Monthly Archives: January 2013

Amazing contemporary opposition to women in public ministry

Elizabeth Hooton Warren, 1600-1672 (public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

When traditional evangelicals, who are against women preachers/pastors, speak out, they can make statements like this:

Andronicus and Junia were probably not called apostles in Romans 16:7. This is the only verse where these “two men” are mentioned. They are said to be Paul’s kinsmen and fellowprisoners and were “of note among the apostles.” Does this mean, as some say, that they were noteworthy apostles? Someone could be “of note” among the apostles without being an apostle. It could mean that the apostles had noted them as significant servants of the Lord. Also, if they were apostles of note, they were some of the more important apostles. But this is the only verse of the Bible where these two men are ever mentioned. Certainly, they are not being called apostles here.”[1]

How do we respond to the claim that Junia was not a female but that Andronicus and Junia were males? This is how I replied to this post:[2]

1.  A prominent Greek lexicon

That is not how the eminent Greek lexicon of Arndt & Gingrich sees it. While it is given a masculine definite article, ho, their assessment of the Greek material is:

Junias (not found elsewhere, probably short form of the common Junianus); a Jewish convert to Christianity who was imprisoned with Paul Ro 16:7. The possibility, from a purely lexical point of view, that this is a woman’s name, Junia; ancient commentators took Andronicus and Junia as a married couple, is probably ruled out by the context (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:381).

So to be so adamant that you put in bold and underline that Andronicus and Junia are ‘two men‘ is hardly in keeping with the Greek lexical possibilities.

The late Greek exegete and commentator, Australian Leon Morris, has a different take to you. I remember hearing Leon Morris speak when he would pick up his Greek NT and exegete and expound the Scriptures as he spoke from the Greek text alone. I recommend a read of his commentary on Romans 16:7 (Morris 1988:533-534). His conclusions are:

  • Junias: The patristic commentators seem to have taken the word as feminine, Junia, and understood Andronicus and Junia as husband and wife.
  • They were Paul’s kinsfolk, probably fellow Jews.
  • They were fellow prisoners of him, in jail together or they shared the same fate as he.
  • ‘Outstanding among the apostles’ might mean that the apostles held them in high esteem or that they were apostles, and notable apostles at that. The latter understanding does more justice to the Greek construction.
  • This couple seemed to have belonged to the wider apostolic circle (the circle of apostles was wider than the 12 according to the NT).
  • As for a woman being an apostle, Morris wrote: ‘We should bear in mind Chrysostom’s comment: “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”’

2.  A prominent church father

A leading Greek exegete and commentator does not agree with the view that Andronicus and Junia were ‘two men’.

John Chrysostom, Courtesy Wikipedia

The fuller quote from John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, (with the link to his writings) is:

“And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst those of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” (Chrysostom, Homily on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans XXXI).

Chrysostom’s dates were ca. AD 347-407 (Cairns 1981:141). So by the 4th century his understanding was that Junia was a female apostle, and a noteworthy one at that. Could it be that Chrysostom got it correct and some have got it wrong since then? Could it be that the opposition to women in public ministry is unwarranted? Could gifted women have been closed down by the male chauvinism in the ministry? I write as a male and I’ve read a lot against women in ministry by males. I am not of that view.

3.  A minimised view of the ministry of an apostle and a response

Douglas Moo PhD, Wheaton College

Contemporary Greek exegete and commentator, Donald Moo, downplays the role of an apostle outside of the original 12 apostles of Jesus. He wrote in his commentary on Romans:

The identity of Andronicus’s “partner” is a matter of considerable debate. The problem arises from the fact that the Greek form used here Iounian, depending on how it is accented, could refer either (1) to a man with the name Junianus, found here in its contracted form, “Junias” (cf. NIV; RSV; NASB; TEV; NJB); or (2) to a woman with the name of Junia (KJV; NRSV; REB). Interpreters from the thirteenth to the middle of the twentieth century generally favored the masculine identification. But it appears that commentators before the thirteenth century were unanimous in favor of the feminine identification; and scholars have recently again inclined decisively to this same view. And probably with good reason. For while a contracted form of Junianus would fit quite well in this list of greetings (for Paul uses several other such contractions), we have no evidence elsewhere for this contracted form of the name. On the other hand, the Latin “Junia” was a very common name. Probably, then, “Junia” was the wife of Andronicus (note the other husband and wife pairs in this list, Prisca and Aquila [v. 3] and [probably], philologus and Julia [v. 15])….

In two relative clauses Paul draws the attention of the Roman Christians to the stature of this husband and wife ministry team. The first description might mean that Andronicus and Junia were “esteemed by the apostles.” But it is more natural to translate “esteemed among the apostles.” And it is because Paul calls Junia(s) an “apostle” that earlier interpreters tended to argue that Paul must be referring to a man; for they had difficulty  imagining that a woman could hold such authority in the early church….

But many scholars on both sides of this issue are guilty of accepting too readily a key supposition in this line of reasoning: that “apostle” here refers to an authoritative leadership position such as that by the “Twelve” and by Paul. In fact, Paul often uses the title “apostle” in a “looser” sense: sometimes simply to denote a “messenger” or “emissary” and sometimes to denote “a commissioned missionary.” When Paul uses the word in the former sense, he makes clear the source and purpose of the “emissary’s” commission. So “apostle” here probably means “traveling missionary” (Moo 1996: 923-924).

Has Douglas Moo overlooked something significant in the hierarchical order of the ministry of apostles after the 12 apostles of Jesus? See 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (ESV),

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Butearnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.


Gordon Fee PhD

Professor Emeritus, Regent College

Greek exegete, Gordon Fee, disagrees with Douglas Moo’s perspective and explains that Paul

illustrates that diversity [of ministry gifts] by means of another considerable list (cf. vv 8-10), which has several remarkable features: (1) He begins with a list of persons (apostles, prophets, teachers), whom he ranks in the order of first, second, third. (2) With the fourth and fifth items (lit. “miracles” and “gifts of healings”) he reverts to charismata, taking two from the list in vv. 8-10. These are both prefaced by the word “then,” as though he intended the ranking scheme to continue. (3) The sixth and seventh items (lit. “Helps” and “guidances”), which are deeds of service, are noteworthy in three ways: (a) they are the only two not mentioned again in the rhetoric of vv. 29-30; (b) they are not mentioned again in the NT; © they do not appear to be of the same kind, that is, supernatural endowments, as those on wither side (miracles, healings, tongues)….

That leads to the further question, Does Paul intend that all of these be “ranked” as to their role or significance in the church? To which the answer seems to be No. He certainly intends the first three to be ranked. One might argue also for the rest on the basis of the “then … then” that prefaces the next two. But that seems unlikely…. The gift of tongues … is not listed last because it is least but because it is the problem. As before, Paul includes it because it is a part of the necessary diversity; but he includes it at the end so that the emphasis on diversity will be heard first.

Why, then, does Paul rank the first three? That is more difficult to answer; but it is almost certainly related to his own conviction as to the role these three ministries play in the church. It is not so much that one is more important than the other, nor that this is necessarily their order of authority, but that one has precedence over the o0ther in the founding and building up of the local assembly….

(1) First, apostles…. It is no surprise that Paul should list “apostles” first. the surprise is that they should be on this list at all, and that he should list them in the plural…. For Paul this is both a “functional” and “positional/official” term. In keeping with the other members on this list, it is primarily “functional” here, probably anticipating the concern for the “building up” of the body that he has already hinted at in v. 7 and will stress in chap. 14. Most likely with this word he is reflecting on his own ministry in this church; the plural is in deference to others who have had the same ministry in other churches (Fee 1987:618-620).

Thus, Gordon Fee understands the role of an apostle to be the ministry gift for the founding of churches. Surely such a role is necessary and continues today! And Paul to the Romans (16:7) affirms that that can be the role of a female apostle.


An eminent church father of the fourth century, John Chrysostom, does not agree that Junia was a male. He not only supported the view that she was a female apostle, but also was a noteworthy apostle. He is closer to the time of the apostles than those of us in the 21st century. Did he know more about this issue of supporting women in public ministry than contemporary church folks?

The role of an apostle is hierarchically fist in order (not of authority) in the founding of local churches. This role continues in the 21st century.

See my further articles on women in ministry:


Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, rev & enl edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Fee, G D 1987. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Moo, D J 1996. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1988. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company / Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Women preachers’, DeaconDean #145. Available at: (Accessed 31 January 2013). I have been interacting on this site as OzSpen.

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #148.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.


Open Clipart Library

Can the Sermon Be Redeemed?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I attended a Sunday morning church service at which the pastor was preaching the second of his series on homosexuality. Last week we were given notice that today’s preaching would be from Romans, chapter 1. The passage was well chosen (Romans 1:21-32 NIV) but the preaching added to my belief that the sermon needs to be radically changed — redeemed. This sermon did not provide a clear understanding of Paul’s teaching on homosexuality in this critical passage. There was more from the preacher’s mind than the text in this talk. It could hardly be called a sermon if one looks to the biblical text for the content of a sermon.

A fog in the pulpit does that! At the beginning of the sermon, the preacher warned that he was not clear about the message, so he might transfer that in the presentation. He did not disappoint. The preacher included a few Greek terms that he found difficult to pronounce. It was obvious that he didn’t use much of his Greek knowledge from theological college.  These Greek words related to use of the words translated as “passions” or “lusts” in Romans 1 that were supposed to be associated with homosexuality.  I left the service with no biblical enlightenment on this subject of vital contemporary importance. What message was conveyed by this confusion? What’s more, it confirmed my deep disappointment with preaching in evangelical churches here in my home country of Australia.

