There is a pattern of preaching worth imitating today. This model of proclamation was practiced by Jesus and His apostles and continues presently. It consists of heralding God’s eternal Word with the authority of the triune Godhead. How can the modern messenger of this sacred duty be assured he is shaping his sermon to reflect this essential paradigm?
First, know that God’s Word carries His authority when preached accurately, because it is inspired and inerrant. Second, refer to the following survey of pulpitry and how these pulpiteers viewed the Word of God. This overview will reveal authoritative and non-authoritative examples of preaching. Finally, a model for preaching with God’s authority will be put forth.
Before probing the authority of preaching, a caveat should be given. Preaching with God’s authority is based on the inherent power of the Bible and not the tone of the courier. Robinson aptly said, “an authoritative tone without genuine biblical authority is sound and fury signifying nothing.” Furthermore, Chapell’s words should be heeded, “Preaching with authority relates more to the confidence and integrity with which the preacher expresses God’s truth rather than to a specific tone or posture the preacher assumes.”
Inspiration and Inerrancy Ensures Authority
The Bible carries God’s authority because it is inspired and without error in the autographs. Ryrie argued, “Obviously, inerrancy can be asserted only in relation to the original manuscripts because only they are the original record of what came directly from God under inspiration.”
God’s Holy Word intrinsically relays His authority; it does not need man to grant it authority.
Scripture is self-authenticating. Agur declared in
Because all Scripture is inspired by God it is without error in the autographs. Inspiration guarantees inerrancy. Feinberg opines, “The importance of the doctrine of inspiration to inerrancy cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, until the last century, one was thought to be identical to the other. To deny inerrancy was to deny inspiration.”
A good working definition of inerrancy is given by Feinberg: “that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether [having] to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” The preacher of God’s Word can have full confidence when he accurately preaches the Bible that he conveys God’s authority to his audience because Scripture is inspired and inerrant.
In America, there has been a raging battle concerning inspiration, inerrancy and the authority of the Bible. Lindsell astutely observed, “The authority of the Bible for man is viable only if the Bible itself is true. Destroy the trustworthiness of the Bible, and its authority goes with it. Accept its truthfulness, and authority becomes normative. To accept the notion of the authority of the Bible and at the same time declare in favor of errancy is to rest on shifting sand. Infallibility and authority stand or fall together.”
God’s Word is to be trusted entirely because it is inspired, inerrant, intrinsically powerful and self-authenticating. The integrity of God the Father who breathed out this marvelous Word, and the Son of God who boldly proclaimed in
Notable Pulpiteers and Their Use of Scripture
Paul discloses that the nation of Israel had a distinct advantage over non-Jewish people because God entrusted the Old Testament Scriptures to them. He wrote about this privilege in
From this favored nation came the scribes. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) describes them as “a class of literate professionals ranging from copiers, secretaries and government officials in the earlier Old Testament period to special scholars and teachers of the Torah in the postexilic and New Testament periods.” Ezra is called “a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given” (
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word asserted the Old Testament Scripture is authoritative. Jesus quoted this trustworthy Word three times when Satan tempted Him in
Jesus’ confidence in the inerrant and authoritative Word is clearly expressed in
The New Testament apostles also recognized the inherent authority of God’s Word. In
Jesus commanded His beloved disciple John to write the
Following the close of the canon the early church fathers appeared who held the Scripture to be fully reliable. Warfield wrote, “Origen [ca. 185-254] asserts that the Holy Spirit was co-worker with the Evangelists in the composition of the Gospel…and if Irenaeus [ca. 130-200], the pupil of Polycarp [ca. 69-155], claims for Christians a clear knowledge that ‘the Scriptures are perfect, seeing that they are spoken by God’s Word and his Spirit,’ no less does Polycarp, the pupil of John, consider the Scriptures the very voice of the Most High, and pronounce him the first-born of Satan, ‘whosoever perverts these oracles of the Lord.'”
Moving on, “after the beginning of the third century biblical interpretation was notably influenced by the famous schools of Alexandria and Antioch.” The Alexandrian school was noted for their allegorical interpretation. Scripture was believed to have multiple levels of meaning. Bright comments that “Origen popularized a threefold sense corresponding to the supposed trichotomy of man’s nature: body, soul and spirit.”
Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215) was another who held to the allegorical method. Greidanus notes, “Clement was the first to add Philo’s allegorical method to the existing method of exegesis.” He believed in a twofold meaning of interpretation; the analogy is that of a person who has a body representing a literal meaning and a soul signifying a spiritual meaning.
