Proclamation: Preaching the New Testament
James W. Thompson and Jason A. Myers
Before the rise of historical criticism as the dominant mode of interpretation in the eighteenth century, biblical commentaries were written for the church with homiletical interests in mind. Since the Enlightenment, the critical commentary has largely excluded ecclesiastical and homiletical interests. In introducing the Meyer series in 1831, H. A. W. Meyer set the standard for subsequent commentaries, indicating that this commentary would exclude philosophical and ecclesiastical concerns and would concentrate on what the original authors meant in their own historical context.
This standard creates a challenge for preachers whose task is to bring a living word to listeners, most of whom did not come to church out of antiquarian interests. Some commentaries have attempted to overcome the gap between the historical interests of the critical commentary and the homiletical concerns of the preacher by publishing parallel sections—one providing critical scholarship and the other offering guidance for preaching. These two sections have commonly been unrelated to each other. Consequently, critical scholarship and preaching often inhabit two different worlds.
While biblical scholars specialize in a specific genre or book of Scripture, preachers are responsible for interpreting the entire canon over an extended time. As commentaries are increasingly complex, few preachers have the opportunity to mine the information and reflect an awareness of contemporary scholarship on each passage. Thus they face the challenge of merging the horizons between critical scholarship and a living word for the congregation. The preacher’s temptation is either to preach the exegesis, living in the past, or to ignore exegesis for the sake of relevance.
In the present volume, scholar-preachers and preacher-scholars offer a guide for preachers, bringing the horizons of past and present together. The series is not a commentary, but a guide for preachers that offers the results of scholarship for the sake of preaching. Writers in this series will reflect an awareness of critical scholarship, but will not focus on the details involved in a commentary. After a brief discussion of the major issues in a book—the central issues—each volume will be arranged by pericopae that are natural units for the sermon. While in some cases the units will correspond to those in the Revised Common Lectionary, in other instances they will not.
In each pericope writers will not describe its major focus, recognizing the place of the passage in the argument of the book. Authors will look to the rhetorical impact of the text, asking “what does the text do.” Does it reassure the hearers? Does it lead them in worship and praise? Does it indict? Does it encourage? Since the task of the preacher is to re-present the impact of the passage, this study will guide the preacher in recognizing the essential rhetorical focus of the passage.
Although preachers offer a living word for a specific situation, they also speak to larger cultural issues that face every congregation. Consequently, writers in this series may employ their knowledge of the ancient situation to suggest how the ancient word speaks across the centuries to parallel situations in our own time.
A useful procedure is to follow Thomas Long’s recommendation that the analysis of each pericope be followed by a focus statement summarizing the singular message of the text followed by a function statement indicating what the text actually does.
Following Fred Craddock’s statement that the essential features of the sermon are unity and movement, each pericope will contain a sketch with a plot that provides coherence to the suggested sermon. David Buttrick’s suggestion of a sequence of moves is an appropriate guide for suggesting the plot of the sermon.