the weblog of Alan Knox

Just Semantics? (Preach)

Posted by on Dec 11, 2008 in discipleship, scripture | 24 comments

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: κηρύσσω (kērussō) and εὐαγγελίζομαι (euangelizomai). κηρύσσω (kērussō) generally means proclaim aloud, mention publicly, announce. This is similar to definition #2 above. The second term, εὐαγγελίζομαι (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 (κηρύσσωkērussō) to them the Christ. (Acts 8:5 ESV)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news (εὐαγγελίζομαιeuangelizomai) 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 (κηρύσσωkērussō) 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 (κηρύσσωkērussō)? (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?


Just Semantics?
1. Servant
2. Pastor
3. Worship
4. Preach


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-11-2008

    Well the obvious one is “church”

  2. 12-11-2008

    I think the term gospel is often used in a broader sense than just proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

  3. 12-11-2008


    How about “preaching” elder, or “preaching” conferences. I actually have a quote on the blog about interactive versus monologue preaching. A great Reformer once said “where the word of God is faithfully “preached”, sacraments faithfully administered…., there is a church”. I know you don’t want to go against the great reformers do you?

    Even in preaching the good news to the lost there has to be room for interaction, questions, calrifications, but no sir preaching is what defines most churches and as I discussed with a young disciple of Christ, leaving a church because the “preaching” isn’t expository and powerful is like leaving your wife, because she doesn’t fold the towels correctly.

  4. 12-11-2008

    Lionel – Were you being sarcastic about challenging the “Great Reformers”? I most certainly hope so… The bible says nothing about ‘sacrements’, only breaking bread with one another. I’m having a hard time really figuring out what you’re saying with your comment…

    Alan, awesome post. As for other terms that we read our own definitions into…. what about Prayer? It seems like I hear so many people talk about prayer like it’s some kind of mechanical, formulatic thing, like the more people you have praying for something = the better chance of getting the results you want. Like raising money for some charity or something….

  5. 12-11-2008


    Yeah very sarcastic! Preaching now defines the church.

  6. 12-11-2008

    I like Daniel’s suggestion, “prayer” in all of its forms would be a good one.

    Lionel, in defense of expository preaching, if you choose to attend a typical church where the sermon is a monologue I would argue you are far better off hearing an expository sermon than a feel-good sermon full of cute stories and anecdotes. Not defending the monologue style of preaching, I’m just saying that if that is your cup of tea…

  7. 12-11-2008

    You Preach it brother!

    Oh wait, that might be the wrong use of the term 🙁


  8. 12-11-2008


    Whats wrong with feeling good? Can’t be any worse than some of the great expositors that make you feel like you aren’t good enough to be a Christian then come back and say “well it is all about grace”. Hogwash! Or better yet a sermon that most people can understand. How about that one? LOL

  9. 12-11-2008


    Too obvious. 🙂

    Actually, that is a good one, and I’ve written about it before, I think.

    By the way, Jesus taught with simple stories.

    Joe (JR),

    Maybe. 🙂

    Its good to see you around here again.



    And sometimes gospel is used in a too narrow sense of only the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.


    Now you know me better than that… I would never refute the great reformers.

    Like a Mustard Seed,

    I’m praying for you… 🙂


  10. 12-11-2008

    Hi brother… nice to be around 🙂

    I was doing a little reading based on the premise of your post. I have a question regarding your assertion, “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. “

    Acts 5 says that the disciples “preached” (εὐαγγελίζομαι) the the Gospel from house to house. Is that not the church, or were they going house to house to the unsaved?

    “41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. “

    What about 1 Cor. 9

    “11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. “

    Paul seems to reference his preaching to the church at Corinth. Or worst, there is no way from this text that we can exclude the church as among the hearers of Paul’s preaching. Right?

    In Romans 1 Paul says he is eager to “preach” (εὐαγγελίζομαι) to the brethren.

    “11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. “

    It also seems that there is a place for the gospel to be preached even again to the believer. In 1 Cor 1, Paul talks about the belivers hearing another “false” gospel being preached. He does not disparage the preaching itself, but the content of the preaching to the church.
    “6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! “

    Okay, so that is a lot, I know. But I look forward to your insights on these passages as it relates to your assertion that preaching is NEVER for the church.


    I have another question regarding this assertion. You write, “Paul is not saying that “preachers” are “sent”, but that all believers are sent to proclaim the gospel.”

    This seems to be your assumption that Paul is saying “anyone” and “everyone” is called to “preach”. This is not a part of the context in this passage and after looking at all the passages that talk about “preaching” it seems that it refers to Apostles or specific people who were sent by the church (like Aopollos who was sent out from the church to Corinth). So while I am favorable to your assertion, if we are going to play the game on level ground and not do anything not explicitly stated in Scripture, where is the explicit and clear commendation that ALL believers should preach?



    As a final note, I find it unfortunate that to build up the call of all believers to proclaim the good news, we choose to tear down or disparage the value of the lengthy teaching of others. It seems that there is a place for both discussion and lengthy message (monologue)s in the church.

    Acts 15:32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.

  11. 12-11-2008

    Are you forgetting that 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4 is written to a young elder who is being instructed on ecclesiological issues, or am I understanding the context of that letter incorrectly?

    -Matt Emerson

  12. 12-11-2008


    1. Was Paul not working during the day and preaching the good news to all who would come through Corinth? That is what it seems like there. Why do you assume he was preaching to the church?

    2. Didn’t Paul say also in Romans that “I decided that I would not “preach” Christ where He has already been preached”? He decided since there was a church there that he did not need to preach Christ in Rome right?

