To Preach a Book: Preparing

[ 12 minutes to read ]

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2
Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

[S]omewhere along the way, the American consumer has been sold on buying furniture requiring assembly. That used to mean really cheap furniture and an afternoon of toil to have a bookshelf or cabinet. It seems the price tags on those pieces have increased and we still have to assemble them ourselves. Next thing you know, we will be scanning and bagging our own groceries at the store.

Most of the instructions that come with the flat pieces and little bags of hardware advise the assembler to first layout and identify all the pieces to ensure you have everything you need. We never do that, of course. We dive in and put it together halfway and then realize we’ve got it wrong, or that we are missing something. I’ve done it before and will probably do it again.

Selecting the book I’m going to preach through is the crucial first step, but I’m still not ready to start studying the text and preparing sermons. I like to follow the assembly instructions and make sure I have all the bits and pieces I’m going to need to get through this book from beginning to end. I’m trying to make this list as complete as I can.

Over time, I have gathered a library and have a number of resources I go to repeatedly. Some of these are hard copies and some are digital. I will not get to all of them over the course of the study. Some I will read very little and some will be read entirely when preaching through a book. I like to have more available than I’m going to need and you never know when you may come across something requiring a great deal of study and you want to have the best resources available you can.

Books

Books are the preacher’s business. Ebooks have their benefits and uses, as do hard copies. I have and use some of both. Some books are also part of Bible study apps. I will talk about these technologies later, which have more to do with utilization. Here I am more concerned with the content of books. I want to layout books in several different categories to help in preaching through a book of the Bible.

Study Bibles
I have a large number of study Bibles, so this is a good place to provide a disclaimer that holds good for the rest of the lists. I am not going to list every book I own, but rather those I am most likely to use, whether seldom or frequently, in the course of this study. I may end up using a book while studying Ruth that I did not anticipate and so it is not on the list. If that happens, the book will most likely be mentioned in a later post.

Study Bibles typically have articles or notes on the text of the book, an outline of the book, and an introduction to the book noting author, date, themes, etc. Study Bibles can be general or have some focused perspective, e.g., biblical theology. I like to have a range of these. I mostly use these for the book introductions. Here are the study Bibles for Ruth, in no particular order.

The MacArthur Study Bible
A general study Bible with brief notes on the text and good book introductions.

The Complete Jewish Study Bible
A study Bible which focuses on Jewish custom and tradition.

The Gospel Transformation Study Bible
A study Bible that focuses on the gospel in each book of the Bible.

The Biblical Theology Study Bible
A study Bible focusing on the biblical theology of the books that connects to the overarching redemptive story of Scripture as a whole.

The Literary Study Bible
A study Bible focusing on literary analysis of the Bible books, which includes information on genre, literary motifs, rhetorical devices, and contribution to the master story of the Bible.

The NET Bible Full Notes
A Bible with extensive translation notes, including translation decisions, meaning, and usage.

Commentaries
Commentaries vary widely in their format, style, and depth, and, therefore, their usefulness. I haven’t found much help from commentaries that are mostly formatted sermon manuscripts. Commentaries are not infallible, but I use commentaries to help check my work.

Expositional commentaries can be helpful is discerning if I have captured the main point of a passage, or if I have missed something important. I use exegetical commentaries to check for information on original languages, nuance of meanings, or translational issues that may need further investigation. I refer to theological commentaries to check for themes in a passage and connections with other texts and themes. I use literary commentaries to check on genre specific structures, motifs, and themes. I use practical commentaries to check applications and bridges from the text to today.

There is no one commentary that does it all, but often a single commentary will actually cover several of those areas. Of course, I want to work through these issues with the passage for myself before referring to commentaries to help check my work. Here are the commentaries I have laid out for Ruth, in no particular order.

The Story of God Bible Commentary—Ruth and Esther
If you follow the link, you will notice this volume is not available yet, so I don’t have it. I include it because I would definitely have it and use it if it were available. I have some of these commentaries and really like what I have used so far. The commentary focuses on overarching redemptive history and placing books and their passages within that framework.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary—Ruth
I have used other commentaries in this series and found them helpful. I was surprised by how extensive this commentary is on Ruth. The single volume is around 300 pages. This commentary covers literary structure, language, themes, theology, and application.