A classic example of the allegorical method is recounted by Bright when he writes, “Thus Moses seated in prayer, his arms outstretched and supported by his companions while Israel battled Amalek (
Conversely, the Syrian school where the New Testament disciples were first called Christians (
The founder of this school was Lucian (240-312) who was ordained as a presbyter at Antioch. Greidanus wrote, “The main teachers in the School of Antioch were Theodore of Mopsuestia [350-428] and Theodoret. Though not a teacher at this school, John Chrysostom [347-407] is usually associated with it because of his views on interpreting Scripture.” All these men were well-known for insisting upon the literal or plain meaning of Scripture. For this reason their preaching relayed God’s authority because they were true to the biblical text.
Augustine (354-430) was the well-known Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Regrettably, he was drawn into the world of allegorical interpretation. Ramm gave us insight to Augustine’s life when he wrote, “it was the allegorical interpretation of Scripture by Ambrose which illuminated much of the Old Testament to him when he was struggling with the crass literalism of the Manicheans. He justified allegorical interpretation by a gross misinterpretation of
Let us now examine the Reformation since the middle ages didn’t leave an indelible mark on preaching. Two reformers who greatly exalted the inspiration and authority of the Scripture changed the course of church history. Kaiser observes, “More than any others, Calvin and Luther reversed the exegetical tide which had been ebbing and flowing for and against allegorization since before the Christian Era.”
Luther (1483-1546) disdained the allegorical method. For Luther, “The Holy Ghost is the all-simplest writer that is in heaven or earth; therefore his words can have no more than one simplest sense, which we call the scriptural or literal meaning.” Calvin (1509-1564) concurs with Luther when he writes on
The renowned German scholar Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) emerged upon the scene after the Reformation. Osborne called him the father of modern hermeneutics. Schleiermacher believed that before someone could interpret a text he or she must first understand the author’s thoughts which led to his writing. He inquired, “The question is how the author arrived at the thought from which the whole developed (i.e., What relationship does it have to his whole life and how does the moment of emergence relate to all other life-moments of the author?).”
Schleiermacher didn’t have the same level of respect for Scripture as did Luther and Calvin. Geisler and Nix effectively summed up the inherent dangers of his beliefs when they wrote, “Schleiermacher’s revision of Christian theology had its most radical impact on the issue of authority, because he argued that no external authority, whether it be Scripture, church or historic creedal statement, takes precedence over the immediate experience of believers. He also contributed to a more critical approach to the Bible by questioning its inspiration and authority.”
There is perhaps no preacher as greatly known and loved as Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). Undoubtedly, Spurgeon exalted God’s Word and considered it divinely authoritative; however, at times he waffled from a literal interpretation of the Bible to a spiritualized method. He wrote, “Within limit, my brethren, be not afraid to spiritualize, or to take singular texts. Continue to look out [sic] passages of Scripture, and not only give their plain meaning, as you are bound to do, but also draw from them meanings which may not lie upon their surface.” To go beyond the clear and intended meaning of Scripture is precarious because it leads to a non-authoritative message.
Like Schleiermacher, Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was a German theologian who left his imprint upon the theological community. Bultmann wasted no time disparaging the integrity of the Bible in Kerygma and Myth. Addressing the issues of the Christian’s hope in the Lord’s resurrection and work of the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “All this is the language of mythology, and the origin of the various themes easily can be traced in the contemporary mythology of Jewish Apocalyptic and in the redemption myths of Gnosticism.” Bultmann proffers that if the New Testament is mythological, then “theology must undertake the task of stripping the Kerygma from its mythical framework, of ‘demythologizing’ it.”
If Bultmann is correct in his analysis of the New Testament that it is myth, then indeed, the Bible is not inspired, inerrant and authoritative. Johnson summed up Bultmann’s views as follows, “The gospel has limited authority in the content of the Kerygma. He denied the radical authority of the Bible to sit in judgment on the thoughts and intents of man’s heart, even modern man with his supposedly superior knowledge.” For Bultmann, the Bible doesn’t judge man; man judges the Bible.
Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed theologian who is called the father of Neo-Orthodoxy. Barth did not believe in an inerrant Bible or even that the Bible is itself a revelation. He wrote that the Bible “is not revelation itself, but witness to God’s revelation…It is a human statement made by the prophets and apostles who did not speak of themselves but who were forced, as Paul says–or who had to carry a burden, as the prophets say, a burden about which they spoke as best they could, in responsibility to those whom they spoke the Word of God.”
Barth’s view of the Scriptures doesn’t match the teachings of the Bible. The Bible is more than a witness to revelation; it is revelation. Geisler said, “This defective view of Scripture allows virtually no limits to picking and choosing what to believe.” Also, how does the expositor have confidence in the message he preaches? Montoya’s analysis is helpful: “But when the issue about inspiration, veracity and authority of Scripture is settled in a preacher’s soul, when he believes that ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable’ (
The history of preaching contains many who without question believed all of God’s Word to be inspired, inerrant and authoritative. Conversely, through the centuries there have also been many who haven’t believed in an inspired, inerrant and authoritative Bible. Also, there have been those who have spiritualized or allegorized the text they were preaching. Therefore, how can one who believes in the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Bible be assured that his preaching conveys the authority of God? That is the theme to be addressed in the final part of this article.
