Paul the Preacher

Paul the Preacher March 1, 2024

My doctor father at the end of the 1970s was C.K. Barrett, at the time the most highly regarded Methodist NT scholar in the world.  Here he is in 2013 next to a lecture theater in the new building at Durham University.  His daughter Penelope gave me all his sermon notes which I got published in four volumes, 3 with  Cascade under the title Luminescence, and one with Abingdon Press.  What also came with them was a small notebook in which CKB had had written out notes for all sorts of lectures.  In this and the following posts I’m going to share his notes, many of which are very insightful and helpful.


PAUL AS PREACHER (Lecture given in Hexham in 1953)

We think of Paul as a great preacher  before Augustine, Luther, and Wesley.  But was he? What do we actually know?

Acts 14.12 says he was compared to Hermes as a herald and many were impressed, but this does not mean he spoke well.

2 Cor. 10.10 we hear the judgment of his enemies, his ethos is weak, but Paul seems to more or less accept their judgment in vs. 11 and 11.6.

1 Cor. 1.17; 2.1-5 we note his deliberate rejection of wisdom methods.

The letters are in spoken style (Rom. 16.22, Tertius) and sometimes it is torturous and obscure.

Of course, however, Paul was an effective speaker (Acts 14.1). What other criteria is there?  And manifestly he believed in preaching.

The easiest quarry to work is Acts, three sermons, for we can hardly call the speaking in Acts 21-27 preaching, though note how Paul uses every opportunity to convey the Gospel, see especially 24.14ff; 25; 26.6-23, 25-29; 28.23-28 is almost a fourth sermon, but really the epilogue.  The three main ones are chosen and distinguished by audience:

1) mission to Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, with the audience (13.16) being Jews and God-fearers.  Vss. 17-22 a summary of the OT, the context in which Jesus can appear and be understood.   it leads up to David and the idea of fulfillment.   Vss. 23-25 Jesus appears with John the Baptizer as in the Gospels, and this leads on in vs. 26 to an affirmation that the message of salvation has been sent to Jews and God-fearers, but Luke is cutting corners here and it is not yet clear how this will be salvation.  Vss. 27-31 gives the basic facts  cf. Peter in Acts 2,3, 10.  Preaching entails preaching the story of Jesus is told in reference to fulfillment of OT texts, innocence, the acts of God, witnesses.  All this constitutes the ‘euangellion’  the Good News.   The story is told in vss. 33-37 in such a way so as to lead to vss. 38,39  the offer of salvation, now related negatively to the OT in the sense of its inadequacy. Salvation si justification, or at least it begins there.  In vss. 40-41 we have final warnings.

2) Mission to Gentiles. Note the trial and use in 14.15-18; the main things is the Areopagus address in Acts 17. Notice how different this is. It would be pointless to talk to the Athenians about Abraham, Moses, and David.  Vss. 22b and 23 a really very clever, both a captatio benevolentiae and a criticism. See Theophrastus on the superstitious man.  Is the reference to the unknown God, an improved illustration [since he wrote this they have indeed found small altars to unknown gods, one of which I, Ben, have seen in the Istanbul Museum].   23b is the core of the speech, but there is a problem. It seems to mean you are worshipping the true God but you do not really know Him. Paul then tells them the truth about him.  But cf. Rom. 1.18-32.  Would Paul have said what we find in Acts 17? Probably. You are religious and there is no escaping religion.  The truth that human religiousness reflects is as follows:  Vss. 24-25 is a combination of Greek philosophy and OT critique of idolatry. The OT does show up in this speech after all but by way of Hellenistic Judaism.  In vs. 26 the God of creation is also the Lord of history. Vs. 27 he wishes humans to seek him but he makes himself accessible.  Basically we have the OT ideas in philosophical language. Vss. 28-29 back to the criticism of pagan religion.  Vss. 30-31 the Christian point of the speech. This is the moment of crisis.  Note that 1 Cor 1, 2 and even 1 Thess. 1.9-10 suggests there must be much more.

3) The pastoral address to the church, the Ephesian elders summoned to Miletus in Acts 20—a. farewell, self-vindication, commissioning instructions.  Vss. 18-20 setting the scene, recalling the past. Note in Acts 20 the combination of announcing and teaching , preaching and having to have imitation. Vs. 21 a statement of comfort on the subjective side (this is not a well ordered speech!). Vss. 22-24 the future, leading to Paul’s own commitment and a second statement of content– objective,  the Gospel of grace.  Vss. 25-27– personal and reminiscent (noting the anti-Gnostic touch). Vs. 28, a verse not directly relevant today and with a badly expressed doctrine of atonement!  Vss. 29-31– a warning and the elders responsibility (and see below– they are not full time ministers).  Vs. 32– again grace.  vss. 33-35– Paul’s example, work for your living.

So far we have drawn only on Acts. The epistles are harder to use. Every verse in the epistles is in a sense relevant as Paul’s Gospel but not all bears on preaching as a specific activity.  There is little to tell us in the letters about Paul the pioneer evangelist.  1 Cor. 2.1-5 is of great importance  (cf. Wesley’s homo unius libri– a man of one book).  Paul will speak of many things but with care that the cross will stand out cf. Gal. 3.1, 1 Cor. 1.17 etc.  2 Cor. 2.14-16–the preaching not with a mixed reference.  2 Cor. 5.19-6.1– the word of reconciliation with strong theological content implied.  Gal. 1.11-17– conversion or call?  Both!  Where does the Gospel come from– tradition or inspiration. Both!  The Pastorals are full of injunctions to preach, but these are only by implication descriptive of Paul himself.

What do we learn from all this? 1) the importance of knowing, understanding, and addressing the audience.  ‘Saints in the morning, sinners in the evening’ but it is not so easy now.  How do we get hold of sinners?   The danger of this– not getting beyond the philosophical preliminaries.  The importance of the OT (Paul is seen using it at Corinth). 2) statement of the objective facts.  See not only in Acts (esp. Acts 13)  but also 1 Cor. 15.1-3; Rom. 10.9; 4.25 etc. 3) but the subjective and empirical response must be sought– Rom. 10.9-10 again. 1 Cor. 2.5.

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