Circles in the Stream

Index, Identification, and Intertext: Reading and Preaching the Story of Judah in Genesis 37-50

Paul E. Koptak
Wipf & Stock, 133 pages

Using the image of a stone thrown into a river with expanding circles moving outward, Paul E. Koptak encourages readers to view the study of Scripture for teaching and preaching in a similar way. The circles, he argues, “remind us of the ever-widening movements from life then to life now.” He continues, “It starts with Scripture and that contact point of reading, the circles are like the contexts we were taught to recognize when we studied interpretation….We follow those ever-expanding circles of contexts to get from life then to life now.” This “then to now” succession is a means of understanding both the ancient context and its connections now, as well as the rich examples of God’s transformative work in biblical characters that encourages a similar pursuit of transformation for us today. Koptak, who is professor emeritus of communication and biblical interpretation at North Park Theological Seminary, provides the preacher with a methodology for study as well as a mode for transformation.

Circles in the Stream weaves a literary-rhetorical approach to biblical preaching using literary theorist Kenneth Burke’s approach to textual connections while providing applicable steps for the preacher. A sermon in each chapter elucidates his point using the character of Judah. Koptak’s methodology includes a three-step process he calls index, identification, and intertexts. These steps are the circles in the stream that offer readers a richer understanding of Scripture.

Koptak centers these steps around connections: 1) connections within a given passage (index); 2) connection with the life issue, or the broader context surrounding the passage at the time (identification); and 3) connections between this text and the rest of the biblical canon (intertexts). At first glance, it may seem as though he is biting off more than he can chew in just three chapters. Instead, Circles in the Stream provides a rich, accessible resource for preachers who want to move away from dictating application and let God’s Word speak for itself. Koptak says this approach allows the preacher to “be confident that our reading is letting the text have its say,” rather than succumbing to the temptation to manipulate its meaning for our purposes. Koptak gives preachers room to reclaim the purpose of preaching, which he states is, “to give the text a little more room to shine.”

Circles in the Stream allows the everyday practitioner to grapple with the Scripture and notice the connections in the text while appreciating the journey of transformation through the preached word. Koptak’s methodology mixes rigorous and responsible interpretation with real-life, meaningful transformation of Scripture.


  • Rose Lee-Norman

    Rose Lee-Norman is executive pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and adjunct professor in reconciliation studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was the recipient of the Covenant’s 2022 Women in Leadership “She Preaches” award for excellence in biblical preaching.

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