speaker-audience dynamic such that the
334 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
preacher must speak from integrity and his audience must know of
his sincerity and genuineness. Finally, it involves a knowledge of
people and how they respond to the spoken word.
R. Roberts summarizes the triad of logos, ethos, and pathos in
Aristotle's Rhetoric in words that every preacher needs to hear and
Be logical. Think clearly. Reason cogently. Remember that "argument"
is the life and soul of persuasion. Study human nature. Observe the
characters and emotions of your audience, as well as your own character
and emotions. Attend to delivery. Use language rightly. Arrange your
material well. End crisply.44
A well-rounded approach to biblical interpretation involves three
things. First, a recognition of the foundational hermeneutical prin-
ciples necessary to inform a productive methodology. Foundational
to one's biblical hermeneutic is the notion that a text has a deter-
minate meaning. Second, a recognition of and implementation of
exegetical methods which employ, along with traditional methodol-
ogy, insights and methods from contemporary linguistic theory. Third,
a recognition of Aristotle's rhetorical categories of logos, pathos,
and ethos and how they inform good homiletical theory and practice.
The bridge from hermeneutics to exegesis to proclamation is not
easily built, but it must be built, and once built, ceaselessly traversed
by us all.
Roberts, Greek Rhetoric and Literary Criticism (
Green & Co., 1928) 50.
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