Skip to main content

Christian Preaching from the Old Testament #4

[This is the second in a serialisation and slight revision of an old essay of mine, in the hope of getting some interaction from others and also making it more accessible. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)]

Defining Christian Preaching

When it comes to establishing whether or not a sermon can be considered Christian Goldsworthy and Greidanus have very different criteria from Kaiser and Mathewson.  For both Goldsworthy and Greidanus the progressive nature of revelation means that God’s truth can only be rightly understood in an individual scripture from the perspective of Salvation History, in particular the Christ event.  As such, a Christian interpretation must be substantively different to the interpretation of a non-Christian (cf. 2 Cor 3:14-16).[1]  In response to Greidanus’ book Kaiser affirms ‘that the central theme of both Old and New Testaments is Christ.’[2]  However it is clear that when Kaiser states that the theme of the OT is Christ he does not mean Jesus Christ, i.e. the historical person who the OT predates, but a rather more nebulous Christ in seed form who exists only as ‘the promise plan of God.’[3]  On the other hand Mathewson is more forthright about his rejection of Greidanus’ approach, ‘sometimes a Christ-centred sermon may not even mention Jesus.  The issue is, does a sermon demonstrate the relationship of the passage preached to the overall war between the seed of the woman and Satan.[sic]’[4]  For both Kaiser and Mathewson the hermeneutical key to the OT is not Christ but God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) or God’s curse of the serpent (Gen 3:15) respectively.  Moreover they both raise objections to any approach that interprets the OT in the light of the NT Christ event.  For Kaiser, ‘This whole approach is wrongheaded historically, logically and biblically.’[5]  For Mathewson, ‘Often, such an approach does not pay sufficient attention to the stories’ specific message nor [sic] to the legitimate ethical demands that flow from it.’[6]

Kaiser’s argument hinges on his assertion that ‘the first New testament Believers tested what they had heard from Jesus and his disciples against what was written in the Old Testament.’[7]  Therefore the revelation of the OT should be hermeneutically prior to that of the NT.  This is problematic in that in the gospel accounts those steeped in the OT (scribes and Pharisees) clearly did not recognise Jesus, but only those who first recognised Jesus were then able to see how the OT witnessed to him.[8]  While they may have tested their experience of Christ against the OT they did so with an interpretation of the OT which had been radically altered by meeting Christ.  On the other hand, Mathewson’s argument is that sermons don’t need to always mention Christ especially when the sermon's context is a Christ centred worship service.[9]  Mathewson’s emphasis on ethical demands also causes him to run foul of Chapell's worthy rule: ‘Exhortations for moral behaviour apart from the work of the Saviour degenerate into mere pharisaism even if preachers advocate the actions with Biblical evidence and good intent.’[10]  Goldsworthy agrees that any sermon application that doesn’t mention Christ can only be ‘wishful and pietistic thinking… [or] Christ denying legalism.’[11]

For Kaiser and Mathewson sermons from the OT are Christian simply by virtue of being from the OT.  Both are committed to authorial intent being the final arbiter of an interpretation.  Their methodology depends on the internal unity of the OT and on its absolute unity with the NT;[12] but either way they fail to provide a homiletic that will necessarily produce sermons that are specifically Christian.  By contrast Goldsworthy and Greidanus while committed to the original meaning restricting the direction of interpretation also insist that that interpretation must point to the incarnate Christ in some way.[13]  For both Goldsworthy and Greidanus while there is continuity between the testaments we must also account for a level of discontinuity as progression requires both continuity and discontinuity.[14]   This fundamental difference in how the authors understand the relation between the testaments is of great importance and will fundamentally shape their homiletic hermeneutic.

[1] And this is in agreement with the historical record where the early Christians and their Jewish counterparts use the same exegetical techniques but arrive at different meanings, see Beale and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, xxv-xxvi
[2] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament,  41
[3] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 37-38
[4] Mathewson, The art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative,  175
[5] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 26
[6] Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative,  175
[7] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 26
[8] cf. Beale and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament,  xxv-xxvi
[9] Mathewson’s rebuttal of Greidanus though is rather perplexing.  In defence of his position against Greidanus he cites Bryan Chappell, Christ Centred Preaching, (Grand Rapids: baker, 1994), 295.  Interestingly enough on this very page, and in reference to this very point, Chapell quotes Greidanus to support his position.  So in effect Mathewson quotes Chapell quoting Greidanus to respond to Greidanus!  Both Mathewson and Chapell misrepresent Greidanus’ Christ centred approach and the result is a compound error. (Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative, 175)  Greidanus is clear that Christian preaching should ‘authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.’ Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament 10
[10] Chapell, Christ Centred Preaching, 268
[11] Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 124, see also chapter 4
[12] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament,  37-8; Kaiser seems to see the OT and NT as thematically unified whereas Mathewson appears to work more with an assumption of theological unity, Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative,  84-85
[13] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament 1-68; Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,  1-10
[14] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament 46-52; Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,  63-80


  1. "Both are committed to authorial intent being the final arbiter of an interpretation."

    Then we are all gonners, because we can NEVER know what the author intended, half the time the author themself did not know, and 2+000 years later we have no hope of being at all sure!

  2. No, you can still get a useable range of possibilties concerning authorial intent to limit the extremes of interpretation to today. Even a little bit of historical work soon excludes most of the less helpful interpretations that crop up.

  3. Agreed, but is that not different from being the "final arbiter"?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .