Five Figures of Speech the Bible Uses

2020-04-25T20:17:48-04:00 April 27th, 2020|

Interpreting Scripture requires you to understand the meanings of words in context. Interpreting Scripture also requires you to understand the primary figures of speech. Common figures of speech include simile, metaphor, irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, parable, and allegory. Less known and less understood, but just as common, are merism, hendiadys, and sudden silence. Grasping these common figures of speech will help you with meaning. This lesson covers only five of these figures: irony, sarcasm, sudden silence, merism, and hendiadys.

Irony is the use of words to express the opposite of the literal meaning of the words. Sarcasm adds the element of taunt or ridicule. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal with dripping sarcasm, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Baal was no god. In Judges 10:14, God Himself uses irony and sarcasm to upbraid idolatrous Israel, “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” God knows Israel’s idols will not deliver them.

A standard figure of speech called hendiadys means one through two. This figure may be two nouns connected by “and,” but the two terms refer to one thing. In Genesis 19:24, the words brimstone and fire refer to fiery brimstone. In Luke 1:17, the words in the spirit and power of Elijah refer to Elijah’s powerful spirit. In each case, one thing is meant. So it is in John 6:24. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus is urging one thing, worship of the Father in a truly spiritual manner. Note the hendiadys at the end of Hebrews 12:21, “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM full of fear and trembling’” (italics added). The ESV interprets this hendiadys. “Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’” (italics added).

A merism is another standard figure of speech in which two contrasting parts express the totality of something. Genesis 19:4 declares that “the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old”; that is, men of every age. Esther 9:20 says, “Then Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far.” Near and far is the merism.

Finally, another common figure of speech or rhetorical figure is sudden silence, noted by a dash, —, in our English texts. When there is sudden silence, the outcome is left unstated and ought not to be assumed. Exodus 32:31-32 provides an arresting example. “Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, ‘Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin— and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!’” Whether or not God will forgive the sins of the people is left unstated. The sudden silence accentuates the solemnity of the scene.

Consider how a good understanding of these figures of speech helps you to understand Genesis 2 and 3: “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17). What is the knowledge of good and evil? Good and evil is a hendiadys, two words connected by “and” referring to one thing. It refers to the evil enjoyment of good (E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech in the Bible, 659). God presents Adam and Eve with the possibility of learning to use all that is good in the world for evil purposes.

Now the devil comes along, temps Eve, and promises her, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The devil is lying to Eve. In context, “knowing good and evil” modifies and explains the words, “you will be like God.” Adam and Eve were already like God; they were created in His image. In context, “good and evil” is a merism and not a hendiadys. Remember, context is king. In this case, “good and evil” refers to the entire expanse of knowledge, to all knowledge. However, Adam and Eve cannot achieve all knowledge. They were creatures and will always be creatures. Neither they nor we can be omniscient. The devil changes the meaning of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than a sign warning against the evil enjoyment of good, the devil makes it look like the path to all knowledge. He turns the figure of speech, hendiadys, into a merism.

Now consider Genesis 3:22, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—. Note the dash is indicating sudden silence. Also note that we once again meet the figure of speech, good and evil. Genesis 3:22 is sarcasm; Adam has not become like God, quite the opposite. With biting sarcasm, God declares, “A goodly god he makes! Does he not?” (Matthew Henry). How is God using the figure, good and evil? God also combines His sarcasm with sudden silence. The standard interpretation that Adam would have been confirmed in his fallen state if he had eaten of the tree of life is unwarranted. Using sarcastic irony, God expresses the opposite of the meaning of the words He states. When there is sudden silence, the outcome is left unstated and ought not to be assumed.

Study the figures of speech the Bible uses. This study will help you to interpret and understand your Bible better.

Denny Prutow

Love Yourself?

2020-04-24T16:44:54-04:00 April 26th, 2020|

Do a little Internet search using the words, “learn to love yourself before you can love others.” Wow! Psychologists and counselors seem to use this idea as a theme. Add the word “Bible” to your search. You’ll see that many Christian counselors often offer the same advice. After all, the Bible tells us we must learn to love ourselves before we can learn to love others. Problem? Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; and James 2:8 all refer to loving your neighbor as yourself. Problem! The Apostle Paul teaches, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5:14).

