Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Review: How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together?

How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? by Ryan McGraw is part of the 12-booklet Cultivating Biblical Godliness series published by Reformation Heritage Books.  This booklet is very short at just 26 pages and looks at John 14:12-14 as a "theological platform for the work of the church of Christ in every age."  The author contends that "[t]hese verses teach that the primary concern of the church should be fervent corporate prayer for the Spirit of God to make the preaching of God's Word effective for salvation of many souls," (p. 2).

First, Mr. McGraw rightly points out that "[f]aith in Christ is always the foundation of the work of the church," (p.4).  However, he goes on to say that "[i]n the Greek text the term works is not included in the second part of the verse.  The text reads more literally that the one who believes in Christ will do greater things than the miraculous works that Jesus did.  These 'greater things' cannot refer to miracles...The 'greater things' in John 14:12 are connected to prayer," (p. 7).

Mr. McGraw did not specify what Greek Text he is referring to, but I only found one Modern Critical Text translation, the NIV, that uses the phrase 'these things' rather than 'works'.  The majority of mainstream Bible translations uses the word 'works'.

In addition, I read many commentaries on John 14:12-14 by John Gill, John Calvin, Albert Barnes, Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole.  None of these well-established and highly recommended commentaries state that the greater works of the apostles do not refer to miracles, but to prayer.  Here is an example from Albert Barnes's Notes on the Bible:

"Greater works than these shall he do. Interpreters have been at a loss in what way to understand this. The most probable meaning of the passage is the following: The word "greater" cannot refer to the miracles themselves, for the works of the apostles did not exceed those of Jesus in power. No higher exertion of power was put forth, or could be, than raising the dead. But, though not greater in themselves considered, yet they were greater in their effects. They made a deeper impression on mankind. They were attended with more extensive results. They were the means of the conversion of more sinners. The works of Jesus were confined to Judea. They were seen by few. The works of the apostles were witnessed by many nations, and the effect of their miracles and preaching was that thousands from among the Jews and Gentiles were converted to the Christian faith. The word greater here is used, therefore, not to denote the absolute exertion of power, but the effect which the miracles would have on mankind. The word "works" here probably denotes not merely miracles, but all things that the apostles did that made an impression on mankind, including their travels, their labours, their doctrine, &c."

It is clear that that the verses cited by Mr. McGraw do not support his contention that the primary concern for the church should be fervent corporate prayer.  This is a private interpretation of the author which is warned against in 2 Peter 1:20.  I have other areas of disagreement, but this error is the most egregious.  Therefore, I do not recommend this book as a sound exegetical treatment of John 14:12-14.

"Verily, verily, I [Jesus] say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it," (John 14:12-14).