Preach the Word but First Exegete!

In the second epistle Paul wrote to Timothy, Paul provides the most important reason for preachers and teachers of the Bible to make completing a thorough exegesis of a verse or passage of Scripture their first priority. Paul charges Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge him when he appears, to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). This charge to Pastor Timothy is precisely why good exegesis is imperative. This essay will articulate why good exegesis of a biblical text is critically important to anyone who dares to authoritatively communicate God’s truth.

The single greatest reason why good exegesis of a text is important is that the preacher is not obeying his call from the Lord to “preach the Word” unless he has done an exegesis of the passage and is confident his interpretation and application is correct. For example, the pastor who preaches from a King James Bible must be especially careful when he preaches from Philippians 3:20 because of manner in which the English language has changed. If he does not identify that the word “conversation” is politeuma, from which we get the word politics which speaks to “citizenship” instead of the act of talking, he has not preached the Word. In order to preach the Word, the preacher must know, as much as possible, that his interpretation of the text is completely aligned with what the author was communicating to the original recipient of the message. If the preacher does not unpack the text within the historically and grammatically correct interpretation, he has not “preached the Word.” He has talked, yelled, or communicated, but he has not preached “the Word.” If the pastor is teaching through the book of James and he leads his listener to believe that James 2:14-26 is teaching a hybrid of grace through a combination of faith and works, he has not preached “the Word.” The only the time the Word of God is preached is when the text is properly explained in a way that the listener is given the opportunity to gain the same level of understanding (and by extension application) the author intended for his reader to gain years ago.

In addition to the commandments to “preach the Word” and “rightly handle the truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), the preacher is responsible to ensure the listener gets the correct “sense” so that the listener understands the Word of God (Nehemiah 8:8). Men did this in Nehemiah’s day. God uses humans to give people the correct understanding of the Bible. While it is true that the Spirit of Truth will guide the student of the Word in truth (John 16:13), it is just as true that God uses scholars, pastors, teachers, and others to give others a “sense” or understanding of the passage. The preacher needs to exegete the passage in order to give the sense. Getting the “sense” is a human responsibility that requires effort guided by Spirit of Truth.

James 3:1 provides another significant reason why good exegesis of a passage is critically important. James warns believers to not be hasty in volunteering to teach the Word of God. Why? James states that people who teach the Word of God will be judged “with greater strictness.” This establishes a higher degree of accountability for getting it right, which is precisely the objective of exegesis. When getting it wrong could have eternal consequences, it is important to get it right. For example, the pastor who does not properly exegete the warning passages in Hebrews could be giving lost people a false assurance of a non-existent salvation (Hebrews 2:14, 3:12). He could lead himself and others astray. This warning is necessary because man is a fallen creature who brings to the pulpit preconceived ideas, prejudices, and bias—good exegesis combats the subjective influences of the fallen culture on the text. In good exegesis—the text is king.

Finally, good exegesis is critically essential to the work and life of the preacher because the author of the Bible is an infinitely supreme being who has chosen to hide truth in a mysterious way in layers of progressive revelation (Deut 29:29). According to Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” Even the Apostle Peter acknowledged that some of what Paul wrote was hard to understand. Which Peter says—when not properly understood—can lead to personal destruction (2 Peter 3:16).

Exegesis is understood to be the careful and critical study of a passage of scripture, with the full intent of discovering the meaning the author originally desired. Obeying his call from the Lord to preach the Word and maintaining a higher accountability for getting it right combine to make a good case for exercising good exegesis. This is perhaps the single most important task of anyone called to preach the Word.