Calvin declares, “Now, although Paul adds ‘as thyself,’ he is not saying that we must love ourselves first of all, then secondly love our neighbors. No; our Lord is here exposing the disease that prevents us from loving one another.”

We do not need to learn to love ourselves in order to love others. It is quite the opposite. We love ourselves too much. As Calvin goes on to teach his Geneva congregation, “[I]f people were less devoted to themselves, there would be great love and harmony amongst us all. But we are disposed to love ourselves too much, and this excessive love blinds us and robs us of all reason, good judgment and fairness.”

We are so self-centered that we actually believe we must have greater self-love to properly love others. Again, God tells us just the opposite.

Hence, we must employ the test which God has given us here, and examine ourselves to see whether we have excessive love for ourselves, and whether the love that we have for our neighbors is not, in reality, shallow and cold. In short, God is seeking here to remedy the hypocrisy that has blinded us so much. He wishes people to wake up to the fact that they must not flatter themselves, so he says, ‘It is not enough to love one another; you must love your neighbors as yourselves.’

As a start, we must stop being so self-consumed and so self-centered and attend to the needs of our neighbor at least as much as we seek to please ourselves. In Calvin’s words, “God ought to have the dominion; then, instead of loving ourselves, we will set out to fulfill that to which he has called us.”

Denny Prutow

The quotations are from, John Calvin, Sermons on Galatians, Kathy Childress, trans. (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1997), 521-522.

Anxiety and Trouble and Worry

2020-04-18T11:20:30-04:00 April 20th, 2020|

In the intimate fellowship of the upper room, Jesus exhorts His disciples, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1). He had just washed their feet. Having done so, He announced, “I say to you, that one of you will betray Me” (John 13:21). This statement, of course, caused no small consternation. Who would it be? Then, with the compassion of a father for his children, Jesus warns of His impending departure. “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’” (John 13:33). “To men who have left all for their Leader to be told that He is about to leave them is shattering” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 637). Future circumstances will be dire. So much so will this be the case, and despite his protestations, Jesus warns Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (John 13:38). The situation in the upper room is far from tranquil.

In this context, Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Transliterated, the word translated trouble, is tarasso. Perhaps you’ve heard of terrazzo floors. They consist of marble or granite chips stirred into some form of cement. When dry, the terrazzo is ground and polished. Our Lord is speaking about being stirred in heart and mind. We are confused because we lack understanding. We have doubts about the future. Any sense of security we have seems to vanish. We can reach despair. So it was with the disciples. Their world was about to come crashing down.

The future is in doubt for many of us. Employment may be uncertain. The Falling stock market is depleting your retirement funds. Sudden illness, the COVID-19, may agitate your minds and burden your hearts as well as our bodies. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Yet Jesus urges, “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mat. 6:34). Similarly, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Such things are easy to say.

Jesus continues, “[You] believe in God, believe also in Me.” Here is the response to anxiety and trouble of heart. “Jesus is urging His followers to continue to believe in the Father and to continue to believe also in Him, and in this way not to let their hearts be troubled” (Ibid).

Continued belief in the Father depends upon continued faith in the Son. How so? Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). He also tells Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). How can this be? Jesus answers, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:11). He said earlier, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Are you anxious, worried, or troubled? Continue to believe in and trust the Father. Abandon self-centered living. Seek to be God-centered in thought and life. Trust His greatness, power, and sovereignty. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

In like manner, seek to be Christ-centered in thought and life. Trust Christ as your Savior from sin and guilt. Trust Christ as the sovereign Lord over all aspects of your life. “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Denny Prutow

Worry about Words

2020-04-04T10:12:14-04:00 April 6th, 2020|

Speech is an occasion for worry. Jesus charges, “Do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say” (Matthew 10:19). We all face hostile, litigious, and intimidating situations that occasion anxiety.

