Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method

Book Review
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PREACHING CHRIST FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method by Sidney Greidanus is about using the Old Testament to teach about Christ. This review was written by Hank Griffith of South Suburban Evangelical Free Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. This book is good for pastors and preachers.

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Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus, professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Seminary, is the most useful book I’ve ever read on this subject, and perhaps the most useful I’ve read on preaching in general. My Old Testament professor at Trinity, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., writes, “This will be one of those volumes talked about and referred to for many years to come.” Retired Trinity preaching professor, David L. Larsen, declares, “Greidanus has done it again! In Preaching Christ from the Old Testament he has given us a thorough and satisfying treatment of this critical theme. We are all in his debt. This book is much needed – comprehensive and convincing.”

The author has a strong conviction that we must preach Christ, which he defines as “preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and/or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament (NT).”

He also has a strong conviction that we should be preaching from the Old Testament (OT). Surveys have shown that fewer than 20% of the sermons heard by American churchgoers are based on the OT. Not only should the OT be preached, but Greidanus believes Christ should be preached from the OT.

One of the most interesting and well-researched parts of the book is the history of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, beginning with the Church Fathers up to the present. Some of the great preachers covered by the author include Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and Vischer. After explaining how each one preached the OT, the author makes both positive and negative evaluative comments.

More useful to the preacher than the history are the principles the author lays out from the New Testament as to how to preach Christ in the Old Testament.

He identifies seven different Christocentric methods, that is, seven ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament, and devotes a chapter to each one.

(1) The way of redemptive-historical Christocentric interpretation: The author believes the whole Old Testament centers on the redemptive plan of God which finds its fulfillment in Christ.

(2) The way of promise-fulfillment: The promise theme, promises of the coming of Christ, is huge. According to Greidanus, it can be preached from the prophets, from Psalms, and from many narrative passages of the OT.

(3) The way of typology: I’ve been fearful of typology and in some ways rightfully so. The author shows why it is hard to do, but also provides some excellent rules for typological interpretation.

(4) The way of analogy: Analogy is drawing a parallel between an OT story and now. For example, if the sermon text is on Israel and the water of Marah in Exodus 15:22-27, the preacher could point out that just as God provided for the Israelites at that time, so Christ provides for our necessities today.

(5) The way of longitudinal themes: Longitudinal themes to trace through the Old Testament might be God’s judgment, God’s grace, or God’s presence with His people as shown, for example, in the way He led His covenant people through the cloud and pillar of fire.

(6) The way of New Testament references: NT authors frequently use OT passages to support their messages. However, Greidanus reminds us that we cannot always follow NT writers in their use of the OT. For example, when we preach on 1 Chronicles 3, we cannot use Matthew’s number 14, David.

(7) The way of contrast: Because of progressive revelation, sometimes the OT text will stand in opposition to the NT, for example the OT ceremonial laws, civil laws, and imprecatory psalms. The author teaches us how to preach by contrasting the old and new covenants.

For the most part the author is not in favor of the allegorical way of preaching Christ from the Old Testament as many of the church fathers did. He writes, “Since allegorical interpretation is not guided by the inspired author’s intention, it leaves preachers wide open to the pitfalls of arbitrary and subjective interpretations.”

After a chapter on each of the seven ways to preach Christ from the OT the author devotes a chapter illustrating from five OT passages these Christocentric methods.

Perhaps the most practical and basic section in the whole book is the chapter on the ten steps a preacher should take in developing a Christocentric sermon from an OT text:

  • Select a textual unity with an eye to congregational needs.
  • Read and reread the text in its literary context.
  • Outline the structure of the text.
  • Interpret the text in its own historical setting.
  • Formulate the text’s theme and goal.
  • Understand the message in the contexts of canon and redemptive history.
  • Formulate the sermon theme and goal.
  • Select a suitable sermon form.
  • Prepare the sermon outline.
  • Write the sermon in oral style.

For the novice preacher, I would recommend the author’s two page appendix on “An Expository Sermon Model” (pages 349-350).

I found Preaching Christ from the Old Testament to be heavy reading in some places. I’m sure I would enjoy taking a seminary class taught by Greidanus on the subject, but since I won’t ever have that opportunity, I’m thankful to have gleaned as much as I did from his book.

One final observation: preaching Christ from the OT in an exegetically sound way takes much work. It is not a simple task, but it is worth the effort both for the preacher and the congregation.



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