The term homiletics comes from the word homily, which basically means “a sermon.” Homiletics is the art of preparing sermons and preaching. Those who study homiletics seek to improve their skill at communicating the gospel and other biblical topics. The discipline of homiletics falls under the umbrella of pastoral or practical theology.
Preaching and, therefore, homiletics have always been associated with the pastor of a church. A pastor is sometimes referred to as the “preaching elder,” based on 1 Timothy 5:17. However, a study of homiletics can be beneficial to anyone who teaches the Word of God.
Historically, homiletics has integrated biblical teaching and rhetoric (the art of speaking persuasively or for effect). However, theologian Karl Barth insisted that preaching has a different purpose from rhetoric; preaching does not rely on stylistic devices or tools of persuasion, so homiletic and rhetorical studies must be separate. Paul described his preaching as “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Many take this to be Paul’s preference for plain, non-rhetorical discourse.
However, there is no command against rhetoric in preaching. Paul himself waxed eloquent when it seemed the best way to communicate the truth, especially when he spoke at the Areopagus, the center of intellectual discussion in Athens, Greece (Acts 17). And Paul used rhetorical questions, asking, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). Apollos was known for his excellence in speaking and persuasive words (Acts 18:24, 28).
Applying the tools of rhetoric and a deep knowledge of the Bible are helpful to biblical preaching. Someone called to preach would do well “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6), and homiletics is useful in that pursuit. It is a worthy study, but, at the same time, we must not forget that God can work through anyone, with or without formal training, to communicate Christ in everyday situations.