A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: Exegetical Resources

We have offered some preliminary comments on preaching, its purposes and the mindset of the preacher. Now I want to offer some guidance on Bible study and exegetical resources. Now, it would be easy for me to go on and on with book recommendations, but I thought it be would be more helpful to offer my TOP FIVE (-ISH) recommendations for each category.

Reading the Greek Text

  1. UBS5 (Reader’s Edition). It’s elegant, state-of-the-discipline, user-friendly.Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 11.17.29 AM
  2. Bible Software
    • Bibleworks – I have used Bibleworks for fifteen years (!). But sadly they have closed their business, so I recently purchased Accordance.
    • Accordance – this is the go-to Mac-user software; elite, powerful, but very expensive.
    • Logos – I own and use Logos a lot, but not for “reading the Greek text.” I use it for dictionaries, commentaries, and a few other things. To get a good language package, you need some $$$, but it is not unreasonable.
    • StepBible (www.stepbible.org) – this free website/app allows you to read the Greek/Hebrew text, do some basic word study, and search words in NT and Septuagint. It is the best free site I have seen for language-oriented study.
    • Interlinears? I don’t use interlinears, and I don’t really recommend them either. They are set up in a way to force you to compare English to Greek in a rigid way, and therefore the information you “glean” can be misleading. But if you are going to use one, try this: https://www.logos.com/product/8569/lexham-greek-english-interlinear-new-testament-collection.

Guides to the Exegetical Process

  1. Elements of Biblical Exegesis (Michael Gorman). This book is clear, practical, oriented towards theological interpretation, and offers some samples in the back of the book.
  2. Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation (Clayton Croy). Digs a bit more into theory, not as good with the practicals, but very insightful and complements Gorman.
  3. Scripture and Its Interpretation: A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible (ed. Michael Gorman). Multiple contributors, lots of great topics and perspectives, very reasonably priced; but read Elements first.
  4. Inductive Bible Study (Bauer and Traina). A simple, clear, tried-and-true approach to inductive Bible study. It is crucial that the preacher learns how to study the text for themselves, and not jump right into secondary resources.
  5. The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Revelatory TextScripture (Sandra Schneiders). A very rewarding Catholic approach to treating the NT as sacred and special revelation, while also paying full attention to the human element of Scripture. I have all my hermeneutics students read this book before writing their exegesis papers.

Word Study Resources

  1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (known as BDAG). It is the standard lexicon for New Testament study; overall it is reliable, but do not assume it is always correct or that all scholars agree on its findings.
  2. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (aka, Louw-Nida). I actually prefer these definitions and glosses to BDAG overall. But I am weird.
  3. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (ed. M. Silva). A very good, detailed resource. Worth buying the set.
  4. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (EDNT). Reliable, but not mind-blowing.
  5. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (TLNT, C. Spicq). This set is not exhaustive, there are many NT Greek words you won’t find in here, but when he does have an entry, I find his thoughts very stimulating and worthwhile.
  6. Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (VGNT, or Moulton and Milligan). This unique lexicon uses inscriptions and “non-literary papyri” (i.e., personal correspondence) to inform our understanding of Greek words. Here’s the basic idea: how were these words used in everyday life and conversation? VGNT tends to be anecdotal rather than exhaustive, but always worth consulting.

Dictionaries

  1. IVP “Black” Dictionaries. E.g., the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, etc. These sources are invaluable. There are also several excellent thematic volumes such as the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology and the Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds. (LINK TO SET: HERE) My personal copies are well worn!
  2. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. This is a great set—up to date, leading scholars, accessible and lucid information for pastors and for Bible study. Your church should own this.
  3. Anchor-Yale Bible Dictionary. A hefty, academic set, and now a bit dated, but still a trusted standard in the guild.
  4. Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker). The entries are “hit-and-miss,” but always worth a peek. Whether you are looking up a theme, biblical book, etc., great stuff on reception, theological importance, and so forth.
  5. DSE.jpegDictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Baker). Another good thematic dictionary, I have a few entries in here.
  6. Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism. Obviously, this is very niche, but an outstanding resource for understanding Jewish ideas, traditions, and practices.

Academic, Technical Commentaries

Here I will only list series that dig into the details of the text and its ancient context. In a later post I will recommend commentaries that reflect theologically and move in the direction of application.

  1. Word Biblical Commentary (OT and NT)

Very detailed, many volumes are getting outdated, but still solid section-level bibliographies and highly competent scholarship overall.

    2. New International Commentary on the New Testament (OT = New International Commentary on the Old Testament)

Most volumes offer a blend of academic material and (light) theological exposition.

    3. New International Greek Testament Commentary (NT only)

Heavily engaged with the Greek text.

    4. Anchor Bible Commentary (OT and NT)

Generally offers a “critical” academic approach to the biblical text, but many volumes are classics.

   5. International Critical Commentary (OT and NT)

A moderate “critical” commentary that engages closely with the Greek text.

   6. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (NT only)

An evangelical series that focuses on the Greek text.