Jesus anticipates this. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). We are litigious. Litigation is not harmful in itself. However, the ecclesiastical court is intimidating. Jesus warns, “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17). Civil actions are equally intimidating. “And you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18).

Hostility arises in families; brothers and sisters face off. Children challenge parents; parents denigrate children. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death” (Matthew 10:21). Hostility is often specifically religious. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

Jesus gives an essential principle to apply in hostile, litigious, and intimidating circumstances. “Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). To be wise as serpents requires preparation and study. We learn the thinking of our opposition. We live in a different world, a post-modern world, with superstition, interest in the spiritual, and a lack of commitment to absolutes.

We solidify our positions. Memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism provides an excellent systematic biblical base for our thinking. A recent Sterling College graduate confessed the best thing she did during her college days was to learn the catechism. It gave her a framework for thinking.

To be innocent as doves, we must be upright, righteous, and loving. We must be above reproach and above sin. This lifestyle does not mean being weak. Moses was meek, but he was not weak. He stood up to Pharaoh. He was also righteous and innocent.

Being wise as serpents and innocent as doves also means knowing ourselves. We must know our strengths and weaknesses, our gifts and inabilities. We should play to our strengths and allow others to carry the ball where we will stumble.

Remember the charge of Jesus? “Do not worry about how or what you are to say.” We apply the principle of Jesus in combating worry. Peter and Paul are excellent examples. Peter reminds us, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

As already mentioned, being ready requires preparation and practice. Peter walked with Jesus for three years. He passed through a crucible of training and testing. Only then did he stand up in the Jewish courts unafraid, without anxiety. The Holy Spirit speaks out of such a reservoir of preparation. We must prepare our minds. Paul was bold before kings and mightily used by God because of his years of study before his conversion. We must also prepare our hearts. God used both Peter and Paul because of their servant-hearts.

How do you face anxiety? You know your opposition; you know your position, and you know yourself. You study to prepare your mind and heart. You know God. You become wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.

Denny Prutow

Trees, Worry, and Weeds

2020-03-29T17:29:38-04:00 March 30th, 2020|

Let’s take a little test. I’ll give you pairs of like-sounding words. What do you think of first? Here are the pairs: dye or die, sleigh or slay, fowl or foul, pane or pain, mown or moan. Rather than thinking of pleasant things such as newly mown grass, we groan over the bad behavior of fellow workers. Our hearts fill with anxious thoughts. As already outlined, anxiety is a control issue. Things are out of control at the office. We do not know how to regain control. We worry and fret. Since anxiety is a control issue, to overcome worry, we don’t center our thoughts on food, clothing, and the future. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). We must learn submission to the sovereign, gracious control of God.

We do so through God’s word given in the Bible and through preaching and teaching. But look at Matthew 13:22. “The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). The word is the message of the kingdom. It is the message about the sovereign rule and reign of Christ. Christ died, rose, ascended, and reigns. “Christ is Lord” (Romans 10:9). Redemption, freedom from the anxiety of sin and guilt, comes to us through Christ.

However, anxiety chokes the word Christ gives us. Crowds press, surge and push us, and the close quarters frighten us. We find ourselves at the mercy of others. Likewise, weeds choke plants in a garden and prohibit growth. The word of God is a precious seed. Anxiety is a weed. Anxiety chokes the life from the tiny plant.

Jesus couples anxiety with the deceitfulness of riches. Adequate food, clothing, shelter, and comfort concerning the future yield a measure of contentment. Eagerness for riches undermines contentment. We think more money will quell anxiety. Greed works with anxiety to choke the word. As a result, we lack the fruit of peace and contentment. We are anxious.

Here is a danger. We need the message of the kingdom, the message of God’s control over all of life, to overcome anxiety. Yet this very anxiety chokes out the word in the gardens of our lives. We become too distracted to read the Bible or listen to a sermon, the very things we need. This reaction is nothing new. God knows. For this reason, is why He instituted the church and gave us His word as a means of grace. Anxiety signals our need.

