Expository Preaching

20111116-100638.jpgMuch of my preaching falls into one of two categories. Textual where I let the thought of the passage lead me to lessons found throughout scripture or Expository where I try to expose the text and context of a passage.  About 10 years ago I wrote a paper on Expository Preaching for a Graduate Class on Preaching, I ran across my digital copy this week and thought I would share it. – Enjoy.

Definition of Expository Preaching

Hadden Robinson states, “Preaching is a living processes involving God, the preacher, and the congregation . . .”[1]  This validity of this statement intensifies when one considers the expository preaching.  According to Sidney Greidanus expository preaching is “Bible-centered preaching . . . the exposition of a biblical passage.”[2]  Others emphasize that “. . . expository preaching focuses on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s).”[3]  Richard Mayhue concludes that expository preaching contains five minimal elements:

  1. “The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
  2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
  3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and context.
  4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
  5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.[4]

While agreeing with Robinson that “no definition can pretend to capture” the dynamic of preaching,[5] we define expository preaching as the communication of a message or lesson derived from the study of a specific text, using the tools of exegesis to understand the text, and delivering the lessons learned in a manner that assists the listeners to apply those lessons to their individual or collective walk with God.

Some preachers and authors equate expository preaching with textual preaching,[6] yet there is a distinction. Whereas expository preaching, by the definitions above, stays with a given text and its context to develop an application, a textual sermon may start out as an exposition but quickly expands to other texts to develop a topic or topics the presenter wishes to expound.  Mayhue observes that textual preaching “uses a short text . . . as a gateway into whatever subject the preacher chooses to address.”[7]

A third model of preaching is topical preaching.  Topical preaching may cover a Biblical concept or topic, but differs immensely from textual and expository preaching.  Both textual and expository preaching rely on a specific passage or a section of scripture as the beginning point or source of the lesson.  By contrast topical preaching regularly begins with the applicable lesson and seeks out Scriptures to prove or establish the preconceived idea.  Although the lesson may be accurate this type of preaching may not always be as honest as pure expository preaching where the lesson(s) grows from the considered text.

Personal Evaluation:

MacArthur boldly announces “. . . inerrancy demands exposition as the only method of preaching that preserves the purity of Scripture and accomplishes the purpose for which God gave us His Word.”[8]  While I can see MacArthur’s point I can only partially agree.  Expository preaching should have priory, but other forms of preaching can remain true to the purity and inerrancy of scripture.   In textual preaching where one uses a text as a springboard to other passages, one can be true to Truth when Scripture expounds Scripture and the lesson remains consistent in the texts used.  Topical preaching can also remain true to God’s word when topic is from scripture and not a conglomeration of proof texts.  With that said, I am certain that Biblical concepts stand stronger when that concept grows from an exegetical approach to study, and when presented to listeners from one specific text.  The more I study for and preach expository sermons the more I realize “when Paul charged young Timothy to ‘preach the word,’ he intended not simply that Timothy mount a pulpit and speak but that he base his spoken word on the written . . .”[9] Consequently, I find when my preaching is an exposition and less topical;  I find those lessons make a stronger impression on the listeners and I would think that such an impression would have a longer effect in their lives.

Expository Preaching is Inductive:

By inductive we mean that the lesson(s) learned come as a result of the process of study and are not a previously assumed truth proved by clever use of concordances. Expository preaching is inductive in that the preacher will “approach the text to find out what it means.”[10] A sermon that is expository communicates the basics of the preacher’s own study to listeners.  Therefore, “inductive sermons produce a sense of discovery in listeners, as they arrived at the idea on their own,”[11] guided by the study of the one presenting the message.

Expository Preaching is Exegetical:

Exegesis is the homework of the preacher who presents expository sermons.  Exegesis is the “proper hermeneutical and exegetical principles and practice”[12] that lead to an understanding of the passage of Scripture under consideration.  The preaching that results is the communication of a Biblical concept “derived from  . . . a historical grammatical, and literary study” of the passage and the context surrounding that passage.[13]

Expository Preaching is Exposition:

MacArthur’s work states accurately that expository preaching “approaches the Word of God inductively, studies it exegetically, then explains it to the people expositionally . . . (seeking) to clarify what is difficult to understand in a passage.  It opens up the Word and exposes the less obvious meanings and applications it contains.”[14]  Preaching that is expository exposes the text to the listener and exposes the listener to the text.



 Greidanus, Sidney. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1988.

MacArthur, John, Jr. Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Richard L. Mayhue, Ed. Robert L. Thomas, Assoc. Ed. Nashville:W Publishing Group. 1992.

Meyer, Jack, Sr. The Preacher and His Work. Shreveport, LA:Lamberts Book  House, 1960.

Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids:Baker, 1980.


[1] Hadden W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids:Baker), 1980, p. 19.

[2] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans), 1988, p 11.

[3] John MacArthur, Jr., Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Richard L. Mayhue, Ed., Robert L. Thomas, Assoc. Ed., (Nashville:W Publishing Group), 1992, p. 9.

[4] Ibid. p. 12-13.

[5] Robinson, p. 9.

[6] Greidanus, p. 122.

[7] MacArthur, p. 9.

[8] Ibid. p. 24.

[9] Greidanus, p. 10.

[10] MacArthur, p. 222.

[11] Greidanus, p. 144.

[12] MacArthur, p. 222.

[13] Robinson, p. 20.

[14] MacArthur, p. 222.

2 thoughts on “Expository Preaching

  1. Quick question for you Scott. I definitely see the value in expository preaching and have used that style many times myself from the pulpit and in my personal bible study. I was wondering what you thought about how Jesus taught people during his ministry. Granted, he was working from the writings of the Old Testament, but it seems that his parabolic teaching would fit the mold of what we consider topical teaching today. He would use a real life situation and many times follow it up with a scriptural reference or lesson from the law in order to reinforce his point. I know his mission was a little different than what preachers do today with delivering the gospel message that’s evident throughout the Bible, but it seems that many Bible scholars today really downplay the very useful technique of topical preaching because they feel it doesn’t stay true to God’s word. Do you think we should model our teaching style after Jesus since it was such an example of meeting people where they are and then use God’s word in more of an expository style when we are in Bible study?

  2. I use illustrations within my sermons to that end. Also I tend to be more “parabolic” in devotional thoughts and in shorter sermons.

    So to answer your question. As long as we are true to His teachings, and are not using parables to prove our own preconceived ideas, then stories are great.

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