Someone said, “The only thing that we learn from history is that we do not learn from history”. Preaching has been with us for ages, but it is still as new as ever. Many people do not know what it is and its value. While we are supposed to be teachers we still need Noah, Jonah, John the Baptist and Paul to teach us how to preach. People graduate with degrees in homiletics, but they still fail to preach. Preaching is the art you learn from God and men can only sharpen that skill. The lack of preachers today may just mean that few in our day are taught of God.

Preaching in the Old Testament

Preaching in the Old Testament was about declaring someone as king or announcing victory over enemies, as the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopaedia notes, “In ancient world the herald was a key figure in making known official information on a royal decree” (1975; 1390). Preachers are seen as those who are sent to proclaim God as King over all and to announce the downfall of those who rebel against him. We can only give a sample of the many preachers in the Old Testament to illustrate this.

One of the earliest recorded preachers is Noah. You should have been there to watch the man with nail and hammer, trying to make a floating house with wood. Many called him mad, others thought he was a trouble maker as he frantically proclaimed righteousness to a generation whose inclination and thought was evil all the time. Noah contended that God is a holy King and will establish a righteous kingdom in this wicked world (2 Peter 2:5). With the same spirit Moses came down from a mountain enveloped in fire and smoke, his face was bleached whiter than snow, and proclaimed the holiness of God who should rule in men’s hearts.

Joshua raised the hair of his people as he solemnly challenged them to choose a king for themselves (Joshua 24:15). Preaching then was about making people choose a king they should serve. Preaching is an awesome task that makes people have an encounter with God. Elijah the Tishbite invited the people to a mountain of decision. With fire raining from heaven Elijah challenged the whole house of Ahab to prostrate itself before the Lord who alone is the consuming fire (Kings 18:24).

Nehemiah became a threat to his enemies as he re-built the walls of Jerusalem. Why were his enemies scared? He proclaimed that there was another King who should rule the world (Nehemiah 6:7). Jonah landed on the shores of Nineveh, his clothes sticking to his body, as he proclaimed the same message. He had just survived the raging storm and the dark smelly belly of a big fish. He demanded that the Ninevites must surrender to the God who rules the world (Jonah 1:2; 3:2,4). The mission of the servant of Yahweh is to demand repentance from obstinate and unrepentant people (Is. 61:1).

The false prophets, on the other hand, proclaimed peace to those who rewarded them with something to eat (Micah 3:5). They only cared for peace in their stomachs. The false prophet has only one god the people should submit to and serve, and that is his stomach. He threatens people with the anger of his belly, but once that is pacified then there is peace for the people.

Preaching in the New Testament

Let us now do a similar sampling of preaching in the New Testament. This era opens its curtains with scenes of a dry wilderness. From there comes John the Baptist, indecently dressed, yelling and panting as he announces the dawn of the new kingdom. The people needed to surrender to the King of kings who was coming to reign in their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:1,2). Preaching for him was to proclaim as a herald the coming of the King of kings, foretold by all the Old Testament prophets. Christ soon followed announcing the good news that the kingdom had come. People needed to repent and receive the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 9:35). God had come to invade history and establish a new reign of righteousness through the salvation of his people.

The apostles, energised by the Spirit from on high, also preached the kingdom of God (Acts 28:31). They preached Christ as divine Lord and Redeemer. There was a shift in terminologies among the disciples of Christ. “The message of the kingdom of God had suddenly become [the message of] Christ crucified, Christ raised as Lord” (Preiffer, et al. 1975; 1391). The kingdom of God was going to triumph over evil. Their message was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Their message was simply to proclaim Jesus who was crucified as Lord. They used the might acts in history whereby God had accomplished the salvation of His people as a backdrop for the new era. Their message had an eschatological dimension, looking forward to a final fulfilment that was yet to be. This was pointing to the time when Christ was to hand over all things to the Father and God would rule over all.

Expository Preaching

Once you leave those who were directly inspired by God with the prophetic gift, throughout the history of the church preaching has been an exposition of biblical passages, doctrinal instruction, ethical exhortation, or discussion of various aspects of Christian life and experience. This can even be noted in the Bible in Ezra’s teaching. He read the Scriptures and then interpreted them for the people (Nehemiah 8:8). Some have tried to differentiate between teaching and preaching, as though they were two different forms of communication. For instance, Dodd defines teaching as, “The public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world” (WBE 1390). Preaching was seen as evangelistic, targeting the unbelievers, while teaching was seen as the whole purpose for grounding the saints. This distinction, however, is not so rigid in the New Testament (see Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:39; Luke 4:44). The apostles preached and taught the Word of God (Acts 5:42; 28:31; Col. 1:28). What we see in the Old and New Testaments is revelatory preaching. There still had to be an explanation of the word of God.

