Nature of Early Preaching

by Frank Jones

"As the only full-length sermon recorded in the New Testament, Hebrews gives us special insight into the nature of early Christian preaching and its theological character according to Scripture. By its shape and character the Hebrews sermon highlights the fact that preaching (at least for this NT writer) consisted fundamentally in proclaiming Christ through the exposition of Scripture and exhorting hearers to respond. The writer clearly believes that his proclamation of Christ from Scripture is rightly viewed as a 'word' from God (4:13; 5:11; 13:22). We might think that such a high view of the discourse rightly pertains only to this writer, given that his discourse was accepted within the canon of New Testament Scripture. He, however, views the function of 'speaking the word of God' as something that is characteristic of church leaders generally, rather than of him uniquely (13:7).

For the writer of Hebrews, the word of God is supremely expressed in the person of the Son, so it is no surprise that he moves seamlessly from proclaiming the word of God to inviting his hearers to approach the presence of God through Christ. There is a real sense that the proclamation of the word of God facilitates a personal encounter with God. When preaching is set in this light, it is natural that the writer should present his preaching as an event carrying judicial implications. As hearers of God's word encounter God (who is both Judge and Saviour) through his word, they must respond rightly in faith or face the danger of losing out on salvation. At the same time, however, this proclaimed word offers access to the heavenly rest of God. The context in view for the Hebrews sermon is the gathering of God's people. This point is not merely a matter of practicality, nor is it theologically incidental; rather, the proclamation of the word of God to the assembly of God's people is the special means by which God's people hear God address them from heaven. And as the gathered people of God listen to God's word in scattered locations throughout the world, they mirror -- in a limited but profound way -- the heavenly assembly of which they are a part." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 117.)

The Sermon Called "Hebrews"

by Frank Jones

"Hebrews is a sermon intended to be read aloud in the Christian assembly

Most New Testament epistles have at least some affinity with the sermonic genre in that they were generally designed to be read out to the Christian congregations. But Hebrews calls itself a 'word of exhortation' (13:22), which was a term used in contemporary Judaism and early Christianity to refer to the sermon in a synagogue or church gathering. It is used in this way in Acts 13:14-15, where Paul and his companions are invited to preach in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch: 'After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement [or 'exhortation'] for the people, say it."' Quite clearly, Paul (along with his companions) is being invited to deliver the Sabbath-day sermon. In a later Christian context, a fourth-century liturgy designates the sermon 'words of exhortation' (Apostolic Constitutions 8.5).

Added to the designation the writer gives his sermon, the form of the discourse indicates that Hebrews is no ordinary letter. It lacks a traditional epistolary opening, but rather launches straight into the substance of its 'preaching', setting it apart in form from other New Testament letters as more markedly sermonic in genre. A number of features of Hebrews indicate its fundamentally 'oral' rather than written character: the writer's use of the first person plural (which 'enables the speaker to identify with his listeners while addressing them with authority'); frequent references to speaking and hearing, rather than writing (2:5; 6:9; 8:1; 11:32); and the regular alternation between exposition and exhortation. As noted above, Hebrews is arguably the earliest extant full-length Christian sermon. [fn4]" (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 104-105.)

[fn4] Vanhoye (1989:3), who has perhaps devoted more attention to the structure and genre of Hebrews than any other recent scholar, concludes that '"The Letter" to the Hebrews is simply not a letter ... it belongs to the genre of preaching. In fact, it is the only example we have in the New Testament of the text of a sermon which has been preserved in its entirety.' Arguably, the designation 'letter' remains appropriate for Hebrews because the category of 'letter' in the NT is probably broad enough to encompass a written sermon like this one (so, rightly, O'Brien 2010: 21). But Vanhoye's conclusion that Hebrews is fundamentally a sermon is surely correct and is now widely accepted. Cockerill's (2012) recent commentary on Hebrews reflects this conclusion; he regularly refers to the author as 'pastor' and to the discourse as the 'sermon' (and sometimes also to the intended recipients as the 'congregation').

Creation of Faith

by Frank Jones

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)

"Preaching is by its very nature the declaration of a message that is designed to be heard. And since faith comes about through hearing the word of God, there is a fundamental correspondence between the act of preaching and the creation of faith. Paul is not simply suggesting that preaching is the best way of achieving the intended result of faith (as though his concern were merely pragmatic), but that preaching is the natural, appropriate and God-ordained means of producing faith, by its nature having a fundamental correspondence to the character of faith." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 69.)

