Preaching The Epistles -- By: William E. Arp

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 17:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Preaching The Epistles
Author: William E. Arp

Preaching The Epistles

William Arp

Professor of New Testament and Greek
Baptist Bible Seminary
Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania


I have heard sermons preached from passages in epistles in which the preachers interpreted and then preached from the passages as though they were independent paragraphs with no connection to the argument of the entire epistles.1 In fact, the preachers did not mention any arguments for the epistles. They did not mention any arguments contained in the passage itself. They paid no attention to the structure of the passages. They paid no attention to the main propositions, minor propositions, and the conjunctions which joined the propositions to each other. Instead, the preachers focused on “principles” in the passages which were selective, subjective, and syntactically uneven,2 rather than on propositions which build the argument. By doing this they completely disregarded the author’s logical argument. Also, they made no reference to the function of the theology which the author included in the passage. Is this a satisfactory way to preach from epistles? I think not. I want to propose a different way than this to preach epistles which conveys the authors’ intended arguments, both in the entire epistle and in the individual paragraphs, more effectively.


How then should we preach from someone else’s mail? This is an appropriate question when one considers preaching from an epistle3 (whether Pauline or non-Pauline) since epistles are actually someone else’s mail. They were not addressed to present-day readers. Rather, epistles were sent to historical churches and individuals who existed many years ago. Paul’s letters were communication designed to accomplish his apostolic goals in absentia and make his presence felt among the recipients.4 As a result letters are one half of a dialogue.5 They contain answers to questions which present-day readers do not know. This does not mean that epistles are not important. They are God’s eternal word. Even though epistles were written in historical particularity, they have a continuing relevance. Paul expected his letters to be read aloud in the churches so that he might instruct the lives of the hearers, and epistles continue to tell readers what to believe and how to behave.


Since preparation precedes (or at least should precede) preaching, this paper ...

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