As a preacher studying a passage it is tempting to be purposeful, but ignore the purpose of the passage. So you are studying the passage because you are trying to prepare a sermon, or perhaps because you are intrigued by the theological content of the text, or perhaps because you are pondering whether you should preach that passage at all! It becomes normal for a preacher to look at a Bible text and wonder how they would preach it.
However, while it may be inevitable that we look at passages through preaching lenses, it is important to not miss something that is fundamental to accurate interpretation of that passage. What was the author’s purpose?
1. Look at the context – It is vital to look at any passage in its context. What is going on around the text you are focused on? What is the flow of thought or logical progression in the book? What does the book generally say about its purpose (perhaps in the introduction, conclusion or “letter-frame”)? If you’ve ever studied hermeneutics at all, you should be committed to the importance of context.
2. Look at the content – For most people who are deliberate in their interpretation, this is the element to which they give the most attention. What words are used? What are they referring to? How are sentences structured? Etc. Content is very important, especially when it is understood in context.
3. Don’t forget to consider the intent! – Content in context will do a lot to explain the “what” of a passage. But unless we are deliberate, we can fail to recognize the “why” of a passage. But unless we are alert to the “why” then we can’t fully grasp the “what.” Look for clues in context, in content, in tone, in attitude, in the presence of imperatives, etc. Some of this is hard objective analysis, some of it requires more of a subjective feel . . . which is not license to impose intent, but recognition that we must really listen to a text and be gripped by it, rather than merely passing it under the microscope of our expectations.
Passage purpose is easily neglected, but if it is, our preaching may feel like analysis . . . without vitality.