Preaching in the New Testament

preaching-in-the-nt

This is the newest book published in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, technically to be published on March 14, 2017. The goal of this book is to answer two interrelated questions:

  1. Is there such a thing as “preaching” that is mandated in the post-apostolic context – and, if there is, how is it defined and characterized? (Similarly, how is “preaching” unique/similar as compared to other word-based ministries in the church?)
  2. How does post-apostolic “preaching” relate to the preaching of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus and his apostles?

While question two is certainly important, I was personally more interested in the answers to #1. As “preaching” is a thing I do every once in a while, I am constantly curious about how closely my own practice of it may or may not align with Biblical definitions. The author, Jonathan I. Griffiths, goes to task in exegeting the three main “semi-technical” Greek words that refer to preaching in the New Testament in their own context: euangelizomai (occurring 54 times in the NT), katangello (occurring 18 times in the NT) and kerysso (occurring 59 times in the NT).

The passages Griffiths highlights as most pertinent to this project are the following:

  • II Timothy 3-4 (with a particular focus on 4:2)
  • Romans 10
  • 1 Corinthians (especially chs. 1-2, 9 and 15)
  • II Corinthians (especially chs. 3-5)
  • I Thessalonians (especially chs. 1-2)
  • Hebrews – which is itself a written sermon

In this post I will not rehearse the authors’ examination of the Biblical texts in detail. But I would like to highlight a few of his conclusions which in my mind give us a good “starting base” on which to begin to understand what Scriptural preaching actually entails.

  1. Griffiths argues that “preaching” in the NT is the job where a person passes on, or “testifys accurately” what he had received from Christ and by no means to misrepresent Christ. True preaching in the NT would “enable God’s own voice to be heard” (122) because preaching is itself an activity solely revolved around Jesus – God’s own Son. As Griffiths explains, preaching in the NT typically refers to “fundamentally nothing more and nothing less than an accurate transmission of the received gospel of the sin-bearing death and resurrection of Christ.” (81) So, preaching in the NT revolves around the words and works of Jesus Christ specifically (see II Tim. 3:15-17; I Cor. 1:17; 2:2; 15:3-5; II Cor. 3:14-16 and the entire book of Hebrews).
  2. Additionally, most typically, it is not just anyone who is allowed to preach in the NT. Rather, time and time again, the preachers in the apostolic and post-apostolic time periods were commissioned and duly authorized by God and the community of faith. There is typically some sort of command to preach from God and/or from the leaders of the church. This is the case for the angel who came to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) for John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3 and also Mark 1:2-7); for Jesus (Luke 4:18-19; 4:43); for the apostles (Mark 3:14; 6:7-13; Matt. 10:7, 27; Luke 9:2; Acts 10:42; 16:10 [here including Paul’s associates]; I For. 1:17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 3:8; and for Timothy (II Tim. 4:2; cf. I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6). In order for Christ to be heard through their preaching, it makes sense that the preachers are not self-appointed, rather, they are commissioned as God’s heralds.
  3. As well, I learned that the three main verbs typically refer to the act of making a public proclamation. While this could include preaching within a home if we allow for a definition of public as “any context where a group of people would gather to hear a speaker” usually preaching would be done in an open arena or most often, within the synagogue. “Preaching” usually refers to a communal proclamation or declaration within a local assembly of people.
  4. The result? “A transformative encounter with the Lord himself!” (91) According to II Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” An encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ (“who is the image of God – II Cor. 4:4) results in his people being “transformed into the same image” in increasing degrees of glory.

When preaching is done in light of God’s good purposes, the hearers “become imitators of us and of the Lord” as they “receive the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 1:5-6). Not only does the Holy Spirit empower the proclamation of the word, but he can also cause the recipients to accept it with conviction of its truth and with joy, even in the context of trial so they grow in faith and obedience.

I can’t do better than end with some of Griffiths Final Reflections:

The public proclamation of the word of God in the Christian assembly has a clear mandate from Scripture and occupies a place of central importance in the life of the local church. Preaching is necessary and vital – but not all-sufficient – for the nourishment and edification of the local church. All God’s people are ministers of his word, and a healthy church will be a church where all kinds of word ministries (formal and informal) flourish and abound.

However, none of those other ministries of the word can take the place of the public preaching of God’s word. The primary feeding and teaching of God’s people should come from the preaching that takes place week by week in the assembly. That preaching ministry should, in turn, fuel and shape many other ministries of the word, as all believers speak (and sing!) the word to each other and to those outside the church.

The preaching of the word of God is God’s gracious gift to his people. It is a gift by which he speaks to us, encounters us, equips us for ministry, and, throughout the power of his Spirit, transforms us – all for his glory. (Page 133)

To read a different but related book review of mine from the same series (Timothy S. Laniak’s book, Shepherds After My Own Heart) about how scripture defines pastoral leadership, click here.

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