As I sat at my desk this week struggling with a two letter particle in the text of Matthew 7, I thought to myself, “Gee whiz, if only I could just paraphrase!” Couldn’t I just make it a whole lot easier for myself to simply read the Greek text, glean the basic idea behind the words, and use that as a translation? Think of all the forehead bruises from the repetitive head-smashing-against-the-desk that occurs weekly in my study that could be avoided. Isn’t it the preacher’s job to draw out the basic meaning of the text? So why fuss with a tiny particle, conjunction, or preposition in the text? That is a foolish waste of time. Paraphrasing must be the way to go.
The thought process employed above betrays the typical fleshly desire to take the road most traveled by. As you begin to spend less and less time wrestling for hours with the text over one measly detail–a detail that may not even make it into the final redaction of your sermon, might I add–your exegetical aggression will begin to wain. You will find yourself less and less inclined to investigate minor details, think critically about the function of words, and your reading skills will slowly dull. Eventually, you will discover that a good English translation captures the plain meaning of the text, so why fool with the Greek or Hebrew at all? If less time is spent on minutiae, more time can be spent researching great illustrations, stories, and jokes! Hurray!
Slowly and surely you are moving your congregation further away from the text one step at a time. You see, Pastor, when you are preparing your sermon from the original texts, your people are only one step removed. However, as you begin to prepare from the English translation, you yourself are a step from the original, which moves your congregation to two steps of removal from the text. If you choose to push it even further, using paraphrases of English translations, your people become three steps removed from the original texts.
There is value in wrestling with God’s Word, every word, whether it contributes to your sermon or not. As your mind is spent meditating on every choice morsel of the text, your mind is slowly shaped by his Word. The objective of a sermon is not to paraphrase the text or to summarize the “main idea.” The objective of a sermon is to speak God’s Word to his people. Preachers are messengers. We have nothing original to present; all of our material is plagiarized. It is not the messenger’s job to bring the basic idea of his master’s message, but to communicate exactly what his master has said.
The time you spent scuttling with God’s Word and rolling around with your GNT on the floor may never be acknowledged by your listeners, but you can know you will one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”