When you are studying a text and preparing to preach it, make sure you notice the details. No word is there by accident. As I sometimes say, the writers of the Bible were neither drunk nor wasteful. Not drunk means that they were coherent and deliberate in what they wrote. Not wasteful means that papyrus was expensive, so they didn’t waffle for a paragraph or two before getting into it.
Sometimes the details in a passage are helpful theologically. For example, why does Mark tell the reader that the grass was green when Jesus fed the five thousand? Is this mere ornamentation? Or is it part of a larger package of details and tone that are suggestive of Jesus bringing something of the eschatological feasting and abundance? It can be hard to discern the difference between allegorical misreading of Scripture and sensitivity to the original writer’s intent. The goal is not to make it say something Mark didn’t know, but to recognize what Mark intended to communicate both overtly and subtly.
Sometimes the details in a passage are helpful apologetically. In a day when the Bible is roundly mocked, we have listeners who need their trust in the Bible bolstered by our preaching. Thus it is worth noting apparently incidental details that actually under gird a robust evangelical bibliology. For example, notice the difference between names used in speech quotations and the same names used by the narrator. Jesus was the 6th most common name in that part of the world at that time, so naturally in speech his name would be qualified, such as “the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67). Yet in the narration, Mark doesn’t need to identify which Jesus he is writing about, so it is just “Jesus” (eg. Mark 14:62, 72). Mark could easily have had the servant girl referring to “Jesus,” but he didn’t. Was Mark phenomenally accurate in making up the story, or is he in fact quoting speech with word perfect exactitude? (Compare the narrator with the speech quotations in Matthew 14:1-11, for another example of this.)
Tomorrow I’ll share a couple more examples of textual details that offer apologetic value for our preaching. (I’m indebted to Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, for these apologetic examples.)