Apr 2009

Our latest interview in the 
Talks With Scholars series is with Prof David Allen of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. In this interview, Prof Allen talks about his research interests in the book of Hebrews and also gives practical advice on the subject of expository preaching.

Prof Allen, thank you for the interview opportunity. One book I'm looking forward to is your forthcoming commentary on Hebrews in the New American Commentary series. Can you tell us when this will be out and who it's aimed at?

The hope and goal is that it will be out this year, probably towards the end of the year but not before November. The New American Commentary series is aimed at pastors and scholars and it is geared to be an exegetical and theological exposition of Scripture but they do make use of Hebrew and Greek texts. They are useful for pastors and educated laypeople and even beyond that to scholars.

I'm assuming that since it's published by Broadman and Holman, it's mainly the work of Baptists?

Yes, the contributors are Baptists and in fact the vast majority are Southern Baptists. There was a commentary series a long time ago that was put together by Baptists called the American Commentary series. This is a new version of that.

Is there a reformed tendency in this series?

The series itself leans away from the reformed perspective, but there are reformed writers in the series such as the Timothy George volume on Galatians and the Tom Schreiner volume on 1, 2 Peter and Jude. Southern Baptists are by and large non-Calvinistic in their theology.

Can you tell us a bit about the subject of the New Covenant and how that relates to the Mosaic Law and Christians today?

From a biblical perspective, the New Covenant is mentioned in Jeremiah and is a primary theme developed in Hebrews most fundamentally in chapter 8 but really everything from 7:1 to 10:18 in the heart of the doctrinal section of the book deals with issues of the covenant. So the issue of the covenant is a very important aspect.

The Old Covenant was in itself temporary. Jeremiah makes it clear that the coming of the New Covenant would supersede the Old Covenant. In one translation it says it would make it "obsolete" and so the New Covenant is distinctively different from the Old. However, the New Covenant does not mean that all aspects of the Mosaic law are nullified. For example, the dietary laws are temporary as well as the cultic laws but the law incorporates much more and includes the moral aspects. These are not repudiated or rescinded by the New Covenant as Christ makes clear in Matthew 5.

What would be your recommendations for devotional commentaries on Hebrews that help Christians in everyday life? I'm thinking about efforts by Kent Hughes and John MacArthur for example.

Both of those would be excellent options. I personally like Kent Hughes' two volumes more than John MacArthur's commentary. I don't think MacArthur has gotten the readership of the book right when he argues for the mixed audience theory. Hebrews makes it clear the author was addressing a group of people he believed were Christians. That's one of the weaknesses of MacArthur but otherwise it's a good commentary. Kent's work is essentially a series of expository sermons and they are outstanding. Among the older commentaries, the best two devotional commentaries on Hebrews are William Newell's Hebrews: Verse by Verse and Andrew Murray's The Holiest of All.

Let me pick up on the point about readership. Were the original recipients in Italy?

The majority view today is that Hebrews was written to Rome and that's been the predominant view in the 20th century. Personally, I hark back to the Patristics where virtually all of those who comment on the subject think it was written from Rome to somewhere back east such as Palestine. My own personal view is that the recipients were located in Syrian Antioch and that the recipients were the converted priests who Luke refers to in Acts 6:7 who under persecution relocated to Antioch. We do know from the New Testament and elsewhere in history that the church in Syrian Antioch had a strong and healthy Jewish portion among the congregation and of course that was Paul's missionary base.

The question of authorship has long been debated on Hebrews but I see you have an interesting book coming out titled Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. This seems to be some kind of sister volume to the commentary on Hebrews, is that right?

Yes, it's a series within the New American Commentary series that deals with biblical and theological themes. The work on the authorship of Hebrews will be coming out mid to late 2010. The Syrian Antioch destination is part of the historical reconstruction but the major evidence for Lukan authorship is from linguistics. My Ph.D. from the University of Texas in Arlington in 1987 was in this subject. I used a computer to do a comparative study of the Greek of Luke-Acts and Hebrews and discovered a number of lexical and stylistic similarities that had not been discovered or published before. For example there are 53 vocabulary words that are unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews. There are 56 that are unique to Paul and Hebrews. Therefore, the Lukan connection to Hebrews is as strong as Paul's and in fact both Luke and Paul connect to Hebrews much more than any other biblical writer where the statistical numbers drop dramatically.

I'm arguing that Luke is the independent writer, not the translator which is a view in the early church such as with Origen. I'm arguing that Luke is the author on stylistic and linguistic grounds: that's the fundamental evidence but then I have sections where I do a theological comparison between Luke and Hebrews and how they tend to hang together. Then I look at purposes of the books and how they tend to be symmetrical and then I move on to a historical reconstruction where I argue that Luke is not a Gentile but is Jewish. That's a developing perspective by the way in Luke-Acts studies today and scholars are beginning to argue that the evidence from Luke-Acts is that the author is Jewish.

