Paregesis: The Homiletical Danger of “Timeless Truths”

We all acknowledge the dangers of interpreting the Bible with a preconceived idea. We call it eisegesis. You interpret into the text something that isn’t there. While the conclusion reached may not be wrong, the method is fallacious.

In current preaching styles, we follow an expository method to avoid this error. Typically, expository means preaching verse by verse through a section of Scripture. We develop from the that section of scripture our homiletical outline to unfold the points of the text. For the main points in our homiletical outline, we are told to “bridge the from the Bible’s time to our time.” Therefore, our main points have to be Timeless Truths that we discover in the passage. These truths have to be true for the original audience and true for us today. But there are several issues that occur when you take this approach.

1. It breeds a tendency to look for a spiritual truth rather than the point of the passage. We so quickly jump to timeless truths for application that we neglect to follow the argument or outline of the writer. For example, Romans 10:14-15 is often cited for to support missions work. But the truth is, this passage has absolutely nothing to do with missions. God asks these four questions and then answers them one by one to prove that Israel was guilty for rejecting God (I’m saving my detailed explanation for a later post). We want to find timeless truths that we see those four questions and think “Ah ha! Missions!” But this “timeless truth” is not what Paul had in mind when he wrote that passage.

2. It distances your audience from the text. When you are used timeless truth, you aren’t saying exactly what the text says. God did not write in timeless truths (Proverbs would be an exception). Instead he communicated in specific times to specific people. God wrote that specific account about Abraham and this account David. He didn’t write about four truths we can learn from Abraham’s actions in this passage. When you create timeless truth from the passage, you add a layer of interpretation that is not found in the text. So instead of people hearing he text on it’s own terms, they are getting what you think the text means spiritually.

3 As a result of the above, timeless truths clouds the meaning of the text to your people. They aren’t taught how to read the Bible, but how to find timeless truth in the Bible. Instead of taking in the panorama of the beautiful waterfall, they are simply collecting shiny rocks by the river bank. But, if you would walk them through how Paul makes his argument or how Joshua is recording history, then the next time they come to a similar passage they can appreciate the beauty by themselves instead of them straining to find a blessing from Leviticus.

The error which comes by this method isn’t so much eisegesis as it is paregesis–reading beside the text. Simply put, it’s the error of taking a text and find several parallels between it and our lives while overlooking the exegesis (what was said to the original audience and how it was said to them). This approach values “what will preach” over what the text says and how it says it. Thus, there is a level of obscurity that is introduced into the text which does not help the listener understand it.

5 thoughts on “Paregesis: The Homiletical Danger of “Timeless Truths”

  1. It’s on my to-do list to respond to this post in my blog. Just too busy. The gist is: I agree with your three points wholeheartedly, but I would not throw “timeless statements” away just yet. The original audience, historical context, and authorial intent comes first, but “timeless principles” (or contextual applicational summary) come in maybe after a couple more steps. In doing so, you avoid the dangers that you mentioned, but at the same time, your sermon is not mere intellectual/academic or dry theology, but profound theology rooted in the text that remains relevant for the average Joe’s nine-to-five life. This does not mean, however, that every sermon point (or theme) has to be a prescriptive statement (“since this…, then we must…”). The structure, shape, and mood of the text continue to govern the structure, shape, and mood of the sermon – not our methodology or clever parallelism.

    Having said all that, I think you are addressing something significant in this post that is not being said or at least unpopular in our circles, and I echo your sentiments. You’re brave in posting this. Imo, moralistic preaching has made a lot of harm in the church. The amazing part is that God still uses horrible sermons from flawed men to bring glory to himself. Wow.


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