In this series, I’m going to discuss various biblical terms that are often misused or misunderstood because of the way we use the English terms today. In other words, we often read our modern day definitions into scriptural words. This is not a valid way to understand Scripture.
In this post, I would like for us to consider the English term “preach”. This is what wiktionary says about the verb “preach”:
1. Give a sermon.
2. Advocate or support verbally in an insisting, urging, or inciting manner.
In Scripture, this term usually translates two Greek terms: ÎºÎ·ÏÏÏƒÏƒÏ‰ (kÄ“russÅ) and Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎµÎ»Î¯Î¶Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (euangelizomai). ÎºÎ·ÏÏÏƒÏƒÏ‰ (kÄ“russÅ) generally means proclaim aloud, mention publicly, announce. This is similar to definition #2 above. The second term, Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎµÎ»Î¯Î¶Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (euangelizomai), generally means to bring or announce good news.
If you study the usage of these two terms in Scripture, you’ll find something very interesting. They are always used in the sense of announcing the gospel or proclaiming the word of God outside the context of the church, that is, to unbelievers. They are never used (as far as I can tell) in the context of the church meeting. For example, consider these passages:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed (ÎºÎ·ÏÏÏƒÏƒÏ‰ – kÄ“russÅ) to them the Christ. (Acts 8:5 ESV)
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news (Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎµÎ»Î¯Î¶Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ – euangelizomai) about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12 ESV)
Notice that even when the terms are used in Paul’s letters written to churches, the terms refer to proclamation that happened before the people were part of the church:
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed (ÎºÎ·ÏÏÏƒÏƒÏ‰ – kÄ“russÅ) to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV)
However, today, it is common to use the term “preach” in the context of the church. In fact, many believe that the purpose for meeting with the church is to learn from “preaching”. To take this further, the “preacher” – that is, the one who preaches – has been turned into a title or position for a specific person within the church. Instead, in Scripture, this term relates to anyone and everyone who proclaims the truth of the gospel of the kingdom of God.
For example, consider this familiar passage:
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching (ÎºÎ·ÏÏÏƒÏƒÏ‰ – kÄ“russÅ)? (Romans 10:14 ESV)
Paul is not saying that people need a “preacher” – that is, an official in the church. He’s saying that they cannot hear unless someone – anyone – proclaims the gospel to them. In the following verse, Paul is not saying that “preachers” are “sent”, but that all believers are sent to proclaim the gospel.
When we read the English words “preach” or “preacher” in the Scriptures, we should think about someone who is proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers outside the context of the church. In fact, we should think about our own responsibility to proclaim the gospel. If, instead, we think about some titled position or office in the church which is synonymous with “pastor” or “elder” then we are not understanding the Scriptures the way the original author (and God!) intended for us to understand.
These (“servant”, “pastor”, “worship”, “preach”) are just a few examples of how meaning is important. It is illegitimate to read modern definitions of these words, and others, back into the Scriptures. Instead, we should understand what the words meant in their contexts – not in our contexts. I picked these words because they directly impact the meeting of the church. But, there are many other words that are often misunderstood in Scripture because of modern usage. Can you think of any?