Acts 2:1-13

Tongue of FireActs 2:1-13

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Have you ever heard of xenoglossy?  Xenoglossy is the phenomenon in which a person wakes up from a coma or emerges from some traumatic experience speaking a foreign language.  It is somewhat akin to Foreign Accent Syndrome, or FAS, accept that FAS involves a person suddenly having a thick foreign accent that they somehow cannot turn off.  (Think, for instance, of Madonna and the strange British accent she developed upon moving to England.  I jest.)

Xenoglossy is apparently a disputed phenomenon, with many doctors questioning if it is even real.  Even so, for those who claim to be suffering from it, it appears to be real enough.  It would indeed be a strange phenomenon, would it not, to wake up speaking a foreign language?

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on xenoglossy lists our text as an early example.[1]  Of course, the New Testament sees what happened at Pentecost as something else entirely.  In the scriptures, this is not a freak occurrence resulting from trauma or other mysterious causes.  Rather, it is the deliberate act of God, granted at just the right moment and for very specific reasons.  This miraculous and astounding visitation of the Spirit was foretold by Jesus and had the worldwide proclamation of the gospel of Christ as its aim.  As such, it has distinctly theological, not neurological, overtones.

To get at the events described by Luke in Acts 2:1-13, let us construct a sentence.  Our sentence will have three parts, each highlighting an aspect of this miraculous display.

The Church is a God-empowered body…

We will begin our sentence like this:  “The Church is a God-empowered body…”  Whatever else is happening here, it is clear that God is visiting His people in power.  This is more than evident in the vivid imagery of our passage.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4a And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit

First of all, note carefully the way in which Luke describes what happened here.  John Polhill explains.

Luke was well aware that he was using metaphorical language in these verses by carefully employing adverbs of comparison:  “like the blowing of a violent wind”…”what seemed to be tongues” (literally “tongues as of fire,” v.3).  He was dealing with the transcendent, that which is beyond the ordinary human experience and can only be expressed in earthly analogies.[2]

Yes, Luke was trying to describe something that required descriptive powers that no language possesses:  a movement of God.  What is most telling is that he speaks of this movement in elemental terms of “wind” and “fire.”  These are images that are pregnant with theological meaning.

First, Luke says that there came “a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  The word for “wind” here is pnoe, which is a form of pneuma, also the word for Spirit.  Luke uses pneuma in verse 4, undoubtedly intending to create a link between the wind that fills the house and the Spirit that fills the disciples’ lives.

The Hebrew word for wind or spirit is ruach.  Tellingly, we find this word at the beginning of the Bible.  In Genesis 1, we read:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Fascinating!  At creation, the Spirit of God hovered “over the face of the waters” or “the deep,” bringing creation out of the void as God spoke.  The Spirit, then, is the divine breath or divine wind that brings something from nothing, the Spirit of the living God that creates everything from nothing and that can make a dead heart live!

We see the same image in Ezekiel 37, when Ezekiel prophecies over the dry bones.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Here again we see the animating, empowering, enlivening Spirit of God bringing energy and vitality and life to that which previously had been still and dormant and inactive and dead.  This is what the Spirit does to the unregenerate heart:  it resurrects it, bringing life into its otherwise dead chambers.  The wind that fills the house is the Spirit that fills the heart!

Then we see tongues as of flame descending.  This image of divine fire is likewise filled with provocative theological imagery.  You will recall that the Lord appeared before His people in the wilderness as a pillar of fire in Exodus 13.

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

God goes as fire before His people.  Furthermore, at the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist foretold that Christ would one day baptize His followers with fire.  Interestingly, John says this in Luke’s gospel in Luke 3.

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Here the two images are combined:  wind and fire.  Both bespeak the mighty movement of a holy God in and among His people.  A Christian prayer from the 9th century says this:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

Vouchsafe within our souls to rest.

Come with thy power and heavenly aid,

And fill the hearts which thou hast made.[3]

The Church is a God-empowered body!  He has come to His people!

