A Biblical Theology of Preaching (part 1)

The last several posts have explored the academic discipline and practice of “Biblical Theology.”  I would like to continue that theme over the next couple months by presenting an example of Biblical Theology that traces a theme throughout scripture. In particular, I will present a Biblical Theology of preaching.

“PREACHING”

A biblical theology of preaching cannot be undertaken without a clarification of terms.  By biblical theology we mean a “theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church.  It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”[1]  A biblical theology of preaching, therefore, seeks to understand preaching as it is presented in the contexts of the biblical texts while relating those presentations to the wider canon. This process must be allowed to define preaching on the Bible’s own terms if it is to truly be a biblical theology.

The various biblical texts that describe preaching are legion.  The biblical theologian encounters the question of how much to refine and delineate the definition.  In English, we tend to use the term “preaching” to refer to a religious monologue delivered to a gathering.  With this concept we naturally gravitate towards John the Baptist’s preaching (Mark 1: 4-8), Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), or Philip’s preaching campaign in Samaria (Acts 8).  The terms used (respectively): κηρυσσω, διδασκω, and εύαγγελιζω cannot be limited to a religious monologue in a gathering, however.  These same terms are used when an angel proclaims a heavenly question (κηρυσσω in Rev 5:2) and in reference to personal dialogue (διδασκω in Matt 28:15; εύαγγελιζω in Acts 8:35).  These terms, and their OT counterparts, have the broad but essential element of proclaiming or announcing.[2]

Such a broad definition of preaching, lacks description and does not match with our use of the term. This difficulty causes Peter Adam to consider preaching as just one aspect of the larger “ministry of the word.”[3]  Adam’s delineation is helpful in that it doesn’t restrict the dissemination of the word of God to “preaching” as we use the term.  This nuance, however, is not based on biblical theology since the distinction derives from our own context and not the bible’s context.  As Adam points out, the NT does not treat the sermon or preaching as we know them but more generally describes the ministry of the word. We then apply these broader ministry-of-the-word concepts to our notion of preaching. From a biblical theological standpoint it seems better to loosen our concept of preaching instead of tighten the biblical material to fit our model.

This critique does not mean we should abandon the classic “sermon” since the Bible contains instances of modern-type sermons. The book of Hebrews is most likely an ancient homily addressed to a congregation.[4]  Peter’s sermon at Pentecost is an example of an evangelistic sermon given before a gathering of believers and non-believers. “Preaching” as found in the Bible, however, is more than giving a sermon and we should broaden our concept and methods to match the biblical paradigm.  Perhaps this paradigm would cause preachers to exegete the word and be ready to preach to the common situations of life instead of only being ready to preach in a controlled context on Sunday.

Biblical Foundations

The lack of defined boundaries for preaching can be traced to the fact that the foundations which preaching is based upon pervade the scriptures.  Both the OT and NT assume and describe foundational concepts about God that inform preaching.  John Stott describes these concepts as 1) God is light, i.e. he seeks to reveal himself. 2) God has acted. 3) God has spoken.[5]  Preaching assumes these concepts and is the passing on of what God has revealed, done and said. Peter Adam describes the biblical foundations of preaching as 1) God has spoken. 2) It is written.  3)Preach the Word.[6]  Stott and Adam essentially agree that preaching cannot be understood apart from these foundations.  Moreover, these concepts naturally compel God’s people to engage in preaching.

God Speaks

Preaching the word of God is intimately connected with the fact that God has spoken many words.  Both testaments portray God as speaking to a variety of people: to Adam and Eve (Gen 1:28), to Noah (Gen 6:13), to Abraham (Gen 15:13), to Jacob (Gen 35:1), to Moses (Ex 3:14), to Balaam (Num 22:12), to Solomon (1 Kings 3:5), to Jonah (Jonah 4:9), to Paul (Acts 18:9), to John (Rev 1:1) and too many other people to list.  Interestingly, the incidents of “God said” (or some form thereof) are not as numerous in the NT.  This reflects the belief that Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation and his words and deeds were from God (John 5:19; 8:26). God’s speaking, therefore, was accomplished through Christ.

Hebrews 1:1-2 expresses a good summary statement of the biblical theology of God speaking: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  This statement summarizes the foundational belief that God has spoken and acted throughout history. These verses also reflect a polished, Christocentric theology of God speaking preeminently through Christ.

God’s Word Continues

The words and works of God are biblically portrayed with an intended power and purpose beyond their immediate hearers.  What God speaks to a person usually is meant to be passed on to a larger audience through the recipient.  This passing on of God’s message is proclaiming or preaching the word of God (Ex 19:7-8; Deut 18:18; Jos 24:26-27; 1 Sam 15:1; Is 59:21; Jer 1:5-10; Zec 7:12; John 8:47; Acts 12:24; 1 Cor 2:12-13; Rev 19:9).

Passing on the word of God may also be accomplished through writing.  God directed some to write down his word to preserve the message.  In these cases, God’s word is intended to speak again to subsequent generations (Ex 34:27-28; Josh 24:25-26; Is 8:16; 30:8; Jer 30:1-3; 36:10; 2 Tim 3:14-16; Rev 1:19).  The written word was clearly understood as continuing to be God’s word for subsequent generations (2 Chr 34:19-21; Dan 9:2; Neh 8; Mark 7:6; Gal 4:22-25; 1 Pet 1:15-16) and is the basis for our understanding of scripture. In addition to the above-listed verses, Romans 4: 22-24 demonstrates this concept by quoting Genesis 15:6, “Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” The written word of God not only continued to speak to the NT community, it found greater significance in light of the words and deeds of the Lord Jesus.  The whole book of Hebrews also demonstrates this NT belief.

God’s Word is Effective and Essential

Whether mediated immediately through the mouth of the prophets/apostles, written down, or through the re-proclamation of the written word, God’s word is portrayed as effective (Is 55:11; Jer 23:28-29; Heb 4:12-13) and essential for the world (Mark 13:10; Rom 1:15-16; 10:14-17; 2 Tim 1:10-11).  The necessity of God’s word demands the preaching of God’s word to all the earth.  God’s words and deeds, especially those centered in Jesus Christ, must continue to be proclaimed (Mat 28:19-20; Mark 1:38; Acts 1:8; 2 Tim 2:2).

**To be continued . . .  (Next post will discuss how preaching is to be built on the above biblical theological foundations. )

ENDNOTES

[1] B.S. Rosner, “Biblical Theology” in NDBT (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2000), 3-11.

[2] J.S. Baird, “Preach, Preaching” in EDT, Walter Elwell ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 948-950.

[3] Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words (Vancouver: Regent, 1996), 74-75.

[4] George Guthrie, Hebrews (NIV Application Commentary.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 27-34.

[5] John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1982),92-108.

[6] Adam, Speaking God’s Words, 13-55.

2 thoughts on “A Biblical Theology of Preaching (part 1)

  1. Pingback: A Biblical Theology of Preaching (Part 2) | throughandto

  2. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival 169 for March 2020 - Brent Niedergall

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