In this series, I plan to examine the use of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – usually translated “preach”) in the Old Testament. Specifically, I will examine the use of the term “preach” in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Why is it important to study the use of certain terms in the Old Testament? Today, there are many different definitions of the English verb “preach.” However, the authors of the New Testament were primarily Jews who were acquainted with the Greek texts of the Old Testament. Their understanding of many terms (such as “preach”) would be influenced by the way the terms are used in the Old Testament.
Now, obviously, since these Christian writers are also part of the Greco-Roman culture, the meaning of terms (like “preach”) could also be influenced by the term’s use in the general culture. Therefore, this study is incomplete without a study of how the various terms are also used by other writers at that time.
Also, it is possible that the meaning of some terms had changed since the time that the Old Testament was translated into Greek until the time the New Testament books were written. Up to 300 years had passed between the time that the LXX translation began and the first of the New Testament books was written. If this is the case (i.e. if the meanings had changed), then we would need to look in the text of the New Testament (or the writings of the culture at large) to find evidence that the meanings had changed.
For many terms, the New Testament writers indicated that the terms were being used in different ways than we might find in the Old Testament or the culture in general. For example, in Matthew 20:25-28 (and the parallels in Mark 10:42-45 and Luke 22:25-26), Matthew indicates that Jesus uses terms like “leaders” and “first” and “greatest” in ways that are different from the general cultural usage.
There are other terms that the New Testament writers use in new ways and with new meanings. However, when words are not specifically defined in the New Testament, we can only understand them from cultural and/or historical meanings. Thus, a study of the meanings and usage of words in the Old Testament can be helpful.
The term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) is one of those terms that is used in the New Testament without a new definition. So, for instance, if we want to know what Jesus did when he began preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), we will not find that description in the pages of the New Testament. Similarly, if we want to know what Paul intended Timothy to do when Paul told him to “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), we will search in vain for a definition of “preach” in Paul’s writings.
Assigning meanings to this word based on current definitions can be anachronistic – that is, we may be assigning later meanings to the term, meanings which were not valid when the texts were written/translated. Therefore, we should begin by searching usage in the Old Testament. Perhaps the way the Old Testament writers used the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) can help us understand how the New Testament authors used the term.
There are 26 uses of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) in the canonical books of the LXX (the Greek Old Testament): Genesis 41:43; Exodus 32:5; 36:6; 2 Kings 10:20; 2 Chronicles 20:3; 24:9; 36:22; Esther 6:9, 11; Proverbs 1:21; 8:1; Hosea 5:8; Micah 3:5; Joel 1:14; 2:1, 15; 4:9; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4, 5, 7; Zephaniah 3:14; 9:9; Isaiah 61:1; Daniel 3:4. Similarly, there are five uses of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) in the non-canonical books which are usually included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament: 1 Esdras 2:1; 1 Maccabees 5:49; 10:63, 64; Psalms of Solomon 11:1.
In the following posts in this series, I’ll examine these passages in the order listed above, in these divisions: Genesis – Micah (post 2) and Joel – Daniel + the non-canonical books (post 3). Finally, I’ll end the series with a summary in which I’ll draw some tentative conclusions for our modern understanding of the use of the term κηρύσσω (kerusso – “preach”) in the New Testament.