The Nuts and Bolts of Sermon Preparation: Exegeting the Text

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 9.02.57 AMSo, our convictions are settled and our text has been selected. Now what?

I need to reiterate that this is what I do; you need to decided if you think doing the same things or something similar will help you engage in your preparation.

My next step is to read through the entire book from whence my text is taken several times, and I do it in one sitting. As I do this, there is a single question burning in my mind: “What is the author’s purpose in writing this book?”

Every author of every book found in Scripture had a purpose for writing, and that book exists to further that purpose. Sometimes, the purpose is announced (e.g., John 20:31; 1 John 5:13). In other cases, the book’s purpose has to be inferred from the content. If the purpose isn’t explicitly stated, you need to closely examine the author’s style, and ask yourself what we know about the author himself and what we know about the recipients of the book in question. As I’m doing this, I have a pen and a legal pad at my elbow, and once I’ve gotten the author’s purpose settled in my own mind, that’s the first thing that gets written on the top line of the legal pad.

Next, I take my pen and my legal pad, and immediately below where I’ve written the author’s purpose, I outline the entire book, using the Harvard outline format. As a general rule, I’m only interested in outlining the major divisions and subdivisions. The only time I break the outline down to the level of the tertiary divisions is if the book is particularly difficult.

Now that I’ve completed my outline, I turn from the text in my English translation to my Greek testament. I do so because the way the text is divided is often a little different between the two, and on occasion, the Greek text will have the paragraphs divided slightly differently. (In fact, there are places where the NA28 breaks the text up differently from the UBS5.) It’s at this point where I start checking my outline (which was based on the English text) against the divisions of the text found in the Greek (or Hebrew, as the case may be). If there’s a good reason, based on the underlying Greek text, to change my outline, then I make those alterations at this point.

It’s at this point that my sermon preparation is going to be a little (or maybe a lot) different from others. This is the point at which I flip to the next page of my legal pad, divide it into two columns, and work my way through the textual variants found in the Greek text. The variant readings and their manuscript support go into the left hand column, and the reading in the upper level text and its manuscript support goes into the right hand column. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this step doesn’t reveal any variants that are both meaningful and viable, but occasionally it does.

Chasing the Variants in Rev. 2:20I’ve included (to the left) an example of what this step looks like, and the text in question is Revelation 2:20. It contains a textual variant (which you can see) that is both meaningful and viable.

If you are able to read Greek and have a copy of the NA27 or NA28, I would encourage you to take a look at this verse and the variant in question, so that you can work through it for yourself. I’m not going to give you the answers, but needless to say that in my opinion this variant, if it accurately reflects the original reading, makes a significant difference in how you would interpret and preach Rev. 2:18-29!

In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below! Let me know which reading you think reflects the original state of the text and why (there are some clues in the photo above), and next time, we’ll look at the next step in sermon preparation.


"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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