Why Preach Expositionally?: Because Expository Sermons Honor Authorial Intent

I began to answer the question, “Why preach expositionally?” here, where I also provided a brief description of what I mean by “exposition.” Here I’d like to expand on that answer by adding another reason I think pastors ought to make expository sermons their regular practice in the pulpit.

The Divine Author

A second reason pastors should preach expositionally is because expository preaching honors the principle of authorial intent, recognizing that the ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, God Himself.

The faithful expositor should be humbled, even haunted, by the realization that when he stands to preach he stands to preach what has been given by the Holy Spirit of God. Why is he haunted? Because he understands that what is before his eyes is divinely inspired by God, and he trembles at the very thought of abusing, neglecting or altering what God Himself wrote. Yes, the Bible is best described as the Word of God written in the words of men. However, it is ultimately the Word of God, and the divine author’s intended meaning deposited in the text should be honored. There is a noble tradition concerning this principle. The Westminster Dictionary (of 1645) states, “…the true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers,… in order that the text may speak… and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner that [his audience] may discern [the voice of God].” Charles Spurgeon notes,

A sermon comes with far greater power to the consciences of the hearers when it is plainly the very Word of God—not a lecture about the Scripture, but Scripture itself opened up and enforced.… I will further recommend you to hold to the ipsissima verba, the very Words of the Holy Ghost,… Those sermons which expound the exact words of the Holy Spirit are the most useful and most agreeable to the major part of our congregations. They love to have the words themselves explained and expounded.[1]

Though Spurgeon himself did not always practice what he preached, his words here are certainly on target.

Haddon Robinson adds,

When a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority. He confronts his hearers no longer with a word from God but only with another word from men.[2]

Authorial Intent Under Attack

In the past several decades the issue of authorial intent has come under heavy and sustained assault, especially with the now waning popularity of the deconstruction movement and its godfather, Jacque Derrida. For a number of years, the English literary critic E. D. Hirsch stood in the gap. More recently Kevin Vanhoozer has entered the battle, exposing the underlying [a]theistic/[a]gnostic agenda that was the driving deconstruction agenda all along.

In his excellent work, Is There a Meaning in This Text, he presents a careful and impressive defense for both “Resurrecting the Author” (ch. 5) and “Redeeming the Text” (ch. 6). This is a much needed critique in the theological and homiletical world. It is a sad commentary on how easily evangelicals can be seduced, if not by the academy, then by the culture.

That this theological and hermeneutical quicksand is ever a serious consideration for those who man our pulpits and shepherd the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a tragedy with enormous consequences. We should not ignore what a reader or hearer brings to a text or a sermon. However, we should not deify it either.

(Note: A version of this post previously appeared on

[1] Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 73.

[2] Biblical Preaching (1980), 18.