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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Preaching

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The essential nature of apostolic preaching is expressed in the two main words used throughout the NT: κηρύσσειν, ‘to proclaim as a herald’ (κῆρυξ), and εὐαγγελίζειν, ‘to tell good tidings’ (εὐαγγέλιον, ‘the gospel’), both of which are translated ‘to preach.’ Sometimes the full expression κηρύσσειν τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ‘to proclaim the gospel’ (Galatians 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:9), occurs, while εὐαγγελίζειν frequently characterizes the content of the good tidings, specifically as ‘the gospel’ (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 Corinthians 11:7, Galatians 1:11), or more variously as ‘Jesus Christ’ (Acts 5:42), ‘peace’ (Ephesians 2:17), or ‘the word’ (Acts 15:35). Other expressions, such as ‘proclaim Christ’ (καταγγέλλειν Χριστόν, Philippians 1:17 f.) and ‘testify the gospel (διαμαρτύρεσθαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον) of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24), help to make clear that preaching was primarily the proclamation of good tidings from God, the heralding of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of men.

To get back to the NT standpoint it is necessary to rid one’s mind of the preconception that preaching was giving a sermon or delivering a discourse elaborated in accordance with certain recognized homiletical canons. Still less was it the detailed exegesis and exposition of a so-called text or isolated passage of Scripture, such as prevailed in the synagogue preaching. That the message was often supported by quotations from the OT is not doubted; but the apostolic preaching did not confine itself to appeals to Scripture. It was rather the spontaneous, authoritative announcement of a truth felt to be new to the experience of man, and explicable only in the light of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Saviour of men.

1. Preaching and teaching.-The function of preaching, as above outlined, is to be distinguished from teaching (διδαχή), in which the truths and duties of Christianity were more deliberately unfolded and applied. The content of the preaching and of the more elaborated instruction was necessarily often the same (Acts 5:42; Acts 15:35, Colossians 1:28). The preacher (κῆρυξ) was sometimes also a teacher (διδάσκαλος), especially in the more settled state of the early Church (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11). But, even so, a clearly marked distinction is made in the case of Paul ‘preaching (κηρύσσων) the kingdom of God, and teaching (διδάσκων) the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 28:31). The ability to preach or to teach was regarded as a gift of the Holy Spirit, but due regard was given to the ‘diversities of gifts’ and ‘diversities of ministrations’ even in these closely related activities. ‘To one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, … to another prophecy’ (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; cf. Romans 12:6 ff.). That a clearly marked differentiation of function was believed to be Divinely appointed appears from the two formal lists of spiritually gifted members, in which ‘teachers’ are mentioned after apostles and prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11). Preaching was the function of the apostles (in the wider meaning of the word) and of the prophets. Both travelled about, the former continuously in their missionary activities, the latter frequently settling down in one locality where their preaching would tend to edification and exhortation.

2. Qualification.-The work of preaching in the 1st cent. was regarded not as an office but as a ‘calling’ due to the gift of the Spirit. Apostolic preaching began with the command of Christ to the Twelve (Matthew 10:7, Mark 16:15; Mark 16:20); but it was after the bestowal of the Spirit at Pentecost as a ‘tongue of fire’ that this gift (χάρισμα) of inspired utterance became general in the early Church. Those who preached the gospel did so because they were under Divine compulsion (Acts 4:8; Acts 4:20; Acts 6:10; Acts 8:26). The Holy Spirit qualified them for this special work, and authenticated their message. They felt that they were commissioned by no mere human authority. Subjectively their call to preach consisted in a feeling of ‘necessity’ (1 Corinthians 9:16), but an objective test was applied to them and their message by the spiritual communities to which they ministered (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 John 4:1 f.). The Didache shows that at a later stage the tests were practical, if not drastic. The prophet must ‘have the ways of the Lord’ (xi. 8); he must practise what he preaches, and not ask for money (xi. 9-12). But the preacher, when duly approved, had the right to expect support (1 Corinthians 9:4 ff., 2 Corinthians 11:8 f., Did. xiii. 1-3), and was to be treated with great honour (Did. iv. 1). ‘The picture of these wandering preachers, men burdened by no cares of office, with no pastoral duties, coming suddenly into a Christian community, doing their work there and as suddenly departing, is a very vivid one in sub-apostolic literature’ (T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, 1902, p. 73).

3. Preaching and faith.-That preaching was the Divinely ordained means for the diffusion of Christianity appears from the successful appeal it made to the capacity for faith which is latent in all men. ‘Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17). The ancient world was familiar with much propaganda work done by travelling teachers of various philosophical schools. But the basis of appeal in these cases was to the speculative curiosity of their hearers. The preachers of the gospel, on the contrary, did not depend upon the assent of reason (1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4). Not that the gospel had no place in a rational view of man and his relation to the universe and God; there was a ‘wisdom’ to be spoken among mature believers (v. 6). But the message of the early Christian preachers was more in the nature of a Divine summons to the human heart to trust in the fatherly love of God and to believe in Jesus Christ as the pledge of His redeeming grace. It was a call to the human will, estranged by sin, to yield in trustful submission to the Divine will. The faith which the preacher sought to arouse was no mere intellectual belief in a system of doctrine, but an act of the whole personality, in which trust, belief, and volition united in a self-commitment to a Divine Person-God or Christ. And a careful study of the NT shows that such a close connexion between preaching and faith was established: ‘So we preach, and so ye believed’ (1 Corinthians 15:11). The philosophic teacher might capture the intellect, the mystery-monger might stir superstitious hopes and fears, but ‘the first Christian preachers testified that they had found salvation through faith in the Gospel of the Cross as they presented it. With the consciousness of the same need awakened, their hearers believed the testimony that was thus given them; they embraced the Saviour who was thus presented to them; and so believing, they entered into the same experience of salvation as belonged to their teachers’ (W. L. Walker, The Cross and the Kingdom2, 1911, p. 25 f.). The gifts of the Spirit received by the ‘hearing of faith’ authenticated both the believer (Galatians 3:2) and the preacher (1 Corinthians 2:4).

4. Kinds of preaching.-The preaching of the Apostolic Age was marked by great variety. The sources available for a characterization are the historical portions of Acts, together with the actual discourses contained therein, and also what may legitimately be inferred from the Epistles. The Epistles should not be regarded as specimens of apostolic preaching, being rather, in form and content, examples of primitive teaching. But they contain many allusions to preaching, and thus help us to reconstruct historically the conditions under which it took place, the forms it assumed, and its main doctrinal contents.

The variety of apostolic preaching was determined by the individuality of the speakers, the nature of their audiences, and the stage in the doctrinal development of the message. But beneath all differences a unity was preserved round the central theme of the Person and work of Jesus Christ in human redemption. It was ‘preaching Christ,’ whatever might be the local or personal conditions under which the message was proclaimed. Three main characteristics are to be noted. (a) First in historical order came the preaching to the Jews, which may be called Messianic. St. Peter’s addresses in Jerusalem and St. Paul’s sermons in the synagogues on his missionary journeys appeal to the resurrection of Jesus in proof of His Messiahship, and support it by quotations from the OT. Exhortations to repentance naturally followed this kind of preaching, especially as the exaltation and second coming of the Christ were emphasized. (b) Next there was the preaching to the Gentiles, which may be described as missionary. The evangelization of heathen without any knowledge of the Scriptures or of the facts concerning Jesus naturally employed different methods of appeal. On the negative side it exposed idolatry, superstition, and degrading notions of God, and condemned human sin. The positive element was the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all men. This included the facts of His earthly life, and His death and resurrection (Galatians 4:4, 1 Corinthians 15:3 f.). (c) The third kind of preaching was what may broadly be called edifying. It was addressed to congregations composed of Jewish Christians and converts won from heathenism. In these spiritual communities meetings for edification were held, in which every one who had a ‘gift’-whether of prophecy or interpretation, or ‘tongues,’ or praise (1 Corinthians 14:26 f.)-used it for the upbuilding of the Church. It was in such gatherings that preaching, in the more generally accepted sense of the term, was exercised.

