Even if you are already familiar with the features of the ZECNT or, in the prior article, have read through the descriptive content from the ZECNT itself, you might still be interested in an overview of what we find particularly valuable about the series for time-pressed expositors.
Why The ZECNT’s Features Matter
In my experience, sermons most frequently fail in several predictable ways (even, sometimes, in spite of the preacher’s awareness of the potential pitfalls!). The ZECNT’s features specifically address the most important of these characteristic trouble spots.
- Failure to articulate a clear big idea
- Failure to emphasize what the text emphasizes
- Failure to discern what the text means for today
- Failure to thoughtfully apply that meaning to the hearers
At the same time, the ZECNT does not “do all the preacher’s work for him”. This too, we feel is important. The preacher still needs to study the biblical text for himself. He still needs to make sure he has really understood the exegetical idea (even if he interacts with the commentator’s suggestion). He still needs to take all he has studied and think about how it makes a difference to his own congregation. He still needs to illustrate and apply. He also still needs to do further research as he has time and resources. But what the ZECNT provides is a huge head start, especially since it is a head start designed with the needs of the preacher and his congregation in mind.
Here is a brief overview of these features.
These matters relate to a New Testament book as a whole.
- Introduction – A “just the right amount of information” presentation of all the relevant background matter and scholarly discussion that a pastor needs to know to accurately frame his study and exposition of any particular passage.
- Theological Overview – A thematic presentation of the teaching emphases of the book, helping a preacher see the parts in light of the whole.
The very fact that these commentaries are structured by preaching portions is already a big help as the preacher will invariably need to preach the text that way. But in addition to the time saving this implies, the fact that the commentator has structured his presentation this way has the additional benefit of forcing the commentator himself to process the book’s content from the preacher’s perspective.
- Literary Context – Deliberately places the portion in its immediate context. On a Sunday-by-Sunday basis a pastor needs to do this to re-situate his hearers in the flow of a biblical book’s argument.
- Main Idea – Many to most sermons would improve immeasurably with a clear statement of the big idea of the passage. The fact that the commentator deliberately summaries his understanding of the main thought of the preaching portion is a singular help. It is not yet a brief, “preachable,” big idea. It is rather an “exegetical idea” that every pastor will then need to wrestle into a memorable statement that is contextualized to his audience. This is perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the entire series!
- Translation and Graphical Layout – Clearly structures and labels the propositions in the text, helping the preacher very quickly see the biblical writer’s flow of thought. Excellent help for structuring one’s own preaching outline in a way that emphasizes what the text emphasizes.
- Structure – If you will, a more “narrative” explanation of what was graphically presented just before. It highlights the rationale behind the layout of the text that was presented.
- Exegetical Outline – Structure breeds clarity. The exegetical outline offers the preacher a textually-grounded head start for fashioning his own homiletical outline.
- Explanation of the Text – The ZECNT’s exposition is presented by verse (sometimes by clause or sentence). The English translation appears first, followed by the Greek. It has the happy mission of being written in a way that is clear for the person who is not conversant with New Testament Greek, while providing additional insight for the person who is.
- Theology in Application – A two-for-one section. Interpretation and application! What does the passage mean for today, and how would a contemporary believer put it into practice.