My GFU Public Lecture on Early Christian Faith (Gupta)

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 3.45.54 PMOn March 5 (6pm), I will be giving the Spring 2019 Public Faculty Lecture at George Fox University. My title is:

People of Faith: Why the First Christians Called Themselves “Believers”

This lecture comes out of new work I am doing on why Paul and other early Christians focused on the language of faith and belief, especially in contradistinction to Roman religion.

Anyone in the Portland metro/Newberg area is welcome to this free lecture. I am told it will not be live-cast, but a recording will be posted to Itunes in late March.

For those of you in far-flung regions, I will be giving a more “academic” version of this presentation at SBL, and I am hoping to expand it into a book on Paul’s religion.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 3.45.43 PM

A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: Meditation

lalibela-4.jpg

Pastors of different types and in different contexts have varying levels of time for “sermon prep.” We all known 5 hours is not enough, but most do not have the luxury of 20+ hours. So, let’s say that we are working in a given week with 15 hours for sermon prep. Everyone approaches this differently, but I tend to try to have a few big chunks to really dig in (e.g., 3-hour block x2) and then some daily re-working, and then practicing the day before and/or the morning of.

Let’s say, then, that for me, the ideal would look something like this (week to week)

Monday: 4 hour block

Tuesday-Thursday: 2 hours each day

Friday: 3 hour block

Weekend: 2 hour practice

I have been teaching pastors and preachers for ten years. I know that there is a temptation to jump into books and look at websites to begin constructing and illustrating the sermon. But I would like to propose that the first and most crucial thing should be: meditation (for a helpful analogy from Eugene Peterson, click here). When I think about what it means to meditate on Scripture, I see it as sustained close attention to the text—like a staring contest. It is distraction-free, work-free, sermon-free, closed door, attunement to the text (or, more accurately, attunement to God through the text).

How do you meditate on Scripture for sermon preparation?

I have a few recommendations.

[Preface: it is assumed meditation is about praying and communing with God. I hope and trust that you do this. But also, I see the recommendations below as possible forms of prayer and communion. But perhaps it still needs to be said: PRAY!]

#1: WORD WALL: Print out the Scripture text in super-large font and plaster it on the wall. I use colored pencils and mark up the text with notes and thoughts, prayers, impressions, highlighting of important words, etc. I suggest keeping it “up” all week and spending time each day (maybe twice a day) marking it up more.

2: TRANSLATE: Another helpful meditation exercise is to translate the biblical text from Hebrew or Greek into English. I notice that when I do the translation myself, I am forced to slow down and study the text more carefully. If you do not know the biblical languages, I suggest reading the text in any other language (French, Spanish, Latin, etc.). If all else fails, just read it in several different English translations. Again, meditation is about slowing down, and focusing on the text as a form of listening to God.

3. LISTEN: Another way to practice meditation is to listen to the passage being read. There are many apps or websites for this. This also helps get you into the role of being a “hearer” of the text. What stood out to you? Did you catch wordplay or theme repetition?

4. DISCUSS: I assume many pastors do their sermon prep in isolation—out of convenience, but also because it can be a very personal experience. But I would suggest building in time to talk with a friend or co-worker about the text. This can happen over coffee, but perhaps it can be done over social media to open a dialogue with several confidants. I have a private FB group with a dozen pastor friends and students precisely so I can throw out questions and thoughts to them for feedback. The key is reflecting and “living with the text” and inviting someone else into the process to stimulate more thought.

5. WRITE: Everyone is different, so maybe this won’t help, but I like to do “free writing” early on in the process. They are not quite notes, but just “riffing” on the text. It is a form of engagement with Scripture. You could write prayers. Or even just doodle. The basic idea is to interact with the text is a free and open way.

I don’t expect pastors to do all these things, I do #1, #2, and #5 always. Sometimes I do #4, and occasionally #3.

But all of these are meant to facilitate meditation. Again, I find that pastors are too eager to start reading modern books and construct “the sermon.” But what I am recommending is an early and prolonged time of soaking in the text. Jumping right into modern books often limits how God can speak to you, since these voices will dominate your reading of the text. I am working with my hermeneutics students right now on inductive exegetical study for the precise reason that I believe they can learn so much from careful personal and meditation. Consulting academic secondary literature does come—later. But first things first, meditate!

A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: First Things

Preach Concept Watercolor and Ink PaintingDare I try to talk about the art of preaching when I am not a full-time preacher? I wondered about this before deciding to start a blog series on preaching. Perhaps it does seem a bit audacious. But what else are blogs for? My hope is simply to talk about my approach to preaching, and offer some tips on resources from a Bible scholar. Also, I have been preaching at area churches more and more as I settle down in Portland and connect with local pastors. And—my students tell me my lectures are “preachy” (that’s a compliment, right?)

Before diving into whats and hows in later posts, we should begin with important first things.

What IS preaching?

When we look at the New Testament, “preaching” is all about publicly announcing and communicating to others the good news of Jesus Christ. Preaching isn’t about teaching doctrine per se, nor about Bible study per se. It is “gospel-ing”—an announcement that expects a response with one’s words, heart, and life. [see Acts 10:42]

For me, there are two fundamentals that must be there for preaching to take place:

-Scripture-centered communication (that’s why I recommend using a lectionary)

-Jesus-centered communication (this does not preclude the Holy Spirit, but the preacher prays for and invites the Holy Spirit to point to Jesus and change lives)

The Attitude and Mindset of the Preacher?

