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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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