…of worldwide Jesus proclaimers…

The Church is a God-empowered body of worldwide Jesus proclaimers.  The holy fire of God falls upon the Church and it falls for a particular purpose.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Fire falls, and, significantly, it falls in the shape of tongues…and the tongues of the gathered Church are loosed with bold proclamation about the greatness of God in Christ.  Fire falls, and the Church speaks!

Throughout human history, one of the most shocking, brutal, and violent acts that a person or group of people would commit against another person whose words they found offensive or dangerous was the act of violence against that person’s actual tongue.  Consider Giordano Bruno, who was accused of writing heretical tracts at the close of the 17th century.  On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno was executed after being condemned to death by the Inquisitor Robert Bellarmine.  As an act of mercy a pouch of gunpowder was tied around his neck before the flames were lit.  His tongue was also nailed to his jaw.

Or consider Denise Stephenson.  Her parents were slaves in Halifax County, Virginia.  She relates the following story:  “The master wouldn’t even allow the people to pray.  They had to have their prayer meeting in secret.  Once they saw a man praying and they nailed his tongue to a tree…Had to be careful in those times.”

Or consider Pope Leo III.  Pope Leo III had his tongue cut out by an officer named Pascal.

Or what about a monk named Erluin?  In 910 AD, after Erluin “suggested that his monastery return to strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, his fellow monks ripped out his tongue and blinded him.”[4]

What is interesting about this disturbing trend is that it is the exact tactic the devil takes when he wants to derail the Church:  he seeks to remove our tongues.  He does not do so, normally, by actual physical violence, but rather by tempting us to employ our tongues in the service of every topic but Christ, by silencing us on the most important issues.  How unbelievable it is that the Church seems so often to remove its own tongue when it comes to proclaiming the truth of Christ!

The tragedy is further compounded by the fact that those who deny the truth are in no way silent or shy about their errors.  It seems at times that the only people who will not bear witness are those who know the truth.  This should not be!  Commenting on our text, the 7th/8th century English Christian, the Venerable Bede, put it beautifully when he wrote:

Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom he fills he makes simultaneously to burn and to speak – to burn because of him and to speak about him.   And at the same time he indicated that the holy church, when it had spread to the ends of the earth, was to speak in the languages of all nations.[5]

“To burn because of him and to speak about him.”  Friends, how can we be silent about our King?  When the Spirit fell upon the Church at Pentecost, it fell to enable them to speak!  The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “What is pronounced strengthens itself. What is not pronounced tends to non-existence.”[6]  Would that we understood that fact:  “What is not pronounced tends to non-existence.”

If Christ is real to you, you will proclaim His Kingdom!  If Christ is your King, you will not be shy to speak of Him!  If Christ has raised you from death to life, you will not be timid about this amazing miracle!

And to whom does the Church proclaim?  To the nations!  They speak in the tongues of the nations present.  While the New Testament does speak of “speaking in tongues” as we traditionally think of it, that is, of speaking in unearthly languages, that does not actually appear to be what is happening here.  Will Willimon explains.

            It is doubtful that Luke is describing ecstatic speech here, the glossolalia of 1 Corinthians 14, because that sort of speech needed translation for anyone to understand.  Judging from the discussion of glossolalia in 1 Corinthians 14, the Spirit manifested its presence in a variety of ways in Paul’s churches.  Luke’s concern is with the description of a Spirit-empowered intelligible proclamation in foreign languages (2:6,8).[7]

At Pentecost, then, when the Spirit fell, He fell upon the assembled Church to empower and enable them to speak the gospel in the languages of the gathered nations.  Jesus had already told them that they would be His witness “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Now it begins.  And as it began so it should continue.  We should, we must continue the worldwide proclamation of the gospel!

…whose message inevitably causes people to be amazed, perplexed, or angered.

The Church is a God-empowered body of worldwide Jesus proclaimers whose message inevitably causes people to be amazed, perplexed, or angered.  These are the reactions the disciples received as a result of their bold and surprising proclamation.

