A note from the editor:

Preaching the Word of God is one of the greatest privileges entrusted to humanity. It is also one of the greatest responsibilities for pastors and elders. Choosing a preaching style is an essential aspect of sermon preparation.

In this series, Dr. Rex D. Edwards presents and analyzes three types of sermons: the biographical sermon, the textual sermon, and the topical sermon. In this issue, he deals with the textual sermon. This style is usually based on one relatively short portion of Scripture. In fact, as the name suggests, it usually concentrates on one Scripture “text.” It involves choosing an appropriate statement of Scripture, investigating it, analyzing it, and discovering all the truth it contains. Then the pastor or elder presents that truth in an orderly and progressive manner that is easy for the hearers to assimilate.

I hope you enjoy this series!

“A preacher is a professional plagiarist,” declares George E. Sweazey. “Those who come to hear him assume that the best of what he gives is not his own. A minister can preach only because he has been preached to from the Bible.”1

But what makes his preaching biblical? John Knox warned his students about the danger of preaching “a quite unbiblical sermon on a biblical text.” John Bright offers this useful definition: “the exposition of a biblical text . . . and the proclamation of that as normative for Christian faith and practice.”2 In other words, a biblical sermon is an ellipse around two foci of the Bible and a present need. A lecture about the Bible is not a biblical sermon. Biblical preaching must continue the redemptive act as the ancient word is made effective in the present situation. The timeless and the timely are the twin foci for all biblical preaching. Until the sermon links the past and the present, the sermon is incomplete. It is a Bible lesson, not a sermon. The ultimate test of biblical preaching is the answer to the question posed by James S. Stewart: “Did they, or did they not, meet God today?”3


J. Daniel Bauman defines it this way: “The textual sermon is based on a verse or two from the Bible. The main theme and major sermon divisions come from the text. The thought of the sermon must always be consonant with the text.”4 The divisions of a textual sermon may be based upon a clause, a phrase, leading words, or suggested by something in the text.

For example, suppose Ezra 7:10 is selected as the basis of a textual sermon. The text reads: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (NASB) The verse centers around Ezra’s purpose of heart from which three main divisions are suggested:

1. A heart that was set on knowing the word of God: “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord.”

2. A heart that was set on obedience to the word of God: “and to practice it.”

3. A heart that was set on teaching the word of God: “and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Note that each main division, according to the above definition, is now used as a line of suggestion. They indicate what the preacher is to say about the text.


But how is a biblical sermon developed? Whether the sermon pattern is biographical, textual, or topical, James T. Cleland suggests that there are three stages in developing a biblical sermon. Stage 1 is investigation or exegesis of the Word of God, which deals with the “then.” Stage 2 is interpretation or exposition of the good news at the heart of the message, which deals with the “always.” Stage 3 is the application of the eternal good news to the contemporary situation, which deals with the “now.”5 Adhering to this threefold process assures the preacher that the listener will understand the Scriptural reference better after they know its connection with their lives.

Let me now suggest four principles that will guide in the preparation of a textual sermon.

1. The textual outline should be centered around one main thought in the text. In other words, the preacher’s first task is to discover the dominant idea in the text from which the main divisions will be an amplification of the central thought. For example, in Romans 12:1, the elements of a believer’s sacrifice emerge as the dominant idea: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (NASB). The following outline naturally emerges from the central thought:

a. The reason for the believer’s sacrifice: “the mercies of God.”

b. The totality of the believer’s sacrifice: “to present your bodies.”

c. The conditions of the believer’s sacrifice: “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.”

d. The obligation of the believer’s sacrifice: “which is your spiritual service of worship.”

2 The textual outline is formed by principles or truths suggested by the verse. For instance, the nature of God’s gift of Jesus in John 3:16 suggests the following divisions:

a. It is a love gift: “God so loved.”

b. It is sacrificial gift: “that He gave His only begotten Son.”

c. It is an eternal gift: “should not perish but have eternal life.”

d. It is a universal gift: “that whosoever.”

e. It is a conditional gift: “believeth in Him.”

3. The textual outline can either be in logical or chronological sequence. It is not always necessary to follow the order of the words in the text, but the main divisions should indicate a progressive development of the dominant thought. For example, John 3:36 reveals important facts about salvation:

a. The provider of salvation: “the Son.”

b. The condition of salvation: “believeth.”

c. The availability of salvation: “He that.”

d. The certainty of salvation: “hath.”

e. The duration of salvation: “everlasting life.”

An example of a chronological outline is suggested in Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.”

a. A great command: “Believe.”

b. A glorious person: “on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

c. A grand result: “and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy family.”

4. The textual must be faithful to the context of the verse. This principle is foundational to a correct interpretation of Scripture. To disregard this hermeneutic will result in a serious distortion or complete misapprehension of the passage. For instance, if the context of Paul’s admonition to the Colossians—“Touch not; taste not; handle not”—is ignored, then a defense for asceticism might be argued.


The Bible provides unlimited opportunities for textual sermons. The Old Testament contains 33,214 verses, of which Esther 8:9 is the longest. The New Testament has 7,959 verses, of which John 11:35 is the shortest.

Preaching from a single text has special advantages. It is biblical and therefore restrains the preacher from perpetuating his or her personal ideas. Proper exegesis allows the text to be understood contextually and thus interpreted accordingly. It also affords the opportunity for study in depth; that is, an intense scrutiny of a single biblical concept found in a verse or two of Scripture. Further, a good text will be remembered, which will help the sermon and its message to be remembered.

Preaching on the great texts of the Bible stores them like treasures in people’s hearts. When they are known “by heart,” they are there when they are needed.

Finally, a text can open up illimitable truth. As John Calvin reminds us, a text “is full of hidden power, which leaves nothing in man untouched.” So, a text could be only a picture which decorates a wall, but a good text, rightly used, can be a window through a wall which opens up on boundless vistas.

1 George E. Sweazey, Preaching the Good News (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976), 161.

2 John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967), 163.

3 James S. Stewart, Preaching (London: The English University Press, Ltd. 1955), 28.

4 J. Daniel Bauman, (An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House, 1972), 102.

5 See James T. Cleland, Preaching to be Understood (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), 77.

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.