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“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

--The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27

D. A. Carson explains what he meant:

When Paul attests that this is what he proclaimed to the believers in Ephesus, the Ephesian elders to whom he makes this bold asseveration know full well that he had managed this remarkable feat in only two and a half years.

In other words, whatever else Paul did, he certainly did not manage to go through every verse of the Old Testament, line by line, with full-bore explanation. He simply did not have time.

What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively.

It embraced

  • God’s purposes in the history of redemption (truths to be believed and a God to be worshiped),
  • an unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption, and destiny (a worldview that shapes all human understanding and a Savior without whom there is no hope),
  • the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments to be obeyed and wisdom to be pursued, both in our individual existence and in the community of the people of God), and
  • the pledges of transforming power both in this life and in the life to come (promises to be trusted and hope to be anticipated).

--D. A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit,” in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, ed. Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson [Crossway, 2007], pp. 177-178; bullets and italics added.

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8 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Preach the Whole Counsel of God?”

  1. Steve says:


    Perhaps it was my question on a previous ‘whole counsel’ post a few days ago that precipitated this post. In any case, thank you for this.

    The Acts 20:27 passage has been haunting my thoughts and prayers as of late. Especially as I prepare the under-25s of my congregation to live mature, adult Christian lives.

    As someone who only gets 25 sermons or so a year to deliver, I just don’t think I can preach through all 66 book of the canon. I suspect it might be my best use of the pulpit to try it.

    I can, however, with God’s grace and strength, endevour to do what Carson says here.

    Thanks again,
    Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    1. Steve says:

      OOPS, I meant to say:

      As someone who only gets 25 sermons or so a year to deliver, I just don’t think I can preach through all 66 book of the canon. I suspect it might NOT be my best use of the pulpit to try it.

  2. truthmatters says:

    What does it mean to preach the whole counsel of God? I’ve heard it summed in two words; “Law-Grace.”

  3. tom says:

    well said, both comments and article, tom

  4. Don Sartain says:

    So, more touching on the aspects of the meta-narrative (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) as we live life and have the opportunity to share with others??

  5. Dante Spencer says:

    Read Richard Gaffin’s on Acts 20:27 in “Book of Books” edited by J White (P&R, 1978). Paul did not mean “the whole Bible” – many NT books had not even been written yet! The answer is in the context (see vv.22,24,25) and Gaffin leads us to Eph 1:3ff for illumination.

  6. telos104 says:

    I find it somewhat interesting that this is taken a end all, be all approach to preaching/teaching, when, as it was stated above, that the entire Bible hadn’t been written at the time Paul said this. Maybe the question should be if Paul was able to teach every book, would he? Should we? As interesting, no more, is how so many assume that when Paul says “whole counsel” they assume a redemptive-historical approach/grid (in the modern reformed view)! The Dispensationalists do the same. Someone wiser than me once said, chuck the system, go with the Bible…

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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