7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Let us be clear:  wherever the gospel is truly proclaimed, people will respond by being amazed, by being perplexed, or by being angered.  The reactions of the crowd were not all of one type then and they are not all of one type now.  Then, as now, the reactions are diverse.  Some believe.  Some are confused.  Some mock, accusing the disciples of being drunk.

What is significant is the fact that the early Church was too struck by the beauty of the message and the privilege of being able to proclaim it to worry about the divers responses of the crowd upon hearing it.  Their task was to speak, not to worry about the reactions of those to whom they spoke.  They clearly wanted all to believe, but the fact that many would not believe did not dissuade them.  They were a people on fire, a people on fire with holy fire.  Tongues of flame had taken up residence in and among them.  The incendiary message of the gospel was their message because it was God’s message, and they were God’s!

Church, when we read of this amazing miracle and hold it up against our current practice and our current witness, how stark is the contrast?  The God of 1st century Pentecost is the God of 21st century Central Baptist Church.  If you have come to Christ, He has poured His Spirit out upon you.  If the Spirit caused the early Church to speak with passion and boldness of Christ, how can He, who does not change, not cause us to do the same?

Brothers, if we do not speak, we achieve our silence only by fighting against the Spirit’s desire to be heard!  If we are quiet in the face of the watching world, it is to our shame.  The Spirit is a proclaiming, revealing Spirit.  He bears witness to Christ.  This means that if this Spirit takes up residence in the repentant, believing hearts of Christ’s Church, the Church must do what the Spirit does….and He has!  He has taken up residence within us!

Church:  speak!

Church:  speak!!


[2] John B. Polhill, Acts. The New American Commentary. Vol.26. David Dockery, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.98.

[3] Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), p.50.

[4] /Bruno_Giordano.html / PA51&lpg =PA51&dq= %22nailed+his+tongue%22&source=web&ots=2OdB7722Dv&sig= L4av RRhkeh LN8KQCwsVqtosbCsk#PPA51,M1 / cut+out+ his+tongue%22&source=web&ots=mP0JzYuN9V&sig=PBQ6vA5tlg9w1tSHZg-5TPwAo5k#PRA11-PR7,M1 /

[5] Francis Martin, ed. Acts. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.V. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p.22.

[6] “The Church’s Way of Speaking”, id_article= 224&var_recherche=tongue

[7] William H. Willimon, Acts. Interpretation. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1988), p.32.

Herman Ridderbos’ Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures

In Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, Herman N. Ridderbos has presented the reader with a concise and penetrating defense and explanation of the Reformation maxim, sola Scriptura.  He evaluates and exposes the problems of deficient defenses of the canon as well as attacks upon the canon and then proposes and elucidates his own position.  Namely, Ridderbos contends that the authority of the canon lies not in the Church’s recognition of the canon, nor in the believer’s experience with it, nor even in the fact that it reveals the revelation of God.  Instead, the New Testament canon is itself the revelation of God in that it stands as the authoritative written pronouncement of the words and acts of God in Christ communicated through the divinely commissioned apostles of Christ.  As such, the canon belongs to redemptive history, to the saving acts of God in history, and therein receives its authority.

This entire discussion of the canon is precipitated by the rather astute question of why and on what basis Protestants accept and affirm the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as authoritative.  The ecclesiological presuppositions of the Catholic Church allow it to point to its own pronouncements on and recognition of the canon as its basis of authority and to subsequently conclude that “the church made the canon.”  However, with their obvious rejection of the Catholic Church, Ridderbos proceeds to outline how Reformed Protestants have arrived at their view that, in fact, “the canon made the church.”

