[Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.]
Jonathan Griffiths is the lead pastor of the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa, Canada. He studied theology at Oxford and Cambridge where he earned his PhD in New Testament. He is the author of Hebrews and Divine Speech, Teaching 2 Timothy, and the editor of The Perfect Saviour: Key Themes in Hebrews. Griffiths also serves as a council member of The Gospel Coalition Canada.
Griffiths introduces Preaching in the New Testament with the question, “What is preaching and why do we do it?” He admits that even for himself this was a hard question to answer biblically and that he was tempted to answer it pragmatically from its results throughout church history (1). However, preaching’s foundation should not be merely pragmatic, but biblical and theological. Therefore, Griffiths sets out to answer a series of questions pertaining to preaching using selected texts from the New Testament (4-5). First, is there an actual practice of preaching in the New Testament? If so, did this ministry of preaching cease at the end of the apostolic age? If it did not cease, how does it fit with other word ministries in the church? Lastly, is preaching different today from what happens in the Bible (2-3)?
Griffiths begins the book laying its foundation in the nature of God’s Word. According to Griffiths, the Bible is God’s inspired word (10). Through this word, God acts powerfully creating the world and resurrecting the dead (11). His word, when spoken, is also inseparable from his presence. Where God is found, he is speaking (13). Therefore, when a person speaks God’s words rightly, God speaks, acts, and is present in the speaking (16).
Griffiths proceeds to a study of the Greek verbs typically ascribed to preaching in the New Testament: evangelizomai, katangello, and kerysso (17). In relation to these words, Griffiths analyzes every use in the New Testament by asking who is speaking, who is the audience, and what is the content of what is spoken (19). Griffiths concludes, “As used in the New Testament, the verbs typically refer to the act of making a public proclamation, the agent is generally a person of recognized authority, and the substance of the proclamation is normally some aspect of Christ’s person and work, the implications of the Gospel or some other truth from God’s Word” (33).
Griffiths begins his exegesis with 2 Timothy 3-4 and its relationship to preaching. He concludes that preaching should persist beyond the apostolic age because the apostle Paul commanded Timothy, a member of the post-apostolic generation, to preach the Word after Paul’s death (53-55). Paul instructs Timothy that the content of preaching is the Word of God (55-57). In addition, preaching is not just to unbelieving crowds (as is often seen in Acts), but for the edification of the church since Timothy is commanded to preach to the Ephesian church (57-58). Lastly, Griffiths shows from 2 Timothy 3:17 that preaching is done by specially commissioned men who stand in the long prophetic line of authoritative speakers commission by God (58-60).
From Romans 10, Griffiths demonstrates that preaching is God’s special means of giving faith to sinners (68). Faith occurs through preaching because the words of the preacher are by nature the very words of Jesus (71-72). In addition, those who preach are those commissioned by God to fulfill this task (72). This is the continuation of the same tradition of proclamation seen throughout the Bible and continues into the messianic age as the means of the global spread of the Gospel (72).
Griffiths turns to the Corinthian letters. He argues that preaching as public proclamation is the central activity in Paul’s ministry. The content of Paul’s preaching is Christ crucified. In addition, the man who delivers this message is set aside for the labor of preaching like a farmer or soldier is set aside for their assigned duties. The preacher, therefore, is to be funded as if he was a farmer or soldier. In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul refers to his preaching ministry as a shared ministry with Timothy and Silvanus, two non-apostles, implying that preaching was not for the apostolic period alone but for the coming generations until Christ’s return (83). The proclamation ministry that they share happened in the context of the Corinthian congregation and was for the church’s growth into the image of Christ (91-92). Growth into Christ’s image happens because the Triune God is acting and speaking in the preaching (88-89).
From 1 Thessalonians, Griffiths demonstrates the same truths he’s already established. Certain men are called out by God to preach (98). These men go beyond the apostles to include the post-apostolic generations (98). The highlight of this chapter is the truth that God is the primary actor and speaker in preaching (100). The Thessalonians heard Paul’s preaching as the very word of God, and in doing so, were changed. The result of their faith is the further spread of the Gospel through these elect Thessalonians (101-102).
The last New Testament book Griffiths covers is Hebrews. He argues that Hebrews is a sermon manuscript written by a post-apostolic pastor. Its authorship further supports his understanding that preaching is to continue after the closing of the canon (106-107). This sermon, according the Griffiths, should shape our understanding of preaching in a variety of ways. First, it is for the gathering of Christians (104). Second, preaching is to be Christ-centered exposition of biblical texts that calls listeners to respond in faith and obedience (105-106). Third, the author was aware that preaching was God speaking from heaven (108). Fourth, God communicates a taste of heavenly Zion to churches when preaching happens (116). Fifth, God speaks with duel purposes in preaching, namely, to save and judge (110-111).