In St. Paul, who is the preacher par excellence of the Apostolic Age, we see all the foregoing kinds of preaching illustrated, together with a marvellous variety of modes of address to win his hearers. In the case of Jews he appealed, like St. Peter, to the OT (Acts 13:40; Acts 13:47; Acts 15:15 f., Acts 17:2 f.). In Athens he did not hesitate to quote a pagan pcet (Acts 17:28), and expounded the philosophy of the Christian religion. To the people of Lystra (Acts 14:15 f.) he used the arguments of natural theology. But it was in Corinth that he opposed his central theme of ‘Christ crucified’ to the impurity, commercialism, and superstitions of the city (1 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 2:2). Attention has also been drawn (A. C. McGiffert, History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, 1897, p. 255) to the fact, which is often overlooked, that St. Paul in his preaching did much personal work among individuals (Acts 18:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:9), in addition to addressing audiences. The effective preaching of Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35) may be quoted as an earlier example of this ‘hand-to-hand work’ in Christian evangelization.

5. Content of apostolic preaching.-The elaborated doctrinal aspects of the gospel proclaimed by the apostles are dealt with in the artt._ Gospel and Teaching and those concerned with the points of biblical theology involved. All that can be attempted here is to indicate the main outlines of the subject-matter of the preaching of the apostles.

(a) God and Christ.-Our Lord proclaimed as good tidings the coming of the Kingdom of God. But after His death and resurrection a new content appears in the preaching of His followers, viz. the Person and work of Christ Himself. Not that the subject of the Kingdom was dropped (Acts 8:12; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:31); but it became subordinated to the gospel concerning Christ, through whom the Divine sovereignty was to be established on earth, and to the ultimate question about the nature of God and His grace, through which alone such a Kingdom could come among sinful men. As a basis for missionary Christological preaching the doctrine of the existence and unity of God would form a large element in the glad tidings to heathen living under the distractions of polytheism and demonism (Acts 17:22 ff., 1 Thessalonians 1:9). But undoubtedly in the forefront was the proclamation to all nations of the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:8). In one word, Christ was the main content of apostolic preaching. Among those who under stress of persecution went about ‘preaching the word’ was Philip, who in Samaria ‘proclaimed unto them the Christ’ (ἐκήρυσσεν τὸν Χριστόν, Acts 8:4 f.), while to the Ethiopian eunuch he ‘preached Jesus’ (εὐηγγελίσατο τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Acts 8:35). Others came to Antioch ‘preaching the Lord Jesus’ (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι τὸν Κύριον Ἰησοῦν, Acts 11:20). St. Paul warns the Corinthians against anyone who ‘preacheth another Jesus, whom we did not preach’ (ἐκηρύξαμεν, 2 Corinthians 11:4) and he rejoices when, even under conditions of faction, ‘Christ is proclaimed’ (Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, Philippians 1:18). The very Person of Jesus Christ constituted a gospel worth preaching. He embodied and expressed in human nature the final revelation of God (cf. John 14:9).

(b) Resurrection and Messiahship of Jesus.-It was no mere abstract conception of the personality of Jesus that was preached. As pointed out by B. Weiss, ‘like Jesus Himself, His apostles commence, not with a religious doctrine or an ethical demand, but with the proclamation of a fact’ (Biblical Theol. of NT, Eng. tr._, 1882-83, i. 173). That fact was the Messiahship of Jesus. But another fact formed the basis of this proclamation-and that was the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. ‘The resurrection of Jesus,’ says G. V. Lechler, ‘appears in primitive Christian preaching as the fundamental fact, the Alpha and Omega of apostolic announcement’ (Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, Eng. tr._, 1886, i. 267). Hence it was after the Resurrection and the supernatural gift at Pentecost that the apostles ‘ceased not to teach and preach (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι) Jesus as the Christ’ (Acts 5:42; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:14 f., Acts 4:10, Acts 5:31). This close connexion between the Resurrection and Messiahship of Jesus appears also in the preaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles. St. Paul declared in the synagogue at Thessalonica: ‘it behoved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead; and this Jesus whom I proclaim unto you is the Christ’ (Acts 17:3; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10). Later in Corinth he testified that ‘Jesus was the Christ’ (Acts 18:5), reminding them afterwards that the ‘gospel preached’ unto them was that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures … and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). It must be remembered that the good tidings of the resurrection of Jesus carried with it the glad message also of the believers’ share in the Messianic blessings (Acts 3:19-26), and a participation in the future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20 ff.; cf. Acts 17:18 St. Paul ‘preached Jesus and the resurrection’).