He begins by outlining four flawed concepts of the canon.  He notes that Luther’s questioning of various books within the canon and his defining of the canon as that which “urges Christ” introduced the concept of “a canon within a canon.”  This questioning of books within the canon implied that the believer need not necessarily accept the canon in toto but rather only books within it that conformed to certain criteria (be it Luther’s or, presumably, any other), a concept that was resoundly rejected by the Reformed churches (4).  Secondly, Ridderbos highlights Zahn’s view that the canon receives its authority as the Church in any age recognizes it (5).  Thirdly, he notes Diem’s position that the canon’s authority is found in its everyday proclamation and preaching (6).  Lastly, he speaks of Kasemann’s view that the canon is verified and receives its authority in and through the believer’s experience and interaction with it (6-7).

Ridderbos’s criticism of all of these views may be summed up in the general argument that any attempt to establish the authority of the canon by any means other than the canon itself opens the door for a subjective, existentialist arbitrariness that is inherently unverifiable and deficient.  All four of these positions lead us, Ridderbos contends, to the inevitable conclusion that “the final decision as to what the church deems to be holy and unimpeachable does not reside in the biblical canon itself.  Human judgment about what is essential and central for Christian faith is the final court of appeal” (7).  On this basis, Ridderbos argues that we must look elsewhere in order to establish canonicity.

I am particularly moved by Ridderbos’s contention about the inadequacy of the above mentioned theories of canonicity.  With the benefit of thirty-eight years of hindsight since the initial publication of the first translation of this work, it may be pronounced with some confidence that the hermeneutical, ecclesiastical, and homiletical confusion that seems to be reigning in many if not most Protestant churches has born out and verified Ridderbos’s concern.  The general shift from theology to anthropology as the foundation of much modern, individualistic Protestantism, and, particularly, of much modern, Protestant interpretation of Scripture bears testimony to the fact that a view of the canon that looks to man and his experiences with, critique of, and proclamation of the canon as the basis of its authority have wreaked havoc in the church.  The theories of a canon within a canon, and, perhaps more damaging, of the canon bearing authority only insofar as it is validated by the experiences of the believer, have passed from the ivy halls to the pews.  The modern pastor and churchman realizes this and can attest to the very real danger of deficient views of canonicity.

Time and again I encounter these flawed concepts of canonicity among many who do not realize the nature and logical consequences of their own views.  Regardless of whether or not these views emanate from the studied principles and informed hypotheses of a Luther or the generally unknown yet culturally absorbent mindset and worldview of the largely biblically- illiterate laymen, the results are equally disastrous.  Thus, I cannot view Ridderbos’s criticism of these views and their potential to act as portents for existentialism and (frankly) humanism in the church dispassionately.  He is correct, and the fruit of these inadequate views is tragically obvious to all who want to see.

What is more, the seemingly wholesale, yet subconscious, acceptance of existentialistic views of the canon in many churches has made the preaching task imminently more difficult.  The preacher who accepts Ridderbos’s view of the canon is fully cognizant of the fact that he and many of his parishioners are starting from different points.  The preacher views the text as the authoritative word, whereas those who adhere to one or many of the above mentioned views see the text and its pronouncements generally in terms of how they respond to it and whether or not they choose to accept it as authoritative in their lives.  I believe that this is not a matter of mere selective hearing, but rather of the acceptance of flawed concepts of canonicity on the part of many within the Church.

Ridderbos responds to these views of the canon by proposing that the authority of the canon rests ultimately in the canon’s place in  redemptive history.  He believes that this was essentially the position of Abraham Kuyper and, indeed, the early Reformed churches as well (11-12).  He argues that the canon “represents a formal authority structure” in that it gives an “authoritative and exclusive” testimony of God’s acts in history (13).  What is more, he points to the Jewish juridical nature of the apostolate in which an apostle is imbued with legal authority to speak on behalf of another as if he actually were that other (14).  Thus, while recognizing that any attempt to establish the authority of the canon on the basis of the canon’s claims is insufficient in that this approach is necessarily circular and reflexive, he nonetheless contends that it is in the canon that we are able to establish its standing within the flow of redemptive history.  In other words, when the apostles spoke, they spoke with the authority of God.