New American Commentary—Judges, Ruth
I haven’t used any commentaries from this series yet. This was written by Daniel Block, who also wrote the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary above. The NAC is laid out quite differently from the ZEC and seems to have a different focus. I’m not sure how much I will use it, but it’s available.

Teach the Text Commentary—Judges and Ruth
I haven’t used any of this series before now. This commentary focuses on big picture themes and ideas in the text and presents historical and cultural background information. It also includes sections for each unit in the book on teaching and illustrating the text.

The NIV Application Commentary—Judges, Ruth
I have used other volumes in this series and really like these commentaries. It is a good blend of exposition, literary, and theological commentary. Each section ends with application and bridging contexts.

The MacArthur Bible Commentary
This is a single volume commentary of the whole Bible. It doesn’t necessarily have comments on every verse. The comments are brief and useful.

New Bible Commentary
This is another single volume commentary on the whole Bible. It doesn’t go verse by verse, but rather section by section. The comments are brief but helpful.

Dictionaries
General Bible dictionaries can be handy for looking up names, places, and terms. I have a bunch of them and most of them are in the Bible study apps I use. I’m not going to list them individually, but if I refer to one and find it useful, I will mention that in a later post. I also use language dictionaries for help with the original languages. Here are those that I have laid out for Ruth.

Strong’s Concordance & Vines Expository Dictionary
These are usually readily available for free in various digital formats. Strong’s give root definitions and Vine’s gives definitions and distinguishes for usage.

Brown Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
Lexical definitions and usage information.

Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament
This is keyed to the Strong’s numbers and shows every verse where the Hebrew word occurs, regardless of how it is translated.

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
More up to date than Strong’s.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
Articles explaining the meaning and usage of different words.

The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
This was originally published in a five volume set. It is a more up to date lexicon, which also covers the Aramaic. It has in-depth articles on meaning and usage.

Overviews
These are books that are treatments of the biblical book as a whole. This would include book introductions. I use these most in the early part of the study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

The MacArthur Bible Handbook
This is a book by book survey of the whole Bible that gives an introduction and overview of each book in a few pages. It is concise but typically covers the author, date of writing, background, setting, historical and theological themes, a section on the Christology of the book, an outline, and ends with answering a number of challenging questions about the book.

Old Testament Survey
This is a book by book survey with literary and narrative analysis and a focus on canonical context.

The Message of the Old Testament
This book is sermons preached on each book of the Old Testament. It is a brief introduction and overview of each book. This is a case where printed sermons are helpful. The beginning, after the opening illustration, and ending of the sermons are what I found most helpful. The book focuses on the big picture and is also helpful on practical applications of the book as a whole.

Theologies
These are books that generally do not provide verse by verse commentary but focus more on the theology taught in the book, whether systematic or biblical. Sometimes they are laid out to go section by section and sometime they are laid out to go more topically in a thematic arrangement. I tend to use these more in the early part of the study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

The Theology of the Book of Ruth
This book focuses on certain words and themes to connect Ruth with other historical narratives and reveal the theological message of the book.

From Famine to Fullness
This book focuses on the Gospel and Gospel implications in the book through focusing on major themes in the book of Ruth.

Unceasing Kindness
This is a biblical theology treatment of Ruth. It seeks to read Ruth in the wider context of Scripture and trace big picture themes such as redemption, famine, and covenant kindness (hesed).

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment
This books go through each book of the Bible and focuses on the biblical theology of the books, which connects them together in the overarching story of the Bible.

He Will Reign Forever
This book goes through the Bible from beginning to end to trace the theme of Christ’s kingdom. Some books are covered in greater detail than others.

Special Issues
Each book of the Bible has special issues attached to it. These may be controversial issues, cultural issues, theological issues, etc. If you dig much into resources for the book of Ruth, you will find issues such as postmodern interpretations of the book as a feminist or minority/foreigner polemic. Our own ministry context will help us discern how much we need to speak to such issues.

There are perennial issues we do need to study. The book of Ruth is a part of the history of Israel and particularly during the period of the judges. Aspects of Old Covenant law are crucial to the book, such as the law of redemption, levirate marriage, inheritance, and gleaning. These are important issues in the book and though they will probably be touched on in the commentaries and such, they will probably require further study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

Leviticus
Commentary on Leviticus with helpful comments on the law.

Deuteronomy
Commentary on Deuteronomy with helpful explanations of the law.

