Incidentalize Your Preaching

I have often wished that Jesus had begun his miracle working with something more harmonious to my teetotaler’s ethic. But it was wine, and I cannot escape the truth. Oinos is the Greek word Jesus used, and while I have heard a nervous evangelical friend say that Plato once used the word to refer to “grapette,” I have grave doubts about such an interpretation.

When dealing with biblical interpretation that makes us edgy, we can soften what the Bible says by incidentalizing rather than exegeting. In dealing with this passage, we can divert the reader’s attention from the whole embarrassing issue of water and Oinos by simply not translating Oinos in its nonevangelical counterpart. If you stick with Oinos, it will make the sermon seem very classy and highly exegetical.

The key to survival in preaching is to make obscure those passages that are clear and too embarrassing to say out loud. To incidentalize is to take the unimportant aspects of a passage and make them the central idea.

In the water-to-wine miracle of John 2, therefore, it is better to deal with the word “firkin” than “wine.” Describe how to covert firkins to the metric system. By the time the average churchgoer converts 20 or 30 firkins to liters—and then to gallons—he will forget all about the real, and embarrassing, issue of wine.

This idea is also helpful in dealing with Gomer’s adultery in the Book of Hosea. You can just explain how Hosea’s little wood cart carried a homer-and-a-half barley. You can first convert homers to bushels and then to kilos, and after that the congregation won’t remember that Gomer was a harlot or why you brought it up.

The best incidentalizing I ever heard just did it all by implication and never dealt with the ...

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