We are “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). We dwell on what we see, the leaves, and the clothing. But the leaves drop off in winter, and we mourn their loss. We must cultivate the hidden, the root. We must root ourselves in Christ. We must seek first the kingdom. Without the root, the tree dies. With the root, even when the leaves are gone, the tree remains strong. When we are deeply rooted in Christ, we gain contentment. Our priorities change. We learn contentment. We grow in our service to God and our faith in God.

We seek freedom from anxiety indirectly. For example, anxious children find security in the arms of their parents. Similarly, our safety is in God. We seek Him. We seek His Kingdom, first of all. As we do so, the things unbelievers seek, contentment, and freedom from anxiety are ours.

Denny Prutow

What? Me Worry?

2020-03-20T14:30:13-04:00 March 23rd, 2020|

A frightened wife calls us. Her husband is in a state of panic, locked in a bedroom. Two of us coax him out and restrain him. It is a classic panic attack, an anxiety attack. Worry and anxiety are real, but they are devastating and can be disabling. They are more common than we think. Jesus commands, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:31).

Anxiety often presents itself in men as panic or fear. It frequently presents itself in women in the form of phobias. When anxious, we see the world as a fearful place. The future is uncertain. There is a sense of helplessness. We may have headaches, nausea, chest pain, and fear a heart attack. A man measures his pulse every few minutes. It seems erratic. He panics. In the midst of anxiety, we are seldom satisfied. We are fidgety. We incessantly bounce a leg under the table. We are irritable. When a panic attack occurs, we are sure we are going to die, or we think we are going crazy.

Anxiety has to do with how we view life. It is a control issue. We sense life is out of control. Anxiety also has to do with how we react on the inside. It has to do with internal events, with how we think. Because anxiety is a control issue, giving someone more to do or increasing job demands is not the answer. Giving control lessens anxiety.

Three typical anxieties dominate our lives. Matthew 6:25 mentions two of them. “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.” What am I going to take to the fellowship supper? What are we going to feed our company? Such anxiety escalates to war over food within families and between nations. We also fret about clothing. What am I going to wear to the dance, the theater, the wedding? Young people kill for basketball shoes and designer jackets.

Matthew 6:27 and 34 mentions a third worry. “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” And, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” Can you add minutes or hours to your life? Suppose there is cancer? Suppose we have arthritis, bad vision, paralysis, old age, or some new and heretofore unknown disease. Will we add days to our lives? We do not ultimately control these things.

The answer to worry and anxiety is rooted in God. Matthew 6:19-21 exhorts. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What do you treasure? Are fields, farms, houses, cars, computers, and jobs more important than God? We want God but not at the expense of a special car, a specific computer, or particular clothes. Anxiety rises because God is in our way.

When anxiety is high, faith is low. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Anxiety is indeed a control issue. We are not in control. God is. God provides adequate food and clothing. God also controls your future. To overcome anxiety, don’t center your thoughts on food, clothing, and the future. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Denny Prutow

When God’s Word Touches You

2020-03-14T11:01:07-04:00 March 16th, 2020|

Preaching in a large assembly of pastors and elders, I quoted W. G. T. Shedd, where he speaks about how impressive it is when the Word of God touches us. See the full quote below. After the sermon, one of the pastors in the congregation countered me, and Shedd, on this characteristic of preaching. “You lost me at that point,” he said. However, Christ intends His gospel arrows to not only touch the heart but to pierce the heart and to elicit a response (Psalm 45:5). Note the effect of Peter’s preaching, how his message touches feelings and moves emotions. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).

Remember, in biblical Greek, the heart is the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition, in the case of the natural man as well as the redeemed man” (A Greek-English lexicon of the new testament, 1963). In biblical Hebrew, the heart includes “the inner man … comprehending mind, affections, and will” (A Hebrew and English lexicon of the old testament, 1962). While addressing the mind, we touch and influence emotions. There is a chain reaction. How people feel about what we say influences what they do.

Calvin (2018b) opens his exposition of 2 Timothy by saying, “In truth, if we read this letter carefully we will see that God’s Spirit there reveals himself with such power and majesty that we cannot avoid feeling thrilled” (pp. 1-2). He then affirms, “If we want the kind of testimony to God’s truth which will pierce our hearts, we can do no better than tarry here” (p. 2).

