In three posts, I’ve looked at the use of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – usually translated “preach”) in the Old Testament. I’ve explained why it is important for us to study the meaning of words in the Old Testament, especially in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. I’ve posted all passages in the Old Testament and the non-canonical books which include the term κηρύσσω (kerusso). I’ve concluded that in these passages, the meaning of the term is closer to the English verb “announce” than to any of the definitions of the English word “preach”.
However, as I mentioned in the introduction, it is possible that the meaning of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso) changed in the 200-300 years between the time of the start of the translation of the Old Testament into Greek and the writing of the New Testament books. Instead of going through all of the uses of the term term κηρύσσω (kerusso), I am only going to look briefly at the works of two writers: Josephus and Philo. These two have much in common with the New Testament authors. First, they wrote around the same time that the New Testament authors wrote their books (Josephus wrote before 100 AD, and Philo wrote before 50 AD). Second, they both came from a Jewish background. Here is one passage from each author (there are other passages from these authors, but the usages are similar):
Now, when he had pitched his camp on the west side of the city, the guards that were there shot their arrows and threw their javelins at them, while others ran out in companies, and attacked those in the forefront; but Herod commanded a proclamation [preaching] to be made at the wall, that he was come for the good of the people and the preservation of the city, without any design to be revenged on his open enemies, but to grant amnesty to them, though they had been the most obstinate against him. (Jospheus, Jewish Wars 1:295)
Do you not see how they are utterly unaffected by the prizes proposed to them? They are fat, they are stout, they are sleek, they breathe hard; then they take up the actions of impiety, miserable and wretched men that they are, seeking a melancholy reward, being proclaimed [preached] and crowned as conquerors by ungodliness. For by reason of the prosperity which was constantly flowing gently towards them, they looked upon themselves as silver or golden gods, after the fashion of adulterated money, forgetting the real and true coinage. (Philo, Congr. 159)
As you can see in these passages (and in the other passages in the writings of Josephus and Philo), the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) still carries a meaning that is closer to the English verb “announce” than to the English verb “preach”. By the way, the English verb “proclaim” would also be a near synonym, but I have refrained from using that verb. Many times, the verbs “proclaim” and “preach” are used as synonyms, but they are not synonyms in the usages of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso) as we have seen.
If κηρύσσω (kerusso) is more correctly translated “announce” instead of “preach”, what does this mean for New Testament usages. Well, let’s look at a few passages:
From that time Jesus began to preach [announce], saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming [announcing] the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ESV)
And proclaim [announce] as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:7 ESV)
There are other passages in the Gospels, but all of the usages are similar to these. It seems that “announce” is a good translation of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso), although it might change our understanding of what Jesus was doing and what he commanded his followers to do. But, what about in Acts and the epistles?
And immediately he proclaimed [announced] Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20 ESV)
He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming [announcing] the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31 ESV)
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 [announcing]? And how are they to preach [announce] unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed [announced] among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
So, what do we do with the famous preaching passage 2 Timothy 4:2?
Preach [Announce] the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)
Instead of being a command to “preach a sermon based on Scripture”, it seems that Paul is telling Timothy to both be ready to “announce the gospel” (Paul often uses “word” as a short-hand for the gospel), and to teach. By the way, this matches what Jesus did as well (see Matthew 4:23 above).
So, while discussions and arguments rage about the proper method of “preaching” (i.e. expository, topical, narrative), perhaps its time to recognize that when we read “preach” in Scripture, it does not mean “preach” as we define it.
Instead of focusing our efforts on three points and a poem, or spending hours reading what so-and-so said about such-and-such a passage or topic in Scripture, we need to be announcing that the kingdom of God is here… that Jesus Christ is the Messiah… etc. For those who respond to our announcement, we can begin teaching and discipling them.