Preaching is Communicational

March 10th, 2012| Topic: aBeLOG, Definition | 6

Preaching is Communicational

The reading of the law in Neh 7:73b–8:12 is considered one of the oldest descriptions of the formal, liturgical employment of Scripture in the gathering of the people of God (which happened sometimein the 430s B.C.E.). This event forms the climax of the Ezra-Nehemiah books, and the missions of the two protagonists, Ezra and Nehemiah, converge precisely within this enterprise: for the first time they are mentioned together in this section (Neh 8:9).

Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
Nehemiah 8:7–8

Interestingly, what is actually read on the occasion fails to be mentioned. But what is described is the activity of the Levites in Neh 8:7–8. Their task was to facilitate comprehension by the community of what God required of them in his Word. We know that the content of the canon is of immense significance for man; its matter is of great moment for the relationship between God and man. Preachers must therefore ensure that such content is understood by the people of God; and this was the responsibility of the Levites, as it continues to be that of preachers today. Preaching is, therefore, communicational; it has to convey meaning; it has to be meaningful. That’s why my definition of preaching began with: Preaching is the communication ….

People are waiting for a word from God. But far too often, on Sunday mornings, what is delivered from the pulpit is nebulous and hazy. Concepts are unclear. Structures are complex. Validity of arguments is debatable. And everything—and I mean everything—the preacher picked up in seminary is unloaded (regurgitated?) upon the unwary listener leaving him or her at a total loss. (Not to mention a severe dearth of “interestingness” in the entire undertaking.)

Instead, preaching must be “communicational”—from the Latin commúnis, “common”—that is to say, the preacher’s mind and the listener’s mind must have a meaning in common. Communicational—shared meaning.

The Levites’ giving the sense of the reading involved an “explanation,” the outcome of which was “understanding. The root of the word “to understand” occurs six times in the account (Neh 8:2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 12), emphasizing the importance of this act of mediating comprehension of the Word of God to the people of God. If the latter don’t understand, how will they obey (Ps 119:34)? Preaching at its foundation must be communicational.

Set in a liturgical context, the entire event of Neh 7:73b–8:12—the reading of Scripture, its subsequent exposition, and the response of the congregation—serves as a helpful device for reflecting upon preaching. So, as I unpack my definition of preaching from the last instalment of the aBeLOG, I’ll refer back periodically to this paradigmatic event in the Old Testament.


  1. Simon Finley March 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks Abe. That’s given me something to think about. You also just described the tiring, painful, but rewarding process I go thru in preparing a sermon 🙂

    So, the monologue is really just a good practical way of preaching in our modern setting?

    And, what is the difference between teaching and preaching?

    Thanks again.

    • Abe Kuruvilla March 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      As far as we can tell, early Christian (and Jewish) preaching was monological as well.

      Good question on teaching vs. preaching. But I’m going to keep you waiting for an answer!

      I plan to do a post on that, as I continue to unpack my definition of preaching.

  2. Simon Finley March 22, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Ah yes, very true! What is spoken from the front must be well communicated.

    I wrote a question on your first instalment, but maybe I should ask it here.

    In your understanding of preaching, is it so important to have what we know as the 20 minute monologue? We seem to put a lot of emphasis of this as THE definition of preaching. I believe it can have a really good role to play, but is this idea of communication (i.e. as a monologue) necessarily held up as the most important way of communicating God’s Word in the NT? I’m just trying to think if we see the NT put the same emphasis on the necessity of having a 20 min monologue. And what if you only have a small house church?

    Appreciate your thoughts.

    • Abe Kuruvilla March 22, 2012 at 7:28 am

      Thanks for your question, Simon.

      I think the 20- (or 30- or 40-) minute “monologue” is more a product of expediency than anything else. Given a text of Scripture (an ancient piece of writing in an archaic language) that one has to preach to a congregation (a modern group of folks in a contemporary setting), it takes some amount of talking-through to exposit its theological focus and deliver its applicational thrust. More often than not, this involves hard work with the text, digging into its antecedents, poring over its language and literary structure, praying about it …. I would prefer to hear a monologue from someone who has exercised due diligence in preparation. Dialogue, though, could be useful when it comes to application. My personal take (from dialogues in classrooms) is that often such dialogue can go off on a tangent, especially in a large group. I would, therefore, prefer to reserve the dialogue-for-application in a small-group setting. Again, a matter of expediency and order, rather than a constraint of my definition of preaching.

  3. Timothy March 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Hmm . . . communicating for a change. That would be great.
    And knowing the difference between lecturing and preaching is a crucial part of communicating.
    Thanks, Abe. Keep challenging us.


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