A. Origins of the church service and sermon

Is the Sunday morning church service, including the sermon, a requirement for the contemporary church, based on biblical precedent? I have searched the Bible for anything similar to the contemporary church service. I came up with a blank. From where do the sermon and church service originate?  Some church history books seem to be light on an historical investigation of the origins of the early church at worship and the use of the sermon. [2] Does the contemporary church service look anything like that of the early church? Gene Edwards was adventurous when he stated:

Let me assume you are an American. Did you know that you have never sat in a church building and experienced an organic expression of the church of Jesus Christ? When you walk into a church service on Sunday morning, pews, pulpit, etc., you are participating in a ritual the British brought to us, back in the early 1600’s! That ritual is just not us.

Sunday church is a foreign import. Dumped on us by foreigners! And we now dump it on foreigners! Where did the British get this abominable ritual?  From Geneva, Switzerland. John Calvin did it!

The thing is man-made. Man contrived. The ritual which man concocted. An accident of church history. But today it is – you might say – more entrenched than the Bible. . .

It was boring when introduced. It is boring now. It will remain boring forever.” [3]

We experience something similar here in Australia. I am not convinced that the explanation is as simple as that, but I can support the view that contemporary experience of the Sunday morning church service “is boring now.” Surely the story is not that the church had a more open approach to worship and ministry and then along came John Calvin who changed it radically.  The difficulty comes because of the lack of historical documentation given by Gene Edwards to support his views. What was it like in the early church for the first couple of centuries after its founding? Did we have something radically different from the contemporary worship format or was it in parallel with the synagogue service for a couple of centuries after Christ’s death? It is not an easy task to discover the style of worship in the early centuries. Eminent Yale University church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, points to the fragmentary nature of early church records:

The precise forms of the Christian community in the first century or so of its existence have been and remain a topic of debate. . . The evidence is of such a fragmentary character that on many important issues it does not yield incontestable conclusions. . . No comprehensive or uniform pattern of church practice and government existed.  Before the first century of its existence was out, the Church began to display certain organizational features which, developed, have persisted, with modifications, into the twentieth century. [4]

The “offices and officials” in the church included deacons, elders and bishops. [5]

1.    Jewish origins

Since the historical origins of the Christian church were firmly within the Jewish culture, it is not surprising that “Christian worship and the congregational organization rest on that of the synagogue, and cannot be well understood without it.” [6]  Church historian, Philip Schaff, documents these features of the Jewish synagogue worship that probably transferred to the early worship among Jewish Christians:

a.    The synagogue had immense conservative power, being a school as well as a church; [7]
b.    The synagogue’s organisation included a president, a number of elders who were equal in rank, a reader and interpreter, one or more envoys or clerks who were called “messengers”, a sexton or beadle for the more humble and “mechanical” services. [8]
c.    Worship “was simple, but rather long, and embraced three elements, devotional, didactic, and ritualistic”; [9]
d.    The didactic and homiletical dimensions of worship were based on the Hebrew Scriptures and included a lesson from the Law (called parasha), one from the Prophets (haphthara), and a “paraphrase or commentary and homily (midrash).” [10]  The lessons from the Law and the Prophets were in the Hebrew language while the midrash was in the language of the common people, the vernacular – usually Aramaic or Greek.
e.    Since the only proper Jewish priesthood was in Jerusalem, outside of Jerusalem any Jew of age might get up and read the lessons, offer prayer, and address the congregation. Jesus and the apostles availed themselves of this democratic privilege to preach the gospel, as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. (Luke 4:17-20; 13:54; John 18:20; Acts 13:5, 15, 44; 14:1; 17:2-4, 10, 17; 18:4, 26; 19:8. The strong didactic element . . . distinguished this service from all heathen forms of worship. [11]

f.    Jesus and his disciples worshipped in the synagogue. As long as they were tolerated, the early Jewish disciples of Christ continued this practice. We know that Paul, the apostle, preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Amphipolis, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. In Corinth, Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

g.    For Christians who were redeemed out of Judaism, there was a natural tendency to follow Jewish patterns of worship.

The Jewish Christians, at least in Palestine, conformed as closely as possible to the venerable forms of the cultus [worship] of their fathers, which in truth were divinely ordained. . . and celebrated, in addition to these, the Christian Sunday, the death and resurrection of the Lord, and the holy Supper. But this union was gradually weakened by the stubborn opposition of the Jews, and was at last entirely broken by the destruction of the temple, except among the Ebionites and Nazarenes.[12]

2.    Gentile difference

For the Gentiles it was a very different worship experience. We know from the Corinthian example (1 Corinthians 12-14) that open ministry with opportunity for the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit that was given to all believers, was the norm for when the church gathered. These are some examples of what ministry in that Gentile congregation involved:

clip_image004 1 Cor. 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
clip_image004[1] 1 Cor. 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
clip_image004[2] 1 Cor. 14:26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

New Testament ministry, according to I Corinthians, involved the ministry of the priesthood of all believers when the church gathered. This is very different from the formal synagogue model. Therefore, has the contemporary church more in common with the synagogue model than the open ministry of the Corinthian church?  In spite of the problems in the Corinthian church, there is no indication in Paul’s correction that the church must revert from expression of the gifts of all believers to practise more formalism. I am not convinced that today’s church format must be laid at the feet of John Calvin’s Genevan model. It is more probable that we have been disobedient to the authoritative teaching of every-member ministry with I Corinthians 12-14 providing the examples.

I cannot imagine that a church that practised I Cor. 14: 26 would lack excitement, involvement of the believers, and edification of the church: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”   Philip Schaff contends that

In the Gentile-Christian congregations founded by Paul, the worship took from the beginning a more independent form. The essential elements of the Old Testament service were transferred, indeed, but divested of their national legal character, and transformed by the spirit of the gospel. . . So early as the close of the apostolic period this more free and spiritual cultus [worship] of Christianity had no doubt become well nigh universal; yet many Jewish elements, especially in the Eastern church, remain to this day. [13]

3. Worship in the early church

Schaff lists these “parts of public worship in the time of the apostles” [14];

a.    The preaching of the gospel;

b.    Reading of portions of the Old Testament with practical exhortation to repentance and conversion (see Acts 13:15; 15:21);

c.    Prayer;

d.    The song, being a form of prayer;

e.    Confession of faith.

The first express confession of faith is the testimony of Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next is the trinitarian baptismal formula. Out of this gradually grew the so-called Apostles’ Creed, which is also trinitarian in structure, but gives the confession of Christ the central and largest place. [15]

f.    The administration of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper;

Information concerning the different aspects of the worship “service” are difficult to piece together. A reading of the Book of Acts and the NT epistles (especially I Corinthians) reveals that

The early Christians did not think of a church as a place of worship according to the common usage of the word today. A church signified a body of people in personal relationship with Christ. Such a group met in homes (Acts 12:12; Rom. 16:5, 23; Col. 4:15; Philemon 1-4), the temple (Acts 5:12), public auditoriums of schools (Acts 19:9), and in the synagogues as long as they were permitted to do so (Acts 14:1, 3; 17:1; 18:4). The place was not as important as the matter of meeting for fellowship with one another and of worship of God. [16]

Historical information about the order and content of worship is more complete in the mid-second century. We know from Justin Martyr’s writing, First Apology, and the Didache that

The service, which was held on “the day of the sun,” started with reading of the “memoirs of the apostles” or “the writings of the prophets” for a period “as long as time permits.” An exhortation or homily based on the reading was then given by the “president.” The congregation then stood for prayer. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper followed the kiss of peace. The elements of bread and “water and wine” were dedicated by thanksgiving and prayers to which the people responded by an “Amen.” The deacons then distributed them to the homes of those unable to be present at the meeting. They finally took up a collection for aid to widows and orphans, the sick, prisoners, and strangers. The meeting was then dismissed, and all the people made their way to their homes. [17]

g. What was the nature of the sermon or homily?

Apart from the description of the apostle Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian Church (I Cor. 12-14), little is known about the nature of Christian worship until about the second century.

Philip Schaff related

The earliest description of the Christian worship is given by a heathen, the younger Pliny, A.D. 109, in his well-known letter to Trajan, which embodies the result of his judicial investigations in Bithynia. According to this, the Christians assembled on an appointed day (Sunday) at sunrise, sang responsively a song to Christ as to God, and then pledged themselves by an oath not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property intrusted (sic) to them. Afterwards (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape).

This account of a Roman official then bears witness to the primitive observance of Sunday, the separation of the love-feast from the morning worship (with the communion), and the worship of Christ as God in song.

Justin Martyr, at the close of his larger Apology, describes the public worship more particularly, as it was conducted about the year 140. After giving a full account of baptism and the holy Supper . . . he continues:

On Sunday a meeting of all, who live in the cities and villages, is held, and a section from the Memoirs of the Apostles (the Gospels) and the writings of the Prophets (the Old Testament) is read, as long as the time permits. When the reader is finished, the president, in a discourse, gives an exhortation to the imitation of these noble things. After this we all rise in common prayer. At the close of the prayer . . . bread and wine with water are brought. . .

Reading of the Scriptures, preaching (and that as an episcopal function), prayer, and communion, plainly appear as the regular parts of the Sunday worship; All descending no doubt from the apostolic age. [18]

Parts of worship included “the reading of Scripture Lessons from the Old Testament with practical application and exhortation passed from the Jewish synagogue to the Christian church.” [19]

The sermon consisted of

A familiar exposition of Scripture and exhortation to repentance and a holy life, and gradually assumed in the Greek church an artistic, rhetorical character. Preaching was at first free to every member who had the gift of public speaking, but was gradually confined as an exclusive privilege of the clergy, and especially the bishop. Origen was called upon to preach before his ordination, but his was even rather an exception. The oldest known homily, now recovered in full (1875), is from an unknown Greek or Roman author of the middle of the second century, probably before A.D. 140 (formerly ascribed to Clement of Rome). He addresses the hearers as “brothers” and “sisters,” and read from a manuscript. The homily has no literary value, and betrays confusion and intellectual poverty, but is inspired by moral earnestness and triumphant faith. It closes with this doxology: “To the only God invisible, the Father of truth, who sent forth unto us the Savior and prince of immortality, through whom also He made manifest unto us the truth and the heavenly life, to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. [20]

The evidence concerning the content of the early church’s teaching / preaching / sermonising is scant. We do not have enough information concerning its structure and actual content. However, this we do know: The church at Corinth was given one of the clearest examples of what should happen when the church gathers as a community of believers. (See I Cor. 12-14.) This we do know: The Corinthians had problems with division among them and following favourite preachers (see I Cor. 3:1-9). However, when they met together as believers of the Corinthian assembly, it was open ministry for all who were gifted by the Holy Spirit. It should be nothing less for today’s church. Believers who meet together for worship and ministry need to be open for every-member ministry as the Holy Spirit leads. This is very different to what happens in the contemporary Australian church where most believers are mute. We are being cheated as we fail to function as God requires.

4.    The church in the house

Christian worship in the early centuries “was very simple, strongly contrasting with the pomp of the Greek and Roman communion; yet by no means puritanic.” [21] The Gentiles and the Jews (who were no longer welcome in the synagogue) held their public worship, not in a building that was called the house of the Lord, but

Until about the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private houses, or in desert places, at the graves of martyrs, and in the crypts of the catacombs. This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of silence and solitude, and their aversion to all heathen art. The apologists frequently assert, that their brothers had neither temples nor altars (in the pagan sense of these words), and their worship was spiritual and independent of place and ritual. . . Justin Martyr said to the Roman prefect: The Christians assemble wherever it is convenient, because their God is not like the gods of the heathen, inclosed (sic)  in space, but is invisibly present everywhere. Clement of Alexandria refutes the superstition, that religion is bound to any building. . .

The first traces of special houses of worship occur in Tertullian, who speaks of going to church, and in his contemporary, Clement of Alexandria, who mentions the double meaning of the word ekklesia

…. After the middle of the third century the building of churches began in great earnest. [22]

Open ministry, allowing for all who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to function with the assembly gathers, is limited in large gatherings. The house church, however, makes such opportunities possible. Has the church building and the larger gathering inhibited proper biblical functioning when the church gathers? I believe so.

B.  Fog in the pulpit, confusion in the pew

My experience at the church service on this Sunday morning is not an isolated one. From liberal, evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches of many persuasions, I observe that the problem is in epidemic proportions. What are the problems? When it comes to teaching and preaching God’s Word, I am speaking of preachers who don’t know how to exegete the Scriptures to prepare for preaching. They fail to expound the Scriptures so that I understand the main theme of the passage with clarity and take home applications that are relevant to where I live and work.

The pastor who failed to speak clearly on the topic of homosexuality from Romans 1 is preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the “fog” continues. He waffles around some themes associated with the text, fails to grab my attention or that of my wife, and then forgets about a sound exposition of the content of that passage. I am not convinced that he knows how to do it, but the issue is deeper. Does he even want to expound the text properly? I have spoken with him about this lack of exposition; he listened, but nothing has changed. The fog returns for every sermon.

Perhaps you are saying, “Why don’t you go elsewhere?” That could be an option but the fog exists in most of the other churches as well. I live in a regional Australian city of 40,000 people (65,000 if the surrounding district is included). There is one church where the Word is expounded with clarity, but the worship service is hyper conservative and very boring. However, that service seems to be the only viable option in my area.

1.    Is exegesis blasphemy?

This message is a plea for all preachers (pastors and laity) to treat the biblical text with seriousness when they preach and teach. Exegesis is not a swear word or a blasphemous assault on the Messiah.  When Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word”, that’s exactly what he meant for all preachers in the entire church age – preach the Word of God. The message proclaimed from the Scriptures needs to be illustrated and applied for a contemporary audience, but it must be based on a sound exegesis of the passage. Exegesis literally means a “narration” or “explanation.” Only the verbal form, “I exegete” (exegeomai) appears in the New Testament and literally means “to lead out of.” [23] In Luke and Acts it “always means to relate or to tell.” [24]
As applied to the Scriptures, exegesis deals with

The historical investigation into the meaning of the biblical text. Exegesis, therefore, answers the question, What did the biblical author mean?

It has to do with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend  his original readers to understand? [25]

No preacher in the Western world has any excuse for not knowing how to approach exegesis. Books such as Gordon Fee’s, New Testament Exegesis [26] are essential tools for preachers who need to know “how to use certain key tools and how to wrestle with the basic components of exegesis.” [27] To make exegesis even more attainable, Fee has included a 20-page summary, “Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis,” [28] that offers a step-by-step procedure for busy pastor-teachers. Douglas Stuart has produced a similar volume for the Old Testament. [29]

2.    Three types of preaching?

It seems reasonable to examine briefly three different types of sermons that are delivered in the contemporary church.

clip_image006  a.    The topical sermon

This is the type of sermon that addresses a certain topic. That topic could be one of a mountain of options – sexuality, ethical issues, theological topics such as propitiation, redemption, heaven and hell. Topical sermons

Are more or less loosely connected with a Biblical phrase, clause, sentence, verse, or scattered assortment thereof. . . Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they speak to contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the weakness of a subjective approach. [30]

I have no major contention with a topical preacher who preaches from the Bible with a sound understanding of what the Bible actually says about a chosen topic. This requires an expounding of the meaning of many texts, gathering them together to follow the one theme, and then the adding of illustrations and applications. I have not heard many preachers who do this well. There are exceptions.  C. H. Spurgeon was one of them. He was an outstanding preacher, but “not a pure expositor. He frequently preached topically. He was a great writer of sermons and was masterful in his prose and [in] his insights, plus he possessed tremendous creativity.”[31]

Walter Kaiser begs to differ about the value of topical sermons:

So strong is this writer’s aversion to the methodological abuse he has repeatedly witnessed – especially in topical messages – that he has been advising his students for some years now to preach a topical sermon only once every five years – and then immediately to repent and ask God’s forgiveness! [32]

clip_image006[1]  b.    The exegetical sermon

Exegesis deals with the meaning of a biblical text to its biblical author and the reasons why the author said what he or she said. Preachers who have been known to present this material exegetically can bore their listeners to sleep.  Gordon Fee warns that “exegetical sermons are usually as dry as dust, informative perhaps, but seldom prophetic or inspirational. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the biblical student is to apply one’s exegetical understanding of the text to the contemporary church and world.” [33] Kaiser is just as emphatic: “Nothing can be more dreary and grind the soul and spirit of the Church more than can a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.” [34]

Preachers who want to communicate with people are warned against bombarding a congregation with “a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.” [35]

The preacher must become very competent at exegesis in his or her preparation of a sermon but is urged never to preach an exegetical sermon. Exegesis is designed to come to life in the expository sermon.

clip_image006[2]  c.    The expository sermon

Expository preaching is the urgent need of today but not everyone will agree. In fact, some want us to abandon preaching altogether. Preaching social action, psychology and counselling find a ready audience. However, Paul, the apostle, did not recoil from preaching the Word of God: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15). Why should this be? Hebrews 4:12 gives the reason: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Also, biblical fidelity means that we are obligated to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Simply stated, “expository preaching attempts to present and apply the truths of a specific biblical passage. . . Expository preachers are committed to saying what God says. . . Such preaching puts people in immediate contact with the power of the Word.”[36] Haddon Robinson provides this definition:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.[37]

The preacher’s task must be to preach the Word of God. He or she must ask, “Am I using the Scriptures to support my ideas or am I allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves and bend my thoughts to that of the Scriptures?”[38]  John MacArthur, Jr. expressed his personal preference for expository preaching:

One of the reasons I preach verse by verse is because I could never produce such inspiring, clever, creative, topical sermons week in and week out as he [Spurgeon] did. He had an immensely creative imagination. I just don’t have that, nor do many other preachers that I know. Where creativity is strong, so is the danger that it can turn a preacher away from the exposition of Scripture. We need to guard against this without suppressing legitimate creativity.[39]

MacArthur concludes that “preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is the most reasonable way to teach the whole counsel of God.”[40]My concern is with the lack of content in preaching in Australia today. Expository preaching will redress this serious situation.

From the pulpit today in evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic churches, we too frequently have preachers who present psychology, sociology, current events and rambling about something that the preacher has read recently. But coming away from the sermon with a clear understanding of what the preacher has said about what the Scripture means, is something that I am finding extremely difficult to apprehend. It is quite a while since I heard a memorable sermon. This is a challenge to me as an occasional preacher.  Just in case you think that mine is an isolated situation, I urge you to take a random sample of a number of the churches in your city or region. See if there is a fog emanating from the pulpit (often disguised as hype and entertainment). Check out the listeners after the service for

(1)    Their knowledge of he main theme preached,
(2)    Their memory of the main points stated from the biblical text, and
(3)    The changes they will be implementing, with God’s help, in their lives this week – based on the challenge to application from the sermon

clip_image006[3]  d.    Did you notice?

I hope you noticed what I did in this section. I dealt with topical, exegetical and expository sermons. I have argued from the contemporary experience of the church. This section, “Three Types of Preaching” is not driven by a biblical agenda. It is based on what I observe being preached in the church today. Wouldn’t it be better to go to the Scriptures for examples of preaching, exhortation and exegesis?

3. Why the crisis in contemporary preaching?

We seem to be stuck with oratory or entertainment from the pulpit (some preachers run the entire service, including the children’s story).  A Christian I know attended a church where the pastor was performing “acrobats” (well, prancing & dancing around) on the platform while he preached.  He tripped and fell backward off the platform.  It’s a blessing that he did not sustain severe physical damage to himself.  I long for some solid input from the pulpit that challenges me with the word of God, applies it to my life situation, but is not an invention from the mind of the pastor. I’m tired of psychological theory and practice masquerading as preaching. I have heard zilch on a biblical understanding of what happened on September 11, 2001 in the USA. Are my expectations for preachers and preaching too high? Or has preaching slipped to such a low ebb in this and other parts of the world that it needs to be redeemed?

Twenty years ago, Walter Kaiser Jr., lamented:

Nowhere in the total curriculum of theological studies has the student been more deserted and left to his own devices than in bridging the yawning chasm between understanding the content of Scripture as it was given in the past and [in] proclaiming it with such relevance in the present as to produce faith, life, and bona fide works.[41]

Why is there this crisis in contemporary preaching? These are observations and not definitive conclusions.

a.    From the preacher’s perspective

  • Are the gifted making themselves available? Is the teaching gift being recognised by the church?  I know of a deacon in a local church who is being forced to preach.  He doesn’t want to preach and listening to him confirms that his gift is not preaching.
  • A low view of Scripture often manifests itself in oratory, entertainment or shear boredom from the speaker;
  • The view of the preacher’s task from theological college, peers and reading influences his approach to preaching;
  • We live in a mass media culture. Can the preacher compete? Has the preacher lost his or her authority?

Haddon Robinson asks some penetrating questions:

In the face of society’s scorn – or being relegated to a box labeled PRIVATE and SPIRITUAL – many preachers struggle with the issue of authority. Why should anyone pay attention to us? What is the source of our credibility? In such a climate, how can we regain the legitimate authority our preaching needs to communicate the gospel with power and effect.[42]

b.    A view from the pew

  • Who says that there is a crisis?
  • Too many lack a teaching gift and the churches put up with a low standard. Is the shortage of pastors in some denominations causing acceptance of a standard of preaching that would otherwise be unacceptable?
  • The expectations in the pew are low. The local church knows no better. They’ve grown used to this standard. Or, they have never known any better standard since they became Christians. Unless people grew up knowing good preaching, they would not come to expect any better. Could it be that people are leaving the church in the Western world and elsewhere because of factors such as these:

The Protestant church sermon, pews, rows, pulpits and the paraphernalia of the ensuing ritual [are] lifeless, boring and spiritually killing! Vast multitudes of God’s people – from one end of this planet to the other – will  stop gathering, out of utter boredom! Millions have already. Millions more join their ranks every year.[43]

  • There is widespread biblical illiteracy in the pew.
  • To “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12) is a forgotten practice for many pastor-teachers. We must return to the biblical mandate of equipping believers for the ministries that God has given them. Obviously this relates to honing the gifts that God has already given to believers. This is for the purpose of “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:12-13).
  • Since quality preaching is in such short supply these days from the pastor-teacher role in my part of the world, it is rare for the laity to be equipped for solid preaching. We urgently need a return to equipping gifted believers for the practice of preaching. However, a pastor-teacher’s modelling through his own preaching would be exemplary for lay preachers.

c. Is there any help or hope for the sermon?

When I ask, “Can the sermon be redeemed?” what do I mean by “redeemed”? I use it in two senses:

1. Can the sermon, in a practical sense, be rescued from its present demise into personal opinions, psychologised banter, general irrelevance, speaking around the topic, and hype?

2.    This is a plea for a return to preaching

That explains precisely what the Word of God says about the issues of our day, the concerns of our lives, and the destines of our souls. . . [It] offers a voice of authority not of human origin, and promises answers not subject to cultural vagaries.[44]

This definition by Bryan Chapell was particularly referring to “expository preaching,” but its application could just as easily be applied to those who want to preach topical sermons that are Bible-based.   Of the 15 evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic churches my wife and I have visited (we’ve been a member of one of them for most of that time) over the last 8 years in our city (this covers most of the churches that say they believe the Bible), only one seriously and consistently expounds the Word of God. These expositions are excellent in covering biblical content but often don’t seem to connect with today’s generation.

William Hendriksen confirms the need for preaching to be vibrant and God-focussed: “Genuine heralding or preaching is lively, not dry; timely, not stale. It is the earnest proclamation of news initiated by God. It is not the abstract speculation on views excogitated[45] by man.”[46] Walter Kaiser agrees: “Nothing can be more dreary and grind the soul and spirit of the Church more than can a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.”[47]   Paul, to the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20 said that he had “not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (v. 20). That which was “helpful” was “the whole will/counsel of God” (v. 27). Should such a goal be less stringent for today’s preachers?

My homiletics courses at Bible college and seminary encouraged me to give time for thorough preparation of exegesis and exposition using solid homiletical principles. The organisation of the sermons I have heard over the last few years has been poorly structured, as a general rule. This means that I go away with few means to remember the thoughts of the sermon. I look for an introduction, structure, conclusion, with sound content that attempts to communicate. But it is often missing in most of the churches my wife and I have visited.

I guess a sermon at a local church a few weeks ago capped it off. My wife called it “a nice little psychological talk, but it was an insult to call it a sermon.” The pastor was trying to show how men need to understand women to be able to communicate effectively in marriage. The leader of the service read I Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (ESV).  This was the only Bible verse read in the entire service. The pastor never even attempted to draw out what the verse was saying. There was no structure, but lots of homespun humour from the pastor’s own marriage wrapped in current psychobabble of what women need from men in marriage. But forget about exposition, structure and preaching for biblical change!

d.    Surely it’s not that difficult

From my first homiletics class in Bible College in the early 1970s, through years as a full-time Christian counsellor, pastor of two churches, and now a doctoral student in theology, I have preached regularly. However, I’m at the point of exasperation in my locality in finding a preacher who faithfully:

1.    Begins with a biblical text and proclaims what it says;
2.    Finds the main theme of the message and expounds it;
3.    Gives an outline that helps me grasp the main points of the sermon and lets me know where the preacher is heading;
4.    Uses illustrations to help me better understand the main points; and
5.    Applies the message to me personally, driving home a challenge

Although a knowledge of the original languages of the Bible helps preachers prepare accurate exegesis, it is not absolutely essential to biblical preaching. A preacher can still prepare sound, connecting and challenging biblical preaching (expository or topical). All one needs is half a dozen literal and paraphrased versions of the English Bible (e.g. NASB[48], RSV[49], NRSV[50], ESV[51], NIV[52], GNB[53], REB[54], NJB[55]) to show the variations in meaning or interpretation of certain words, grammar and syntax.  For pastors who want to improve their public speaking skills, there are local groups such as Rostrum and Toastmasters Clubs that will provide helpful practice and critique for all public speakers. I highly recommend that pastors mix with people in these groups and learn the process of how to communicate with a cutting edge in their public presentations.

C.    Preachers and laity must change

If we are to see a return to biblical preaching, whether that be expository or topical, it will require a movement by both preachers and laity.  Preachers need to be convinced of their biblical responsibility before God.

1.    Preach the Word

It will take a serious commitment by preachers to preach the Word, as per 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” There will also be the need for the people of God to demand this of their preachers, since it is a biblical imperative.  What does it mean to “preach“? Here in 2 Tim. 4:2, the Greek word verb is kerusso. It is one of the most common words in the New Testament for preaching and means “to proclaim as a herald.” It appears over 60 times in the NT (see Matt. 3:1; Mark 1:14; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Tim. 4:2). Kerusso “stresses the activity of preaching”, while its synonym, euaggelizesthai (to announce good news, to evangelise) “accents the glorious nature of the message proclaimed.”[56]

There has been “considerable debate as to what the word of God means in [1 Tim.4:5 and here in 2 Tim. 4:2].” Gordon Fee does not see it as referring to the Old Testament but in the Pastoral Epistles, “the word of God invariably refers to the gospel message (2 Tim. 2:19; Titus 1:3; 2:5; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2). If this is the case here [2 Tim. 4:2], it reflects the idea of believers’ having come to know the truth (v. 3).”[57]   “Preach the word” refers

generally [to] the divinely authorized proclamation of the message of God to men. It is the exercise of ambassadorship.… The herald brings God’s message. Today in the work of ‘heralding’ or ‘preaching’ careful exposition of the text is certainly included. But genuine heralding or preaching is lively, not dry; timely, not stale.

It is the earnest proclamation of news initiated by God. It is not the abstract specularion on views excogitated by man. [58]

“The preacher is not to air his own opinions but to proclaim God’s eternal, authoritative Word of truth.”[59]  In preaching the word of God, the preacher will:

  • Do it “in season and out of season.” This means he will “stay with the task whether it is convenient or not” for him, or, more probably, he will stand by what he has proclaimed “whether or not the preaching comes at a convenient time for the hearers.”[60]
  • “Reprove” those who are in error.[61]
  • “Rebuke” or warn those who do not heed the correction.[62]
  • “Exhort” or “admonish” means to urge them on. “Hand in hand with pertinent rebuke there must be tender, fatherly admonition.”[63]. The admonishing (lit. calling aside) is “for the purpose of encouraging, comforting, exhorting, entreating, appealing to.”[64]

Isn’t this a marvellous balance! Those committing error must be corrected; those who do not heed the correction are warned, but it must all be done with a fatherly comforting and encouragement. This is biblical Christianity in action – correction with tenderness!

2. Cutting a straight path with the word of truth

There is an added conviction that is needed for preaching the Word. Second Timothy 2:15 affirms this call: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.“  “Rightly handling” is the Greek, orthotomounta, a present participle of orthotomeo, meaning continuous action.  What kind of action?  It’s the only use of the word in the New Testament, but found in the Septuagint (LXX) of the Old Testament in Prov. 3:6 and 11:5. In Prov. 11:5, it is used with hodos (way) “and plainly means ‘cut a path in a straight direction’ or ‘cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction’, so that the traveler may go directly to his destination.”[65] Therefore, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) perhaps means “guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal), without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”[66]

Gordon Fee, therefore, is justified in stating that “rightly handling” (“correctly handles”, NIV) the word is

A metaphor that literally means ‘to cut straight.’ There has been considerable speculation regarding the metaphor itself, as to what kind of ‘cutting’ (wood, stones, furrows) may have been in mind. Most likely the original sense of the metaphor has been lost, and the emphasis simply lies in doing something correctly. Hence the NIV is perfectly adequate[67] with its translation “correctly handles.”

What is the “word of truth”? Paul is urging Timothy, not to “correctly interpret Scripture but that he truly preach and teach the gospel, the word of truth, in contrast to the ‘word battles’ (v. 14) and ‘godless chatter’ (v. 16, NIV) of the others.”[68]

Ralph Earle disagrees, claiming that Paul is warning preachers “against taking the devious paths of deceiving interpretations in teaching the Scriptures.”[69]

3.  The attitude of this preaching

The preacher must do this with “complete patience and teaching.” The “complete patience” or “great patience” (NIV) is necessary because of what will happen among the people who hear him: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” [2 Tim. 4:3-4].   This was a solemn warning to the preachers and people of the first century. It is just as current 2,000 years later.

I heard error preached from the pulpit at a church I visited. He taught that:

  • Jesus was not God on earth. He was human and the Holy Spirit came upon him.
  • Christians have no sinful nature and do not sin.
  • We do not sin “in the spirit man.”
  • When Jesus became sin for us on the cross, this gave an opening for Satan to get in and Satan killed Jesus on the cross.

What should I do? On the basis of Scripture, I knew my obligation before God. As a Christian minister of the gospel, I had the elder’s responsibility “to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). First Tim. 4:16 exhorts me: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.”   I sought counsel from three godly pastors and church leaders. Their advice was to visit the pastor who preached the false doctrine and gently confront him with the biblical evidence, demonstrating his error.   I met with the pastor to share my concerns. This was his response:

  • Even though I presented his views, word-for-word from the cassette tape of the message, he would not admit his unorthodox doctrine. As I presented the biblical evidence to refute him, he agreed with me, but did not admit that he was teaching any error. He said that I would understand him better if I heard the context — the messages before and after this one. I disagreed, saying that context does not correct the error that he preached on this one day that I visited his church.
  • I believe he was confused because of his exposure to other heretical doctrines that he is hearing and reading. He made statements like, “We do not sin in the spirit man.” Much of his theology seems to be filtered through a particular aberration of trichotomy (body, soul and spirit) and its implications for the believer. In spite of the preference by some people (listeners) for myths, unsound teaching and “itching ears” for more error to “suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3-4), the preacher must continue “teaching” God’s truth.

William Hendriksen states that this combination of “complete patience and teaching” means “with utmost longsuffering and with most painstaking teaching-activity.”[70] A similar combination of words is in 2 Tim. 2:24, where the Lord’s servant must be “able to teach, patiently enduring evil.”

4.    Initial training and refresher courses in biblical preaching for pastors and laity

It is time for pastor-teachers to take seriously their ministry “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Equipping the believers for their ministry seems to have been lost from many congregations. Shouldn’t it be the role of theological colleges and local churches to train pastors in effective sermon preparation and presentation, and follow up with refresher courses for pastors?   The need is desperate for pastors who know how to preach the Word and “rightly divide the word of truth.”   Is this not considered an important requirement for any preacher, by both preacher and people? It is time for the people in the pew to require a higher standard from the pulpit. Are their expectations too low, or are they timid in expressing their views?

5.    Pastors will need to make a time commitment

If there is to be a change in the quality of what comes from the pulpit, it will mean a motivational and time commitment by the pastor-teacher to these areas:

a.    Solid exegesis. Tell us what the text means. This takes time and study.

b.    Preachers must want to learn how to expound the Word of God.

c.    The pastor must see the need to feed the people on the meat of the Word and not just milk. However, Paul’s warning to the Corinthians needs local church application: 1 Cor. 3:2-3 says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
There is a pastoral need to help people deal biblically with their lives so that they are ready for “meat” in preaching. Preaching with purpose should address such issues.

d.    As a practical suggestion, pastors need a focus group to give feedback to him or her on the impact of preaching – content and communication.  A pastor-teacher could take time at the end of one sermon a month to receive honest feedback from the listeners for the last month of his sermons? This may be painful for some pastors. This is a practical way to make preaching more than one-way communication.

e.    Christian denominations should hold theological colleges accountable for solid training in homiletics and the colleges should offer preaching courses in cities and towns across the state at least once a year. These should be offered at strategic cities/towns across Queensland. We have a desperate need to train biblical preachers.

6.    It will take . . .

a.    Preachers and teachers in the church who are committed to the authority of Scripture more than the importance of one’s own opinion. Preaching to be popular with a larger audience is another danger.
b.    Preachers who know their Lord intimately and burn with the desire to communicate His Word accurately, but with a connection to the real world of their listeners (congregation).
c.    Exegesis, explanation, illustration and application by preachers. This is what is needed to expound any text. The hour is late. We need desperate Christians who require much better preaching by their pastor-teachers and pastor-teachers who are committed to what the Word of God requires of preachers.
d.    Church fellowships (ecclesia) that need to take seriously what the Scriptures require in testing the content of what is delivered by way of ministry in the congregation:

  • 1 Thess. 5:19-21, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
  • John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

7.    There is no excuse for any preacher in the Western world

We have an abundance of resources, including self-help Greek and Hebrew language courses, commentaries, and extensive theological volumes. Now the world-wide-web gives wide access to online material in the English-speaking world.  Preachers in cities and towns, especially in regional Australia, should attempt to share resources as most required books and journals for solid exegesis and exposition are not found in the local public library.

John MacArthur Jr. is very generous in giving permission to use his sermons.  But it is permission with a condition.  He wrote:

I am careful in my books to document my sources, but too many references to sources would be distracting. A balance is the ideal.  We cannot document every thought in our sermons.  On the other hand, we should give credit where due.  Pastors sometimes ask me if they can use my material.  I have given blanket permission for anyone to use my sermons and preach them in whole or in part if they wish, and I do not want any credit as the source.  If what I say has value to someone, I am honored for him to use it for God’s glory.  The truth is all His.

Yet if someone re-preaches one of my sermons without enriching it by going through the discovery process, that sermon will inevitably be flat and lifeless.  The great Scottish preacher, Alexander Maclaren once went to hear another man preach, a young man with a reputation for being a gifted preacher.  Much to Maclaren’s surprise, the young man said at the outset of his message, ‘I’ve had such a busy week that I had no time to prepare a sermon of my own, so I’m going to preach one of Maclaren’s.’  He did not know Maclaren was in the audience until Maclaren greeted him afterward.  He was very embarrassed and became even more so when Maclaren looked him in the eye and said, “Young man, I don’t mind if you are going to preach my sermons, but if you are going to preach them like that, please don’t say they are mine.”

To rely too heavily on the sermons of others robs one of the joy of discovering biblical truth for himself. [70a]

What’s the condition?  If we use John MacArthur Jr.’s sermons, we must prepare further by “enriching it by going through the discovery process.”  Well said, John!

8.    Yes the sermon can be redeemed, but it will take…

  • Change of desire and motivation by both preacher and people. The changes include those suggested above.
  • A repudiation of the Greek mindset of oratory and a return to preaching that is biblically sound, interacts with people, offers challenges to live a practical Christian life, and applies the message to people where they live. I cannot see that happening without a deep knowledge of God and his Word among the people of God. Will it take a heaven-sent revival before people and preachers desire this change?

D.    But wait a minute!

I’m interested in hearing from pastor-teachers and their views on what it means to preach the Word of God, to be consistent interpreters, and to communicate with this generation. How do preachers check if they are biblical in their sermons? What are they doing to ensure that they communicate this theology and exposition with ordinary people?  How can this accomplish the exhortation of James, “but be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22)?   There’s a more penetrating question: With the western world’s view of the contemporary pastor-preacher-sermoniser, have we created a monster that has no New Testament precedent? The radical Gene Edwards observed:

A ‘pastor’, standing behind a pulpit preaching sermons to a group of people seated in pews in a building with stained-glass windows, has absolutely no Scriptural justification whatsoever. You will never find such a scene in all first century literature.[71]

If a preacher is to obey the Word of God, is he or she to practise the role of the twenty-first century sermoniser, or is something more revolutionary needed?

The word “pastor” (Greek poimen), as applied to a church role, appears just once in the entire New Testament (see Eph. 4:11). Of course it can refer to a literal shepherd of sheep or Jesus, “the good shepherd” (see Matt. 9:36; 25:32; John 10:11, 14, 16). But where is the job description for a 21st century preacher-pastor that we see across the world?

Even though the word,” pastor,” appears only once in the New Testament,

Never, anywhere, is that office clearly explained. It is not defined, and there is no illustration of it anywhere in first century literature. Certainly the Scripture contains nothing similar to this modern day thing called “our pastor.”[72]

From his research, Gene Edwards concluded that

The pulpit was invented during the Reformation. Actually, the structure itself could be found in just about any Roman Catholic cathedral even before the Reformation. . . With the Protestant takeover came the end of the mass and the birth of the sermon. . . Is the present day position of

Pastor Scriptural? Of course not! The present day concept of the pastor originated no further back than the Reformation. A pastor has less

Scriptural foundation than the pulpit he leans on. Martin Luther unwittingly invented the modern pastor.[73]

If we read the Book of Acts and I Corinthians, chapters 12-14, we see a picture of the early church that in no way resembles what is practised today. To get back to biblical functioning as the ecclesia,

It cannot be reformed.

It cannot be returned to the principles and practice of the first century. Why? Because [twenty-first][74] century Christianity cannot be changed that radically; there is no way to revise a practice this far off course! No, the present religious system cannot be helped – it can only be abandoned.[75]

It would be closer to New Testament function if we took Edwards’ advice and abandoned most of our current views of church practice and started all over again, based on New Testament views of church life.  John Stott started and concluded his book on the subject of preaching with the statement, “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.”[76] He also believes “that nothing is better calculated to restore health and vitality to the Church or to lead its members into maturity in Christ than a recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching.”[77]

The latter statement sounds a bit over the top when he emphasises that “nothing is better” to “restore health and vitality to the church” than preaching. What about a comprehensive biblical view of the priesthood of all believers (e.g. I Cor. 14:26)? How about pastor-teachers who “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12)? Surely we can’t minimise the importance of discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20) and the place of trials in Christian growth (James 1:2-4). What about the practice of Christian community among believers?   With enthusiasm, I endorse the call to “preach the Word” and for all believers to engage in a ministry of “rightly handling the word of truth.” But I cannot join with John Stott in the view that “nothing is better” to restore the church to health and vitality than a “recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching.”  More radical surgery is needed!

E. Conclusion

This has been a plea for the sermon to be redeemed.  Based on the quality of sermons heard in local churches in the State of Queensland, Australia, where I live, such a call is long overdue. But is it a biblical emphasis?  The cause of the disease in our churches is much deeper than the nature of preaching – but the sermon does need some radical reconstruction if it is to survive in the local church.   The New Testament views of church life and function have been lost.

Gene Edwards is on target: “When you see what the Christians of the first century were really like and what they really did, then you will suddenly realize that nothing we practice today can be found in the Scripture.”[78]  This is too harsh when he says “nothing” we practice in the church service is the same as what happened in the early church.  Surely there was prayer, manifestation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (as in some churches today), and teaching!

Redeeming the sermon is an urgent need in many churches today.  Teaching the word of God is of primary importance for knowledge and growth.  However, a better model would be to get back to that of  I Corinthians 12-14 and the opportunity for the participation of all gifted believers when the church gathers.  The biblical approach for public meetings is every-member ministry: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (I Cor. 14:26).

If you believe there is no room for mute believers in the public meeting of the church, you might like to consider this further at, “The gifts of the Spirit in the public meeting.”

The finest book I have ever read on Bible-based sermon preparation (homiletics) has been Bryan Chapell’s, Christ-Centered Preaching (see below for details).  Bryan is a teacher of preachers and President of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.


clip_image008(image courtesy Baker Academic) clip_image010(photo of Bryan Chapell, courtesy Covenant Theological Seminary

A radical renovation is needed!


1. I am an independent researcher who completed his PhD in New Testament in 2015. I live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.
2. An example of the neglect of historical investigation of the early church’s view of worship and the sermon would be Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982. There is one page on “the worship of the early church” in Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 83. However, one needs to grant some degree of latitude to the content of a one-volume book that covers 2,000 years of church history.  However I consider the nature of what happens when the church gathers to be of vital importance to church life today.
3. Gene Edwards, How To Meet. Sargent, GA: Message Ministry, 1993, pp. 9-10.
4. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume I: to A.D. 1500. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers1975, p. 115.
5. Ibid.
6. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (8 vols. in 3 vols). (no place, no date). A P & A, Vol. 1, p. 211.
7. Ibid., p. 212.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., p. 213.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., pp. 214-215.
15. Ibid., p. 215.
16. Earle E. Cairns, p. 83.
17. Ibid.
18. Schaff, Vol. 2, p. 103.
19. Ibid., p. 104.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., p. 93.
22. Ibid.
23. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1981, p. 43. See the verbal form in John 1:18;Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19.
24. A. C. Thiselton, “Explain, Interpret, Tell, Narrative,” in Colin Brown (Ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3 vols.). Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1975, Vol. 1, p. 576.
25. Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (Rev. Ed.). Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, p. 27.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid., p. 17.
28. Ibid., ch. 3, p. 145 ff.
29. Douglas Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1980.
30. Kaiser, pp. 18-19.
31. John MacArthur, Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 340.
32. Kaiser, p. 18.
33. Fee, p. 27.
34. Kaiser, p. 19.
35. Ibid.
36. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994, p. 22.  This book is now in its second edition (2005).
37. Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, p. 20.
38. Suggested by ibid., p. 20.
39. MacArthur, p. 340.
40. Ibid., p. 341.
41. Kaiser, p. 18.
42. Haddon Robinson, “What Authority Does a Preacher Have Anymore,” in Bill Hybels, Stuart Briscoe and Haddon Robinson, Mastering Contemporary Preaching (pp. 17-26). Portland, Oregon: Multnomah, 1989, p. 19.
43. Edwards, How To Meet, p. 4.
44. Chapell, p. 11.
45. It means “to think out in great detail; devise; contrive,” William Morris (Ed.), The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc, and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 458.
46. William Hendriksen, I & II Timothy & Titus (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1957/1960, p. 310, emphasis in original.
47. Kaiser, p. 19.
48. New American Standard Bible.
49. Revised Standard Version.
50. New Revised Standard Version.
51. English Standard Version.
52. New International Version.
53. Good News Bible.
54. Revised English Bible, which is a revision of the New English Bible.
55. New Jerusalem Bible. Four translations are presented in parallel form for the entire Bible in The Complete Parallel Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. The translations included are: New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible) and the New Jerusalem Bible.
56. R. A. Bodey, “Preacher, Preaching,” in Merrill C. Tenney (Gen. Ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 4). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 844.
57. Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988, pp. 100-101.
58. Hendriksen, p. 309, emphasis in original.
59. Ralph Earle, “1, 2 Timothy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 11), Frank E. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, p. 411.
60. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 285.
61. Ibid.
62. Ibid.
63. Hendriksen, p. 311.
64. Ibid., p. 166.
65. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s work in German) [BAG], A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press/Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, “orthotomeo,” p. 584.
66. Ibid.
67. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy & Titus, p. 255.
68. Ibid.
69. Earle, p. 402.
70 Hendriksen, p. 311.
70a. John MacArthur, Jr. and the Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 339.  This is from MacArthur’s chapter, “Frequently Asked Questions about Expository Preaching.”  After saying, ” I am careful in my books to document my sources,” MacArthur did not footnote his reference to Alexander Maclaren.
71. Gene Edwards, The Early Church. Goleta, California: Christian Books, 1974, pp. 2-3.
72. Ibid., p. 226.
73. Ibid.
74. Since he wrote in 1974, Edwards word was “twentieth” century.
75. Edwards, The Early Church, pp. 1-2.
76. John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982, ch. 1, p. 15, epilogue, p. 338.
77. Ibid., p. 338.
78. Edwards, The Early Church, p. 4, emphasis in original.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 May 2016.


Whytehouse Designs

Is your pastor stealing somebody else’s sermons

Courtesy Sermon Central

By Spencer D Gear

That is exactly what I have experienced in two churches I have visited in the last six months. Both preachers used sermons from Sermon Central. One of these preachers used the sermon word-for-word. The other used major portions from sermons. But both of them did not give credit for what they did. They stole all or part of the sermon from another preacher.

I became so concerned that I contacted Sermon Central to ask for its policy for using sermons. It is a very busy site and I could find no link to tell me how to use the sermons. I wrote this:

Over the last few months I have attended 2 churches in which I have heard sermons that I later checked on your website to find that they were Sermon Central sermons. No credit was given by both preachers. I regard this as plagiarism. I have checked over your rather crowded website to see if I could find information as to whether a preacher has to give credit for the sermon he preaches from your site. Perhaps you can direct me to your policy on whether it is necessary to acknowledge the source of the sermon. The pastor of the church I currently attend preached sermons from your website over the last 2 Sundays without any credit (I take reasonably extensive notes when he preaches so I was able to pick up the sermons). If a pastor/preacher preaches one of your sermons without giving credit, is that allowed by your policy? Is my regarding the sermon as plagiarism going beyond your policies? I look forward to hearing from you.

I received a very caring response from one of the support people at Sermon Central that stated,

Our intention is that the Bible is the primary tool for sermon preparation and our site should only be used as a tool to help prepare.  Here are some links that provide more information.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Those links are extremely valuable in stating the nature of pulpit plagiarism and teaching against it. In one of these articles by Ron Forseth , ‘Just What is Pulpit Plagiarism?’, he quoted teacher of preaching, Haddon Robinson, who stated:

“In a world of preaching, a pastor who takes sermons from other preachers – word-for-word – without giving credit is guilty of plagiarism.  That is stealing what is not yours.”

Don't Steal

Courtesy ChristArt

May I suggest that you take notes of what your preacher is preaching and do a search on Google (or whichever web browser you use) to see if this is coming from another source. You can check on Sermon Central as well. Then talk to the preacher about what he/she is doing.

Of the two preachers I have mentioned, one has been spoken to about what he is doing and in his next sermon, he apologised for what he had done and gave credit for the sermon he was about to preached. The next sermon revealed that he is not as good at preparing sermons as the  the one he plagiarised. I plan to speak to the other preacher as soon as I’m able to arrange an appointment.

My concern is that these preachers are not doing the hard yards of sermon preparation and homiletical construction of a sermon. As a preacher, I know that it is hard work. For preachers who want some help, I highly recommend, learning the principles of homiletics and presentation from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (2005, rev edn, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic), available in hard cover or as an e-book.

Christ-Centered Preaching, 2nd Edition

Courtesy Baker Academic

The main outline of this book is:

bronze-arrow-small Part 1: Principles of Expository Preaching

bronze-arrow-small Part 2: Preparation of Expository Sermons

bronze-arrow-small Part 3: A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages

There is the added problem for me – it causes me to lose trust in that preacher when I know that he is stealing another’s material without giving credit. This is a Christian ethical issue where a fundamental of biblical Christianity, one of the Ten Commandments, is violated, ‘You shall not steal’ (Exodus 20:15 ESV). This is repeated in Leviticus 19:11. This verse also is cited in Matthew 19:18 by Jesus, ‘He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said,“You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness’ (ESV).

This is how the apostle, Paul, included this command against stealing: ‘For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Rom. 13:9 ESV). The New Testament further affirms this teaching in Ephesians 4:28, ‘Let the thief no longer steal, but ratherlet him labour,doing honest work with his own hands, sothat he may have something to share with anyone in need’ (ESV).

Stealing anything, including another preacher’s sermon, is a serious assault on a fundamental of Christianity and living in a society where there is law an order.

What will you do to make sure that your pastor/preacher remains a truthful preacher and does not steal another preacher’s sermon?

This is what I am doing.

  1. Make an appointment with the pastor to share what you have observed.
  2. However it is critical that you take with you a copy of the sermon he has plagiarised. This is freely available on the Internet.
  3. Do this in a caring, Christian way. I say something like this, ‘Pastor, in the sermon you preached on (give the date), I checked the Internet and found that you took this sermon directly from Sermon Central (or another location). Present him with a copy of the original sermon. Then I ask: What are you going to do about this? If he does nothing, I make an appointment to see the church leaders to express my concern that the pastor is stealing another’s sermon.
  4. The ideal outcome is for the pastor to seek forgiveness publicly in the church for what he has done and he promises never to do it again. He asks the people to keep a check on him to guarantee his honesty.
  5. The pastor will give credit in sermons for where he gains material, but he will never steal another’s sermon again – without giving credit.

Are these reasonable, biblical requirements?

See my other articles on the need for better sermons:


Courtesy ChristArt


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.


Whytehouse designs

How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9

By Spencer D Gear

This verse states, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (ESV).[1]

A. How one contemporary Calvinist interprets this verse


John Calvin (image courtesy Wikipedia)

This Calvinist stated,[2]

First, I’m assuming by now you’ve been confronted with the correct understanding of 2 Pet. 3:9 several times since you’ve got ~4700 posts. I guess I’ll do it again!

1. Who is Peter writing to?
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder… (2 Peter 3:1 ESV)
Ok so he’s writing to Christians.

2. What is the context of chapter 3 and verse 9? What is the topic Peter is addressing?
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:4-7 ESV)
Peter is addressing the fact that scoffers will come along and question the 2nd coming of Christ. But Peter reassures them, the Christians he’s writing to, that the Lord isn’t slow to fulfill his promise:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9 ESV)

Ok so Peter is telling the beloved, Christians, that God is patient toward them by saying “The Lord… is patient toward YOU… who? God’s elect. Peter told them this is the 2nd letter he’s writing to them. In the first letter to them, he says:

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

So God is patient toward you/beloved/Christians/God’s elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The whole point is, God is patient towards his elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all of his elect should reach repentance. God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ until all of his elect reach repentance.

But somehow, you want us to believe Peter is saying that God is not wishing that any person at all perish and that every single human being should reach repentance? How does that convince the Christians he’s writing to that God is patient toward them? Let’s see how that works:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any person on the face of the earth perish, but that every single human being should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ASV)

How does that show patience toward the Christians he’s writing to? It doesn’t. Furthermore, if God truly isn’t wishing that any perish, He better wait until the last human being he creates dies to maximize the amount of people who will be in heaven. Then, when there are no people left, he can send Christ! Yeah, your interpretation doesn’t make any sense in context. It makes much more sense to say God is patient toward His elect, not wishing any OF THEM perish, but that they all reach repentance. That is much more encouraging to think about… that God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ because of his patience toward His elect. When I think about that, it’s encouraging. God isn’t wishing that any of His elect perish. God wants to bring them all to repentance before sending Christ. If I interpret this to be every single human being, it’s really not encouraging. It’s like, ok so God is going to delay the 2nd coming of Christ for how long? He’s not willing that any person on the face of the earth perish, so how does that show God’s patience toward me? It doesn’t follow. Much more encouraging to know that God has his people here, and he’s waiting for them to repent. God knows what he’s doing. He’s not just sitting by waiting to see what his creation is going to do. That’s not encouraging.

B. What are the fundamental errors of this view?

These are examples of an incorrect understanding of 2 Peter 3:9, based on the above post.

1. An incorrect understanding of the meaning of ‘you’.

Griff’s emphasis was that this ‘you’ in ‘patient towards you’ refers to the Christians who are the elect of God. The Greek for ‘you’ is humas, accusative plural. Because 2 Peter is addressed to ‘you’ Christians – the elect – does that mean that the ‘you’ only applies to Christians?

Griff, the Calvinist, is simply following another Reformed writer, R. C. Sproul, and his interpretation of this verse where Sproul stated:

What is the antecedent of any? It is clearly us. Does us refer to all of us humans? Or does it refer to us Christians, the people of God? Peter is fond of speaking of the elect as a special group of people. I think what he is saying here is that God does not will that any of us (the elect) perish. If that is his meaning, then the text would demand the first definition [of God’s will][3] and would be one more strong passage in favor of predestination (Sproul 1986:197; emphasis in original).

R. C. Sproul (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Yes, it is true that this book of 2 Peter is addressed ‘to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Pt 1:1). But does that mean that all of Second Peter only applies to elect Christians? Here are a few examples of how this God-breathed book addresses issues that apply to people who are not Christians:

  • ‘False prophets also arose among the people….’ (2:1);
  • ‘Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed’ (2:2);
  • ‘In their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep’ (2:3);
  • ‘To keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones’ (2:9-10);
  • 2:12-19 describes blasphemous, sensuous, deceptive human beings for whom’ the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved’ (2:17).
  • ‘Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires’ (3:3); these scoffers will question the promise of Christ’s second coming;
  • ‘Count the patience of our Lord as salvation’ (3;15);
  • ‘Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability’ (3:17).

While these verses are directed to the Christians who have faith, it deals with people who are godless, lawless and unregenerate. Therefore, writing to Christians does not prohibit instruction to and about the ungodly. Therefore, it is consistent biblical interpretation to conclude that 2 Peter 3:8 is appealing to the unbelievers when it states that the Lord is ‘not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’. The ‘any’ refers to unbelievers who are perishing and the ‘all’ indicates all unbelievers who should repent.

2. He makes ‘perish’ and ‘repentance’ apply to Christians.

Griff stated that ‘God is patient toward you/beloved/Christians/God’s elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The whole point is, God is patient towards his elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all of his elect should reach repentance’.

(a) Who will perish?

Things Perish

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Who will ‘perish’ according to the biblical mandate? Here are a few biblical examples:

‘The way of the wicked will perish’ (Psalm 1:6);

  • Jesus spoke of Galilean sinners, telling his audience, ‘I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3);
  • In John 3:16, Jesus made it clear who would not perish: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’;

The sinners and unbelievers are the ones who will perish according to the OT and Jesus.

(b) Who needs to repent?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

What about ‘repentance’? Who are the ones who need to repent? Note griff’s language, ‘God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ until all of his elect reach repentance…. Your interpretation doesn’t make any sense in context. It makes much more sense to say God is patient toward His elect, not wishing any OF THEM perish, but that they all reach repentance’.

The facts are that there is not a word in context of 2 Peter 3:9 that states that God is delaying the second coming of Christ until all of his elect have repented and are in the kingdom. That is the eisegesis that this Calvinist uses. He is following the classic double-predestination view of R C Sproul who stated:

In contrast with the foreknowledge view of predestination, the Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice. To be sure, a human choice is made, a free human choice, but the choice is made because God first chooses to influence the elect to make the right choice. The basis for God’s choice does not rest in man but solely in the good pleasure of the divine will….

The Reformed view believes that all whom God has thus foreknown he has also predestined to be inwardly called, to be justified, and to be glorified. God sovereignly brings to pass the salvation of his elect and only of his elect (Sproul 1986:136-138).

If this is the way God does it, then griff’s statement makes sense that the second coming of Christ is delayed until all of the elect come in. However, this view suffers from major problems (not discussed here) in that it completely redefines the meaning of ‘a free human choice’, which Sproul wants to mean a sovereign choice by God in eternity past for which ‘the ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice’. This is manipulating the English language to make ‘free human choice’ the equivalent of God’s deterministic, mandating of human beings without the human beings agreement. ‘Free human choice’ thus becomes a euphemism for God’s sovereign demanding. It is deterministic forcing by God and no squirming out of it by referring to deferring to God’s ‘love and justice’ will alter the fact that God’s love and righteousness amount to God’s bullying people into the kingdom. It is as Norm Geisler put it, ‘The extreme Calvinists’ God is not really all-loving’ (Geisler 1999:85).

We know this view is false because of the numerous times in Scripture that statements are made about human beings, as an act of free will, choosing to believe in Christ. These verses include:

  • John 1:11-12, ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. It should be obvious that ‘to receive’ Jesus involved an act of the human free will.
  • John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’. Faith in Jesus is for ‘whoever believes in him’. Thus whoever – anyone – can believe in Jesus when the Gospel is proclaimed. However, we must never forget that all salvation requires God’s assisting grace. We know this from …
  • Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’.

These two verses have been subjected to some terrible interpretations by some Calvinists. R C Sproul is but one example when he stated,

This passage should seal the matter forever. The faith by which we are saved is a gift of God. When the apostle says it is not of ourselves, he does not mean that it is not our faith. Again, God does not do the believing for us. It is our own faith but it does not originate with us. It is given to us. The gift is not earned or deserved it is a gift of sheer grace (Sproul 1986:119).

So do these two verses really teach that faith is a gift of God? The Greek language clarifies Eph. 2:8-9 for us. In the phrase, ‘this is not of your own doing’, to what does ‘this’ refer? ‘It is a neuter Greek demonstrative pronoun, touto, and cannot refer to its antecedent of ‘grace’ (charis) or ‘faith’ (pistis), which are both feminine nouns. The Greek grammar rule is that demonstrative pronouns agree with their antecedents in gender, number and case. So ‘grace’ or ‘faith’ cannot be identified as ‘the gift of God. So what is the antecedent? It is salvation by grace through faith (v. 9). The greatest Greek grammarian of the 20th century, A. T. Robertson, explained the grammar this way,

“Grace” is God’s part, “faith” is ours. And that[4] (kai touto). Neuter, not feminine taut?, and so refers not to pistis (feminine) or to charis (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part (Robertson 1931:525).

While this Greek explanation is rather technical, the simple understanding is that the Greek grammar will not allow ‘this’ to refer to either grace or faith as a gift of God. Therefore, Sproul’s statement about Eph. 2:8-9, ‘This passage should seal the matter forever. The faith by which we are saved is a gift of God’, is clearly wrong, based on the Greek grammar.

There are other verses that support a person’s free will in choosing to believe in Christ. However, we must never forget the emphasis in John that ‘when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world [all human beings] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:8). See also John 3:16-18 and 1 John 2:15-17. Contrary to the Calvinistic view of unconditional election and irresistible grace, God does not force one human being to believe in him. We know this from Matt. 23:37 when Jesus said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!’

These verses that support the ability of human beings to believe in Jesus after hearing the Gospel include:

  • Acts 16:30-31, ‘Then he brought them [Paul and Silas] out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And he said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’. ‘Believe’ is a command in the Greek language which is required of this Philippian jailer to implement. Geisler stated the case accurately, ‘The uniform presentation of Scripture is that faith is something unbelievers are to exercise to receive salvation (e.g. John 3:16, 18, 36; Acts 16:31), and not something they must wait upon God to give’ (Geisler1999:184).
  • Romans 10:17, ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’. Hearing the word of Christ (the Gospel message) comes prior to faith. But this verse does not state that faith is a gift of God. According to Romans 10:14-15 this is the order of salvation:

Someone is sent with the message clip_image001 he / she proclaims the Gospel / word of Christ clip_image001[1] someone believes by clip_image001[2] calling on Jesus (for salvation).

  • Luke 13:3, ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’.
  • John 3:18, ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’.
  • John 6:29, ‘Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”’.
  • John 11:40, ‘Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”’.
  • John 12:36, ‘While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light’.
  • Acts 17:30, ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (emphasis added).
  • Acts 20:21, ‘testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’.

To make ‘perish’ and ‘repentance’ apply to the elect does not make sense. If Peter is addressing Christians, they have already repented and will not perish. However, this Calvinistic view comes with the understanding that God knows the elect from the foundation of the world and he is waiting until all of the predestined/elected ones come in. That kind of emphasis is nowhere stated in the text of 2 Peter 3:9.

In fact, it is a Calvinistic imposition on the text, which means it is eisegesis. ‘Eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158). The correct method of interpreting any document, whether the Scriptures, a journal or the local newspaper, is exegesis. Exegesis means that when an interpreter ‘examines a document that comes from past time … he must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer, and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time’ (Mickelsen 1963:55; emphasis in original).

I have found a disconcerting tendency among some Calvinists such as griff to impose on the text his Calvinistic presuppositional understanding of election, predestination, limited atonement and other Calvinistic doctrines. This is a tendency that can apply to all Christians, including me.

3. What’s the meaning of ‘any’?

Note that 2 Peter 3:9 states that the Lord is ‘not wishing that any should perish’. If ‘any’ refers to ‘any of the elect’ or ‘any Christians’, the word ‘any’ has lost its meaning. The God-breathed Scripture is capable of stating ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘any Christians’ or ‘any of the elect’. But this verse does not state that. We know from Acts 17:30 that God ‘now commands all people everywhere to repent’ (ESV). It would be bizarre to state that ‘all people everywhere’ really means ‘all the predestined elect everywhere’ or ‘some people everywhere’.[5]

The message of 2 Peter 3:9 is that God is not wanting any human beings in the whole world to perish and his desire is for everyone to come to faith and repentance. This supported by 1 Tim. 2:4 where we are told that ‘God our Savior’ (2:3) ‘desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV). This has an OT reverberation in Ezekiel 18:32 which states, ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God, so turn, and live’ (ESV).

C. Two Calvinistic commentators on 2 Peter 3:9

My response to griff as OzSpen,[6] was:

As to your interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9, two Calvinistic commentators, including John Calvin himself, disagree with your attempt to explain away the meaning of this text.

John Calvin wrote of 2 Peter 3:9,

So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost (The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419, emphasis added).

In this passage Calvin does give his particular view of predestination,

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.

Nonetheless, the father of Calvinism states that 2 Peter 3:9 means that God’s love for all human beings is such that ‘he would have them all to be saved’. That’s Calvin’s understanding of the context.

Calvinistic commentator, Simon J. Kistemaker (1986:334), wrote of 2 Peter 3:9,

”Not wanting anyone to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In his epistle, he clearly states that the false teachers and scoffers are condemned and face destruction (see 2:3; 3:7; Rom. 9:22). Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.
“[God wants] everyone to come to repentance.” God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform.

Simon Kistemaker (photo courtesy Reformed Theological Seminary)

D. Conclusion

Examination of griff’s Calvinistic perspective on 2 Peter 3:9 is found to be severely wanting. This is because he,

(1) requires the meaning of ‘you’ in the verse to apply only to the elect, all Christians. It is shown here that ‘you’ refers to all human beings.

(2) He makes ‘perish’ and ‘repent’ apply to the predestined who have not yet responded to Christ when these words apply to all unbelievers.

(3) ‘Not wishing that any should perish’ is wrongly attributed to the elect when God is perfectly capable of qualifying ‘any’ with language like, ‘any of the elect’, if that is what he intended. ‘Any’ thus refers to any human being and not the Christian elect.

(4) Two Calvinistic commentators, John Calvin and Simon Kistemaker, do not agree with griff’s Calvinistic interpretation.

The meaning of 2 Peter 3:9 is that God is not wishing any human being in the whole world to perish to eternal damnation. God commands all people everywhere to repent but he has given all the ability to say, ‘yes’, or ‘no’, to Jesus. The wonderful gift of free will means that many will perish because they do not choose Jesus after hearing the Gospel.

See my article, ‘The content of the Gospel’, for a challenge to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour and to follow Jesus as a committed disciple.

Puppet for the world

(image courtesy ChristArt)


Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.


[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] This Calvinist is participating in an online discussion at Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Good News, Really?’, griff #273, available at: (Accessed 1 January 2013; emphases in original).

[3] The first definition of the will of God is ‘what we call God’s sovereign efficacious will. The sovereign will of God is that will by which God brings things to pass with absolute certainty. Nothing can resist the will of God in this sense’ (Sproul 1986:195).

[4] The ESV translates as ‘and this’.

[5] Some of the views expressed in this paragraph are based on Norman Geisler’s understanding of 2 Peter 3:9 in Geisler (2004:358).

[6] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Good News, Really?’, OzSpen #276, available at: (Accessed 1 January 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.