Is preaching simply an invention of the Reformation? Is the preacher a quirk of Protestantism, with no counterpart in the early church? The appropriately titled Preaching in the New Testament by Jonathan Griffiths establishes that the NT teaches preaching is indeed a unique ministry, integral to the health of the body. As a volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (other reviews), it approaches the topic from a biblical-theological angle, attempting to discern and harmonize the teaching of Scripture.
Preaching in the New Testament
Preaching in the New Testament has three major parts. The first part consists of a several surveys. First, a biblical-theological survey of “the word of God” (ch 1); second, a study of specific ‘preaching’ words: evangelizomai, katangello, and kerysso (ch 2); and third, a discussion of word-ministry other than preaching (ch 3). The second part consists of exegetical studies of 2 Timothy 3-4 (ch 4), Romans 10 (ch 5), 1 Corinthians (ch 6), 2 Corinthians 2-6 (ch 7), 1 Thessalonians 1-2 (ch 8) and Hebrews (ch 9). The third part summarizes the findings (ch 10). The book also contains two excurses. The first examines the identity of the preachers in Phil 1:14-18. The second explores connections between NT preaching and OT prophecy.
Preaching vs Word Ministry
Among Griffith’s findings is that while the three above words have some nuanced differences, they regularly refer to preaching the Gospel. They are used both of evangelism and exhortation. Usually they are used in public gatherings, and the speaker is a figure of recognized authority typically commissioned for the role. While all believers are to engage in “word ministry”, preaching remains distinct. The centrality of the body indeed does the work of the ministry, but the preaching role remains unique (Eph 4:11-12).
Aside from the word-studies, my two most enjoyable chapters were those on 2 Timothy 3-4 and Hebrews. The former established that Paul’s preaching stewardship is “transferable, and should be perpetuated beyond his ministry…for the whole of the church’s age” (p54). That is, Christian preachers continue the preaching ministries of Paul and Timothy. This is a noble ministry indeed. The latter chapter examined Hebrews as a model sermon. The author of Hebrews exposits Scripture — the OT, in this case — to 1) magnify Christ and 2) exhort his hearers to action. It is in the preached word that one experiences Christ in a unique way.
Preachers and Prophets?
A small issue, but I remain skeptical of the findings of the second excursus, where Griffith argues that the NT preacher stands in a line of continuity with the OT prophet. The conclusion seems reasonable enough, but the argumentation is frail. Griffith’s evidence is the intertextuality in the accounts of NT preachers John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul with the OT prophetic ministry. However, due to these characters’ unique roles in redemptive-history, we must not too quickly assume all that is true of them is true of subsequent preachers.
Griffiths has laser-sharp focus and doesn’t get distracted by related issues. However, I wish the location of preaching was discussed. Much preaching in the NT is evangelistic, but this is largely due to the narrative of Acts. Considering the setting, context, and posture of the preacher and the hearers would have benefited this study.
Preaching in the New Testament is an excellent accessible and brief (133 pages of body) lexical, exegetical and biblical-theological survey of preaching in the NT. There’s nothing here particularly ground-breaking, but neither is it controversial. Preaching in the New Testament is highly recommended for pastors wishing to ground their preaching ministry in a Biblical foundation. It also is an excellent book for a preaching class; I would certainly assign it to my students if I taught such a class. While many books focus on the theology or practice of preaching, Preaching in the New Testament fills an important need. Lastly, any aspiring preacher or interested layperson would benefit from a better understanding of this essential ministry.
Many thanks to IVP Academic for providing a review copy.