Reading the Text

Sermon preparation begins by reading the text. While this sounds logical, my tendency is to proceed to paragraph flow/structural analysis before taking the time to read the text carefully. Reading the paragraph, however, is vital to interpretation.

My approach is to read the preaching text in several versions, moving from literal translations to paraphrases.

I begin by slowly reading through the text in the New American Standard Bible, my preaching translation. Next I read the King James Version, followed by the New King James Version, the English Standard Version, the New International Version (1984), and the New Living Translation. You may also want to include the Holman Christian Standard Bible (literal) and The Message (paraphrase).

I follow this method for two reasons.

First, the majority of the members of my church use these translations. If there is a major difference in the versions, I need to address it as I preach.

Second, reading in this order helps to catch the rhythms and divisions of the text. As I move from literal to paraphrase, I can see how the translators shorten paragraphs and sentences. I can observe their translation decisions. These two elements help to bring out the text’s meaning.

It is vital that you do not hurry when reading your text. Relax and read slightly aloud. By the time you finish, you will have a good feel for the text’s flow.

Also, I encourage you to preach from a literal translation. A major element of expository preaching is explaining the meaning of words and phrases, and the nuance of verb tenses. Paraphrases, or the NIV’s dynamic equivalence, can obscure individual words for the sake of readability. Bring these versions into your sermon when they shed light on the passage, but avoid using them as your preaching translation.

I recommend preaching from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), or the New King James Version (NKJV).

I realize that your ministry context may require using the King James Version. If it is an issue, it is not worth offending your congregation by not preaching from the KJV. The King James’ endurance testifies of its excellence. But, with some archaic language and syntax, the KJV can be confusing. A current translation, based on the same word-for-word principles as the KJV, allows the entire congregation to understand the text more easily.

One final word on translation choice. You will know you are doing a good job of explaining the text when people begin to purchase new Bibles. I love when church members call from a Christian book store to make sure they are buying the correct version. If I was not walking through the text and explaining the meaning of the words and phrases, then neither my version nor theirs would matter.

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