Ridderbos argues that Christ is the canon, but that the pronouncements of the apostles speak with His authority and thereby establish the canon.  He then seeks to show that God’s authority therefore necessarily rests upon the written form of the teachings and pronouncements of the apostolate and that, in fact, the apostles themselves understood their writings to be, in this sense, canonical (15,22).  Thus, the canon itself belongs to redemptive history.

From here, Ridderbos moves on to a brief discussion of canonics proper.  The criteria for canonicity, he contends, is Christological in the sense that those who wrote did so with His authority and, juridically, in His stead (32).  He notes that the majority of the New Testament writings were recognized as authoritative very early on in the life of the Church and those which were disputed were judged in the light of those which were not (40-41).  As such, the process of canonization was not one in which the Church gave certain texts authority by their pronouncements, but rather one in which the Church formally encapsulated those texts that had been operating with authority within the Church from its inception.

Ridderbos is particularly persuasive in his arguments.  His objective is obviously to build each step of his argument as he goes.  His first step is to establish the principle that there is no viable or verifiable position on the authority of the canon that finds its origin in man’s own criteria.  Next, through his discussion of the juridical nature of the apostolate, he successfully shows that apostolic teaching is itself authoritative.  We find the evidence of apostleship, or, at least, apostolicity within the canon itself.  Thirdly, he establishes the fact that the apostles’ teaching was intended to be recorded in written form even by the apostles themselves.  Necessarily, then, these writings must be seen as authoritative in the same juridical nature as the apostle’s oral teachings.  By arguing this, Ridderbos has established a valid defense of the canon.

Of course, it can be argued that all of this falls apart if the concept of redemptive history is itself rejected.  This is the plight, as Ridderbos points out, of secular evaluations of canonicity.  From their a priori assumptions, secular canonical criticism is incapable of establishing any basis for canonicity, though such criticism serves a function in an academic and historic sense (49).  Yet, the fact remains that Ridderbos’s view of canonicity must begin with a postulate of faith in the redemptive work of God through Christ.  As such, this view will never commend itself to those who reject the notion of redemptive history.

That being said, it must be admitted, even by those who disagree with Ridderbos’s premise, that his arguments are valid if his premise is true.  If, in other words, the foundation of redemptive history can itself be laid, and the juridical nature of the apostolate confirmed, the rest seems to follow fairly well.  I personally believe that Ridderbos has done a masterful job in establishing the Christological basis of canonicity.

It might be argued that the juridical nature of the apostolate is the key here.  His argument concerning the intended written form of the apostles’ teachings is compelling, and the subsequent conclusion that the written form of the canon therefore bears the authority of God is hard to refute given the truthfulness of the other premises.  The juridical nature of the apostolate actually has great ramifications on the task of preaching.  On this basis, the preacher does not proclaim the opinions of the apostles.  He does not preach the conjectures of those who knew Christ.  Instead, he preaches the authoritative words of Christ himself.  Insofar as he proclaims “the teachings of the apostles,” he proclaims the teachings of Christ.  The importance of this fact on the entire homiletical task cannot be overestimated, for it touches on the source, manner, object, and intention of preaching itself.

Again, there would be some difficulty in arguing Ridderbos’s view with an unbeliever.  To do so would, of course, necessitate arguing Christ, for Christ is the foundation of Ridderbos’s view.  Yet, within the community of believers, his arguments can have great weight.  If one professes Christ, and if they can be shown the proper understanding of the nature of the apostolate, then proper conclusions can be drawn concerning the need for the believer to view the canon itself as authoritative.  In short, Ridderbos has established a workable theory in which a high view of the canon may be argued with effectiveness among those who accept Christ.  While his arguments will have little affect on those who do not accept Christ, they will serve as an important corrective against an existentialistic selectivity concerning the various components of the canon.

Ridderbos’s argument that the majority of the New Testament was actually accepted rather early on by the Church is a rather refreshing departure from the standard line being propagated by many other historians.  One gets the picture from these that the processes of canonization was wrought with mass confusion and disputes.  This impression is given, of course, by an incessant highlighting of the problems surrounding the disputed texts.

