The Case for Preaching (part 3)

January 19, 2007

This week I’d like to pick up a question raised in last week’s post. Should we think of “preaching” as something that is necessary within Christian gatherings? Or is this, in the biblical sense, only something to be restricted to evangelism?

The argument is that in the NT preaching almost always (some say always) occurs in the context of evangelism. On the other hand, Christians in the New Testament are ‘taught’ the word of God. It was even suggested by one commentor last week that preaching to believers might actually ‘stunt’ their growth (for an example of this argument, see this article).

My own view is that we cannot be so hard and fast with these distinctions. At least we shouldn’t preclude the idea that believers should be preached to. I think that Jay Adams’ comment below is reasonably fair:

Strictly speaking, the principal biblical words translated “preaching” do not correspond exactly to that activity to which we affix the label. They are somewhat narrower in scope. These words, kerusso and euangelizo, are used in the New Testament to describe “heralding” and “announcing the gospel.” They refer to evangelistic activities. The former always has to do with public proclamation of the good news, while the latter may be used to describe making the gospel known to either unsaved groups or individuals…On the other hand, the word didasko, translated “to teach,” more nearly corresponds to our modern use of the word preach, and has to do with the proclamation of truth among those who already believe the gospel…Though at times didasko seems also to be limited to evangelistic speaking, and occasionally it is possible that kerusso may refer to preaching to the saints… There are, then, two kinds of preaching (because of a deeply impressed use of the English word I shall use the term “preaching” to cover both evangelistic and pastoral speaking): evangelistic preaching (heralding, good news) and pastoral or edificational preaching (teaching).” Adams, J, Preaching with a Purpose, p 5-6

Building on the latter part of the quote, many have noted that in the NT preaching and evangelism do (more than ocassionaly) come together, and sometimes virtually overlap. Thus…

“…this distinction between preaching (as announcement to the unconverted) and teaching (as explanation, clarification, application, and exhortation to those already informed) even in New Testament times, was not always clear. Sometimes, people spoke interchangeably about the practice of teaching and preaching. Thus, whereas Matthew 4:23 declares that Jesus was “teaching in the synagogues;” Mark and Luke indicate that he was “preaching” (Mark 1:39, Luke 4:44). In Jerusalem, the same apostles who were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” were at the same time “teaching the people” (Acts 4:2). Whereas the term preaching consistently refers to the message announced, the term teaching may have people as its object.

In Antioch, the work of Paul and Barnabas is described as “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35). Since teaching is mentioned before preaching in this verse, it may be that the major emphasis of their work at this place and time was in teaching the brethren while their secondary emphasis was on preaching to the unconverted. In any case, preaching and teaching go together. He who preaches (announces to the unconverted) also generally teaches (explains, clarifies, applies, and exhorts those who are already familiar with what has already been announced).” (Ref)

All this to say that I think drawing unyielding boundaries between the two is unhelpful. Perhaps, let me suggest, all clear preaching must include aspects of teaching, whilst all biblical teaching requires an element of gospel preaching. In this regard, I’d recommend Tim Keller’s article: we never get beyond the gospel. (HT: JT) We certainly need to keep preaching the gospel to Christians!



  1. Thanks for another excellent and thought provoking article, Colin. I agree that we shouldn’t be too hard and fast in some of the distinctions we make. Stuart Olyott, one of my 2007 Books of the Week, begins his ‘Preaching Pure and Simple’ by showing how all good preaching must be a combination of heralding, evangelising, bearing witness and teaching.

  2. Thanks John. Actually I had been about to include the long quote from Olyott, which I’ve pasted in below:

    “…when someone is preaching, wherever they are doing it and whoever they are speaking to, they are doing all four of the things we have mentioned. In the New Testament we do not have one word for preaching to the lost and another word for preaching to the saved. We simply do not find messages known as ‘teaching messages’ while others are known as ‘gospel messages.’

    If we do not take this on board we will never be true preachers. We must get rid of the idea that there are two species of preaching, one of which is suitable for the unconverted, and the other for the converted. From now on we must reject the thought that preaching to the lost and preaching to the saved are two different phenomenoa. We must not drive a wedge between preaching and preaching. All preaching is the proclamation of salvation (in the fullest sense of that term) to men and women, boys and girls. It is true that the audience may be vastly different. It is true that unconverted audiences and converted ones do not have the same needs. It is therefore true that the way the Word is applied may have to vary considerably. But it is not true that the preaching given to an unconverted audience is of a different breed to that given to a converted audience.”

  3. How do you think 1 Tim. 5:17 bears on your argument, Colin? I note that most contemporary translations render ‘logō’ as ‘preaching’.

  4. Probably not greatly. It seems a little unclear as to how the verse should be translated. Some commentators see the distinction being between public proclamation – “the word” – and private catechising – “doctrine” (cf. Jamieson/ Fausett/Brown). Others interpret the meaning as “preaching and teaching” (AT Robertson)

    I’d probably lean to the latter approach, though its not 100% certain.

    The greatest danger in this text is to make the distinction that some have made (cf. Calvin!) between teaching and non-teaching elders. In this view, there is a “bench” (A. Barnes) of elders in a non-teaching capacity who can nonetheless be involved in leading the affairs of the church if required.

    This is an unnecessary interpretation I think. To quote Ray Steadman:

    “On reading this passage some people have felt that there are two classes of elders. Some churches divide them into ruling elders and teaching elders because Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

    But this verse does not necessarily imply that there are two classes of elders. There is really only one class: All elders are to preach and teach. In fact, in Verse 2 of Chapter 3 one of the qualifications listed for an elder is that he be “apt to teach.” An elder is an apt teacher; that is how a pastor or an elder leads a congregation. The Scriptures set the direction of life, and unless an elder is preaching or teaching from the Scriptures, he is not doing any leading. That is what constitutes the work of an elder, so all elders are to preach and to teach.

    But some labor in this. Some devote long hours to extensive preparation, and they teach often; they hardly have time left to earn a living in other ways. The apostle says that, “those who labor at preaching and teaching,” who have the skills, the gifts and the abilities to do this, are to be given “double honor.” Honor (respect) is to be given to all elders and pastors — that is the first honor.” (Ray Steadman)

  5. Sorry for not being clearer. The point I meant to highlight was that, however one translates the verse, the speaking/preaching/teaching in question seems to be directed at believers rather than unbelievers. After all, the injunction here concerns elders (i.e. shepherds of the flock) rather than apostles or evangelists.

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