Calvin also emphasizes the importance of God’s Word profoundly touching us. “God’s word cannot rightly thrive in us unless we have clearly understood what is presented to us, unless we are deeply touched by it … ” (Calvin, 2009, p. 607). Yes, sitting under the preaching of the word of God, we must be touched by the Word coming to us in the power of the Spirit. As Calvin urges, we should, “when we come to preaching, let the word of God touch us and awaken us” (p. 634). Westminster’s “Directory for the Public Worship of God” agrees. It indicates that the application of the Scripture in preaching ought to make us “feel the word of God” (“Directory,” 1988, p. 380). In speaking about the Flood, Calvin (2009) also declares, “But when the events are made specific for us, we get a vivid picture of God’s wrath and are touched even more … ” (p. 642).

T.H.L. Parker (1992) quotes Calvin similarly on the word of God preached: “It is a living reality and full of hidden energy which leaves no part of man untouched” (p. 30). Parker quotes Calvin’s first sermon on 2 Timothy more extensively:

It is certain that if we come to church we shall not hear only mortal man speaking but we shall feel (even by his secret power) that God is speaking to our souls, that he is the teacher (meistre). He so touches us that the human voice enters into us and so profits us that we are refreshed and nourished by it (p. 42).

In speaking about plainness in preaching, W. G. T. Shedd (1877) again reminds us,

There is a prodigious power in this plainness of presentation. It is the power of actual contact. A plain writer, or speaker, makes the truth and the mind impinge upon each other. When the style is plain, the mind of the hearer experiences the sensation of being touched; and this sensation is always impressive, for a man starts when he is touched (p. 64).

The sermon should be constructed as oral communication to strike the soul, to “touch” and “start” the people. The sermon is an arrow to pierce the heart. When God’s Word touches you by the power of the Spirit, it is like someone coming up behind you unexpectedly and touching you. The contact surprises you. You start. Each time you sit and listen to your pastor, you should listen actively. Anticipate that God, by His Word and Spirit, will touch your soul and change you. Trust him to use this means to conform you more closely to the image of Jesus Christ, your savior.

As a teacher or preacher, you must prepare Bible lessons and sermons as gospel arrows intended to contact, pierce, and change individuals who are listening. I wonder if those of us whom God calls to proclaim His Word believe that preaching is His chosen instrument for change. Oh, yes! We memorize the Shorter Catechism Q&A 89, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” Do we preach as though we earnestly believe this truth?

There are potentially aggravating factors. We emphasize that pastors are teaching elders (1 Timothy 5:17). In doing so, we often buy into the modern notion of teaching: Give people enough correct information, and they will make the right decisions. We become sharers of information rather than proclaimers of truth. In keeping with this model, pastors and professors believe that putting together a sermon, intended for listening, is just like writing a paper, designed for reading. Pastors become scribes who, after doing their study, disseminate information rather than preach with authority (Mark 1:22). When you implement such a perspective, God’s Word does not “touch” and “start.” Gospel arrows become blunt instruments.

Several years ago, after morning worship, I said to my wife, “Pastor is writing another book.” She asked quizzically, “How do you know?” My answer was simple, “We just heard the first chapter.” Did our pastor prepare his sermon with the people in mind? Perhaps. From the perspective of content and structure, his preparation also had the printing press in mind. Biblical preaching and teaching ought to press God’s truth into minds and hearts first of all rather than into notes and books. Failure to do so weakens the force of preaching. God’s Word does not “touch” and “start” those listening. Gospel arrows become blunt instruments.

Denny Prutow

Copyright © 2020

Soul-to-Soul not Paper-to-Paper

2020-03-06T13:27:25-04:00 March 9th, 2020|

A well-used Bible is a dear friend and sometimes needs to be rebound. The seminary library where I taught had access to a book bindery, and I had my Bible nicely rebound. When a friend of my oldest daughter needed her Bible rebound, I suggested we do it through the seminary. When I received the Bible, there were sermon notes stuck in the Bible every few pages. It took some time to pick them all out so the Bible could be rebound. I wondered, “What did this young lady do with all those notes?” I shook my head. Her Bible was a storage bin.