Authoritative & Educational Preaching

by Frank Jones

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

An extended quotation and explanation of 2 Timothy 4:1-2 has been copied below. It is my prayer that thinking through the explanation of these verses will have a strengthening effect upon those in the ministry of God’s word and a call to hearers of his word to demand appropriate ministers and teachers in their churches.

This charge is commanded of men of God in the presence of God-Father and God-Son. The gravity of the command cannot be overstated. There is an appearance and a kingdom to prepare God’s people thereunto. At the Bema judgment, this charge will be required upon all those who have entered the preaching and/or teaching ministry of the gospel. Sober commands indeed.

At the end of chapter 3 Paul impressed upon Timothy the sufficiency of Scripture for his ministry (3:16-17) so that, unlike the false teachers mentioned earlier in the letter, Timothy will stick with Scripture as the all-sufficient basis of his ministry for the long run. Then follows the charge of 4:1-2, which spells out the precise way in which Timothy is to use this sufficient Scripture.

The charge is made up of five verbs in the imperative (‘preach the word’, ‘be ready in season and out of season’, ‘reprove’, ‘rebuke’ and ‘exhort’) followed by a prepositional phrase that qualifies them (‘with complete patience and teaching’).  Although each of the five imperatives carries its own weight and meaning and could seem like one of a series of stand-alone instructions, the leading charge to ‘preach the word’ plays a dominant role, not only by being first but also by being amplified by the second imperative “be ready in season and out of season”, and by the prepositional phrase with [didache] at the end of this verse’. If the five imperatives were really stand-alone instructions (rather than the four relating closely to the first), the second charge would carry little meaning; the charge ‘be ready’ as a stand-alone charge immediately begs the question: Be ready to do what?

If the leading imperative ‘preach’ (keryxon) is qualified by the four imperatives and the prepositional phrase that follow, each of these then communicates something of the nature of the preaching that Timothy is to engage in. To obey the charge to preach will require Timothy to be ready (epistethi) ‘in season and out of season’, not least because sound teaching will not always be welcome (4:3). In his preaching, Timothy will have to ‘reprove’ (elenxon; that is, correct false understanding or sinful behavior), ‘rebuke’ (epitimeson; that is, call his addressees to turn from ungodliness) and ‘exhort’ (parakaleson; that is, call the people to believe and live out the truth he proclaims). He is to do all this with ‘patience’ (makrothymia), because it will take time and perseverance for his addressees to accept and respond to God’s word. And he to preach with ‘teaching’ (didache), because his reprovals, rebukes and exhortations will only carry weight and be effective if they are grounded in a clear articulation and explanation ofwhat the word of God says. Preaching the word cannot be reduced to teaching it (in the sense of simply explaining the meaning of the word as a purely didactic activity); it involves the urgent call to respond that is signified by the imperatives ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort’. At the same time, preaching for Timothy will always fundamentally involve teaching and can never happen apart from teaching.

The character of preaching is presented here in 4:2 is of an ‘authoritative and educational’ proclamation of God’s word. Timothy will patiently teach the meaning of God’s word and urge people to make an appropriate response to it. (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An exegetical and biblical-theological study, NSBT, 55-57. I have omitted the reference footnotes within the quotation.)

God Speaks through Words Once Spoken

by Frank Jones

"Before issuing the well-known charge to Timothy to 'preach the word' (2 Tim. 4:2), Paul reminds him that the Bible is 'breathed out by God' (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture has its origin directly in God such that the words of the Bible are God's words. However, the striking thing we discover as we look more broadly through Scripture to discern the theological character of the word is that God continues to speak today through the words that he once spoke. Scripture is not simply a depository and record of words that God spoke at some time in the past; it is the script that he continues to speak today. Scripture presents itself as a living thing." (Griffiths, Jonathan. Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-theoglocial Study, NSBT. Intervarsity Press, 2017,9)

Failure to Obey Jesus is Disobedience to Moses

by Frank Jones

"Stephen proclaims the one to whom Moses pointed. A similar point is made by Peter in Acts 3. Peter, like Stephen, proclaims the one Moses spoke about. More than that, Moses said that ‘you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people’ (3:22–23). Thus failure to listen to Jesus is disobedience to Moses and will incur the judgment of God." (italics mine. Thompson, Alan. Acts of the Risen Lord, 177).

