Book Reviews

Book Review: Preaching in the New Testament (Jonathan Griffiths)

What is preaching and why do we do it? Why do we sit through it? Why isn’t it more of a discussion? Should we still be doing it? Why have we been doing it this way for 2,000 years? Jonathan Griffiths, Lead Pastor of the Metropolitan Bible Church and former staff member of Proclamation Trust where he taught on the Cornhill Training Course, decided not to write another “how to” book preaching. Instead he wrote a book explaining why we still preach today, what we preach, and who preaches. Griffiths asks the question, “According to Scripture, is there such a thing as ‘preaching’ that is mandated in the post-apostolic context; and, if there is, how is it characterized and defined?” (3). If there is such a thing as preaching that we should be doing today, “How would post-apostolic preaching relate to the preaching of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus and his apostles?” (3).

Griffiths divides his book into three sections. Part One (3 chapters) examines the foundational matters; Part Two (6 chapters) gives us exegetical studies throughout the New Testament; Part Three summarizes the book’s points.

Part One

We see throughout Hebrews that “the Holy Spirit says.” The Holy Spirit spoke to the believers through the Old Testament texts and continues speaking to us today through the whole Bible. God continues speaking through words he once spoke. “Scripture presents itself as a living thing” (9). God acts through his word, always achieving what he sets out to do. When Judas asked Jesus how he would “manifest” himself to his people (John 14:22), Jesus puts his word at the forefront, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” (14:23-24). He says later, “Abide in me and I in you… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:4, 7). Abiding in Jesus means the word must also abide in us through the Holy Spirit (John 16:4–15). In the ministry of the word:

  1. God speaks through his word and by his Spirit
  2. God achieves his purposes through his living and active word
  3. God encounters his people.

In chapter 2, Griffiths examines the use of three key Greek verbs in the New Testament “that appear to be used to refer specifically to the activity of preaching” (17). Griffiths examines who “does” the verb (the speaker), the context (the listeners), and the content. Those three verbs are euangelizomai, katangellō, and kēryssō. (Griffiths also briefly surveys apangellō and martyreō, but they don’t end up in the chart with the other three verbs.) These terms function as “semi-technical” terms for preaching (17). Griffiths lays out his findings in three tables for you to examine (20–31). In the end, kēryssō is used pretty consistently “to refer to the public proclamation of God’s word… made by a person of authority” (39).

Griffiths then offers an excursus between chapters 2 and 3 on the identity of the preachers in Philippians 1:14–18. Griffiths concludes that Paul’s use of “brothers” in v. 14 refers not to the general church family but to particular co-workers.

Chapter 3 looks at the word ministry that all believers are to be involved in (that of encouraging, exhorting, admonishing, teaching, etc.). “Believers as a whole group” are not called to preach, but they should minister to one another (49).

Part Two

Griffiths examines 2 Timothy 3–4, Romans 10, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 2–6, 1 Thessalonians 1–2, and the book of Hebrews.

In 2 Timothy 3–4, Paul charges Timothy, one who is not an official apostle for he didn’t see and walk with the resurrected Jesus, to preach the word with authority. Timothy is the bridge between the apostles and preachers today who must also preach authoritatively in line with the Bible. Romans 10 tells preachers, those who are commissioned and sent, what they are preaching—the message of salvation, the good news. We see in 1 Corinthians that preaching “is distinct from other forms of oratory in its style and source of ‘power'” (76). What is to be delivered is “the true message of Christ’s sin-bearing death and resurrection” (81). This brings salvation.

In 2 Corinthians 2–6, preaching is one of public proclamation in the assembly of God’s people. It is not a proclamation of ourselves but of the glories of Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor 4:5). The Trinity is at work here to reveal God’s glory in Christ to God’s people so that they will be transformed into the image of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1–2 shows us that preachers preach the very words of God. God is the primary actor through his words who works change in the hearts of the hearers.

Finally, the letter to the Hebrews, written as a sermon meant to be read out loud to a congregation, exposits Old Testament themes and their fulfillment in Christ. The writer believed he was speaking God’s word in his sermon. He refers many times to “the word” as a form of God’s word (2:2; 4:2, 12; 5:13; 6:1; 7:28). Yet in Hebrews 13:7 and 22 the author also “designates the word spoken or preached by the leaders of God’s people as ‘the word'” (108). And he refers to his own sermon as “the word” in 5:11 and possibly at 4:13. If the people respond well to the letter, the will find God’s rest. If they instead respond in unbelieving rebellion, “they will be judged and excluded” (112).

Griffiths’ second excursus (coming after his chapter on 2 Timothy 3–4) considers the biblical-theological connections between NT preaching and OT prophecy. On the one hand, preachers are not prophets and are never referred to as prophets in the NT. On the other hand, the office of prophet was fulfilled by Christ, the promised great Prophet like Moses (Deut 17), which then extends out to the church, “especially to the apostles, their agents and successors whose work it is to preach God’s word” (66).

Recommended?

If you want to preach or teach, then you should really get this book. It’s short (and you’re going to wish it were longer), and there are few like it (see also Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Words). Certainly some kinds of application would have been nice, such as how could a proper sermon look, should it be verse-by-verse, section-by-section, can it be topical?, etc. But for his purposes, Griffiths has written an excellent volume on the importance of preaching and why preachers should continue doing it and being faithful to God’s word.

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
    • Author: Jonathan I. Griffiths
    • Paperback: 153 pages
    • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 14, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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