The Preeminence of Christ in Preaching—Old or New Testament

  • biblical application

biblical application

The Old Testament has been referred to as the master problem of theology because of the hermeneutical challenges and subsequent trickle down implications for faith and practice. The contemporary church suffers from a dearth of Old Testament preaching. Walter Kaiser writes,

Instead of receiving the Old Testament with gratitude as a gift from God, all too many in Christ’s church view it as an albatross around the necks of contemporary Christians. They struggle with questions like these: What is the significance of the Old Testament for us today? Why should believers even bother with the Old Testament now that we have the New Testament? Aren’t there a lot of problems in using a book like the Old Testament, especially when so much of it is no longer in force and normative for the church? Questions such as these ultimately raise the issue of the Old Testament as a major problem, if not the master problem of theology” (Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church, 29).

Too frequently, contemporary preachers ignore the Old Testament, occasionally dip into it for moral or ethical teaching, or simply use it as a launching pad for teaching on some biblical theme or church promotion. There seems to be a general reluctance about preaching from the Old Testament consistently and expositionally. John MacArthur, an expositional preaching hero writes,  

Paul said he was a minister of the new covenant. Since he was responsible to preach the new covenant, I think it is compelling for us to herald the new covenant, too. What we find then is that we must primarily preach Christ and herald the new covenant, which is the New Testament literature, the mystery now unfolded that was hidden in the past” (“Frequently Asked Questions about Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 341).

While MacArthur is certainly one of the finest expositors of this generation his reasoning here fails to consider that properly preached sermons from the Old Testament take into account the unity of Scripture and the full drama of redemption and its realization in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, the mediator of the new covenant.

When asked to write an article about preaching from the Old Testament, Alec Motyer humorously speculates on Jesus’ likely response to inquiries as to why he kept preaching and teaching from the OT:

It is most likely that he would have said, ‘The Old what?’ And if we had pressed on with our question he would in the end have replied, ‘Oh, I see, you mean the Scriptures, the Word of God. Why call it by such an odd name?’ In this sense there is no such thing as ‘the Old Testament.’ Therefore, in asking me to speak about preaching from the Old Testament you have given me a non-subject. If you ask, ‘How does one preach from the Old Testament?’ the answer is, ‘How does one preach from the New Testament?’ There is no special mystique or approach to preaching that has to descend on preachers when the Lord leads them to minister from the Old rather than from the New (“Preaching from the Old Testament,” in Preaching the Living Word: Addresses from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, 99).

While Motyer purposely overstates his case, he is correct when he alludes to every preacher’s responsibility to preach the entire Bible properly, Old or New Testament. We must acknowledge the problem, or perhaps better stated; the challenge of preaching the entire Bible. Although preaching from the New Testament may be more frequent in contemporary pulpits, greater frequency does not equate to greater faithfulness. Many of the problems that mark contemporary Old Testament preaching are also found in preaching of the New Testament. But contemporary preachers maintain a false security because they are more familiar with the contents of the New Testament. As Goldsworthy says, “We recognize the existence of elements of discontinuity between us and the Old Testament, but we do not so readily recognize those that exist between us and the New Testament” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, xiv).

Sermons preached from New Testament texts that fail to exposit the text light of Christ and redemptive history are not preaching Christ even if they frequently mention him. Thus, preachers often deliver moralistic, atomistic, therapeutic sermons from the New Testament, even from the Gospel narratives, that are not Christocentric at all. Simply mentioning Christ or preaching about Christ is not preaching Christ. Bryan Chapell warns,

However well intended and biblically rooted may be a sermon’s instruction, if the message does not incorporate the motivation and enablement inherent in a proper apprehension of the work of Christ, the preacher proclaims mere Pharisaism. Preaching that is faithful to the whole of Scripture not only establishes God’s requirements, but also highlights the redemptive truths that make holiness possible (Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 12).

The preacher must go from study to pulpit with a biblically faithful sermon, one that displays a correct understanding of Christ and his kingdom. As John Piper writes, “All the Scriptures are about Jesus Christ, even when there is no explicit prediction. That is, there is a fullness of implication in all Scriptures that points to Christ and is satisfied only when he has come and done his work” (“How Christ Fulfilled and Ended the Old Testament Regime,” Desiring God Ministries, (accessed August 27, 2011). Therefore, expository preaching reaches its full expression only when every text is proclaimed in light of Christ and eschatological fulfillment in him

[1]. In Colossians 1:18, Paul declares that Jesus is Lord of the church so that “in everything he might be preeminent.” The pulpit should be the chief place where his preeminence is evident. We must approach the expository task explicitly giving Jesus preeminence in preaching.


[1] – For an excellent argument that a commitment to inerrancy demands the use of Christ-centered biblical theology for preaching, see Thomas R. Schreiner, “Preaching and Biblical Theology,” SBJT 10, no. 2 (2006): 20-29.
By |December 8th, 2015|Categories: Blog|Tags: |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today

One Comment

  1. […] Award: “The Pre-eminence of Christ in Preaching, Old or New Testament” – A very well balanced look at why it is that we preach Christ from the Old Testament. […]

Comments are closed.