When you look around in church during morning worship, quite a few people are avidly taking notes. And some pastors organize their sermons to help the people take notes. The objective seems to be to facilitate the transfer of information from the pastor’s notes to the people’s notes. If that’s the goal, I ponder, “Why not just reduplicate the pastor’s notes and pass them out to the congregation?” OK! Perhaps I’m overstating the case. But there is a philosophy of ministry here. In my view, preaching is to be heart to heart or soul-to-soul instead of paper-to-paper.

As I have indicated elsewhere, good communication is a two-way street. When you cultivate this reciprocal relation, it involves a mutual sympathy of soul-to-soul. R. L. Dabney (1979) writes, “The heavenly flame must be kindled first in your own bosom, that by the law of sympathy it may radiate thence into the souls of your hearers” (p. 247). W. G. T. Shedd (1877) emphasizes the need for plainness in preaching style. Consider his statement in light of the reciprocal soul-to-soul relation between preacher and people.

There is a prodigious power in this plainness of presentation. It is the power of actual contact. The plain writer, or speaker, makes the truth and the mind impinge upon each other. When the style is plain, the mind of the hearer experiences the sensation of being touched; and this sensation is always impressive, for the man starts when he is touched (p. 64).

Remember the importance of non-verbals in the communication process. See the previous post. When the preacher frequently consults his notes, he breaks eye contact with the people. Note-takers also often break eye contact with the preacher, concentrating on their note-taking task. The more notes there are between the pastor and the congregation, the less eye contact there may be. The less cognizance of facial expression and body language there is. This note-taking process, therefore, impedes two-way communication.

The sermon should be constructed as oral communication to strike the soul, to “touch” and “start” the people. The sermon is an arrow to pierce the heart. Therefore, Jonathan Edwards (1987) says, “The main benefit obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (p. 394).

In this same context, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2014) says: “I would add that I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. It is becoming a custom among evangelical people; but it is not, as many seem to think, the hallmark of spirituality!” (p. 360). Tim Keller (2006) frames the discussion as follows:

The informational view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles when, in fact, our problems are due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon itself people have an experience of God’s grace such that false idols and false saviors lose their power and grip us on the spot. That’s the experimental view of preaching we see in someone like Jonathan Edwards.

It may be that note-taking during sermons was a Puritans innovation. In his discussion of Puritan preaching, Joseph Pipa (1985) quotes Millar Maclure to the effect that, “Note-taking at sermons was very common” (p. 30). Pipa goes on to say, “Sermon note-taking, in fact, was taught in school” (p. 30). And the practice may be the outgrowth of Scholastic teaching. John Broadus (1893) notes, “The scholastic method of dividing and subdividing without end reappears in these great Puritan preachers as nowhere else” (p. 204). Pipa goes on to quote William Mitchell: “Mitchell relates that one Puritan schoolmaster expected his students to record: ‘1. The text, or part of it. 2. To mark as neere as they can, and set down every doctrine, and what proofs they can, the reasons and the uses of them’” (Pipa, 30).

But Lloyd-Jones (1971) adds this note about the Puritans: “I think we need to be judicious in our use of preachers like the Puritans. The danger is that we read them and say, ‘This is marvelous, this is the way to do it.’ But if you try to emulate them, you may find that it is not the way for you to do it” (p. 197).

Jared Wilson (2015) quotes a Tim Keller sermon, saying, “I don’t mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you’re still taking notes at the end, I feel like I have not brought it [the message] home.” Keller follows Edwards (1987) at this point, “The main benefit obtained by preaching is by the impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (p. 394). Design your sermons and Bible lessons to be gospel arrows that strike and pierce heart and soul at the time of teaching or preaching.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Broadas, J. (1893). Lectures on the History of Preaching. New York: Armstrong and Son.
Edwards, J. (1987). The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 1). Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Keller, T. (2006). “Informational vs experiential preaching.” Retrieved from
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1971). Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (2014). The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Pipa, J. William Perkins and the development of puritan preaching (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Westminster
Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.
Shedd, W. (1877). Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co.
Wilson, J. (2015). “Thoughts on note-taking during sermons.” Retrieved from

