This is part 1 of “Preachers of the Past,” a series where we discuss four distinct preachers from the past, ranging from 347 A.D. to 1945.

We’ve included detailed preaching points for study and discussion towards the bottom of this post.


Some Background on John Chrysostom (A.D. 347–407)

John was born in Antioch to a wealthy family around 347 or 349 A.D; however, historians are not certain on exact dates. John’s father died when John was an infant, so he was raised by his Christian mother. John was well educated, and recognized early on as a powerful speaker in the art of rhetoric.

His teacher, the great rhetorician Libanius, said, “My successor should have been John had not the Christians stolen him from us.” John was most likely converted to Christianity at a young age, but by the age of 18 felt a calling to the ministry and was baptized in 368. From there, he went on to serve under Bishop Meletius as an aide. He became an ascetic and a “son of the covenant,” which meant that he lived like a monk but lived at home. He took vows, wore a habit, remained celibate, abstained from meat and wine, and devoted his life to prayer.

Diodore, an ascetic and biblical scholar who later became bishop of Tarsus, also mentored John. Leaders wanted to ordain John, but he felt totally unworthy, retreated, and became a full-fledged monk. It was during this time that John practically memorized the OT and the NT. He could quote large portions of both Testaments and knew them inside and out. Later, he grew ill from such rigorous asceticism and returned to Antioch. At this point, he was made a deacon (381) and, after a few years, became a priest around 386.

John began to preach and write quite a bit, with many took notice of his amazing gifts. He was called to serve as a priest in Constantinople and later became its archbishop. Because he offended many with his preaching and lifestyle (some bishops were offended that he dined alone, the emperor and others thought he was too strict, moral, ascetic, etc.), he was sent into exile and died in 407.

[bctt tweet=”John Chrysostom considered his role as a preacher to be an extension of the Holy Spirit’s work.” username=”anglican_pastor”]

Preaching Points

On rhetoric

  • The classical ideal of oratory was that of “the good person speaking ” John Chrysostom (Chryso-stomos means ”golden-mouthed,” the name given to him after he died, probably about two centuries later) lived during a time when there was an extreme interest in rhetoric. Some of these great orators knew they spoke lies, but their job was to be persuasive and to have exciting arguments. John was trained by one of the most prominent rhetoricians, Libanius, but he never used those skills to manipulate, only to preach more effectively. The Church during this time, however, showed ambivalence towards classical rhetoric.
  • As a speaker, John was without peer, considered to be the greatest preacher and biblical commentator of the Greek Church. At the time of the most highly developed and critically appreciated art form of oratory, he was considered the
  • John was known to rebuke audiences when they applauded his sermons because he wanted God to have all the glory, and to let the people know that the Author and the Message were more important than the He taught his disciples to be indifferent to praise.

On his approach to Scripture

  • Unlike many in the centuries preceding him, John rejected the Alexandrian school of allegorical interpretation. He studied the text with the historical, literal hermeneutic, as many did in the Antiochian school of interpretation. By a measurable standard, this hermeneutic had an infinitely better impact upon the Church than the allegorical strand. This hermeneutic was criticized heavily by the church, yet John was so adamant about it that he even converted Jerome to this kind of interpretation, prompting the latter to abandon allegorical preaching.
  • To this day, people read John’s sermons and weep because he re-created the “world” of the text with such realism. He believed the Bible to be literally true and that the message from God was plainly in the text. There was no need to equate two coins from the Samaritan with the Old and New Testament. The message was clear from the context (love your neighbor).
  • John’s sermons sounded like a commentary being read, and he was a careful exegete. He thought it was important to apply the text and to exhort others to obey. However, he engaged listeners closely, sometimes almost dialoguing with them. Sometimes they were so moved that applause erupted for long periods of time. In other words, part of his gift in preaching narrative was due to having his audience–the common people–involved in the story. He also excelled in preaching the Pauline letters because he would use Old Testament stories to illustrate Paul’s straightforward points.

On his role as a preacher

  • Chrysostom considered his role as a preacher to be an extension of the Holy Spirit’s work, that of exhorting people to live their lives in ways consistent with their Christian calling. He gave great moral and spiritual examples. 
  • John taught that it was not enough to simply know what Christians believe, but that one must think rightly about God and the Bible, and thus make their faith their own. That is, their reflections must impact their core beliefs and convictions, and so make those the motivating force in their lives. 
  • He preached against Arianism and neo-Arianism (Antinomianism), thus defending the deity of Christ. He also preached against Christians who practiced Jewish ceremonial practices.
  • John wrote commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, John, and six other NT letters, and managed to preach through all of them as well (Romans, 1 Corinthians & 2 Corinthians are still completely preserved).
  • He used many illustrations in his sermons, especially relying on images from athletics, military, and agriculture of his day.
  • The power of John’s preaching came from his focus on Christ, even when his sermons would delve into other topics related to the Christian life. Still, one writer states, “By far the most frequent theological issue that John addressed was the person of Christ, the relationship of the Father to Son, the particularities of the incarnate life of the Son, and the relationship of the human and divine natures.” He was enamored with the deity of Christ, and His condescension to take on human flesh. In our day and age, where Christianity has been reduced to