Simeon Trust: Principles of Exposition

June 16, 2011

The Simeon Trust website is really helpful. For example, there is a great page called “Principles of Exposition.” Whether you need to re-sharpen your tools or learn the basics of being a workman, there is much material that you will find useful.

All the material below is taken from the Simeon Trust Principles of Exposition page. I realised in listening to the talks that I have fallen back into some of the mistakes that David Helm (and others) warn us of!


Principle:We must let the Bible shape our frameworks rather than letting our frameworks shape our ‘interpretations’ of the Bible.Explanation:Some people are Calvinists and others are Wesleyans. Some are neither. Many lean to the left. Many others lean to the right. We all have frameworks. And frameworks can often be very helpful. But in order to get at the meaning of a text, we must begin by suspending our frameworks and, instead, let the text be sovereign. Where there is discrepancy, we must adjust the framework rather than fall into the traps of ignoring or bending the text until it says “what we want it to say.” We must hear it for “what it says.”Strategies:identify your own frameworks (political, theological, health and wealth gospel, etc.), constantly approach the text with fresh eyes, consult many translations of the Bible (both conservative and liberal, dynamic and literal)Practice Texts: Mark 2.1-12 or 8.22-33, Hebrews 6.1-8, James 2.14-26

Listen: David Helm teaches at the 2005 Wheaton workshop [mp3, 63mb]

text and framework


Principle:We will preach from a particular passage better if we understand what the whole book is about.Explanation:Books of the Bible and the Bible (as a whole) have a coherent, sustained message similar to the unique melody of a song—waiting to be heard. It unites the whole book, concisely stating what the whole book is about. The theme of any passage will be related (directly or indirectly) to this theme or melodic line. In other words, the Bible does not need an interpreter (it is, itself, an interpretation). Our job is not to interpret the Bible, but 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 15.26), find a purpose statement (e.g. Luke 1.1-4), find repeated words and phrases and ideas (e.g. “joy” and “fellowship” in Philippians), follow the Old Testament quotationsPractice Texts: John 2.1-11, 2 Corinthians 8.1-15, 2 Timothy 3.10-17

Listen: Kent Hughes teaches at the 2007 Spokane workshop [mp3, 27mb]

melodic line


Principle:We must understand how the original audience understood the words in order to know how those words apply today. We must understand the context.Explanation:In preaching, there is a great pressure to be relevant. This pressure often means that we are tempted to read what is written and then apply it directly. In other words, we go straight from the text to what we consider a relevant application. By understanding the text in its context, that is, understanding the verse as it would have been understood by the original audience, we can begin to understand the author’s intention in the passage for our congregation.Strategies:read the entire book, if paired with another then read both books (e.g. 1 and 2 Corinthians), find references in other books to the people in your passagePractice Texts: 1 Corinthians 13.1-7, 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1

Listen: Paul Rees teaches at the 2007 Philadelphia workshop [mp3, 63mb]

traveling instructions


Principle:We must stay on the line of Scripture, never straying above it or below it.Explanation:We are often tempted to venture above the line of Scripture into fanaticism or pietism, expressing a zeal that may or may not hide legalism. In so doing, we add unto the Scriptures. We are also often tempted to dip below the line into liberalism and pragmatism, ignoring both the content and point of Scripture and appearing as subtle or even blatant antinomianism. In so doing, we subtract from the Scriptures. And so, we must consider the text in light of both extremes.Strategies:consider the text in light of both extremes, anticipate how those who are the furthest above and the furthest below might treat the text, test consistency of your reading with the rest of ScripturePractice Texts: Genesis 3.1-3 (who is above or below?), Mark 7.6-13, John 3.16-21

Listen: David Helm teaches at the 2005 Wheaton workshop [mp3, 84mb]

staying on the line


Principle:A preacher cannot preach a text well without first apprehending the skeletal structure of the passage.Explanation:Every text has a structure. We must find the organizing principle of the author. This organizing principle, or emphasis, must dictate the shape and emphasis of the sermon. This is the frame. In structural engineering—if you don’t get the frame right, the house will never come out right. To use another metaphor, we must get the ‘bones’ straight in order for the sermon to be healthy.Strategies:recognize that much of the material in the Bible was originally preached material and look for the outline the original preacher used, look at the text with x-ray eyes in order to see its skeletal structure, be familiar with different genres of Biblical literature as they will have correspondingly different shapes (e.g. in Old Testament narrative, look at major characters, crisis, resolution, chiasms, and God or narrator speech moments; in the Pauline Epistles, diagram the sentences and find repetitions)Practice Texts: Genesis 11.1-9, Amos 1.3-2.4, Luke 15-24, Ephesians 5, Philippians 2

Listen: David Helm teaches at the 2007 Chicago workshop [mp3, 46mb]

bone and marrow


  1. Spot on! I’m posting a link right now! In particular, “TR”s here in America forget that the Bible should be leading us, not our confessional documents.

  2. […] Simeon Trust: Principles of Exposition « unashamed […]

  3. I found David Helm’s five examples from his workshop on the Principles of Exposition helpful. I appreciate his passion to interpret the preaching unit in the context of the entire Bible and also with the original audience in mind. Tim White

  4. Helm’s Simeon is a fine teaching program. He utilizes the teachings he himself gained from Dick Lucas, who came up with most of the terms like ‘Staying on the Line’ and ‘Bone & Marrow’. I’ve heard Alistair Begg teach on the same things, and not surprisingly he also credits Dick Lucas.
    Point being, if Dick Lucas is your teacher, you cannot go wrong.

    I can’t recommend Lucas sermons enough for excellent examples of how to keep people riveted for the entire sermon, and at the same time teach sound scripture expositorily yet at the same time evangelistically. He always found a way to work in important evangelistic points and was never fearful of speaking on the wrath of God, yet always balanced it with the love, mercy & grace of God.
    And all done with authority and yet pleasantly engaging with his audience.

  5. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like Lucas is gone because he is not! He’s still as sharp as ever. I do refer back though to the heyday of st helens bishopsgate when he was preaching every other day in 70’s, 80’s & 90’s. Even with so much work to prepare and so often, in those days, he was incredible for his every talk being memorable and edifying. I recommend downloading as many of those st helens talks as you can find room for.

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