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  • Writer's pictureJ. Aaron White

The Case for Redemptive-Historical Preaching

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

A false dichotomy often lies at the heart of much Bible study, teaching, and preaching that pits the Old Testament against the New Testament. In this scenario, the Old is touted as being centered exclusively on God’s covenant of works while the New is centered exclusively on God’s covenant of grace. This, however, is simply not true. Throughout the Old Testament, as redemptive history unfolds, God’s grace is evident. From the protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15) to the water from the rock at Horeb (Ex. 17:6), God’s grace toward his elect is declared. Regarding God’s grace throughout redemptive history, David Murray states:

. . . the Sinai covenant painted pictures of grace. The moral law of Exodus 20 was preceded by the grace of the Passover Lamb, concluded by the covenant ratification sacrifices, and followed by the gracious provision and acceptance of the sacrificial lambs in the ceremonial law. God book-ended the obedience He required with multiple-picture sermons of the coming suffering Savior.[1]

Given that God’s grace abounded to his people throughout the entire Old Testament (founded upon the future sacrifice of his Son, cf. Rom. 3:23-26), the argument in favor of redemptive-historical preaching for the modern preacher is strengthened. If, as is argued here, Christ is the fountainhead of grace in the Old Testament and is present and active throughout the unfolding drama of redemption, it behooves the modern exegete to accurately divide the text in such a way that Christ is exalted. Murray also states:

Instead of viewing redemptive history as beginning with Christ, redemptive historical preaching shows that God has been acting redemptively from the beginning of history, and that he had the end in view from the beginning.[2]

Modern preachers should not only engage in redemptive-historical preaching because of the progressive nature of redemptive history, but also because Christ himself utilized this hermeneutic. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus employed a redemptive-historical perspective as he interpreted the Old Testament for his beleaguered followers: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27, emphasis added). Clearly, Jesus himself saw the totality of the Old Testament as being centered upon his life, death, and resurrection. From the post-Calvary perspective of the modern preacher, pointing to Christ in the same Old Testament that Jesus used should be a delightful duty. Thomas Murphy stridently defends such a Christ-centered hermeneutic:

A sermon which does not in some way contain the salvation of Christ cannot with any propriety be called a gospel sermon. It may be so impressive as to awaken deep interest, or so beautiful as to please, or even such a high moral tone as to cultivate and refine, but it is not the gospel, for the publishing of which all preaching was appointed.[3]

Jesus concluded his preaching of himself to his disciples by saying, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Lk. 24:44). According to Christ himself, the entire Old Testament bears witness to him, the Messiah. Although consideration must be given to the historical, cultural, and chronological elements of an Old Testament text, the modern preacher may confidently seek to find Christ (i.e., type, theophany, symbol, etc.) in every passage.

[1] Murray, Jesus on Every Page, 29. [2]Ibid. [3] Thomas Murphy, quoted by Brian Borgman in The Message We Preach (Unpublished lecture manuscript, n.d.), 6.

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