7 Features of Peter’s Preaching
Note: this post has been adapted with permission from A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin.
There are some things we do in church that go completely unquestioned—until they are.
One such usually-unquestioned part of worship is preaching. You all know what preaching is. Preaching is basically a monologue where one person addresses the whole congregation at some length from a place of prominence. This has certainly been a conspicuous part of Reformed worship ever since the Reformation, and in fact, a part of Christian worship since the dawn of Christianity.
But this idea of preaching has been questioned in recent decades. I have been receiving a magazine for over 30 years now which argues that, instead of such preaching, we should all sit in a circle and discuss the meaning of the Bible. Preaching is viewed as part of a clerical usurping of authority over God’s people.
But even where such views are not accepted, and a semblance of preaching remains in churches, its character is often misunderstood. Sometimes “preachers” seem embarrassed to be preachers. Even more frequently they drastically fail to understand the essentials of what they are supposed to be doing in that high pulpit in which they stand. Often, they seem to think that their job is to be comedians, entertainers, or moralizers, rather than preachers of God’s Word.
I want to defend “preaching” as it is historically understood in the Reformed tradition. I will do this by showing that the tradition of Reformed (and Christian) preaching is biblical, and that this view of preaching has properly understood what the Bible teaches about preaching
I think the propriety, primacy, and character of preaching is suggested by what Peter did in Acts 2:14-36. This post will focus on the introduction and initial part of Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost found in verses 14-15, but it will also glance at his preaching on Pentecost as a whole. Verses 14-15 are the Circumstantial Description of Peter’s preaching. Verses 14-15 read as follows:
"But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day…’”
I believe there are seven things to notice in these verses.
1. The Voice Identified
Luke first tells us that one voice—one person—took the lead in what is often properly called the first Christian sermon. It was the voice of Peter that spoke for the apostolic band and gave the apostolic explanation of Pentecost addressed to the whole multitude.
The text in the NASB says that Peter took his stand. Literally, it says, “Peter standing.” The natural implication might seem to be that Peter was sitting and that now he stood. This is probably wrong. The implication rather is that at a certain point in the general confusion and uproar, the Apostles gathered together and Peter stepped out into a place of prominence where he could be clearly seen by the whole assembled multitude that had come together. Some have translated this phrase, Peter stepping forward.
2. The Verification Stated
The circumstances made clear that the assertions that Peter was about to utter were not merely his own. We are told that the other eleven apostles also were standing with Peter in obvious support of what he was asserting. Their standing with him was a visible verification that Peter spoke for them all. Peter spoke not because he possessed a special office in contrast to them, but as their representative and spokesman. They were all Apostles of Christ as much as he. The authority with which Peter spoke was the authority of them all. They all stood because they were all the chosen witnesses of the Christ and His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:2, 8, 26). Incidentally, it is important to note that eleven apostles stood with Peter. This is (as several interpreters point out) proof that Matthias’ selection as an Apostle was legitimate and owned by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
3. The Volume Affirmed
Luke then tells us that Peter did what you have to do in order to be heard when you are speaking to a large crowd. He raised or lifted up his voice. Behind this lifting up of his voice was the determination to be heard and to make known clearly to everyone some important news. Thus, Peter manifested urgency in the volume with which he spoke.
4. The Verbalization Asserted
When Peter raised his voice, he did not yell nonsensically. He was not simply cheering loudly as if he were at a football game. Rather, we are told that he loudly spoke certain words. The text says, “and declared to them.”
The word used here is only used by Luke in the New Testament. It is only used of public speech and never of private conversation. It means to utter something publicly or to address a gathering in sensible language. You can see this from its other two uses in the New Testament which (as I said) are both found in Luke.
(Acts 2:4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
(Acts 26:25) But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
As you can see in both these uses of the word, the word speaks of public utterance and verbally and propositionally addressing of a gathering. The implication also seems to be present that the words spoken were spoken with seriousness and authority.
5. The Viewers Addressed
Peter addresses all those present. They had seen the extraordinary signs. They had viewed the Apostles speaking in tongues. Now he addresses the crowd with two respectful descriptions. He calls them first Jewish men, literally, adult Jewish males. He also addresses them as well as all those living in Jerusalem. This is the same word for living or dwelling as that used in Acts 2:5.
It is noteworthy that Peter addresses the whole assembly regardless of whether they were sympathetic, irrespective of whether they were Christians, and regardless of whether they showed any signs of being God’s elect. He proclaims the gospel to them all. Later, when they are struck with a sense of their guilt, he will tell them all to repent and be baptized. We have here the indiscriminate, sincere, and well-meant preaching of the gospel.
The Value Underscored
Before beginning his sermon proper, Peter urges them to give the most careful attention to what he is about to say. Peter says: “let this be known to you and give heed to my words.” Notice especially the word translated, give heed. This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament. It is found in many places, however, in the LXX of the Old Testament. For instance, it is found in Exodus 15:26:
And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer."
The implication, then, of these words is that what Peter is about to say is very serious and very important and needs to be heard!
The Vice Denied
Peter begins his explanation of Pentecost by refuting the profane and foolish interpretation of the sign of tongues given by mockers in verse 13. They had expressed the opinion that the Apostles were drunk. Peter straightforwardly denies this interpretation. The strange languages they were hearing were not a result of drunkenness.
A great deal of discussion, however, has taken place over the nature of Peter’s argument against this mocking interpretation of the sign of tongues. Peter argues that they could not be drunk, “for it is only the third hour of the day…” The question is, then, raised by interpreters as to what exactly Peter means to give as an argument against the Apostles being drunk.
Frankly, I think the nature of Peter’s argument is perhaps too common and down-to-earth for some of the scholars to understand. It is just, really, common sense. Drunks are not walking around doing stuff at 8 or 9 in the morning. (That is approximately what the third hour of the day would be.) What are drunks doing at 8 or 9 in the morning? They are not walking around speaking at all, let alone speaking in tongues. They are, as everyone knows, “sleeping it off.” I think this interpretation is confirmed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:7: “For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.” The theories of unbelief are not only wicked and wrong, in many cases (like the one here) they defy common sense.
To read more, be sure to check out A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin, available now at ReformedResources.org.
Sam Waldron is the president of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and a pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books, including The End Times Made Simple and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.
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