(c) Death and Atonement of Christ.-The earliest hearers of the gospel, however, could not lose sight of the prior sinister fact of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. That was a ‘stumbling-block’ to the Jews and ‘foolishness’ to the Greeks. But St. Paul found in the death of Christ the central theme of his preaching, for in it he discerned Christ’s redeeming work as Saviour of all men. ‘We preach’ (κηρύσσομεν), he says, ‘a Messiah crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). It was because ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18) was also the ‘word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:19) that St. Paul preached it so fervently, and because he had proved in his own experience that this, ‘his gospel,’ was the ‘power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’ (Romans 1:16). ‘Only a man,’ says W. Beyschlag, ‘in whom the Lord who is the Spirit has come to dwell, who exhibits the love of Christ in its transforming power, can kindle that flame of divine life in others; and the fire is spread, not by instruction in a doctrinal system, but by testimony to a personal experience of the gospel of God coming from the heart with individual truth and freedom’ (NT Theology, 1895, ii. 169). That this conception of the redeeming efficacy of the death of Christ formed a large part of apostolic preaching may be inferred from many different passages (Hebrews 9:13 f., 1 Peter 1:18 f., 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2).

To ‘preach Christ,’ then, was to proclaim, as good news to sinful and dying men, the many-sided fact of Christ, the whole scheme of salvation-pardon, regeneration, spiritual enrichment, personal immortality-involved in Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation. This may be seen from several expressions in which the term ‘preaching’ does not apply to the gospel message, e.g. ‘Moses hath in every city them that preach (κηρύσσοντας) him’ (Acts 15:21), where the whole Mosaic dispensation is the content of the preaching. Again, ‘the baptism which John preached’ (ἐκήρυξεν, Acts 10:37), and to ‘preach circumcision’ (Galatians 5:11), indicate clearly other and wider contents than ‘baptism’ and ‘circumcision.’ if to ‘preach Moses’ meant to proclaim the validity of the whole Mosaic legislation, then to ‘preach Christ’ involves not only the proclamation of the religions significance of Jesus Christ but the whole evangelical scheme of redemption and reconciliation that centres in Him. Hence one can ‘preach peace’ (Ephesians 2:17) in view of the results of the gospel, or ‘preach the faith’ (Galatians 1:23), or ‘preach the word of God’ (Acts 13:5) as a Divinely given message to be proclaimed and as a gospel of salvation.

Literature.-In addition to the works quoted above, see J. Ker, Lectures on the History of Preaching, 1888; M. Dods, ‘The Foolishness of Preaching.’ in Expositor’s Bible, ‘1 Corinthians,’ 1889; artt._ on ‘Preaching,’ by W. F. Adeney, in HDB_ and DCG_, and art._ on ‘Preaching Christ,’ by J. Denney, in DCG_; A. W. Momerie, Preaching and Hearing, 1886; J. B. Lightfoot, Ordination Addresses, 1890 pp. 3-119; J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 1910, p. 262; W. T. Davison, Strength for the Way, 1902, p. 137; R. W. Dale, Christian Doctrine, 1894, p. 302; J. M. E. Ross, The Christian Standpoint, 1911, p. 15; A. M. Fairbairn, Christ in the Centuries, 1893, p. 23.

M. Scott Fletcher.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Preaching'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/preaching.html. 1906-1918.

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