    3. Aren’t we all called to make disciples Joe? Is it not neccessary to “preach” or proclaim the good news. Wouldn’t that be a prerequisite? Paul says “we are ambassadors” doesn’t the ambassador proclaim, or conveys what he who sends him tell him? It seems that we are all called to “proclaim” (preach) the gospel right? It seems to be a prerequisite to making disciples.

    4. What makes you assume that in Acts 15 that this message was a “monolouge”? So they just taught for a long time and no one asked any questions or raised concerns? Are you sure that is what happened here?

  13. 12-11-2008

    Joe (JR),

    Assertion #1: Yes, I believe that in Acts 5 and 1 Cor 9 Luke and Paul are referring to proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. Romans 1 COULD indicate that Paul was saying that he was proclaiming the gospel to believers in Rome. It could also say that he wants to proclaim the gospel with you who are in Rome. Which one is it? Well, since all other passages indicate that he proclaimed the gospel among unbelievers, this seems likely in Romans as well, especially since Paul said that he did not want to proclaim the gospel where someone else has proclaimed the gospel.

    Assertion #2: You are probably right here. In Romans 10, Paul is probably talking about those who have been specifically sent by the church away from home to proclaim the gospel (like apostles).

    General Comment: I am not against teaching – not at all. I teach fairly often. However, I do not take Scripture passage about “proclaiming the gospel” to unbelievers and apply them to myself when I teach the church. I also think that teaching can include dialogue:

    And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning (discussing) and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning (discussing) daily in the hall of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:8-9 ESV)

    Paul used discussion both when proclaiming the gospel to Jews in the synagogue and when teaching “disciples” in the school of Tyrannus.


    I think Paul expected Timothy to “proclaim the word” to unbelievers. Remember that at the end of 2 Tim 3 Paul says that the Scriptures help Timothy become wise for salvation. He then encouraged Timothy to proclaim (“preach”) that same word to others. Again, given the context in other passages of Scripture, this more than likely refers to proclamation to unbelievers.


  14. 12-12-2008

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think Romans 1 is fairly clear when Paul says I am eager to “preach to you”, but I will have to give these passages some further reading, and your perspective is worthy of consideration.

    Just one clarification though… So you believe that Acts 5 means the disciples were going house to house preaching to the unsaved and that was not house to house with the church? What makes you believe the phrase “house to house” refers to unsaved households and not the church as it does in Acts 2?

    Also, one quick point. My General Comment was not so much directed at your post here, but meant as a more generic observation. However, thanks for making your viewpoint clear. I knew that was your position, but maybe newer readers were not aware 🙂

    1. Why do you assume Paul worked in the day and taught at night? Maybe Paul was working the night tent-making shift? 🙂
    2. Paul is talking about his plan for church planting, that passage in Romans does not say he never preached to an existing church that he himself had planted.
    3. What passage do you see that calls all believers to preach? And can you show me where Paul tells the church, or individuals in the church, to make disciples?
    4. I made that assertion based on the wording of the passage. The verse says these two men gave “a lengthy message”, not that they facilitated a lengthy discussion. What makes you think it was not a monologue?

  15. 12-12-2008

    Joe (JR),

    I don’t think the phrase “house to house” on its own indicates that the context is the church. Instead, the context at the end of Acts 2 is the church. But the context in Acts 5 seems to indicate that the “preaching” was toward unbelievers since that’s what got them in trouble in Acts 4-5. (Notice especially the transition at the beginning of Acts 6:1.)


  16. 12-12-2008

    Alan, as an aside: being a student and instructor at a seminary, what sort of reception do your views get among those who are your peers, students and instructors? I can imagine that these men studying for vocational ministry in many cases have some concerns about your views…

  17. 12-12-2008


    I get a mixed reaction – that’s the best way to describe it.


  18. 12-12-2008

    I understand your point, but still disagree. 3:17 says that the Scriptures that made Timothy wise to salvation are also profitable to equip the man of God for every good work. It is after this statement that Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the Word, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. I think at the bottom of it you may be making too much of a distinction between preaching and teaching. Heralding the gospel and teaching the Word can’t be separated in my opinion. They are interconnected.

  19. 12-12-2008


    Thank you for continuing this conversation. You said: “I think at the bottom of it you may be making too much of a distinction between preaching and teaching. Heralding the gospel and teaching the Word can’t be separated in my opinion. They are interconnected.”

    If they are interconnected and cannot be separated, why do you think Paul exhorted Timothy to both “preach” and “teach” in 2 Tim 4:2? You might want to check these passags where “preach” and “teach” seem to be listed as separate activities: Matt 4:23, Matt 9:35, Matt 11:1, Luke 20:1, Acts 5:42, Acts 15:35, Acts 28:31, Eph 4:11, 1 Tim 2:7, 2 Tim 1:11.

    If you don’t agree with my distinction, then what distinction would you make in these passages?


  20. 12-13-2008

    I noticed this distinction also, but for most preaching is teaching on steroids or in the pulpit! :0)

    Ibelieve the nonbeliever is to receive preaching (proclaiming the evangel) while the disciple is to be taught by both exhortation and an accountability (the local community of faith living it out with them)by the church

  21. 12-13-2008

    I think this will be an interesting series on “semantics.” I enjoy the challenge to my preconceived ideas.


  22. 12-13-2008


    That seems like a valid distinction to me.


    I’m only doing these four posts in the series. I think you’d find many more words like these where we read modern definitions back into the Scriptures.


  23. 12-18-2008

    Sorry for not getting back to you on this. It’s been a busy week. Perhaps we can continue the conversation next semester at class breaks or something.


  24. 12-18-2008


    I look forward to it!



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