Biblical Words for "Preach" in Context
We've been spending some time on this blog looking at the concepts of preaching and teaching and how they relate to the church. If you are new to this series and have not seen the former posts, let me point you to them here:
- The Role of Teaching and Preaching -- An Introduction
- Preaching in the Church -- Is Nehemiah 8 the Model?
- Preaching in the Church -- continued
The comments on these posts have been really great, and I appreciate the involvement of all who have chosen to interact. I've been saying for some time now that I really want to look at the differences between teaching and preaching in the New Testament. The basic thrust of this series is that I have a hunch that the current model of church that we see here in America (and I know other western countries are very similar, too) is not a healthy one, and is not as biblically-based as many would like us to think. The concept of preaching is one area where I feel that we have missed the mark. Consider some of the following points that are rather common among most evangelical churches:
- Church is viewed as a place where lost people can come and be led to Christ (read 1 Corinthians 14 to see what perspective the gathering of believers has with relation to the unbeliever)
- The church service is almost always geared around a lengthy monologue of some sort from the same person who preaches every service
- People are expected to join a church and sit under the preaching of that one man (or whomever is preaching) for their entire lives. The only ones who get a "get out of jail free" card (don't take that too seriously!) are people who end up pastoring their own churches, or missionaries who travel to another country to evangelize and preach.
- A church is pretty much known by who its "pastor" is, and that pastor is viewed as the spiritual head of the church, as well as of each individual member, regardless of the size of the church and the corresponding ability for an actual personal relationship between the pastor and each member.
Since I've already attempted to show that Nehemiah 8 is not the model we should be using, it stands to reason that we need to look at what actually is talked about with regard to preaching and teaching in the New Testament. And with that, I'd like to first of all examine some uses of the word "preach" in the New Testament.
Please note that the nature of this blog is such that an exhaustive word study is not being presented. I am merely scratching the surface here to challenge your thinking and possibly cause you to search more on your own. If you have any questions about what I've included or what I've left out, however, feel free to address those questions in the comments section, and I'll answer them.
There are several different Greek words translated as "preach" in some versions. I have chosen to use the King James version for this word study, because I think it is through that version that a lot of our concepts of preaching have come. There are two words that appear more than any others. Those are the words kerusso (I'm using transliterations here since not everyone may have the same Greek font that I use) and euaggelizo.
Kerusso is basically defined as "proclaim" or "herald". This word is most often used in conjunction with the proclamation or heralding of the Kingdom of God. Throughout the Gospels, this is the word translated as "preach", with the two exceptions of Luke 4:43, which uses euaggelizo and Luke 9:60, which uses diaggello (defined as "to publish abroad").
Euaggelizo is defined as "to bring good news", and is used one time in the Gospels and translated as "preach". That is, as I just mentioned, in Luke 4:43. Throughout Acts and the epistles, however, both euaggelizo and kerusso appear in almost even numbers. In the vast majority of the verses where these words appear, and where context gives some indication of the purpose of the "preaching" being done, it seems to be clearly related to actual evangelism. Admittedly, it isn't as clear in every situation as we might hope (for the purpose of drawing distinct conclusions), but there are a couple of instances where it is most definitely referring to evangelism. Those are Romans 15:20 and Galatians 1:16.
Romans 15:20 says, "I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation." Here, Paul clearly states that his "preaching" was not a weekly task in a church full of believers, but evangelism in unreached places. Likewise, Galatians 1:16 says, "...that I might preach [Jesus] among the heathen...." Much as some pastors would admit that their congregation members seem like heathen (hehe), I don't think that's what Paul was talking about.
In the passages where evangelism is not clearly understood from the context, it is almost impossible to narrow down the purpose of preaching. While some passages are clearly evangelism, others are not clear at all. This includes 2 Timothy 4:2 which says, "Preach the Word". Context is not entirely clear in that passage, but Paul does exhort Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist", and I think that might give us a clue. Paul is seeming to be asking Timothy to carry on the work that he (Paul) had been doing, since his time was about gone in this life.
Regardless of how we interpret these "less clear" passages, one thing that I found is that there is never a clear example of "preaching" being done in the church gathering. One particular passage, however, that I have heard many times used to justify preaching in the church needs to be addressed. That is the story in Acts 20:7-12. Here, we read that Paul preached to them until midnight. In today's modern churches, it is easy to imagine that Paul must have stood up at a pulpit in the front, and preached to the people, monologue-style, for hours on end. I've been in some churches where that has pretty much happened! But something very important needs to be pointed out here. This word for "preach" is not kerusso. It's not euaggelizo. It's dialegomai. Does that word look like any English word you know? I'll give you a hint. It's different from our English word "monologue", and rhymes with "buy a log"! :) That's right. Paul "dialogued" with them until midnight. It was most certainly interactive teaching taking place.
So what about preaching, then? Does it have any place in the church? Well, quite honestly, it's hard to say. But I can say this: There is no clear example of a regular, weekly sermon being given in the New Testament church. And even if there were regular "sermons", it is not at all evident that the same man gave them every time. In fact, 1 Corinthians 14 deals with the fact that everyone can contribute something to a gathering of believers.
Many have suggested in the past that "prophecy" in the New Testament equates to our modern practice of preaching. I don't think that is the case, though. Note a couple things about the instructions Paul gives there. First of all, he says that there should be two or three that speak. Secondly, he clearly instructs that if one gets a revelation while another is speaking, the first should be silent and let the second speak!
Preaching is clearly used in the New Testament (this much we do know) in an evangelistic environment. In other words, regardless of whether or not you agree with his theology (that is not under debate in this context), Billy Graham preaches in a way that is consistent with the New Testament. He preaches publicly, with the intended audience being unbelievers (Acts 2, Acts 4, etc.) and preaches the basic truth of the Gospel to them, basically proclaiming the Kingdom of God. I believe there will always be a need for that kind of preaching.
Next time, we'll take up the words translated as "teach" and see what we can find.
Until next time