Sometimes we just ease into a habit of weekly preaching and we might lose sight of why we preach. Is it to relay information? It is more than that. Is it to entertain? No. Is it to teach life skills? No. Is it to help people with self-actualization? No. Some of these things might happen in a sermon, but they are not the core.

I find Paul’s words here evocative and captures the heart of preaching (even if Paul wasn’t necessarily thinking about sermons):

Let the Word of Christ dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16, NET)

Preaching is about inviting Christ to dwell within the people of God and do His ministry there, and Christians do this through preaching/teaching, singing, and prayer (among other things). Preaching is not about lessons and information, it is ultimately about Jesus present among His people to bless, challenge, and transform (I got this from Bonhoeffer, by the way).

This point is very important, because I hear a lot of sermons that are either overly explanatory (e.g., a Bible commentary), or political (“like these ideas, and hate these other ideas”), or vapidly non-religious (“this is how to become a better leader in twelve easy steps”). Preaching is about JesusNow, if you preach from the OT, for example, it can be a bit trickier, and we don’t just want to slap Jesus onto the end of every OT sermon. Conceptually, though, every sermon (OT or NT) should be given from a Christian perspective about what the triune God has done, is doing, and will do in the world. Put another way, a good OT sermon should still inspire people to turn to Jesus (even if Jesus is not explicitly talked about in the sermon).

That’s my take on the concept of preaching, what do you think? Leave a comment.

My Galatians Audio Course, Special Deal (Gupta)

screenshot2019-01-31at9.54.12am

screenshot2019-01-31at10.57.32amLast summer I taught a course on the text and theology of Galatians at Regent College (Vancouver, BC). Regent Audio has now made that course available for purchase, and currently they are running a special sale: 50% off! (You must use the discount code: NEWJAN19) ($19.99)

Here is the description for the course:

screenshot2019-01-31at9.53.52am
https://www.regentaudio.com/products/galatians-faith-in-christ-at-work-through-love

Paul believed the Galatians had been tempted to buy into a counterfeit gospel, one that led to fear, slavery, and division. Undertake an exegetical and theological study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, exploring his main point that the Christ-relation is the center of the ‘good news,’ which leads to true peace, empowering freedom, and generous love.

As a special bonus offer, for the first 50 people who order the course, I will send you my own paraphrase of Galatians that I give to my students (pdf form). After you order the course, leave a comment here on the blog. Make sure you register your personal email when you log in to comment, so I can send you the document via email.

The 50% off sale ends February 7, 2019. That is a great deal for a 12-hour course! I have listened to numerous Regent Audio courses by people such as Gordon Fee, Rikk Watts, and John Barclay. They are wonderful for learning while commuting!

 

The “Emotional” Paul and the Problem of Tribalism

This spring Mike Bird and I are finishing up a co-written commentary on Philippians (New Cambridge Bible, Cambridge University Press). Over the years, I have spent significant time in Philippians, but this month I have been getting deep into Phil 2:19-30, a passage I haven’t examined much before:

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20 I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But Timothy’s[b worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ,[e risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Many scholars have more or less treated this section as “newsy”—Paul’s plans and the sending of some of his ministry partners. The emphasis tends to fall on the sending (back) of Epaphroditus. What I was struck by, though, was the way the emotions of Paul and others (e.g., Timothy) are so nakedly on display. Paul wants to be “cheered” or “encouraged.” Timothy “genuinely” cares for the Philippians. Epaphroditus longs for them. Paul would be deeply saddened if Epaphroditus met a grim fate.

At first I thought—Was Paul in a sentimental mood when he wrote this? We don’t don’t tend to think of Paul as “emotional.” But in actuality he could express his feelings very openly, as he does in many of his letters (e.g., 1 Thess 3:1-2; Rom 1:11-12; 2 Cor 2:4). But I think Paul mentions all these deep emotions in Phil 2:19-30 for a reason (as part of his pastoral ministry).

It is hard to hate someone you care about.

Or, maybe it is more accurate to say: it is easier to hate someone you don’t care about. Part of what was going on in Philippians was “tribalism” – people and groups defending their personal interests and “camps,” and when that happens the unity of the body dissolves. Tribalism is about protecting an in-group, and the outsiders (whoever they may be) are either potential converts to my group, or enemies. Shunning or judgment of the other is a protective measure. This is part of what Paul means when he says “All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (2:21).

Paul models for the Philippians a deep and intimate emotional investment in others, such that you share their joys and sorrows. Why? Because it is hard to hate someone you care about. That is why I cry during sad movies—or even sad commercials. I have (often inadvertently) identified with the character that I share their pain. Paul is saying, look at the circle of communion we share; there is so much to gain in joy (and even in shared sorrow), but you have to open yourself up to care for the other and enter into their emotional life.

Reading Philippians reminds me, Paul’s letters are not about theology per se, or ethics, or ritual, or church; they are about life—together.