Gospel Arrows: Feelings Matter

2020-02-27T10:41:00-04:00 March 2nd, 2020|

The student critique was loud and clear, “Professor, you spend too much time on presentation and not enough time on content.” My response is threefold. First, in seminary, the bulk of the curriculum guides students in the proper interpretation and understanding of the content of Scripture. The Master of Divinity requires the completion of 135 quarter hours. Of these, the seminary devotes nine quarter hours to preaching, less than seven percent of the course load. However, it is in the teaching and preaching of the Word that the rubber meets the road. This perspective does not downplay Bible studies, discipleship arrangements, and personal counseling. However, the preaching of the Word is the most prominent and visible activity that publicly interfaces with our communities.

Second, a significant portion of my homiletics text discusses the exegesis of various genres of Scripture. In other words, the proper understanding of the content of Scripture passages is a major thrust of my Sermon Preparation Procedure. Preaching and teaching is the delivery of content. Delivery and content of necessity go together; you cannot separate them.

Third, how people receive the content of your sermons and Bible lessons is also bound up in your delivery or presentation. It is not entirely the responsibility of the audience to engage with you as the speaker to grasp your content. A burden rests upon you as the speaker. You may present the same material in an energetic, winsome, and compelling way or a dull monotone with gestures and facial expressions communicating apathy and indifference. Listeners will receive the first presentation more readily.

On the presentation side of things, we usually discuss the tone of voice and body language. Body language includes gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact. We can boil down these items into three areas: content, use of voice, and non-verbals. If you want to communicate surprise, you say the word “surprise” with lively punch and rising tone. You add a facial expression having an open smile, wide eyes, lifted brows. These three components act together in instant impactful communication.

When you tell a story to children, you not only communicate content. You use your voice to mimic the characters. Your tone of voice indicates anger or joy. It also portrays praise or distrust. You use hand gestures to show the children should stop at a crosswalk or beckon them to cross the street as a part of the story. Your facial expressions enter in as you bend over to savor a pretend bowl of beef stew or get a waft of the bottom of a putrid trash barrel. Failure to combine content with voice and non-verbal expression evokes howls of complaint from the children, “Come on, tell us the story!”

But how do your tone of voice and body language contribute to understanding? They do so indirectly by communicating feelings or attitudes. In communication, how people feel about a message has much to do with what they grasp and understand. In his Silent Messages (1971), Albert Mehrabian kicks off a debate on these issues. After studies and experiments, Mehrabian says, “Generalizing, we can say that a person’s non-verbal behavior has more bearing than his words on communicating feelings or attitudes to others” (p. 44). Note the emphasis on emotions and attitudes. Words matter, but feelings also matter.

Good content supported by appropriate use of voice and accompanied by suitable body language is an invitation to listen. This combination elicits good feelings. When people feel good about what they are hearing, they engage with the message. Two-way communication takes place. The people indicate their attentiveness with their facial expressions, eye contact, and body language, often leaning forward toward the speaker. Their attention tamps down extraneous noise. “Palpable” or “pliable” moments occur. “Often you can sense that people are coming under conviction. One sign is usually the lack of fidgeting, foot shuffling, and throat clearing. The audience gets more silent and still” (Keller, 2006, p. 22). There is a connection between preacher and people, and a sense of contact and touch. God is dealing with the souls of men and women and children. Words matter, but feelings also matter.

Gospel arrows are messages from the heart to the heart. The heart is the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition, in the case of the natural man as well as the redeemed man” (A Greek-English lexicon of the new testament, 1963). Words matter, but feelings also matter—fashion gospel arrows with this truth in mind.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

A Greek-English lexicon of the new testament. (1963). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent Messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Pericope to Purpose to Power

2020-02-21T03:39:26-04:00 February 24th, 2020|

Preaching on 2 Timothy 3:16, Calvin notes the two crucial sides to proclaiming the Word. “Teaching on its own is not sufficient, for we are cold and indifferent to God’s truth. We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game.” (Parker, 1992, p. 12). Of course, adding vehemence or earnestness to preaching does not produce the effect of piercing the heart. In the same sermon, Calvin answers his question. “So what are we to do? We must apply the Word of God to our use, so that we may be woken up instead of being far too sleepy; we must start giving better thought to ourselves; we must no longer put God and the salvation of our souls out of our minds but be attentive to it” (Parker, 1992, p. 13).

