I am grateful to the Evangelical Homiletics Society for their kind permission to place on-line the following article, which explains what we can learn from examples of ancient exegesis of the biblical text:
Timothy J. Ralston, “‘Back to the Future’: Classical Categories of Exegesis, Application and Authority for Preaching and Spiritual Formation,” Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 3.2 (2003): 33-51.
Summary (from text)
The categories lectio continua, lectio semi-continua, lectio selecta and lectio divina describe hermeneutical approaches to the application of scripture. Consequently these categories provide a helpful means to classify the hermeneutical validity of an application presented in a sermon and, by implication, the relative authority of the ethic derived from one’s interaction with a biblical text. They also offer a well accepted taxonomy to understand the differing use of the Bible in the spiritual formation of individuals and Christian communities. Therefore, they represent valuable categories worthy of recovery and adoption for evaluating sermons.
Perhaps I state the obvious. I hope so. Most (if not all) Evangelicals express a genuine commitment to the ideal of lectio continua, that which we believe lies at the heart of preaching in the tradition of sola scriptura. Often, however, our preaching hermeneutic, even that which designates itself as “expository,” displays more of the characteristics of lectio selecta or lectio divina. Unfortunately few appreciate the difference and most aren’t aware of the problem.
The Holy Spirit is not limited by the poverty of a method, but the weakness of our application to reflect the results of authoritative exegesis must surely detract from the simplicity of the Bible’s authority as it speaks to human need. Ultimately, anything less than lectio continua in preaching undermines a local church’s ability to form the lives of its members according to scripture and to engage with other Christian communities in obedience to our Lord’s requirement of unity in faith and witness – the measure of true Christian maturity and the measure of success in our effort toward the spiritual formation of the Body of Christ.