His discussion of tradition and his contention that the Church did not, in fact, codify the texts of the canon primarily in response to Marcion’s or anybody else’s challenging of the accepted books but rather because of the need to formally recognize what the Church largely already viewed as authoritative was compelling as well.  By doing this, Ridderbos shows that the canon is not the product of reaction but rather of intention.  This is extremely important to our view of the canon and, especially, to our preaching of the canon as well.  The preacher may know that he speaks from an intended canon with intended authority.  He may have confidence in the object of the hermeneutical task.  He may speak boldly and forthrightly on the basis of the canon’s authority.

Ridderbos next turns to his discussion of the nature of the authority of the New Testament.  He notes that historical, secular approaches to the question are deficient in that they reject any possibility of the canon bearing divine authority.  The possibilities are removed by the foundational ideologies of secularism and are, therefore, deficient.  On the other extreme, however, Ridderbos notes that a spiritualistic concept of authority exalts the Spirit’s work to the neglect of history and is equally deficient on the other end of the spectrum.  As a solution, Ridderbos contends that the answer is not found in some type of synthesis between these two approaches, but rather is to be found in “redemptive-historical categories” that will reveal the nature of New Testament authority (49-50).  Specifically, Ridderbos discusses the categories of “kerygma (proclamation of redemption), marturia (witness to redemption), and didache (teaching about redemption)” (50).  Due to the interrelatedness of these categories, I will summarize Ridderbos’s handling of all three before evaluating his position.

Kerygma refers, in a general sense, to the revealing of some truth or reality.  Ridderbos shows that the New Testament concepts of preaching, appearance, and gospel relate to the kerygmatic nature of the New Testament.  He goes on to argue that the kerygmatic nature of the New Testament has been misunderstood for some time by those who use it in an attempt to treat the gospels purely as detailed biographies.  The inevitable conflicts that arise from such an approach, resulting from its own mistaken premises, lead many to conclude on the one hand that there is virtually no reliable history in the gospels or, on the other hand, to conclude that the question of historicity is largely irrelevant (53).  This latter assumption has led to the search for the “Christ of faith” over the “Christ of history” and all of the variances that such a concept entails.

Ridderbos responds by noting that the validity of the kerygmatic proclamation necessarily rises and falls upon its historical veracity.  Furthermore, the kerygma must be seen as Scripture in that it is itself a proclamation of the redemptive-historical acts of God.  Thus, the kerygma is authoritative because it is the inspired proclamation of the apostles of the redemptive-historical events of God.

Ridderbos’s second category, marturia (witness), refers to “content of the gospel in its original, historically visible and audible form” (58).  Again, Ridderbos appeals to the juridical nature of the concept of a “witness” as somebody that speaks authoritatively in another’s stead.  He then notes the very strong concept of marturia in Luke’s writings, as well as those of John and Peter (59-60).  As such, he shows that the witnesses of the redemptive-historical events were themselves part of redemptive-history and not merely human relaters of those events.  Ridderbos then shows that the concepts of kerygma and marturia are linked in that the New Testament kerygma is the witness of the apostles and furthermore that the witness of the apostles is kerygmatic in that it is primarily preached (61, 64).  Furthermore, kerygma and marturia are related in that they both stake their validity on the historicity of the events they proclaim and reveal (68).

Ridderbos’s third category is didache, teaching.  He contends that the apostles were not only concerned with the dissemination of the events of redemptive-history, but with teaching that derived from the content and authority of their witness (69).  This does not mean, however, that there is a dichotomy between kerygma and didache.  They are, in fact, closely related.  The apostles taught on the basis of the kerygmatic content of their proclamation.  Any distinction between the two is merely formal.  Didache involves instruction.  Kerygma involves proclamation (70).