Institutes of Biblical Law
Three volume work on the Old Covenant law more extensive than the commentaries. Rushdoony was a scholar and he was also a covenant theologian and postmill reconstructionist. His explanations of the law in its original context are clear and helpful, but you obviously need to be careful with his contemporary application.

Digital Tools

If you are a young preacher and not computer literate, you need to invest the time to get literate. Digital tools save time and help organize your study. They can also help to build an easily searchable library of your own work for future use. I started out by hand but quickly transitioned to digital and am only glad I did. Today we have various devices and can have apps that sync across all those devices. I realize technologies can present their own problems, but if we discipline ourselves to use them well, they can be a tremendous blessing

I use a Kindle reader as well as the Kindle app on my phone and computer. You can truly have a library in your pocket and with you all the time. The portability means you can read in those little snatches of time while you’re waiting on the doctor or your wife, or something else. You can highlight and make notes in the app and have them sync across all devices. I always have the Kindle app open on my computer when I am studying. The app also gives you the ability to search the text of the books. The vast majority of books I have on Kindle were either free or less than $3.

I use three different Bible apps for studying. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. I primarily use Olive Tree with numerous resources I’ve added through the years when they were on a good sale. I use e-Sword with a host of free resources I download from the web. I also use Logos, but that is mainly for commentaries and books I got for free for the app. All those apps can be downloaded for free and come with varying free resources.

I use Microsoft Office apps and have for many years. There are alternatives out there, but I haven’t used very many of them. I use Excel spreadsheets for making charts and otherwise organizing information. I don’t use Word a whole lot, but I probably like outlining on Word the best.

I also use Evernote, which has a host of capabilities I don’t use. I primarily use this app to clip articles from the web I want to save. The app syncs across all devices and is very handy.

My primary sermon writing app is Scrivener. This app was developed first as a novel writing app, but it has expanded through the years to be useful for any sort of long form writing. In the app you can create documents and drag and drop them to rearrange them how you want. The app has a research folder for storing notes, articles, outlines, or whatever you want. You can also attach notes to a document that stay with it but don’t print out unless you choose to do so. All my digital papers are in one place in this app. I have a project entitled Ruth. I have various study notes and relevant documents in there along with my sermon notes I will print and take to the pulpit. Everything for Ruth is there in one app. It has a word processor, but it is much more than a word processor. It does have a fairly steep learning curve, but I have considered it well worth the time.

Analog Tools

For all my commending of technology, I still work with analog tools to accomplish my study. I use a blend of both. For marking up, scratching down notes, and so on I find nothing beats a pencil and paper. A lot of what ends up in the digital documents I produce during the course of studying a book starts out as furious markings and scribblings on paper closely approximating the copywork of a pre-kindergartener.

I have been using Scripture Journals for a while in the study of books I’m preaching. These journals are 5.75×8 with a lay-flat binding and flexible card stock covers. One page has the biblical text and the facing page is a ruled blank page for notes. There is also marginal space on the text pages for notes as well. As I study a book, I will use this journal through the whole process. I will underline, circle, bracket, draw arrows, and write notes during the whole process. These are very handy for keeping notes in one place that is tied to specific verses. As I read books or commentaries, I will make notes. As I study the passage I’m going to preach, I will make notes. These journals have become indispensable to me and an improvement over my old system of printed or copied Bible pages for this purpose.

I still use printable Bible pages, but for a different purpose than I use those journals. I have a printable Word document for each book of the Bible. You can find the one for Ruth here. That document will actually be my starting point, which we will get to in another post. Sermon Audio also offers PDF files of their Paperback Bible you can download and print. It is a similar layout as the Scripture Journal, but it is loose-leaf. The biblical text is on the facing pages and there is a wide outside margin that is ruled for notes. You can find those here.

Last of all, I need pens, pencils, highlighters, and paper. This is a long post, so I will make this short. You need to find what is serviceable for you and cheap. You want to avoid preciousness, because you actually need to use these supplies. You can spend a lot of money for fancy pens and paper, but those resources have so much preciousness that you don’t want to waste them and you’re inhibited from the free marking you need to do. If you’re going to write full sermon manuscripts by hand, then you need better pens and paper. If you’re going to think on paper, mark, and scribble, you need cheap stuff that works.

Up Next

In the next post, I will get to the actual beginning of the study to preach through a book.

This post is part of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

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