Preaching in the Early Church (100-476)

As we leave the period of the New Testament and start a survey of the early church, again, we can only point out a few names and movements in the field of preaching. Sadly, after the age of the apostles we see a departure from expository preaching. Baptism was seen as regenerating and conveying saving grace. Greek rhetoric brought fine arguments into the church. The apostolic fathers followed a typological method of preaching and were always looking for “types” under every shrub and tree in the Bible. Sometimes their sermons were absurd, to say the least. They were followed by the Apologetics whose main concern was to defend the faith. The age of polemics closed in, arguing against false doctrine. Serious Bible study only appears in 325 with men like Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Ambrose.

Preaching in the Medieval Period (476-1500)

A thick waterless cloud was cast upon the church during the dark ages and the word of God became very rare. Sermons were characterized by allegorical interpretations. Faint expositions can only be traced among the people branded as “heretics”, like the Paulicians, Waldenses and Albigenses. Towards the end of this period we see the emergence of the forerunners to the Reformation, like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, John Huss and Girolamo Savonarola, who rekindled expository preaching.

Preaching in the Reformation Period (1500-1648)

Coming out of the sea of ignorance, and having broken the yoke of the papacy, the Reformers sounded “Sola Scriptura” (by Scripture alone). The Reformation was characterised by the centrality of the Bible. Scripture was to rule as God’s Word in the Church. Martin Luther declared, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God” Bromiley, 1915: 65). Ulrich Zwingli equally gave himself to a life of Bible exposition. The notable expositor at this time was John Calvin who said, “The important thing is that Scripture should be understood and explained. How it is explained is secondary” (Packer, 1980: 50). Other expository preachers were John Knox, Henry Bullinger, John Jewel, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cartwright. These men sounded the old anthem, “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory), and some paid for it with their own blood.

Preaching in the Mordern Period (1649-PRESENT)

While the dust of the Reformation was still in the air the Puritans raised more dust. What is it that offended men about these humble men? They advocated expository preaching, the kind of preaching that exalts God as the only King and sovereign. Among them we find William Perkins, Joseph Hall, Thomas Godwin, Richard Baxter and John Owen. All these men were diligent students of the Word, seeking to clearly explain the truths of Scripture to others. Their aim was to glorify Christ as King in their preaching. The Evangelical Awakening by John Wesley and George Whitfield brought in topical preaching. There were still a few preachers known as non-conformists who held on to an expository preaching style.

Preaching has become complicated in modern times. Some are claiming that the kerygma (preaching) is supposed to be none theological. Preaching is seen as confronting people with historical facts and expecting people to repent as a result of that. However, in the nineteenth century, expositors like James H. Thornwell and John A. Broadus preached definite doctrines of the Bible and exposition of Bible texts.

The resurgence of Reformed theology in the second part of the twentieth century, especially with the Banner of Truth republishing Reformation and Puritan works, has resulted in a resurgence of expository preaching in many church circles. This has been particularly so in Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist circles, especially in those churches which are Calvinistic in doctrine. Thus the twentieth century has produced notable expositors in the USA and the UK like James M. Gray, George Campbell Morgan, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, and James Montgomery Boice. These are but a few names representing a growing number of pulpits right across the world that are returning to expository preaching.


Despite the promising picture painted above, after a Sunday service today many people still go home talking about the miracles they supposedly saw, the songs they sang, or the testimonies that raised their hair. There is little talk about the sermon. Few people seem to know what true preaching is all about and its value in today’s church. You wonder why God is not exalted and men brought face to face with their sins! There are still very few preachers who are proclaiming God as King in their preaching. There is an urgent need to raise the old anthem of expository preaching if this is to change and health is to be brought back into the churches.


1. Bromiley, W. Geoffrey, International Bible Encyclopedia Vol. 3, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1915.

2. Dowley, Tim, Introduction to the History of the Church, Mineapolis: Fortress Press, 1977

3. MacArthur, John (Jr.) Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Nashiville: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992

4. Merrill, C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975

5. Packer, T.H. L., Calvin’s New International Commentaries, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980

6. Preiffer F. Charles, Vos, Howard and Rea John, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopaedia, Chicago: Moody Press, 1975