Was Martyn Lloyd-Jones a biblical theologian?

Over the last two weeks, I have been making my way through Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Not surprisingly, I have appreciated Lloyd-Jones’ pastoral forthrightness, his homiletic wisdom, and his overwhelming confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, but what I have been surprised by is his emphasis on biblical theology. He writes:

If then I say that preaching must be theological and yet that it is not lecturing on theology, what is the relationship between preaching and theology? I would put it like this, that the preacher must have a good grasp, of the whole biblical message, which is of course a unity. In other words, the preacher should be well versed in biblical theology which in turn leads on to a systematic theology.

It is not enough merely that a man should know the Scriptures, he must know the Scriptures in the sense that he has got out of them the essence of biblical theology and can grasp it in a systematic manner. He must be so well versed in this that all his preaching is controlled by it (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 1971, p. 66, 117).

As I ponder these quotations, the question forms in my mind, does Lloyd-Jones conceive of biblical theology in the same way that we do today? Or does his mention of biblical theology simply mean theology that comes from the Bible? Not being a Lloyd-Jones expert—having only read Preaching and Preachers once, listened to John Piper’s biography a handful of times, and heard a couple audio sermons—I am not the best one to answer the question, but let me propose a few thoughts.

First, Lloyd-Jones radical commitment to expounding the Scriptures, sometimes one word at a time, reveals a doctrine of God’s Word that affirms inspiration, authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity. The significance of this is that, though his sermons were often atomistic, they exalted the Scriptures in the same way that modern biblical theologians do.  Both biblical theology and Lloyd-Jones believed that all Scripture is God-breathed and thus at every level is useful for teaching, reprooving, correcting, and training in righteousness.

Second, from the passages quoted above, it is evident that Lloyd-Jones recognized the unity of the Bible. He commends and demonstrates in his preaching an intratextual approach to preaching that again is commisserate with biblical theology.  He could be criticized for filling his sermons with too much extraneous theological content, but in so doing he was drawing from vast resevoirs of Scriptural Truth.  So, this too demonstrates a biblical-theological commitment.

Third, as a Reformed pastor, Lloyd-Jones would have been familiar with Princeton’s Geerhardus Vos and his Biblical Theology. First published in 1948, this landmark volume would have been released in the middle of Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit ministry.  Moreover, Banner of Truth claimed the copyright of this book and began publishing it in 1978.  Certainly, he must have been aware of Vos’s redemptive-historic approach to the Scriptures.   With this said, it is unlikely that Lloyd-Jones would use “biblical theology” in a non-technical sense.

Fourth, another reason for believing that Lloyd-Jones used the term “biblical theology” in its technical sense and not just as a passing reference to theology that adheres to the Bible is that Edmund Clowney was in the audience when the Welsh doctor gave these lectures (see Lloyd-Jones preface where he thanks Professor Clowney).  It seems probable that in his presence, Lloyd-Jones would have used the term in its more technical sense.  Since, eight years earlier, Clowney had published his own treatise on Preaching and Biblical Theology.

So considering this scant evidence, should we say that Lloyd-Jones is a biblical-theologian? Tentatively, I respond in the affirmative because it seems that Lloyd-Jones usage of the term was done with specificity to commend the importance and place of biblical theology in preaching.  Likewise, the context in which he spoke certainly would have required a technical usage. However, the more pressing question becomes, did Dr. Lloyd-Jones adhere to a biblical theology in his own preaching? Here I must concede to those of you who have read and heard more of Lloyd-Jones than myself. Still from the little I have read and heard, it seems that his surgical precision with the text masked any overt notions of biblical theology. Nevertheless, from his comments in Preaching and Preachers and his absolute commitment to reading the Scriptures theologically (64-65), I would conclude that underneath his preaching mantle the good doctor was also a well-informed biblical-theologian. Certainly, his preaching was marked by theological acuteness and biblical faithfulness, and together I think this commends at least tendencies towards biblical theology, if not a purposeful use of the discipline.

In that spirit, may we continue to study the story of redemption found in history and then unleash its power in faithful exposition of its individual texts. This is what Martyn Lloyd-Jones did and is something that young preachers should consider and imitate as they see his faithful application of a biblical theology.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

4 thoughts on “Was Martyn Lloyd-Jones a biblical theologian?

  1. Hi. Mr. David. I am Peter JLim(M.Div, M.Th, Ph.D Course(2009-2010, 3/6) in Systematic Theology) who has almost all his books , of MLJ’s and have been reading so far for over 10 years. I just read this and I think I should say something to you. I think it is not a good attitude that much because you just read a couple books? or? I see your expressions “he would have” and “must have.” That means you wrote with some assumption. However you made that huge title.How could you do that? You are a responsible professor and this is not right according to Romans chapter 14, as well. You maybe have a temp to judge him but it was too quickly. I would like to ask a question. If he is not biblical, what about you and what about very many reformed pastors and professors (theologians) such as *TIM KELLER, *ALISTAIR BEGG, *R. C. SPROUL, *I. HOWARD MARSHALL, *JOHN MACARTHUR John Piper, J.I Packer, Presbyterian Banner, Evangeical Review of Theology, Tony Sargent, “Joe Stowell”, “Donald Macleod”, “Terry Virgo”, “John Brencher” etc. Are you a greater theologian, who read only one book or 2? book? than those? Your title is too much, I think. Brother David in Christ. God bless!!

  2. They(Tim K., R.C Sproul…) gave a good comments to MLJ and recommended and approved his books to church

  3. *TIM KELLER, *ALISTAIR BEGG, *R. C. SPROUL, *I. HOWARD MARSHALL, *JOHN MACARTHUR John Piper, J.I Packer, Presbyterian Banner, Evangeical Review of Theology, Tony Sargent, “Joe Stowell”, “Donald Macleod”, “Terry Virgo”, “John Brencher” etc.
    All these people gave good comments on His books and recommened to church.

  4. Brother, I would suggest that you misunderstood my use of “biblical theology.”

    When I wrote this I was not questioning his biblical fidelity, but observing his emphasis on the discipline of “biblical theology.” As I am sure you know, biblical theology has diverse uses–theology that is biblical and biblical theology as a discipline (which is different than systematics, historical theology, etc.). It was this observation that I was highlighting, not questioning MLJ’s fidelity. As you rightly point out, he is well-revered as one of the foremost biblical expositors in the last century.

    Grace and peace,

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