How to Preach with God’s Authority
God’s Word first must be correctly interpreted, then accurately applied if the preacher’s message is to convey His authority. The hazardous hermeneutics of allegorization, spiritualization, misinterpretation and erroneous application of the Scriptures undermines its integrity. The exegetical process should include determining the author’s original meaning of the text. Hirsch wrote in The Validity of Interpretation, “To banish the original author as the determiner of meaning was to reject the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation.”
Mournfully, the mantra of the day in Bible studies everywhere is the claim “that’s what it means to me.” Chisholm aptly assessed how interpretation has shifted from author-text centered to reader-oriented and that “In this kind of pluralistic hermeneutical milieu there is no such thing as an authoritative divinely intended meaning, only several individual ‘meanings’ created by a motley group of interpreters.” Continuing, this Hebrew scholar indicated, “The goal of interpretation is to discover the meaning intended by its author(s) in its original ancient Israelite context. This authoritative meaning then becomes the foundation for biblical theology and application.”
Take for instance the often misrepresented text of
The most important determiner of meaning is context. Let’s examine the context of
Jesus then proceeds to talk about offenses and how to deal with individuals who have sinned (
The very next section of Scripture (
Perhaps some would argue that although there is but one interpretation of a passage, there are many applications; therefore, it is biblical to preach as if
Application of a biblical passage is authoritative when it is grounded in the author’s original intent. Johnson agreed when he wrote, “The foundation for authoritative application must be an accurate and valid understanding of the author’s intended meaning.” The biblical interpreter slides down a slippery slope when his primary concern is what the passage means to him. Shaddix said, “The highest degree of integrity comes only with the highest degree of authority. The only real authoritative preaching is biblical exposition in which the preacher and listeners are in submission to the primary meaning of each text.”
Much has been said in this article about preaching with God’s authority. Let’s examine two passages using the exegetical conventions of this author. Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh in the eighth century B.C. At first, he rejected God’s summons (
The author first applies F.I.R.E. to
After this step, the theological points are developed which carry the timeless truths of the passage; these points show the trans-temporal truths for the people of God. 1. God desires His servants boldly proclaim His Word to the lost (
The third part of this process is to develop the homiletical points. These points are based on the theological points but are designed for your specific audience. The author has two primary goals in structuring these points: He seeks to state them memorably and briefly. 1. Saints must proclaim God’s Word (
Jesus unveiled the Book of Revelation late in the first century to the apostle John while he was banished on the island of Patmos by Domitian. From there, John received a vision of the resurrected and glorified Christ who is described as a Judge (
The author divides
Subsequently, theological points follow the exegetical points and are timeless in nature. They do not contain places and names but show the lasting truths for the people of God. 1. Jesus the Judge calls you to humbly serve Him (
The process is complete with the development of the homiletical points. Remember to write them for the ear. Preaching is an aural event, and the points should be communicated to be recalled easily by those who hear them. 1. Humbly serve the Judge of the church (
Hopefully this article leaves you with the clear impression that there is a pattern of preaching worth imitating today. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God that when preached accurately conveys the authority of the triune Godhead. Many have gone before you, valuing their sacred call to preach the Scripture. Commit to exegete and expound the authoritative Word of God, faithfully showing its relevance to the present generation so those who hear can bow before the God of truth.
Haddon W. Robinson, Making a Difference in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 35.
Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 89.
Charles C. Ryrie, What You Should Know About Inerrancy (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1981), 24.
Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1948), 111.
Ned B. Stonehouse, Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 84.
Alan M. Stibbs, Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 109.
Paul D. Feinberg, Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 277.
Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 39.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1988 ed., s.v. “Scribes,” by D. A. Hagner.
J. I. Packer, The J. I. Packer Collection (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), 28.
John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word, 1997), 2025.
Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 108.
Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1890, revised 1999), 36.
John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1967), 80.
Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 81.
Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament, 81.
Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1970), 49.
Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 37.
Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 94.
Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 35.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 61.
Ibid., The words of Martin Luther as quoted by Kaiser.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Chicag Baker Book House, 1981), 21:249-50.
Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 368.
Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 107.
Normal L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1986), 143.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954), 97.
Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth (New York City, NY: Harper and Row, 1961), 3.
Elliott E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 53.
Karl Barth, Homiletics (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 103.
Norman L. Geisler, Christian Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 71.
Alex Montoya, Preaching with Passion (Grand Rapid, MI: Kregel, 2000), 78.
E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967), 5.
Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 150.
Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 23.
Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 8.
Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction, 226.
Jim Shaddix, The Passion Driven Sermon (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 150.