The Three-Steps: Biblical Interpretation for Preaching – Pablo Jimenez

Posted on July 21, 2014 by drpablojimenez

Printable version & Powerpoint Notes: Biblical Preaching 102

I have used the Three-Steps System for many years, always receiving great feed back from the students. I hope you find this system useful. It has been developed in dialogue with the writings of Ronald J. Allen, particularly with Contemporary Biblical Interpretation for Preaching (Judson Press, 1984) & Interpreting the Gospel: An Introduction to Preaching (Chalice Press, 1998).

I. Point of contact: First Step in the Preparation of Biblical Sermons (Estimated time: 30 — 45 minutes)

Begin with prayer. Ask God to make you sensible to the Word and to speak through your sermon to the congregation. Keep a devotional atmosphere throughout the exercise.

Read the text several times. Work primarily with the translation that has become part of your own being. Compare it with other translations for the purpose of contrasting emphasis, movement, and structure. Some recommended translations are: NRSV, RSV, JB, NIV, TEV and NEB. Do not use secondary sources for this exercise.

Read the text once more, aloud and with feeling. Only then, proceed to answer the following questions.

1.What are the questions that this text sparks?

2.What feelings surface as you read the text?

3.What memories does the text cause you to recall?

4.Imagine that you are immersed in the world of the text:

What do you see?
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
What do you touch?
What do you taste?
How does it feel to be in that world?
5.Has your perception of the text changed? How?

6.What is this text about? List the topics and ideas suggested by the text.

II. Explanation: Second Step in the Preparation of Biblical Sermons (Estimated time: 60-90 minutes)

After a direct interaction with the text, turn to secondary sources such as commentaries, dictionaries, and other homiletic aids. Insofar as possible, identify the historical context in which the text is found. Then, proceed to answer the following questions.

1.What was the situation of the community to whom the text was written?

2.Identify the form, the function and the literary structure of the text.

3.Note the key words of the text. How are they used in this particular document?

4.Have you found answers to you questions about the text?

5.What are the mayor theological claims of the text?

6.Enumerate the topics suggested by the text.

III. Interpretation: Third Step in the Preparation of Biblical Sermons (Estimated time: 30-45 minutes)

Move once again to the present, exploring the message of the text for the contemporary Church. Make the hermeneutic movement self-consciously and critically. Then, proceed to answer the following questions.

1.Establish a correlation between your social location and the social location of the text. What realities function in our world in the same way as in the world of the text?

Identify the salvific elements. Identify the sources of conflict.
Who is the powerful? Who are powerless?
In order to interpret the text appropriately, with whom do we should identify with in the text?
2.Does the function of the text in its ancient setting suggest a possible function for our sermon in our setting?

3.Does the form or the literary structure of the text suggest a given design for the sermon?

4.Does the text suggest any guidelines for contemporary pastoral action?

5.What are the “good news” for the congregation? For the Church at large? For the world?

6.Enumerate the possible “sermons-in-a-sentence” suggested by the text.

Missing Ingredients

I was recently asked to lead a prayer at one of so many meetings that we attend at church.  I remember receiving an email from my good friend and mentor Dr. Skip Moen on Prayer.  I used it that day to lead the group into understanding what prayer to the great King David meant.  I hope and pray that you enjoy it.  The original devotional can be found in Dr. Moen’s Site by following this link:


Missing Ingredients – by Skip Moen, D. Phil.

In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer.  Psalm 109:4  ESV

I give myself to – Reading this verse presents a dilemma.  Are we to accept the gloss (the additional words) of the translation because it makes sense to us or are we to reject the gloss and end up with a difficult English sentence?  A quick review of English Bibles indicates that they all gloss this verse, adding words (and thoughts) that may not be present in the actual text.  They do this because of our conceptions of prayer, as we shall see.

First, let’s consider the Hebrew.  As you know, Hebrew grammar often omits the copula in the present tense.  For example, in Hebrew we would encounter Elohim Tov (God good) but in English we would translate “God is good.”  This seems fairly straightforward.  It means that in my paradigm I think of attributes as independent of the object they modify.  That is, “red” is independent of “car” in the description “red car.”  But in Hebrew thought, the object is the attribute.  If I take away the “red” in “red car,” I don’t have an uncolored car. Instead I don’t have any car at all.  This particular car is red.  That’s what makes it what it is.  So, “God is good,” does not suggest that goodness exists apart from God and is merely ascribed to Him.  In Hebrew, goodness is God and He cannot be conceived as God without it.

Now let’s apply this idea to David’s verse.  In Hebrew, the verse does not say, “I give myself to prayer.”  Nor does it say, “I am in prayer” (as we find in ISR or NASB).  In Hebrew it says wa’ani tefillah, “but I prayer.”  Apply the grammatical rule.  David says, “I am prayer.”  “There are three rungs to this ladder [of holding fast to God in worship].  Third best is to talk about prayer.  Second best is to pray.  Best is to be prayer.”[1]  The gloss in the English text might make the verse easier to read but it disguises David’s powerful statement by reducing it to something that our paradigm comprehends.

We think of prayer as an activity that we do or do not engage in. We think of such an activity as independent of who we are. We do not think of ourselves as prayer.  The translators of this verse have adopted the view that prayer is one thing and I am another thing and that there can be some nonessential connection between these two things.  But that isn’t David’s view.  For David, unless he is prayer, the evil of enemies will prevail.

What does it mean to be prayer?  I imagine that David sees the essential connection between God’s spoken word, power, creation, covenant, love and transformation in prayer.  I imagine that David experiences the personality of God in a conversation that does not know the difference between subject and object.  But I can only imagine – because I am not prayer.  David challenges me to put aside my truncated understanding and become something I am not.

Topical Index: prayer, ani tefillah, gloss, Psalm 109:4

[1] Chaim Stern, ed., Gates of Forgiveness: The Union S’lichot Service, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1993, p. 7.


Let us pray, that we become prayer.  Let us pray that the transforming love of Jesus Christ, let it encompass all of us in this place, that his love be our Shalom, that peace that overpasses all understanding.  Will you join me.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Lord, Prince of Peace, let us this day be vessels of the love you shared when you walked on this earth.  Let your spirit fill us, shine in us, let us be ambassadors of your grace, UNITE US.  

Make us one with you so the world may believe once more that we are ONE in christ.  Together we have achieved great things, together we can do so once more not for our glory but for yours, so the world that is fragmented, broken shattered in a million pieces can know that you are real.  That these are not just stories but your love manifest on this earth.  Let us be one in you.  

In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

Manuel Collazo

August 16, 2013