What Does Expository Mean?

This site is committed to expository preaching.  In many other posts I have referred to what genuine expository preaching is and is not.  It is about a philosophy, a commitment to the authority and influence of the text on the message.  It is not about a form, some commitment to a specific shape or preferred form of preaching.  But in light of the question I was pondering in the last two posts, I want to step back even further.  Not what is “expository preaching,” but what does “expository” mean?

I am teaching a course in Expository Hermeneutics, so I looked up the term in various dictionaries.  It is most commonly defined in reference to writing.  Expository designates nonfiction writing that explains and describes with the aim of conveying information or presenting a certain point of view.  Exposition is about clearly explaining something that is difficult to understand.  The term is also used in reference to music.  It is the first part of a composition, or the opening section of a fugue, in which the themes are presented explicitly.  It is used in theater in reference to that part of a play that provides background information necessary for understanding characters and action.

By definition then, if we believe in expository preaching, we are committed to setting forth the meaning, making clear, exposing, making explicit what is contained within the preaching text.  This mini-foray into the world of english dictionaries perhaps presents a nudge this morning.  It nudges us to make sure we are indeed clear.  Do we make the meaning and intent of a passage clearer, or would our preaching better be labeled “Obfuscatory soliloquy” (to save you looking it up, that is a (usually long) unclear dramatic speech intended to give the illusion of unspoken reflections!)