What is Preaching?

In He is Not Silent, Albert Mohler writes, “According to the Bible, exposition is preaching. And preaching is exposition.” I share his assessment, and yet I must acknowledge that a consensus definition for expository preaching proves stubbornly elusive. Consequentially, and regrettably, in recent years the phrase “expository preaching” has become quite elastic. Much preaching gets crammed under that heading, though it bears little resemblance to more classical practitioners of biblical exposition.

To focus our thoughts, let me suggest, minimally, four essential marks of biblical exposition: The necessity of accurately interpreting the text.

1. The necessity of accurately interpreting the text.

2. The necessity of the central point of the sermon and the sermon’s main points to be derived from the text.

3. The necessity of the sermon’s application to come from the text and for the text to be brought to bear on the congregation.Fourth, and more tenuously, the priority of

4. Fourth, and more tenuously, the priority of lectio continua, or sequential, verse-by-verse exposition.

For example, consider how three leading homileticians define expository preaching and listen for these common themes. Alistair Begg defines it as “unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that makes contact with the listener’s world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action.”[1]

Haddon Robinson’s definition has been standard issue in seminary classrooms for several decades. He defines biblical exposition as “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to the hearers.”[2]

Bryan Chappell argues expository preaching has occurred when:

The main idea of the sermon (the topic), the divisions of that idea (the main points), and the development of those divisions (the subpoints) all come from truths the text itself contains.  No significant portion of the text is ignored. In other words, expositors willingly stay within the boundaries of a text (and its relevant context) and do not leave until they have surveyed its entirety with their listeners.[3]

For our purposes, we might simply define biblical exposition as “accurately interpreting and explaining the text of Scripture and bringing it to bear on the lives of the hearers.” While expository preaching can be much more than this, it cannot be anything less.

Even this minimalistic definition of expository preaching necessitates the sermon’s application be subordinate to the sermon’s text. The preacher does not preach from the text or on the text, he preaches the text—thus limiting the sermon’s application to the point of the passage preached.

While a stand-alone sermon can be an expository one, if that particular passage is handled in the aforementioned way, sequential, verse-by-verse exposition is preferred. After all, the practical wager of lectio continua (sequential exposition) is that over time the accrued week-to-week benefits offset the weekly adaptability and flexibility offered by topical preaching.

In conclusion, though preaching can be defined in many different ways, the goal must be the same: to rightly divide the word of truth. I believe consecutive exposition is the most faithful way to accomplish that end.


[1] Alistair Begg, Preaching for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 23.

[2] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 21.

[3] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 131.

*This article is an excerpt from Portraits of a Pastor, by Jason K. Allen. This book is available for purchase through Moody Publishers and Amazon.*

topicsPortraits of a PastorPreaching

Comments are closed.