Point-to-Point Application: Principlization


The progression from a biblical author’s verbal meaning to a correct application follows this track: 

Verbal meaning—(“A” gap)—Timeless Principle—(“B” gap)—Application.

Ramesh Richard’s “extrapolation” method largely dealt with what happens in the space we call the “A” gap (the first arrow). Kaiser’s “principlization” method largely deals with what happens in the space we call the “B” gap (the second arrow). 

Principlization aims to ground any end-user application in the truth-intention of the biblical author. The only legitimate end-user application is rooted in the biblical author’s grammar and syntax. Any application with merely a superficial connection to the author’s verbal meaning must be judged as a wrong one.1See Walter Kaiser, “Inner Biblical Exegesis as a Model for Bridging the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ Gap: Hosea 12:1-6,” JETS 28 (Mar 1985): 34. Implementing four homiletical controls will guide us through the “B” gap space. At the least, it will help (1) to eliminate flawed end-user applications and (2) to fix our attention on those legitimate correspondences which are grounded in the biblical author’s verbal meaning.

If the biblical author were standing here, would he apply it this way? If not, neither should we.

Match-up the Subject of the Text and Message 

The first control is to make the subject of the preaching-text the subject of the message. Make certain to: (1) analyze the theme sentences in each paragraph (refer to your hermeneutical study); (2) look for distinctive features in the passage; and, (3) study the opening words or headings, which set the stage for how the passage develops.2See Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 152-55. 

Match-up the Emphasis of the Text and Message 

The second control is to transfer the emphasis of the preaching-text to the emphasis of the message (see prior articles here and here). Kaiser highlights two criteria which will govern that transference. First, identify important words/key terms by their frequency/strategic position in the syntactical construction.3Ibid., 155. These often are obvious points the author wishes to convey.4Ibid., 156. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, follow the three infinitival forms in 3b, 4a, and 6a. Second, analyze conjunctives which link sentences. Conjunctives alert us to consequences or reasons the author conveys. For example, Kaiser traces-out how a biblical author’s emphasis relates to (what we call) the “timeless principle;” and ultimately, the end-user application:

Whenever a series of sentences or clauses is linked together by the same introductory word (“because,” “since,” “therefore,” or the like) it may be possible to organize the message aground these key words. In this case each major point in the sermon will be a development of the subject from the same perspective and angle. For example, if the word “therefore” is sprinkled throughout the paragraphs under investigation, then we may safely make our major points in the sermon a discussion of the “consequences” of the announced subject. Alternatively, if the word “because” recurs frequently, we may develop our message around a series of “reasons.”5Ibid., 155-56.

Match-up the Movements of the Text with the Message

The third control is to mirror the preaching-text’s main points and sub-points in the message. This takes tremendous discipline, as our natural inclination is to get the verbal meaning correct . . . and then apply it as we see fit. Left to ourselves, we tend to gravitate toward applications “related” to the preaching-text but not necessarily “central” to it. 

Diagramming the text is the safest way to enact this control. If, as Kaiser advises, you reduce every paragraph to a single sentence, then the author’s main points should become clear. These theme sentences should be analyzed in relation to the author’s larger scope in the preaching-text. Kaiser suggests “weighing each topic sentence against the author’s major concern in the whole text under scrutiny”6Ibid., 157. 

Once the main points fall into place, any sub-points the author expresses should feed-into them. Your sermon/teaching outline should mirror the text in this way. This exercise will anchor your end-user application to the biblical author’s syntactical constructions, the latter being the surest source of clues as to how the author intended his text to be applied.

Match-up the Theology in the Text to the Message

The final control is to reflect the theology in the preaching-text as the theology of the message. Two guiding principles must govern this. First, “emerging theology” must take precedence over systematic theology. “Emerging theology” refers only to the biblical revelation the author knew at the time he wrote. Kaiser touts the analogy of antecedent Scripture: That is, we must never superimpose later revelation (of which the author was unaware) onto the preaching-text. This will distort his verbal meaning, which will distort the end-user application.7Ibid., 161. This is not to say systematic theology is irrelevant. Quite the opposite, which leads us to Kaiser’s next guiding principle . . .  

Second, the proper place for systematic theology is in summaries and conclusions.8Ibid. Later revelation should be reserved for summary sections of each main point. This best upholds the sufficiency of each preaching-text. Kaiser explains, 

If this informing theology was what made the text timeless and full of abiding values for the people in that day (and we believe that it was), then could not this same diachronic accumulation of theology provide the same heart of the message for all peoples in all times? Yes, for even in the text’s historical particularity, it also carried in its very bosom an enduring plan of the everlasting God.9Ibid., 162 

Kaiser seeks to maintain the relation between the biblical author’s meaning and its significance to changing contexts. Therefore, legitimate application—first—should reflect the theology in the text at the time it was written; and—second—shed light on any subsequent relevation via conclusions and summary statements. This final control takes into account Richard’s “extrapolation” method in a way that harnesses allegorical tendencies where they seem most likely to appear: namely, in the “gaps.”

This final theological control harnesses allegorical tendencies where they are most likely to appear: namely, in the “gaps.”

Kaiser wisely cautions:

In the past grids that had been devised outside of the text were dropped in place over the text to yield some theological payload from the Bible. . . . At best, it restructures the Bible according to one’s favorite schema or pet doctrine; but what authority and guidance are left after the text has been treated so subjectively?10Ibid., 138 

Concluding Thought

Each of these methods—abstraction, extrapolation, and principlization—are helpful in determining correct application. Use all of them as you work your way through the “gaps.” At the end, double-check yourself with a simple, common-sense question:

“If the biblical author were standing here, would he apply it this way?”

If not, then neither should we.  


1 See Walter Kaiser, “Inner Biblical Exegesis as a Model for Bridging the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ Gap: Hosea 12:1-6,” JETS 28 (Mar 1985): 34.
2 See Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 152-55.
3 Ibid., 155.
4 Ibid., 156. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, follow the three infinitival forms in 3b, 4a, and 6a.
5 Ibid., 155-56.
6 Ibid., 157.
7 Ibid., 161.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid., 162
10 Ibid., 138
Author Principlization

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.