Preaching the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Study. By Jonathan I. Griffiths. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017. 152 pp. Hardcover, $44.99.
The purpose for this book is not to show how we are to preach God’s Word today. Instead, Griffith’s concern is more basic. He asks, “Could it be that such convictions concerning the distinctiveness and centrality of preaching are simply grounded in a blend of history…and a heavy dose of pragmatism (‘Preaching certainly seems to work…’), rather than in Scripture itself?” (p. 1). He continues, “The vital question is what Scripture says about this issue.”
Perusing the Table of Contents, one wonders if Griffiths exercised great care in picking out which NT passages to discuss. He selects whole books (1 Corinthians and Hebrews), multiple chapters in books (2 Timothy 3-4, 2 Corinthians 2-6, 1 Thessalonians 1-2), and a single chapter in a book (Romans 10). In the introduction the author explains in one sentence or less why he selected each of these chapters and books (p. 5). While we might wonder why other passages were not selected, such as Paul’s recorded sermons in Acts (e.g., Acts 13:15-41, 46-47; 17:22-31; 20:18-35) and the seven letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, it is refreshing that someone is writing about what the Bible actually says about preaching!
I have taken many courses on homiletics and I’ve taught homiletics. In none of my courses did the professors attempt to develop our style of preaching from Scripture. Instead, modern speech theory was employed. When I taught homiletics I pointed out that the Bible does not tell us how to preach, but simply that we should preach. However, I should have gone a step further and pointed out that the sermons found in Scripture at least give us an idea of how to preach. They should be models.
Based on 1 Cor 15:1-11 Griffiths suggests that “Christian preaching is fundamentally nothing more and nothing less than an accurate transmission of the received gospel of the sin-bearing death and resurrection of Christ” (p. 81). He must not mean that we are only to preach specifically about Jesus’ substitutionary death and His bodily resurrection, for he sees Hebrews as an extended sermon and very little in Hebrews is specifically on the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What he evidently means is that all Christian preaching has at its core the message of Christ crucified and raised. Everything we preach can be related to that message.
Unfortunately, Griffiths understands 1 Cor 15:2 to mean that “Ultimately, the response—and the continued response—to this preached word is a matter of life and death” (p. 81). In other words, he suggests that one’s eternal destiny hinges upon continued faith in Christ.
Chapter two is very helpful. There the author considers three key Greek words related to preaching (euangelizomai, katangellō, kerussō), giving excellent charts showing where the words occur, the speaker, context, and content.
I was especially moved by the way in which Griffiths understood 2 Cor 3:18 as a text that deals with preaching God’s Word. He writes, “The implication of this is that the proclamation of Christ from the word of God entails a transformative encounter with the Lord himself…(2 Cor 3:18)” (p. 91). We often read that verse as though it is speaking of our personal reading of God’s Word. While that is a reasonable application, certainly the way in which first-century Christians received God’s Word was through it preaching in local churches, not through individuals having their own Bibles as we do today.
Griffith’s claim that Hebrews is one long written sermon is possible, but there are questions. If so, are all the epistles extended written sermons? Griffiths doesn’t think so. He reasons that Hebrews is a sermons because the author in Heb 13:22 calls his work “the word of exhortation” (p. 104). Griffiths points out that Acts 13:14-15 uses the same expression to refer to the sermon which Paul gave in Pisidian Antioch.
While it is possible that Hebrews is one gigantic sermon, it seems more reasonable to say that it is a “like a sermon” (Thomas L. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Hebrews, 2017 Edition, p. 4, at SonicLight.com). In his commentary on Hebrews, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes considers this question and says, “In view, however, of the epistolary conclusion, this composition may be described as both homiletic and epistolary; and there is nothing unusual in this, for the main purpose of the letters of the New Testament is homiletic and hortatory” (Hebrews, p. 592).
I recommend this book. It does what it sets out to do. It convincingly shows that preaching is not simply something we do (and to which we listen) because it works or because it has been done for many centuries, but instead because we are commanded to preach the word (2 Tim 4:2, the motto of my alma mater) and to “desire the pure milk of the word” (1 Pet 2:3).
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society