Why have we always been told that Luke was Gentile?

It has been assumed especially from the Reformation onwards that Luke is a Gentile. But that's not an assumption that any of the Patristic authors make: I'm not aware of any statement they make that mentions Luke as a Gentile. The primary reason people think Luke is a Gentile is based on what is stated about him in Colossians 4 where Paul refers to a group of three Christians whom he refers to as being of the circumcision. And then there is the intervening reference to Epaphras and others and then he comes to the end and mentions Luke the beloved physician. The supposition is that because Paul separates Luke from the three people of the circumcision, Luke is therefore a Gentile. But that is not a valid inference and the passage does not say that Luke is a Gentile. The reason he is mentioned last is because he is so especially dear to the author.

I argue all of this in my book and of course, it's clear that Luke has a Jewish outlook especially when you see his interest in the temple and the priesthood reflected in both his gospel and Acts and also when you see how his gospel begins and ends in the temple. This is Luke's way of framing the gospel and indicating that Jesus is the fulfilment of the temple cultus.

One other interesting point here is that Luke's addressee is a man named Theophilus and for years people have speculated about who he is. I discovered 25 years ago while digging around in Josephus a listing of all of the high priests who served in Jerusalem from the Maccabees to the end of the second Temple period. Interestingly, from A.D. 37 to A.D. 41 the name of the high priest was Theophilus. He had a Greek name as well as a Jewish name as many members of the Jewish aristocracy had. In fact he was the third of the five sons of Annas who was the father in law of Caiaphas the high priest in Jesus' time. Interestingly enough, Theophilus did not vacate the office of high priest in A.D. 41 by death but was rather deposed by Herod Agrippa as Luke records. And Luke takes valuable space in his gospel to record a lengthy account of Herod Agrippa's death which would be of interest to his recipient who had been deposed by him. And so all of these things I have in a 550 page manuscript that will be going to the publisher soon!

[KEDS students have access to an article by Dr. Allen on this subject in the journal Faith and Mission via the eCampus. KEDS students should visit the eCampus (online journals page) and search for David L. Allen "The Authorship of Hebrews: The Lukan Proposal" Faith and Mission 18:2 (Spring 2001) ]

Let me move on to some other subjects. You are the Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching. How do you define "expository preaching"?

What I mean by expository preaching is essentially text-driven preaching: preaching that begins with the text and that not only uses the text but also has the sermon derived from the structure of the text and depends upon the structure. It produces a sermon that will stay true to the substance, structure and spirit of the text.

Is the approach of someone like Martyn Lloyd-Jones who took a verse at a time considered expository preaching?

My approach is different. I don't actually think that's a good approach much though I love and respect Lloyd-Jones. Taking a verse or two each week means that it can take years to preach through a book like Romans. My background is in linguistics and what I teach people to do is to recognise larger units of meaning that we find in paragraph structures of discourse and preach at least a paragraph unit from the Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament. In the case of narrative you actually preach the whole narrative rather than chopping it up into individual sermons. You preach the whole narrative because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is why I encourage people to preach through books of the Bible, taking paragraphs at a time instead of taking a verse or two.

Who would be good models of expository preaching today?

In your country, I would look to people like John Stott or David Jackman. In the US, I think people like John MacArthur is a good example of solid exposition. I would also point to people like Jerry Vines, the recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, who in his 25 years as a pastor preached through the whole Bible doing it in an expositional fashion. Among the younger preachers, I would recommend Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado, and David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, Alabama.

Finally, as a former church pastor, can you give some advice on combining ministry with academic work?

I love the Reformation model and if you look at the history of that movement you discover that all of the leaders such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were pastors. Yes they were professors and leaders in the Reformation, and they wrote its primary literature, but they were men who preached regularly and they were pastors. Furthermore, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were all essentially expositors who were teaching Scripture and of course we all know the expositional skills of John Calvin and how he preached through whole books of the Bible. These men were pastor-scholars and were excellent models for what we need to be. So I encourage young men to strive to be pastor-scholars.

Dr Allen, many thanks to your time.

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David Allen is the Professor of Preaching and Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching. He is also the George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught extensively on expository preaching and has two forthcoming books: Hebrews in the New American Commentary Series and also The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Luke.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the King's Evangelical Divinity School. The Talks with Scholars series is a regular feature at KEDS. Visit the interview page for more engaging dicussion and conversation with world class academics.