Now we’re at the point in our sermon preparation where we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. We’ve outlined the entire book, and then read through the book several times, both in English and in Greek. This has all been done with an eye towards breaking the text up into what I’m going to call preaching portions.
While some ministers prefer to preach on a single verse at a time, I don’t like to preach that way. In my experience, you’ll wind up forcing the text. Ideally, the genre of text should determine the portion you preach; that portion maybe longer (even a lot longer) in a narrative text, and probably shorter in a didactic text. In either case, the portion should present a coherent idea to the listener.
Now that the preaching portion has been determined, the real process of exegesis begins.
To my knowledge, the most widely taught method of exegesis, and hence the most widely used by pastors, is structural analysis. This is the method advocated by Walt Kaiser in his book Towards and Exegetical Theology, and it’s the method that is taught in most seminaries.
For what it’s worth, it’s a perfectly acceptable method of exegesis. I know ministers who use it, and their exegetical work is outstanding.
When I learned exegesis, however, I didn’t learn structural analysis. I learned the arcing/bracketing method of exegesis. It’s similar to structural analysis in some ways, but when you arc a passage, you’re looking for the logical relationships between clauses. (You can see an example above.) I use this particular method (1) because I am a highly visual person, and arcing fits will with that aspect of my personality, and (2) because it forces me to slow down and look at the text in its entirety. If you do it right, you can examine the logical relationships in the text at both the micro-level and at the macro-level. It works well for me, because when I’ve done structural analysis, I’ve sometimes lost sight of the forest for the trees.
If you want to learn more about arcing, you can visit the website here, and learn all about how it works.
As I’m arcing the passage at hand, I’m also interrogating the text. My goal is to take an hour or more and ask questions of the text. “Why does the author use that particular word?” “How is that phrase functioning?” etc.
Once my arc is done, and the interrogation is over, I want to find the main point of the passage. If my arc has been done correctly, the main point is going to be fairly easy to find (at least usually). Once you know what the main point of the preaching portion is, it’s time to move from exegesis to sermon outline.