Soul Metrics

by Frank Jones

“Do not, therefore, consider that soul winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these dispatches from the battlefield? ‘Last night… fifteen souls were justified…’ I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of un-hatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretense of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable… if [a harvesting of responses] leads to idle boastings they will grieve the Holy Spirit, and work abounding evil” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 16; The Downgrade Controversy).

The Word from Jerusalem

by Frank Jones

For additional prophetic commentary on this, see Isaiah 40:9.

"As Luke's Gospel highlighted the journey of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem, so Acts highlights the journey of the word about Jesus away from Jerusalem." (Thompson, Alan. Acts of the Risen Lord, 55).

Prayer Controlled by Gospel

by Frank Jones

J. Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (New Studies in Biblical Theology), 238).

"What we should pray for is controlled by the gospel. Over and over again in the Bible God tells us to ask, because he is delighted to give. It is no accident that all the words in the Bible for ‘prayer’ mean the same thing—they mean ask. Which fits perfectly with the gospel, does it not? The core of the gospel is that we have nothing, contribute nothing, bring nothing to God—we are rescued by grace alone through faith—asking—alone. It should not come as a shock that prayer, which is made possible by the gospel and shaped by the gospel, works exactly the same way. The gospel tells us that God gives to us; we do not give to him. So we need to ask. God has spoken to us. We talk back to him, which means asking. Asking for help to understand what God has done for us, to live in the light of what he has done for us, to hold on to what he has done for us, to show other people what he has done for us"

Calling on the Name of the Lord/Jesus

by Frank Jones

J. Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (New Studies in Biblical Theology), 17).

"What follows in these pages is an exposition of the fact that prayer in the Bible is intimately linked with the gospel—God’s promised and provided solution to the problem of human rebellion against him and its consequences. The gospel shape of prayer is evident from the opening pages of the Bible—and in particular from the first mention of prayer in Genesis 4:26, when people first begin to ‘call on the name of Yahweh’—right through to the end, when the church prays, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (see Rev. 22:20).

This study will follow the contours of the Bible’s teaching on prayer. After defining prayer as ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, my intention is simply to demonstrate how the biblical material builds on this basic understanding. ... .

Initially the focus will be on showing how ‘calling on the name of Yahweh’, or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, ‘through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name’."



His Word Laboring in His People

by Frank Jones

“It is sobering to see Jeremiah struggling with resentment and anger at what the word of the Lord is doing to him; we see the same struggle with Ezekiel. … Resistance to the divine Word continues to be an experienced reality, even for those who have been transformed by it. The Word of God does not finish its work until ‘death is swallowed up in victory’, and so hearing the Word in the words will be a moral matter even for regenerate listeners. Knowledge and obedience can therefore never be separated, for there emerges ‘the beginning of true understanding when we reverently embrace what it pleases God there to witness of himself. But not only faith, perfect and in every way complete, but all right knowledge of God is born in obedience.’

To be a good reader of the Bible as the Word of God therefore means being determined oneself by the Word at every point. To be a ‘people of the book’ will not suffice; we are called to be people of the Word, determined in all our words and deeds by our Lord, Jesus Christ. And it is as the gathered people of God, drawn by his Word into a divine union of mutual self-giving, that we principally experience what it means to have his words written on our heart (sg.). Where Scripture is carefully read and obediently heard, where it is joyously sung, prayed, studied and proclaimed, there God makes himself present in the living and transforming person of his Word, and there he fashions a forgiven people into the words by which his Word will speak ... ." (Shead, Andrew. A Mouth Full of Fire: the Word of God in the words of Jeremiah, 290.)

Exhortation to Pray

by Frank Jones

Exhortation to Prayer

What various hindrances we meet

In coming to a mercy-seat!

Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,

But wishes to be often there?


Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw

Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,

Gives exercise to faith and love,

Brings every blessing from above.


Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;

Prayer makes the Christian's armour bright;

And Satan trembles when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees.


While Moses stood with arms spread wide,

Success was found on Israel's side;

But when through weariness they failed

That moment Amalek prevailed.


Have you no words? Ah! think again,

Words flow apace when you complain,

And fill your fellow-creature's ear

With the sad tale of all your care.


Were half the breath thus vainly spent

To heaven in supplication sent,

Your cheerful song would oftener be,

"Hear what the Lord has done for me."

(William Cowper, Cowper's Poetical Works, 289.)