Griffiths concludes that preaching has a prominent place in the New Testament. It was at the heart of the ministries of Jesus and the apostles who commission post-apostolic preachers. Therefore, preaching was not intended to stop at the closing of the apostolic age but continue until the return of Christ (128). Preaching is not different by nature from what happens in the Bible since God is still speaking to his people by a human mouthpiece (122, 129). This is not done with new revelation (like a prophet), but as men preach from the Bible (127). Preaching, as it relates to the people of God, has its setting in the local church and is distinguished from other Word ministries of the church as the fountainhead from which the other Word ministries derive (130-133).
Griffiths is right to say that defending preaching from church history and pragmatics is a house of cards that will not hold up when preaching falls on hard times (4). If we cannot give a reason from the Bible for why we preach, then there is really no point in preaching. This makes the questions Griffiths asks in the introduction particularly relevant for the Church today.
Griffiths’ exegesis affirms preaching as a biblical practice that is to continue today. This affirmation rose to the forefront by the end of the second chapter where Griffiths analyzed the uses of the Greek verbs for preaching in the New Testament. However, by the end of Griffiths’ exegesis of Hebrews, the answers were abundantly clear that preaching is God speaking through commissioned men, that preaching continues today, that preaching is distinguished from other Word ministries, and that the church is the primary context where preaching is to occur.
It is rather amazing that it only took 152 pages (133 not counting the bibliography) for Griffiths to accomplish his goal of defining preaching from the New Testament. Griffiths writes with lucid brevity while helping the reader see God’s astounding thoughts concerning preaching. Furthermore, people with no training in biblical Greek should not fear picking this book up and reading it. Griffiths is a clear guide into the original language of the New Testament.
Griffiths, I believe, is right that most pastors and congregants do not know what preaching is in its essence. Preaching is generally an assumed practice. In order for men to preach with a humble boldness and for churches to listen to preaching with life-changing, reverent fear they need to understand what preaching is in its essence. They must know that preaching is monologue from heaven and that God still speaks today in preaching. If they understand that biblical preaching is God speaking to a people through a human mouthpiece, everything will change.
When preachers realize that God is speaking in preaching, they will prioritize their sermon prep with more dependence on God knowing that preaching is the church’s primary means of discipleship. Preachers will be fearfully calculated with their words knowing why James said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Preachers will preach expository, text-driven sermons knowing that God will not speak to his people apart from his Word. Preachers will be more confident in their ministry’s success because they know that if they explain the text rightly and apply it to God’s people, God will do the rest. The realization that preaching is monologue from heaven will be fearful and freeing for preachers. These are just a few reasons why Griffiths’ book should be read by every pastor.
When a congregation realizes that God is speaking in preaching, they will prioritize the congregational gathering knowing that this is when God speaks to his people. They will begin to have proper expectations of their pastors, especially the main preacher, knowing that their primary job during the week is their preparation and declaration of God’s word. They will begin to pray for the life and doctrine of their pastors knowing that they will have to give an account of themselves to God and because their preaching has a direct influence on their sanctification and the regeneration of their loved ones. These are just a few reasons why Griffiths’ book should be read by every church member.
I do wonder about Griffiths’ understanding of the book of Hebrews. Griffiths argues that Hebrews is the earliest known sermon manuscript (104-105). He argues for this because the letter is different from other epistles as it lacks a normal salutation, the author’s use of first person plural, and its reference to being a “word of exhortation.” It’s not that I disagree with Griffiths’ interpretation, I just wish he had more proof. In other epistles the writers commonly exhort and encourage people to action like preachers, they often write in the first person plural, and their letters were meant to be read aloud before the congregations they were addressed to. Despite all of these similarities, we do not call their letters sermons.
Griffiths also argues that the book of Hebrews was written by a post-apostolic author who was probably a pastor of the church to which this letter was addressed (107). He then uses this understanding to argue for post-apostolic succession of preaching. Again, it’s not that I disagree with this interpretation, but I feel it lacks the necessary proof for such an assertion.
Preaching in the New Testament will thoroughly benefit the people of God—not only preachers, but laypeople as well. The book may look daunting for the person who has no training in biblical Greek, but you do not need training in Greek to grasp the central message and its manifold ramifications for the church. When Christians grasp what preaching is—monologue from God—it will completely change their understanding of the pulpit by helping them see the profound place of preaching in God’s economy.