Some who have only heard the preaching of books in slices may be surprised to discover that there is a long tradition of tracing themes through the Bible. Some who have only heard topical messages may be surprised to discover that some people preach through a book chunk by chunk. Sadly some are surprised to discover how rich the Bible is after only hearing human wisdom launched from the mortar tube of token Scripture readings.
Anyway, enough surprises, let’s get into Bible length grain issues. The Bible has the diversity of different writers, different languages, different cultural settings and writer circumstances. But it also has an amazing unity, almost as if it were inspired by the same Spirit throughout!
Sometimes we will trace grains length-wise through the Bible as a whole. It may be as part of a message, or it may form the entirety of a message. But it is not guaranteed to be helpful. It can be great. It can be terrible. Any pointers?
1. Don’t confuse tracing a theme with going on a wild safari in the backseat of a concordance. There is nothing worse than being in a small group Bible study where people are chasing through Bible references, ignoring the contexts and just noting repeated uses of a term. “Next verse, who has the Deuteronomy one? Thanks Bob…yep, there it is again! Our word for the night: ‘Remember!’ Great, who has the Nehemiah verse?” Okay, there may be one thing worse – a sermon that does the same.
A phenomena of language is that sometimes different writers use the same words in different settings, and sometimes they even mean different things. Linking sections together based on the proximity of concordance placement is not the key to being a master Bible handler. It doesn’t take much skill to chase the chain link of repeated terms through the Bible. We need to know our way through the Bible with a bit more skill than that to preach effectively.
2. Beware of overloading listeners with references. Even if you are legitimately making connections, the listeners have a threshold that is easy to cross with too many cross-references. Preaching is not a competition to reference as many passages as possible.
Sometimes a theme can be fully exhausted with three passages (Melchizedek), or effectively communicated with two passages (I’ve been thinking of Exodus 33 and John 1:14-18, for an example). Adding in Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Malachi may be more complete, but it may deaden the effect of the preaching if listeners feel overloaded.
More thoughts to finish this list tomorrow…