Examining Calvin’s Preaching (1992), T. H. L. Parker zeros in on the expository method. He makes this pithy statement in which we see the two aspects mentioned above. “Expository preaching consists in explanation and application. Without explanation it is not expository; without application it is not preaching” (p. 79). A question remains. Does pointing to and moving toward application in a sermon and adding earnestness produce the effect of piercing the heart? No, not necessarily. There must be unction. The Holy Spirit must energize the preacher and permeate the message.

To move in the direction of preaching that does indeed piece the heart (Acts 2:37), take another look at the preaching event. In expository preaching, there is an appropriate preaching text, a pericope. The preacher derives his purpose from this pericope. When the preacher derives his purpose from the pericope, it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit. Preaching the purpose of the Holy Spirit yields a power or force that pieces the heart. All of this, of course, is under the unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit.

What is a pericope? It is a verse or set of verses, which forms a unit of thought. The key is unity. Haddon Robinson says, “Base the sermon on a literary unit of biblical thought” (2002, p. 55). W. G. T. Shedd (1867) puts it this way, “A text should be complete in itself … It should be single, containing only one general theme” (p. 166). R. L. Dabney (1870) counsels the pastor in selecting his preaching portion, “But the chief consideration to guide him here will be the unity of the topic” (p. 94). Dabney means there must be unity of subject or theme.

This unity implies another essential principle of interpretation. That is, “words and sentences can have but one signification [meaning] in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle, we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty” (Terry, 1999, p. 103). In other words, a unified preaching unit or pericope has a particular significance. Think of this significance in terms of purpose. Ask the question: Why does this text, this verse or series of verses, exist in its specific context? What is the purpose of this text, this pericope? Knowing this purpose reveals the Holy Spirit’s purpose. Selecting an appropriate pericope should lead to study that unveils the purpose of the pericope.

Remember, expository preaching means the explanation and application of a particular text of Scripture. Knowing the purpose of a passage leads to preaching the purpose of this text and to the purpose of the Spirit. “The importance of discerning and preaching according to the Holy Spirit’s purpose has not been emphasized in exegesis or homiletics courses. Yet nothing is more fundamental to solid biblical preaching” (Adams, 1982, p. 9). Therefore, Adams (1982) says, “In every passage that He inspired, the Holy Spirit (unlike many preachers) had some intention, some purpose, in view” (p. 10). He goes on to insist that the preacher should maintain “a focus on purpose as the controlling factor in the study, construction and delivery of the sermon … it is the unifying factor in all that is done … purpose is the controlling factor in preaching” (Adams, 1982, p. 10).

What is the upshot of following this course of thought? A unified pericope leads to the unveiling of the Spirit’s purpose in the text. Thus it also leads to the probability of preaching the text under the anointing of the Spirit’s power. Introducing a course deviation at the beginning of the process can mean missing the power of unction in the actual preaching moment. For example, determining the application ahead of knowing the Spirit’s purpose in a text introduces such a course deviation. The application becomes the objective. This course deviation results in missing the proper destination, the Spirit’s power in the presentation. Whereas first knowing the Spirit’s purpose in the text divulges the Spirit’s application and, thus the Spirit’s power in the presentation. Movement is from pericope to purpose to power.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

Adams, J. E. (1982). Essays on Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Dabney, R. L. (1979). Sacred Rhetoric. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Parker, T. H. L. (1992). Calvin’s Preaching. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.
Robinson, H. W. (2002). Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Shedd, W. G. T. (2000). Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock.
Terry, M. S. (1999). Biblical Hermeneutics. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock.