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14 thoughts on “Verse by Verse Exposition

  1. Rich Owen

    Who are you quoting?

    I'm sure it IS possible, Spurgeon for example.

    It did make me think of a conference I was recently at. A well known and respected bible teacher did the verse by verse thing. Gold-mining was his game. Nugget after nugget of wisdom and truth had the audience in raptures about how biblical, how wise etc the expositions were. I did wonder if I was the only one who felt totally empty, unmoved and unimpressed.

    His was verse by verse without respect to the genre, story being told, any interpretation which is already decided by scripture itself, and mere passing reference to some king who comes and stands on top of this particular cake to be it's long awaited cherry. In my view he did elevate scripture above Christ.

    Rich (bad day today, grumpy)

  2. Si

    There's certainly a "can't see the wood for the trees" element to verse by verse - even not respecting the scripture itself, as Rich has mentioned with the lack of respect for genre, story, scripture's interpretation, etc (which shows the right diagnosis of putting scripture above Christ is even worse, because it's putting scripture above Christ while holding a poor view of scripture).

    My former pastor, when talking about John Piper going through Romans in 250 sermons (he's certainly a guy who you'd think should be able to make it work, but it's ages since I heard any of that series, so I can't really remember) and why our church was doing it in less than 25 weeks, said that it was basically systematic theology parcels drip fed (or something like that) in the order that words appear in Romans - that has it's place, but not really the pulpit week-in, week-out.

  3. Glen

    Rich - I'm quoting myself in my more cynical moments. The majority of my sermons are verse by verse, but I find that *insistences* on verse-by-verse are a) Scripturally unfounded (ironically!) and b) reveal what is supreme for the preacher. I.e. an *insistence* on verse-by-verse shows that the preacher wants to preach "1 Peter" rather than Christ *from* 1 Peter.

    Si - I think your former pastor is right on the money.

  4. James

    The bits of Richard Sibbes and Jeremiah Burroughs I've read via Dave Bish's books (Song of Songs and Hosea respectively) are verse by verse but they don't lack anything for it, and I don't think you could accuse those guys of elevating anything above Christ...and didn't Calvin preach verse by verse through the bible week in, week out?

    Not that it's right because old guys did it, but if you read the old guys...

    Still, not sure I am qualified enough to comment really! Just struck me that verse by verse is what some of the best Puritans did.

  5. Glen

    Hi James, when I talk about elevating Scripture above Christ I just mean that 'unpacking' Scriptural propositions becomes the point rather than proclaiming the Person of Christ. Many (perhaps even the great majority) of those Scriptural propositions might describe Christ in detailed and doctrinally correct ways... yet it would be possible to say that the point of such a sermon was laying bear the text, rather than offering Christ. That's the 'crime' I'm concerned about. Maybe it's not a crime at all. But if it is then I (and even the greats like Calvin) have been guilty from time to time.

    The question of preaching Christ in the OT is a test case of this whole issue. But it's not less of a problem in the NT. For instance, if my passage is Romans 1:18-32, do I simply begin at verse 18, finish at verse 32, shut my bible and say 'Amen'? Aside from anything else, that's a funny way to treat a letter! But it also opens up a lot of questions about the purpose of the sermon - is it to explain a text or to proclaim a Person? Sometimes those two goals won't coincide and you'll have to choose. And my contention is this: an *insistence* on verse-by-verse will make you choose poorly.

  6. John B

    Most churches I've known wear it as a badge of honor and boast about how long they can go on in preaching and teaching out of a single book. Some series continue for years with little or no interruption! If something gets chopped up fine enough, it becomes pretty malleable. But that's OK, because, hey, it's all Bible stuff. Right?

    This week - an exposition of: "And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head." (2Ki 2:23)

    Next week - the she bears come forth!

  7. Anonymous

    A few weeks ago I was speaking with a newly trained young buck, freshly trained by a very sound Biblical organisation.

    He complained about a talk he & I both heard that it "didn't address the main point of the passage".

    By that he meant that the passage had a main theme but the preacher didn't focus on that, he focussed instead on a much more minor theme in the passage.

