Criswell Theological Review 1.2 (1987) 309-334

[Copyright 1987 by Criswell College, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Criswell Colleges and elsewhere]

 

 

 

HERMENEUTICS, EXEGESIS,

AND PROCLAMATION

 

 

JERRY VINES

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL 32202

 

DAVID ALLEN

Audelia Road Baptist Church, Dallas, TX 75243

 

 

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

exegetical method.

 



310 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

 

1) What is the difference between traditional hermeneutics and

modern hermeneutics?

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-

tation?

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

thought processes.

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

Worth: Texas Christian University, 1976).

3 E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven & London: Yale University,

1967).

4 F. Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts (ed. H. Kim-

merle; tr. J. Duke and H. J. Forstman; Missoula: Scholars, 1977) 67-88.



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

textual interpretation.

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

determinate meaning.

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

this century. While teaching at the University of Marburg, Bultmann

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

studies.

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; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1961) 289-96.

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

New Hermeneutic, see A. Thiselton, The Two Horizons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1980) 352-56, and "The New Hermeneutic," New Testament Interpretation: Essays on

Principles and Methods (ed. I. H. Marshall; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 308-33.



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-

minate meaning.

 

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 University of Virginia has countered the relativism

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

and analysis.

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

(ed. E. Bratuscheck; Leipzig, 1886).

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 Bible (eds. E. Radmacher and R. Preus;

Grand Rapids: Academie, 1984) 409-29. His definition of authorial intention, which we

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; Grand Rapids: Academie,

1986) 179-211.



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

appropriation.

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

and Authority (6 vols.; Waco: Word, 1976-1983) 3.429-81.

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.

Marshall, to name just three of many outstanding works available

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.

25 I. H. Marshall, ed., New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and

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

Europe) has much to offer those who interpret the Scripture. Dis-

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

of languages in Columbia and Panama. He argued that it was impos-

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

Semantic Structure of Written Communication (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics,

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

Columbia, Panama, and Ecuador. Part 1. (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and

University of Texas at Arlington, 1976) 2.



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.

 

Discourse Genre

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

text.29

 

28 E. Wendland, "Biblical Hebrew Narrative Structure," Selected Technical

Articles Related to Translation 10 (1984) 35-36.

29 D. A. Carson, "Hermeneutics: A Brief Assessment of some Recent Trends,"

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

 

 

Meaning

 

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.

 

Contextual Exegesis

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

Givon; New York: Academic, 1979) 12.115-33.

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

Historical Research (4th ed.; Nashville: Broadman, 1934).

35 F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and

Other Early Christian Literature (tr. R. Funk; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961).



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

3) Sentence

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-

sitional relationships.

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.

 

Main Line Information vs. Ancillary Information

 

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

macrostructure.

 

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 7:17-

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

effect created is analogous to the use of slow motion at the high point

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; Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1985) 169-85.



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

features combine to mark vv 17-20 as the hortatory peak of Philemon.

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."

 

Summary Methodology

 

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

context.

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

audience.42

 

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

Aristotle's Rhetoric.

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; New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,

1932) 7.



332 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

 

of Utilitarianism with its characteristic maxim "the end justifies the

means."

 

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

records the fact that Paul preached in Corinth on the Sabbath and

"persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." 2 Cor 5:11 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

heed.

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

 

Conclusion

 

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.

 

44 R. Roberts, Greek Rhetoric and Literary Criticism (New York: Longmans,

Green & Co., 1928) 50.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

4010 Gaston Ave.

Dallas, TX 75246

www.criswell.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu