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Preaching the Old Testament

11th March 2007

Ray Pritchard has an interesting post over at CrossWalk.com entitled, “Why Don’t Pastors Preach From the Old Testament?” While most of the churches I have attended have done some preaching from the Old Testament (especially when I am preaching!), I would probably agree that the Old Testament gets preached a lot less than the New Testament.

Pritchard provides six reasons why he thinks this is the case. Here are his six points with my comments in brackets following them:

  1. Many pastors feel more comfortable with Greek than with Hebrew. [I'm sad to say that I think many pastors are most comfortable with English and rarely delve into the biblical languages -- though feel free to correct me!]
  2. Most biblical training focuses on New Testament interpretation. [Sad but true]
  3. For some there may be theological reasons why they don’t preach from the Old Testament. Perhaps they view everything before Matthew as “preparation” (which in a sense it is) and therefore not worthy of extended attention from the pulpit (a sad mistake, in my opinion). [I would agree that this is a sad -- and costly -- mistake.]
  4. But my primary thought was that most seminaries specialize in teaching pastors how to preach the epistles. Our methods work best with Romans, Ephesians and the other Pauline epistles. We feel more comfortable with material that is presented logically and in a point-by-point fashion. Therefore our graduates gravitate more to Colossians than to Hosea. [Perhaps; at the very least most pastors seem to prefer to preach non-narrative and non-poetic passages, which pretty much eliminates the Old Testament! It's hard -- and unnatural -- to reduce a narrative to a three-point sermon.]
  5. The flip side is that we aren’t so comfortable with the prophets–major or minor. Or with Job. What do you do with Job? Do you preach four or five sermons and move on? Ecclesiastes is a challenge. So is Song of Solomon in a different sense. Then you’ve got books like Leviticus, which most of us never touch. Or Deuteronomy, where we cherry-pick a passage here and there. [I think this is a valid point in that it is more difficult to preach some passages. Of course, that doesn't mean you should avoid them. The fact of the matter is that while many pastors may think that the NT is more accessible, that is likely an illusion created by familiarity.]
  6. And how should we preach the great stories of the Bible? I personally have profited greatly from preaching through the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Samson, Elijah, the book of Daniel, and David’s early years. But I confess that preaching biblical narratives challenges and stretches the way many of us were taught in seminary. [I think that sometimes we take too much of an anthropological focus in our preaching. Rather than preaching on the lives of the characters in the Old Testament, it is far more profitable to preach on the God that interacts with them and showers them with his grace.]

As I often say (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) most Christians are practical Marcionites in that while they don’t reject the Old Testament, they tend to ignore it.

What is your experience? Does your church preach a lot from the OT? Do you think they should?


10 Responses to “Preaching the Old Testament”

  1. Bill Victor Says:

    I fear I preach out of the OT too much for the very things you listed. I love working through the lives of the people of the OT and the great stories. I think people are more likely to remember a great story than they are a great point of propositional truth. The next time I get an extended period of time in a pulpit, I would like to preach through the life of Abraham. I have done Daniel and Amos and loved them both.

  2. Bob Derrenbacker Says:

    Tyler,
    You’ll be happy to know that this NT scholar preached from Isaiah 55 this morning!

  3. Matt Page Says:

    I’d add another – that the OT is too uncomfortable. Spend too much time studying it and you may have to face the question of how a God of love can so easily condemn whole people groups to death. Hardly good for evangelism is it?

    Matt

  4. slaveofone Says:

    I’ve never gotten much out of sermons anyway, so I don’t think it really matters. But I’ve always said that if I were on a desert island and I could only take a few biblical texts with me, I would take the Pentateuch and the gospels. A man or woman doesn’t need anything more than that IMHO.

  5. joseph Says:

    Bob: is that because the RCL readings for the Gospel and the Epistle were a bit on the harsh side (Luke 13: 1-9, 1 Cor 10: 1-13)?

    :^) -

  6. Bishop Ambrose Says:

    I think your right, we do have a good lecturer in nz, here at carey baptist college. But i fear i havent heard anything from my minister from the old testament in years. I think your on to some thing here. Now you got me thinking. God bless

  7. karin Says:

    Even when the pastors I’ve heard, spoke on the OT, they’d use the Psalms or other ‘safe’ text, they’d allegorize or they would start with the OT and then mid-sermon shift and make application for the listener by using the NT. I wish that sermons today would be more about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, rather than some of the psychologizing, allegorizing, dumbing down or guilt-tripping sermons I’m hearing. My hubby always said, “If the OT Scripture was good enough for Jesus when He walked this earth, it’s good enough for me.” IMHO, I think we need a great balance.

  8. Think Christian » Blog Archive » What happened to the Old Testament? Says:

    [...] Ever wondered why it’s more common in many churches to hear sermons preached about the New Testament rather than the Old Testament? Ray Pritchard at CrossWalk has some thoughts about why that might be. Additional commentary at the Codex blog. [...]

  9. Isaias Says:

    In Brazil isn´t different! We have a marcionites too…

    But, some do not accept this. Professor Mauro Meister, schollar in presbyterian church, in this article called Pregação no Antigo Testamento: é mesmo necessária? (Preaching on the Old Testament: is it really necessary?)proposes to interpret the text in its original context, and showing its relevance to the contemporary church.

  10. Brad Says:

    I have only ever done 3 homilies based upon the New Testament readings.