Choosing a Preaching Text (Pt 3)

Another dangerous cause for the mal-selection of a plurality of preaching texts is the very popular word-study method of navigating the Bible. With today’s technology it is very easy to punch in a word and immediately find where it occurs anywhere in the Bible. The uniting factor, which is the repetition of a single word, often entices the preacher to tie two or more passages together. And indeed, the repetition of key words or phrases in a story can provide important hints as to the thematic undergirding of a particular narrative, which will enable the preacher to tie certain preaching texts together.

Though this approach can be fruitful when done properly, however, there are many reasons to be cautious. First of all, if the search is done in English, or any other translated language, there is no guarantee that the translated word is really the same word in the original language (this brings up the whole other subject about the value of studying in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to be tabled for another time).

Secondly, even if the word is the same in its original language in two or more passages, it shares a common root, each word, as in English, has a semantic range. This means that any word may be used in more than one way, sometimes with subtle differences and sometimes with glaring differences. Some words that share assonance have a common ancestry and some do not. A common etymology does not necessarily equal a common meaning. Carson makes this very point in his book, Exegetical Fallacies (30):

The search for hidden meanings bound up with etymologies becomes even more ludicrous when two words with entirely different meanings share the same etymology. James Barr draws attention to the pair lehem and milhama, which mean “bread” and “war” respectively: “It must be regarded as doubtful whether the influence of their common root is of any importance semantically in classical Hebrew in the normal usage of the words. And it would be utterly fanciful to connect the two as mutually suggestive or evocative, as if battles were normally for the sake of bread or bread a necessary provision for battles.”

Careful attention to misconnected passages based on words with a shared etymology, both in Engilsh and especially original languages, must be guarded against. This is especially poignant in today’s electronic age, where word searches are as easy as the click of a button.

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