Preaching OT Narrative (pt 3)

While reading yet another post about the difficulty of preaching OT narrative, I paused to think about the root cause of the whole issue. Here are some thoughts…

1. Preaching OT narrative (at least as an expositor) should be done in the same manner that any text should be preached, regardless of its genre. In my opinion, the goal of expositing any passage is to preach the divinely-inspired meaning as intended by the author of the written text. I know that is simplified and opens up a whole discussion of hermeneutical issues, but such a goal seems reasonable to me.

2. If preaching OT narrative is nothing more than preaching the meaning of the text in the same way that a passage from a NT epistle (or OT prophet) would be preached, then it seems to me that the issue really comes down to a lack of ability to read OT narrative properly. I.e., the problem is methodological (in relationship to exegesis) rather than homiletical.

3. Homiletically, a sermon from an OT narrative may look very different than a sermon on 1 John, but the goal of preaching the meaning of the text is the same. Thus, the real question that this and other posts are addressing really needs to be, How does the expositor discover the meaning of an OT narrative text? Said another way, Where is the meaning found?

I have developed certain ideas about this issue, but I would like to know what others think about the merit of these thoughts.

In my opinion, this question is the most misunderstood part of the whole equation. Until we as preachers and teachers understand the biblical intent of these OT narratives as part of the scriptural text the issue of homiletics really is beside the point.


Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

7 thoughts on “Preaching OT Narrative (pt 3)”

  1. Randy,

    I am a little confused by point #1. If “the goal of expositing any passage is to preach the divinely-inspired meaning as intended by the author of the written text” (I would affirm this statement), then why should we preach all texts in the same manner? I agree in part with what you are saying. However, why should OT narrative be preached the same way as didactic passages? The goal is to pull the meaning from the text and present it to the people. If we are to remain faithful to the text can we present the same type of outline, and format for a narrative passage as we do for a didactic passage? Usually in a narrative passage the author has one overarching theme, or goal. Whereas in a didactic passage there may be several themes that tie together but must be equally emphasized. It would seem to me that these differences should have an impact on how we communicate the meaning of the text to the people.

  2. Paul,

    Thanks for reading and commenting…

    I believe your statement, “The goal is to pull the meaning from the text and present it to the people,” is exactly the point I’m trying to make, and that is as far as I was attempting to take it. How that meaning is conveyed to a congregation is another question, which I was not attempting to answer. I agree that the way that meaning is presented will (to a certain extent) vary according to the type of literature, as you have pointed out.

    The primary point my post was attempting to make is that expositors often have trouble discerning where the meaning of a narrative is found, i.e., they are at a loss in reading OT narrative competently. To me, that is the main issue: Where does meaning lie in a narrative?


  3. Hey Randy!

    I’ve been appreciating your posts on this topic as I’ve been wrestling through some similar issues in my own pulpit ministry. A quick question: How does literary genre help us to determine the meaning? What role does this play in the exegetical process?

  4. Sorry, I should have posted this first since you asked for feedback on your thoughts. I think the question you are asking is spot on. We need to unearth the meaning of the text before we can ever hope to clearly communicate it. And most narrative preaching fails at the exegetical level, ensuring it to be DOA when it finally gets preached to the congregation.

    FWIW, I’ve been helped in this matter by Longacre’s thoughts in his Joseph: A Story of Divine Providence. He helps draw the interpreter’s attention to the function of narrative in carrying along a macro-theme that is served by many micro-themes. Learning to view narrative in this way is very helpful toward pinpointing the author’s intended meaning.

  5. Chris,

    That’s a good question. I think there are two ways I would respond.

    First, I believe genre analysis (or whatever you want to call it) is sometimes overstated as the be all, end all of reading the text. There is no doubt that the Scriptures are presented to us in various literary styles (or genres), but there could be a tendency to assume a particular meaning on the sole basis of the genre that is represented. E.g., since this is an apocalyptic text it conforms to all other apocalyptic texts in its meaning. Whereas is one sense the typical meaning expressed through various genres is helpful, it could cause the reader to become minimalistic in his/her interpretation and/or to read the text anachronistically through the lens of later understandings of genres.

    Second, in my opinion, the merit of learning about literary styles is found primarily on the front end of the exegetical process. That is, in approaching a narrative text, I understand that the authors meaning will not be presented in the same way as an epistle in the NT. As such, recognizing the literary style of the text gives me a frame of reference to begin my reading. I know where to begin looking for the meaning.

    In the end, no matter what the genre, it ultimately comes down to whether the reader is tuned in to the author’s textual clues. Sometimes this is easy (e.g., the commands in Paul’s epistles); other times it’s more difficult (e.g., the narrative of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38).

    I’m sure these comments are not new to you and probably somewhat elementary. What role do you think genre plays (if any)?


  6. I am in agreement with your observations, Randy. In my mind, genre analysis is a big-picture item in the exegetical process. It speaks more to broad exegetical considerations than it does to nuanced textual detail. However, to ignore genre could (and often does) lead the interpreter away from discovering a text’s meaning.

  7. It seems that a crucial part of your point, Randy, is that hermeneutics is the real issue that should be discussed, not presching per se. Preaching is explaining the meaning of the text. This would mean, I understand you to say, that the ultimate goal of preaching ANY text is the same: explain its proper meaning.

    The rub is how to discern that mean: the task of hermeneutics. Chris, genre comes into play when discerning the meaning, but not when explaining it.

    For example, if the divine meaning of passage “A” is meaning “X” then it matters not whether is passage in question is narrative, poetry, or didactic material; the meaning is still the meaning. But finding that meaning would, it seems to me, require taking genre, as well as other matters, into consideration. Do I understand the post correctly, Randy?

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