The central question surrounding the category of didache is the identification of its content.  What should we teach?  Ridderbos rightly contends that this question is primarily hermeneutical.  Through the application of hermeneutical precepts we arrive at what the apostles taught.  Then, given the redemptive-historical nature of their teachings, we teach the same (73-74).

Section two of Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures contains Ridderbos’s attempt to explain the nature of the authority of the New Testament in terms of redemptive-historical categories.  He handles the kerygmatic, marturian, and didactic nature of the New Testament very well.  In addition to this, his treatment of the corollary issues surrounding these categories provides him a venue in which to discuss the further implications of their place in redemptive history.

Ridderbos’s overarching contention is that the New Testament kerygma, marturia, and didache do not relate to or reveal redemptive history, but are rather themselves a part of redemptive history.  Thus, to put it simply, God, not man, stands behind the proclamation, witness, and teaching of the New Testament, though it was through man that God revealed these.  This argument is extremely important.  It matters greatly, for instance, whether or not the apostles were men giving a human testimony of the events of God in history, or whether or not that testimony is itself one of God’s works in history.  Here, as in so much of Ridderbos’s thesis, much depends upon the juridical nature of the kerygmatic proclamation, witness, and teaching.  If, in other words, the kerygma is announced juridically with God’s authority, then the proclamation bears authority.  It seems to me that Ridderbos has done an admirable job in constructing his schema of the redemptive-historical authority of the New Testament on this basis.

In addition to this, section two of the book deals with the question of history in a compelling manner.  Although Ridderbos was writing before the spectacle of the Jesus Seminar, efforts to divorce the “Jesus of history” from the “Jesus of faith” were already firmly ensconced in the tenets of dialectical theology and neo-orthodox ideologies.  As such, this discussion of history is more than pertinent.  What is more, the questions being raised by a seemingly unfettered glorification of experience over propositional truth bring these questions to the forefront again.

In all of these instances, the question of the historical veracity of the content of the New Testament proclamation is paramount.  In so many words, Ridderbos is saying that the kerygmatic and didactic proclamations lose all weight and force if severed from the truthfulness of their content.  His observation is timeless and may arguably be called “ground-zero” for many of the battles being waged over the Bible today.

I believe that Ridderbos has hit the proverbial nail on the head.  His arguments provide us with a valuable critique of those arguments which contend that we may yet derive hope from a resurrection that may or may not have happened, put our trust in a Jesus that may or may not have lived, and frame our personal and corporate ethical systems around teachings that derive from events that may or may not be true communicated through the mouths of disciples who may or may not be deluding us.  What is more, the reality of the crumbling ethical systems of many in our churches that knowingly or unknowingly accept an agnosticism concerning the historicity of the New Testament events bears elucidating testimony to this view’s insufficiency and, frankly, supposed value as well.  Ridderbos is absolutely correct in his indicting assessment of those who would remove the anchor from these redemptive-historical categories.

All of this bears, of course, heavily upon the preaching task.  It seems that the primary homiletical point to be gained from Ridderbos’s discussion of redemptive history and the new testament is one of confidence and authority.  Namely, on what basis can the preacher trust the New Testament and on what basis can he venture to speak with authority?

According to Ridderbos, the modern preacher may speak with authority because he proclaims a New Testament kerygma that is itself part of redemptive history.  It bears authority because it is a divinely intended function of the redeemed.  The modern preacher may speak with authority because the redemptive historical marturia is true, historical, and itself authoritative.  The modern preacher may teach with authority because the redemptive historical New Testament didache emanates from apostles bearing juridical authority in their teaching.

Thus, it can be argued that Ridderbos’s argument for the redemptive historical basis of New Testament authority is not only thoughtful, erudite, and logically coherent, but that it also avoids the dangers of existentialistically and humanistically originated concepts of authority.  His arguments appeal to the scriptures themselves yet manage to avoid the snare of reflexivity and circularity in reasoning.  In its most basic form, Ridderbos’s argument depends ultimately upon the presence of God, His working in human history, and the human postulate of faith in these realities.