Pericopal Theology -- By: Abraham Kuruvilla

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 173:689 (Jan 2016)
Article: Pericopal Theology
Author: Abraham Kuruvilla

Pericopal Theology*

Abraham Kuruvilla

* This is the first article in the four-part series “A Vision for Preaching,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 3-6, 2015.

Abraham Kuruvilla is Research Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.


The other day in a church I visited, I found a copy of a popular daily devotional that can often be seen in the foyers of many churches. Skimming through its pages in an idle moment, I spotted this devotional on Acts 28. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta. He joined everyone else in helping out and picked up sticks for a fire. So, the devotional recommended, we too should be willing to do menial jobs in churches. Always be willing to do even the lowliest job. Of course the writer of the devotional conveniently forgot about the viper that came out of the cord of wood and bit the hapless apostle.

I, being the clever guy that I am, could use that part of Acts 28 to recommend exactly the opposite: Never do menial tasks, because—who knows?—a poisonous snake may sink its fangs into you. And, needless to say, there are lots of these deadly species with two legs in churches. So, never ever engage in lowly jobs, for fear of venomous beasts lurking in the shadows.

How do we go about the task of finding valid application for an ancient text? Throughout the two millennia of the church age, this has been the gaping hole in every theory of preaching. A robust hermeneutic for making this move from text to audience has been lacking. It has remained somewhat of a black box in the history of the church. David Buttrick once said,

Many books have been written on “biblical preaching”; specifically on how preachers can move step by step from the Bible passage to a

sermon. . . . But in all such books there seems to be a gap. There’s something left out in between. The crucial moment between exegesis and homiletical vision is not described. The shift between the study of a text and the conception of a sermon—perhaps it occurs in a flash of imagination—is never discussed. So alert readers are left with the odd impression that we move from the Bible to a contemporary sermon by some inexplicable magic!1

I struggled with this in my seminary days and, thereafter, in my preaching ministry. It was with scrutiny of 2 Samuel 11-12 that I fir...

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