Principles of Exposition
One of three essential components of a Workshop on Biblical Exposition is what we call the Principles of Exposition, or instructions sessions. During this portion of a Workshop, we will teach a handful of lessons on how to interpret and explain the message of the Scriptures in an accurate and accessible way. This page is meant as a reference to those who have participated in a Workshop before and as an introduction to those who are about to participate in a Workshop. The following instructions are brief examples of what a Workshop might cover in the Principles of Exposition portion. Additionally, a great debt is owed to Dick Lucas of the Proclamation Trust in London for these principles. Several of the ideas come from Lucas and the remainder are certainly inspired by his approach to the text of Scripture.

Download the Principles of Exposition [pdf, 87kb]


Principle: We must stay on the line of Scripture, never straying above it or below it.

Explanation: We are often tempted to say more than the Scriptures, zealously venturing into religious pietism, which becomes a kind of legalism. We judge others who do not maintain our extra-Biblical traditions and standards. In so doing, we add to the Scriptures. We can also be tempted to dip below the line into liberalism and pragmatism, ignoring both the content and point of Scripture. In so doing, we subtract from the Scriptures. As teachers of God’s Word, we must commit ourselves to saying nothing more or less than the Scriptures say. It is a matter of obedience (Deuteronomy 4:2, Revelation 22:18-19).

Strategies: be aware of both extremes, anticipate how those who farthest above and the farthest below might treat the text, test consistency of your reading with the rest of Scripture

Practice Texts: Mark 7:6-13,Genesis 3:1-5, John 3:16-21

Listen: David Helm at the 2014 Bristol Workshop [mp3, 31mb].

 Staying on the Line


PrincipleEvery text has a structure. This structure will reveal an emphasis. The emphasis must shape our message.

Explanation: We must apprehend how the author has organized the text and let his organizing principle dictate the shape and emphasis of our sermon. We might think of this is as the skeleton of the text. We must get the bones straight in order for the body of our message to be healthy. And when we have apprehended the structure, we must find and teach the emphasis that the structure reveals. Only then will we see the life of the passage. Look at the text with x-ray eyes in order to see its skeletal structure.

Strategies: use a literal translation of the Bible, read and reread and read out loud, look for repetitions or clear thesis statements (sometimes in the form of a rhetorical question), identify your text type as discourse (look for grammar, key words, transitional words, chiasmus, verbs), narrative (look for plot, surprises, setting, characters, comparisons and contrast), or poetry (look for grammar, comparisons and contrasts, imagery, changes in who is speaking, parallelism)

Practice Texts: Genesis 11:1-9, Amos 1:3-2:4, Mark 5, Luke 15, Ephesians 5

ListenDavid Helm at the 2011 Boston Workshop [mp3, 31mb]



Principle: We must understand the context in order to see how the original audience understood the text.

Explanation: In handling God’s Word, it is tempting to isolate our text. When we do, we rip it from its context and we run the risk of missing the point or even getting the text wrong. But, by understanding the text in its context or how it would have been understood by the original audience (to them/then), we can be better prepared to understand the right application of the text (to us/now).

Strategies: read the chapter on both sides of your text, read the entire book, if paired with another book, then read both books (e.g., 1 and 2 Corinthians), know where your passage is specifically in historical context and read any corresponding passages (e.g., read 1 or 2 Samuel for some Psalms, read Acts for some Pauline epistles)

Practice Texts: 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Samuel 2:1-11, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Mark 8:22-30

Listen: David Helm at the 2015 Indianapolis Workshop [mp3, 36mb]



Principle: We will handle a specific text better if we understand what the whole book is about.

Explanation: Books of the Bible have a coherent, sustained message—or big idea—similar to the unique melody of a song. It is waiting to be heard. It unites the whole book, big theme and big aim, concisely stating what the whole book is about. Every passage will, in some way, be related (directly or indirectly, as support or even contrast) to the melodic line. Our task is to listen well enough and long enough to hear the melody.

Strategies: read and reread, identify a top and tail (e.g. Romans 1:5 and 16:26), find a purpose statement (e.g. Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31) or thesis statement, find repeated words and phrases and ideas (e.g. “joy” and “fellowship” in Philippians), follow the Old Testament quotations

Practice Texts: John 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 1 Samuel 8

Listen: David Helm teaches at the 2015 Indianapolis Workshop [mp3, 40mb]

Melodic Line


Principle: We must let the Bible shape our frameworks rather than letting our frameworks shape our interpretations of the Bible.

Explanation: We all have frameworks. Whether theological (e.g., Calvinism or Arminianism), political, therapeutic or prosperitydriven, cultural and social—we all bring our own ideas to the Bible. Our own experiences, training, and desires emerge each time we sit down to study a text. In order to get at the meaning of a text, we must let the text be sovereign. We must be aware of our frameworks and then adjust them, rather than bending the text until it says “what we want it to say.” We must hear it for “what it says.” Otherwise, we are inebriated preachers, using the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost: more for support than illumination.

: identify your own frameworks (ideological, political, theological, etc.), constantly approach the text with fresh eyes, consult many different translations of the Bible (e.g. dynamic, literal, paraphrase)

Practice Texts: Obadiah 4, Philippians 4:13, Mark 2:1-12, James 2:14-26

Listen: David Helm at the 20141 Bristol Workshop [mp3, 21mb]

Text and Framework


Principle: If we are to teach the Bible as Christians, we must show a legitimate connection from our text to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Explanation: After the resurrection, in Luke 24, Jesus shows the disciples how the Old Testament Scriptures point to him. He also declares that they will be (apostolic) witnesses of this gospel to the end of the earth. And the content of those Scriptures and that witness specifically point to two things: his suffering/death and resurrection (which anticipate the intended response of repentance and the result of forgiveness). In other words, the text of the Old and New Testaments points to the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. If we are to faithfully teach God’s Word in light of the gospel, we must find the legitimate relationship between our text and this gospel of Jesus Christ.

Strategies: note any cross-references to the other Testament, develop a good sense of Biblical Theology, consider historical fulfillment and theological themes, use typology and analogy (including contrast and irony), know how key doctrines relate

Practice Texts: Colossians 1:15-23, Psalm 2, John 13:1-15, 1 Samuel 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Listen: David Helm at the 2010 Lookout Mountain Workshop [mp3, 38mb]

Traveling Through the Cross