Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount, from The Life of Our Lord, published by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London c.1880).

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Homiletics is the practice and study of the art of preaching; the rhetoric of the sermon.

The foundation for homiletics lay in the epideictic variety of classical rhetoric. Beginning in the late Middle Ages and continuing to the present day, homiletics has commanded a great deal of critical attention.
But as James L. Kinneavy has observed, homiletics isn't just a Western phenomenon: "Indeed, nearly all of the major world religions have involved persons trained to preach" (Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, 1996). See Examples and Observations, below.

From the Greek, "conversation"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The Greek word homilia signifies conversation, mutual talk, and so familiar discourse. The Latin word sermo (from which we get sermon) has the same sense, of conversation, talk, discussion. It is instructive to observe that the early Christians did not at first apply to their public teachings the names given to the orations of Demosthenes and Cicero, but called them talks, familiar discourses. Under the influence of rhetorical teaching and the popularizing of Christian worship, the talk soon became a more formal and extended discourse . . ..
    "Homiletics may be called a branch of rhetoric, or a kindred art. Those fundamental principles which have their basis in human nature are of course the same in both cases, and this being so it seems clear that we must regard homiletics as rhetoric applied to this particular kind of speaking. Still, preaching is properly very different from secular discourse, as to the primary source of its materials, as to the directness and simplicity of style which become the preacher, and the unworldly motives by which he ought to be influenced."
    (John A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 1870)
  • Medieval Preaching Manuals
    "Thematic preaching was not directed at converting the audience. The congregation was assumed to believe in Christ, as the vast majority of people in medieval Europe did. The preacher instructs them about the meaning of the Bible, with emphasis on moral action. Just as dictamen combined features of rhetoric, social status, and law to meet a perceived need in writing letters, so the preaching manuals drew on a variety of disciplines to outline their new technique. Biblical exegesis was one; scholastic logic was another--thematic preaching, with its succession of definitions, divisions, and syllogism can be regarded as a more popular form of scholastic disputation; and a third was rhetoric as known from Cicero and Boethius, seen in rules for arrangement and style. There was also some influence from grammar and other liberal arts in the amplification of divisions of the theme.
    "Handbooks of preaching were very common in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. No one of them, however, was widely circulated to become the standard work on the subject."
    (George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric & Its Christian & Secular Tradition. University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
  • Homiletics From the 18th Century to the Present
    "Homiletics [in the 18th and 19th centuries] increasingly became a species of rhetoric, preaching became pulpit oratory, and sermons became moral discourses. Less bound to classical rhetorical models, zealous fundamentalist and 20th-century homileticians adapted various inductive, narrative-based sermon strategies derived, respectively, from biblical models (jeremiad, parable, Pauline exhortation, revelation) and theories of mass communication."
    (Gregory Kneidel, "Homiletics." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. by T.O. Sloane. Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • African-American Preaching
    "African American preaching, unlike some of the straitjacket preaching of traditional Eurocentric homiletics, is an oral and gestural activity. This does not mean that it is not an intellectual activity, but in the tradition of African American preaching and the language of the Black church, 'the activity of the limbs' contributes to the meaning of preaching by creating a dialogue with the self and the hearer. This is a critical, albeit ancillary, element of African American preaching and often helps to make the more substantive theological and hermeneutical ingredients more palatable because they become integrated into the whole preaching process."
    (James H. Harris, The Word Made Plain: The Power and Promise of Preaching. Augsburg Fortress, 2004)
    • Active voice is more alive than passive.
    • Don't use a 50¢ word when a 5¢ word will do.
    • Remove unnecessary occurrences of that and which.
    • Remove unnecessary or assumable information and get to the point.
    • Use dialogue for added interest and life.
    • Don't waste words.
    • Use contractions where appropriate.
    • Verbs are more alive than nouns.
    • Accentuate the positive.
    • Avoid the 'literary' sound.
    • Avoid clichés.
    • Remove forms of the verb to be whenever possible."
  • Rules for Contemporary Preachers
    "Here . . . are the 'Rules' we've come up with for writing for the ear. . . . Adopt them or adapt them as you see fit. And with each sermon manuscript you write, pray the Lord will make you clear, concise, and directed toward the needs of your flock.(G. Robert Jacks, Just Say the Word!: Writing for the Ear. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996)

Pronunciation: hom-eh-LET-iks

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Nordquist, Richard. "Homiletics." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-homiletics-1690931. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Homiletics. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-homiletics-1690931 Nordquist, Richard. "Homiletics." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-homiletics-1690931 (accessed June 2, 2023).