    I said: "Scripture is infallible, sure. But the particular selection of verses that the ministry team select to put on their preaching rota isn't an infallible SELECTON. If they assign a preacher verses x-y that isn't an infallible selection of scripture - if they'd assigned verses w-y there'd be a different "main theme"."

    Let me interject here and say - yes, I appreciate that Christ is always the main point of a given passage (Luke 24 and all that) - but that wasn't my friend's critique. (If it had been a Christless exposition he & I would have been in agreement.)

    I concluded in the end that, particularly if someone's fresh out of training, the approach articulated above may not be the most rounded approach [otherwise when do the minor themes ever get preached?] - but it's better to drum into people the need to submit to the scripture rather than letting them think they can construct a sermon with little reference to it.

  8. James S

    I think there is a place for long verse by verse expositions. But before a preacher does it, he should do the quick version first. Like how MLJ stretched Romans & Ephesians over so many years, that's got its good points, but how bout all the people who died before he even got half way through the letters?
    I realize he wasnt doing these on Sundays though, he was doing them on a special night set aside for it. That's okay.

    I would like to hear a short, maybe month long take on a book on Sundays, then save the long stretched-out verse by verse stuff for a special study night week by week. Then those who have the patience and are young & healthy enough to live through the whole thing can go and enjoy it, and its not taking up time on Sundays.

    I like Dick Lucas' long time method of having 2, 3, & 4 week (and sometimes but rarely longer) expositions on sections of the bible. Kind of half topical and half expository. He had long studies going on for other days & nights,
    but on Sunday he kept it compact so that someone could get the point of a particular part of scripture within a month or less. His Tuesday & Thursday lunch talks were short and sweet too. I like that St Helens still does things this way even now with William Taylor and others.

    Most importantly my point is that many of the books of the bible are short and right to the point, and they should be taught in this manner as the first priority. Taking longer than 2 months on any of the books, save for maybe Genesis and a few others, is overkill. There is a place for long drawn out studies, but not on Sundays, that's my beef.

  9. James S

    Also going back to Glen's reply concerning Romans 1:18-32, and this is besides his point, but I wish more preachers would do explicit studies on that exact passage.
    It's amazing to me that in this day and age I see preachers in fear of preaching that section of Romans.

    I've lost count of how many supposedly expositional studies of the book of Romans posted on church websites, (audio or text) either quickly breeze past this section, or even leave it out altogether.

    I know that preachers are getting flak these days for talking biblically about homosexuality and God's wrath and that it takes great couargae now to preach on this.
    But in my view it is even more abominable to ignore this passage than to appease popular opinion and quickly gloss over it.

  10. Glen

    Hi James,

    I wasn't thinking about homosexuality. I don't mind preaching on that at all. I mean that the paragraph is purely condemning (pure law). If you were dyed in the wool verse-by-verse you'd have to say "Amen, please come back next week to hear more condemnation, and the week after, and the week after, and only *then* (a month later) will you hear Rom 3:21."

  11. Glen

    Anonymous, the best thing any biblical institution could do would be to instil the conviction that Scripture (in its proper context) really -does- testify to Jesus and the preacher's role really is, above all else, to proclaim Him. I went to a well respected institution that never taught me a -theology- of proclamation only a ministry philosophy that prizes bible explanation. The two are not the same. But I think the 'bible explanation' model lies at the heart of the discussion you had with your young buck.

  12. Glen

    Thanks Joe - that was really excellent. I haven;t been to any minister's conferences at which so broad a selection of ministers had so much wisdom - actually, doctrinally-driven, theologically astute wisdom! Sign me up to the Eclectics. i want to learn!

  13. John B

    Thanks indeed, Joe! These Eclectic Notes are great! Are there MP3s? ;) Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the Eclectic Society meetings! Lots of fascinating topics catch my eye in the Contents including: "What was the degree of light enjoyed under the Old Testament Dispensation?": "What were the influences of the Holy Spirit in the Church previous to the Day of Pentecost?"; "What is the Scripture account of the New Covenant?"; among many others. Life before blogs!

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