Summary: How to preach on a single verse
I hope to teach how to prepare and deliver a sermon expounding a small unit of Scripture such as a single verse or part of a verse.
A sermon can be painted using a very fine brush for a single word, a small brush for a single verse, a medium brush for a part of a chapter and a broad brush for much larger segments of scripture. For this lesson, we will choose out of our artists set a small brush.
We will examine how to choose a verse for a sermon, then parse and translate it, check with a number of translations, check with a couple of good commentaries, and after analyzing it, create some points for a sermon outline and apply to every day life.
1. How to Choose
Choose a verse that can be expounded, that has a natural beginning and ending, and that will have some direct application to the lives of people today. Avoid verses that are unclear, or are offensive, or may cause a giant split in the congregation. Focus on the main things and the plain things. Remember that reformers usually end up as martyrs, and if you are dead or fired or excommunicated, you have little or no chance of future effectiveness. I speak from experience. Most churches are not really ready for meat that is hard to chew. They can only digest baby food. Seriously!
2. Parse and Translate the Verse
If you have the ability, make your own translation from the original Greek or Hebrew. This will involve parsing (or analyzing the grammar and sentence structure) and then translating it into some English-language equivalent, whether word-for-word, sense-for-sense or idiom-for-idiom. This will take some time, but is well worth the effort, as it gets you into the way the verse was originally read and gives a glimpse of the mind of the author. This does not mean that you now start spouting Greek and Hebrew verses to the congregation. Frankly, you would lose all but the supremely intellectual churches, and a blue-collar church may never forgive you for even mentioning that you have studied biblical languages. Just kidding! The purpose in translating the verse is to get a better grip on it.
3. A Note about Bible Translations
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the King James Version (KJV) have been called the most accurate translations. However, this is only true in the word-for-word sense. Sometimes translating a foreign language does not make the best sense when we translate word-for-word. For instance, if I translated the German phrase "you are on the wooden way" word-for-word, you would not understand what it means, so I would have to translate the whole phrase, rather than each individual word. In a certain context it could mean "you've got the wrong idea." Or because this is an idiom, I could translate it with a similar idiom in English, such as "you've been led up the garden path" or "you're on the wrong track."
So, even though some people say that translations like the Message or the New Living Translation (NLT) are not as accurate, we could dispute that. They may be just as accurate in translating idiom-for-idiom, rather than word-for-word. The only problem with idioms though is that they are culturally bound. A teenager in California, a businessman in New Zealand and a little old lady in Scotland do not necessarily all understand the same idioms. One may say "let's rock on dudes," the other may say "let's go guys" and the other may say "gentlemen, it's time to move." That is why some people prefer a dynamic equivalent translation, such as the New International Version (NIV). These are middle of the road translations that are not as wooden or stiff as a word-for-word translation, but not as loosy-goosy as an idiom-for-idiom translation.
4. Read Other Translations
Up to a point, the more translations of the Bible that you have the better you can research. I have over 30, but mostly use about a half dozen. There are also several good websites around that contain a number of modern Bible translations as well as the usual older versions. It is good to see which words different translators use. They are all translating the sense of the original verse, but sometimes a different word or phrase hits home in a different and more meaningful way depending on your cultural background.
5. Read Commentaries
Look up a few commentaries. If all you have are the usual old commentaries such as the JFB, Matthew Henry's, and Adam Clarke's that is at least a start. Some modern one-volume commentaries are also good, such as the New Bible Commentary from IVP. However, these commentaries do not contain much depth and are not as helpful as those that go into great detail. The older commentaries may use out of date examples, but can also be more orthdox and less apt watering down the truth.