AskDefine | Define preaching

Dictionary Definition



1 an address of a religious nature (usually delivered during a church service) [syn: sermon, discourse]
2 a moralistic rebuke; "your preaching is wasted on him" [syn: sermon]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. present participle of preach

Extensive Definition

A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, or religious topic, usually expounding on a type of belief or law within both past and present contexts.


Sermons are usually, but not always, delivered in a house of worship, most of which have a pulpit or ambo, an elevated architectural feature. A sermon is also known as a homily within the Catholic Church. The word "sermon" comes from a Middle English word which was derived from an Old French term, which in turn came from the Latin word sermō; ("discourse"). (Actually, it meant "conversation", and early sermons were delivered in the form of question and answer, only later did it come to mean a monologue).
In modern language, the word "sermon" can also be used pejoratively in secular terms to describe a lengthy or tedious speech delivered with great passion, by any person, to an uninterested audience. A sermonette is a short sermon (usually associated with television broadcasting, as stations would present a sermonette before signing off for the night).

Diverse traditions

In traditional Indian philosophy, a teacher or guru delivers a talk known as a satsang.
In rabbinic Judaism, homiletical literature is found primarily in various forms of Biblical exegesis, known as midrash. Sermons center around Torah study and, as is prevalent in the modern period, during prayer services.
In Islam, the Khutba (Arabic: (خطبة khuṭbah) is a sermon delivered before Friday prayers and after Eid prayers. There is also a khutba delivered during Hajj in the plains of Arafat, just outside Mecca. This khutba addresses the entire Muslim nation, as its message is carried back by pilgrims to their respective homelands.

Sermons in the Christian tradition

In Christianity, the most famous sermon is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus of Nazareth. This sermon was probably preached around 30 A.D. and is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (5:1 - 7:29, including introductory and concluding material) as being delivered on a mount on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. The Sermon on the Mount lays out many of the core principles of Christianity. Another rendition of much of the same material may be found in the "Sermon on the Plain" in the Gospel of Luke (6:17 - 49, including introductory material).
During the later history of Christianity, several figures became known for their sermons or a particularly significant sermon. Preachers of the early church include Peter (see especially Acts 2:14b - 36), Stephen (see Acts 7:1b - 53), Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzus. Sermons in this era were used to spread Christianity across Europe and Asia Minor. During the Middle Ages, sermons inspired the beginnings of new religious orders (eg, Saint Dominic and Francis of Assisi). Pope Urban II began the First Crusade in November 1095 at the Council of Clermont, France, when he exhorted French knights to retake the Holy Land in Palestine.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the art of preaching has developed through the theological field of homiletics.
Many sermons have been written down, collected and published. Such sermons include John Wesley's 53 Standard Sermons, John Chrysostom's Homily on the Resurrection (preached every Easter in Orthodox churches) and Gregory Nazianzus' homily "On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ" (preached every Christmas in Orthodox churches). Martin Luther began a tradition of publishing sermons (Hauspostille) on the Sunday lessons for the edification of readers. This tradition was continued by Chemnitz and Arndt and others into the following centuries.

Role in Protestantism

The Reformation led to Protestant sermons, many of which defended the schism with the Roman Catholic Church and explained beliefs about scripture, theology and devotion. Since the distinctive doctrines of Protestantism held that salvation was by faith alone, and convincing people to believe the Gospel and place trust in God for their salvation through Jesus Christ was the decisive step in salvation, in Protestantism the sermon and hymn came to replace the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. To rouse deeper faith in the churchgoers, rather than have them partake in a ritual, was the goal of Protestant worship conditioned by these beliefs.
In the 1700s and 1800s during the Great Awakening, major sermons were made at revivals, which were especially popular in the United States. These sermons were noted for their "fire-and-brimstone" message, typified by Jonathan Edwards's famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" speech. In these sermons the wrath of God was clearly one to be afraid of, although fear was not the message Edwards was trying to convey in his sermons, he was simply trying to tell the people that they could be forgiven for their sins.


There are a number of different types of preaching, that differ both by their subject matter and by their intended audience. and accordingly not every preacher is well-versed in each type. The types of preaching are:
  • Topical preaching - concerned with a particular subject of current concern;
  • Biographical preaching - tracing the story of a particular biblical character through a number of parts of the Bible.
  • Evangelistic preaching - seeking to convert the congregation or bring them back to their previous faith through a recounting of the Good News.
  • Expository preaching - exegesis, or preaching from a text and seeking to expound the text to the congregation.
  • Redemptive-Historical Preaching - Preaching that takes into consideration the context of any given text within the broader history of salvation as recorded in the canon of the bible.
It is worth noting that sermons can be both written and outspoken.

Delivery methods

Sermons also differ on the amount of time and effort used to prepare them.
  • Scripted preaching - preaching with a previous preparation, it can be with help of notes or a script, or rely on the memory of the preacher.
  • Extemporaneous preaching - preaching without overly detailed notes and sometimes without preparation. Usually a basic outline and scriptural references are listed as notes.
  • Impromptu preaching - preaching without previous preparation.



  • American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Warner, ed. (New York: The Library of America, 1999) ISBN 1-883011-65-5
  • Edwards, O. C., Jr. A History of Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004. ISBN 0-687-03864-2
  • Willimon, William H. and Richard Lischer, eds. Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995. ISBN 0-664-21942-X
preaching in Czech: Kázání
preaching in Welsh: Pregeth
preaching in Danish: Prædiken
preaching in German: Predigt
preaching in Spanish: Sermón
preaching in French: Sermon
preaching in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Predication
preaching in Dutch: Homilie
preaching in Norwegian: Preken
preaching in Japanese: 説教
preaching in Polish: Kazanie
preaching in Russian: Христианская проповедь
preaching in Simple English: Sermon
preaching in Finnish: Saarna
preaching in Swedish: Predikan
preaching in Ukrainian: Проповідь

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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