Kerysso and Euaggelizio : Two words translated preach that shouldn’t be

Neither of the two common words translated preach actually define the medium used.    One means to share the gospel (euaggelizo) and one means to proclaim something (kerysso).

Here is an example of euaggelizo in Peter’s one on one meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached [euaggelizo] Jesus to him.

(Act 8:35 NASB)

In this example is pretty clear that the word euaggelizo is more about the sharing of a specific message than the method it is shared in.

What about kerysso?

We proclaim [kerysso] Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

(Col 1:28 NASB)

Most of the time the NASB renders kerysso as preach but in this case the translators render it “proclaim.” Just like euaggelizo the word kerysso doesn’t define the medium.  One can kerysso, or proclaim something through a sermon, monologue, published writing, blogs, dialogue, art, music, debate, teaching etc…   In Colossians 2 Paul is saying Jesus is being proclaimed/heralded/announced and one of the mediums listed is teaching.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the following:

1. kerýsso and Other Words for Proclamation.

The NT uses many words for the proclaiming of the Christian message, e.g., légein, laleín, martyreín, didáskein. It is a mistake simply to render such terms, and kerýssein itself, by “to preach.” Fundamentally kerýssein is the declaration of an event.

If kerysso is fundamentally the declaration of an event it is more like the English words proclaim, declare, announce, or even herald.  Oddly enough in many churches the only kerysso being made is after the first song when the worship leader tells you who is getting married, buried and when the bake sale is on.  The sermon itself is often more about addressing felt needs and practical concerns than proclaiming the gospel.   The idea of kerysso being an announcement or declaration is consistent with what we see in scripture.  Paul was called by God to announce the gospel to the world.  He was sent by God to declare the coming of the messiah, his death and resurrection and the opportunity for new life in his name.

Why then would so many render kerysso preach?  I can’t get into the heads of the translators but my best guess would be that the translator looks at the context of the proclamation, if to them it looks like a public speech they translate the word preach.  My worry is that we are reading contemporary church practice in to the new Testament.  When we see how ministry is described in Acts and 1Corinthians we see very little if any preaching ministry to Christians.  There are some instances where there could have been a sermon but we just can’t be sure.

The stalwart passage used by advocates of preaching is 2Tim 4:1-4.  Kerysso is the word often translated preach in 2Tim 4:2.    It seems shaky to point to 2Tim 4:12 as evidence that one specific medium should be central in the life of the church when the words used in the passage don’t explicitly define the medium.    Does the context of 2Tim 4:12 imply something resembling the practice of the modern sermon?    Most translators seem to think so as they render the word kerysso “preach” but not all do.   The NRSV and the NJB render kerysso “proclaim” and I think it fits better.

Here is the passage with a little more context.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim [kerysso] the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

(2Ti 4:1-4 NRSVA)

It seems to me that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready to proclaim the message in any situation he finds himself in.   Be ready to do it by convincing people, rebuking and encouraging.   To proclaim it with patience in teaching.  I don’t know that it fits as well to say that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready at all times to engage in a 30 minute exposition of scripture to a quiet audience.

The NRSV consistently renders kerysso as proclaim rather than preach.

At this risk of reading my own church context, a house church context in to the text but it just doesn’t make sense to assume that sermons dominated the  ministry of the early apostles.  We don’t do justice to the text when we assume that kerysso = preaching or  euaggelizo = preaching.  Unfortunately most of our translations make this assumtion in every situation where it isn’t abundantly clear that such a medium isn’t used.

The medium of preaching is designed for a larger crowd, and aside from a few largely evangelistic encounters, the church didn’t meet in large groups.  They almost exclusively met in homes.

What Paul describes in 1Cor 14:26 fits a house church context.  When the church gathered everyone had an opportunity for ministry.  If someone had a lengthy teaching to give, they could have provided it, but we know people asked questions and discussed what is taught because Paul instructed some of the women that were causing problems to talk to their husbands at home about their questions.  These were also the same women that needed to have their heads covered when they prayed or prophesied.  There was generous participation and even the people considered of lower societal status engaged in powerful influential ministry like prophesy.

We have to read these passages in the context of the church as it functioned then, not as it functions now.  Oratory is a medium for a crowd and the early church had very few.

2 thoughts on “Kerysso and Euaggelizio : Two words translated preach that shouldn’t be”

  1. Thank you, Leighton, for articulating this so clearly. I have come to the conclusion that “preaching” in the NT was in the evangelistic sense of a person speaking to a gathering of non-believers, trying to convince them to change. Within the gathering of the body, like you say, a smaller grouping, teaching happens in a dialogue fashion.
    Our sermon style is really based on a secular model which developed in the first centuries after Christ. Sadly, we continue to hold this method in high esteem. We require the pastor to devote significant time into research and preparation, assuming this is a very effective and necessary component of our gatherings. I wonder why we keep on doing what we’ve always done when the effectiveness is so questionable.

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