The English term “to preach” is derived from the Latin praedicare (to proclaim, publish) and corresponds most closely in meaning with the Greek ke·rysʹso, being the common translation thereof. Ke·rysʹso means, basically, “to make proclamation as a herald; to be a herald, officiate as a herald; proclaim (as a conqueror).” The related noun is keʹryx and means “herald; public messenger; envoy; crier (who made proclamation and kept order in assemblies, etc.).” Another related noun is keʹryg·ma, which means “that which is cried by a herald; proclamation; announcement (of victory in games); mandate; summons.” Ke·rysʹso thus does not convey the thought of the delivery of a sermon to a closed group of disciples, but, rather, of an open, public proclamation. This is illustrated by its use to describe the “strong angel proclaiming [ke·rysʹson·ta] with a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals?’”—Rev. 5:2; compare also Matthew 10:27.
The word ev·ag·ge·liʹzo means “to declare good news.” (Matt. 11:5) Related words are di·ag·gelʹlo, “to declare abroad; give notice” (Luke 9:60; Acts 21:26; Rom. 9:17) and ka·tag·gelʹlo, “to publish; talk about; proclaim; publicize.” (Acts 13:5; Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 11:26; Col. 1:28) The principal difference between ke·rysʹso and ev·ag·ge·liʹzo is that the former stresses the manner of the proclamation, that it is a public, authorized pronouncement, and the latter stresses the content thereof, the declaring or bringing of the ev·ag·geʹli·on, the good news or gospel.
Ke·rysʹso corresponds in some measure with the Hebrew ba·sarʹ, meaning “to bear news; announce; act as a news bearer.” (1 Sam. 4:17; 2 Sam. 1:20; 1 Chron. 16:23) Ba·sarʹ, however, does not imply official capacity to the same extent.
PREACHING IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Noah is the first person designated as a “preacher” (2 Pet. 2:5), although Enoch’s earlier prophesying may have been made known by preaching. (Jude 14, 15) Noah’s preaching righteousness prior to the Flood evidently included a call for repentance and a warning of coming destruction, as evidenced by Jesus’ reference to the people’s ‘failing to take note.’ (Matt. 24:38, 39) Noah’s divinely authorized public proclamation, therefore, was not primarily a bringing of good news.
Following the Flood, many men, such as Abraham, served as prophets, speaking forth divine revelations. (Ps. 105:9, 13-15) However, prior to the establishing of Israel in the Promised Land, this does not seem to have been done as regular or vocational preaching, in a public way. The early patriarchs were under no instructions to act as heralds. During the period of the kingdom rule in Israel, prophets did act as public spokesmen proclaiming God’s decrees, judgments and summonses in public places. (Isa. 58:1; Jer. 26:2) Jonah’s proclamation to Nineveh fits well the thought conveyed by keʹryg·ma, and is so described. (Compare Jonah 3:1-4; Matthew 12:41.) The prophets’ ministry, however, generally was much broader than that of a herald or preacher, and in some cases they employed others to act as their spokesmen. (2 Ki. 5:10; 9:1-3; Jer. 36:4-6) Some of their messages and visions were only written rather than orally proclaimed (Jer. 29:1, 30, 31; 30:1, 2; Dan. chaps. 7-12), many were given in private audience, and they also used symbolic acts to convey ideas.—See PROPHECY; PROPHET.
Not only admonition, warnings and judgments were proclaimed, but also good news—of victories, deliverance and blessings—as well as praises to Jehovah God. (1 Chron. 16:23; Isa. 41:27; 52:7; the Hebrew ba·sarʹ being used in these texts.) At times women cried out or sang the news of battles won or of coming relief.—Ps. 68:11; Isa. 40:9; compare 1 Samuel 18:6. 7.
The Hebrew Scriptures also pointed forward to the preaching work that would be done by Christ Jesus and the Christian congregation. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1, 2 as foretelling his divine commission and his authorization to preach. (Luke 4:16-21) In fulfillment of Psalm 40:9 (the preceding verses being applied to Jesus by the apostle Paul at Hebrews 10:5-10), Jesus “told the good news [form of ba·sarʹ] of righteousness in the big congregation.” The apostle Paul quoted Isaiah 52:7 (concerning the messenger bringing the news of Zion’s release from its captive state) and related it to the preaching work of Christians.—Rom. 10:11-15.
IN THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES
Though active primarily in the wilderness regions, John the Baptist did the work of a preacher or public messenger, heralding the approach of the Messiah and God’s kingdom to the Jews who came out to him and summoning them to repentance. (Matt. 3:1-3, 11, 12; Mark 1:1-4; Luke 3:7-9) At the same time John served as a prophet, a teacher (with disciples) and an evangelizer. (Luke 1:76, 77; 3:18; 11:1; John 1:35) He was “a representative of God” and His witness.—John 1:6, 7.
Jesus did not remain in the wilderness region of Judea after his forty-day fast there, nor isolate himself as in a monastic life. He recognized that his divine commission called for preaching work and he carried it on in a most public fashion, in the cities and villages, in the temple area, synagogues, marketplaces and streets, as well as in the countryside. (Mark 1:39; 6:56; Luke 8:1; 13:26; John 18:20) Like John, he did more than preach; his teaching receives even greater emphasis than his preaching. Teaching (di·daʹsko) differs from preaching in that the teacher does more than proclaim; he instructs, explains, shows things by argument and offers proofs. The work of Jesus’ disciples, both before and after his death, was thus to be a combination of preaching and teaching.—Matt. 4:23; 11:1; 28:18-20.
The theme of Jesus’ preaching was: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 4:17) Like an official herald, he was alerting his listeners to his Sovereign God’s activity, to a time of opportunity and decision. (Mark 1:14, 15) As foretold by Isaiah, he not only brought good news and comfort for the meek, brokenhearted and mourning ones, and the proclamation of release to captives, but also declared “the day of vengeance on the part of our God.” (Isa. 61:2) He boldly announced God’s purposes, decrees, appointments and judgments before rulers and people.
FOLLOWING JESUS’ DEATH
After his death, and particularly from Pentecost of 33 C.E. onward, Jesus’ disciples carried on the preaching work, first among the Jews and then to all the nations. Anointed by holy spirit, they recognized and repeatedly impressed upon their listeners that they were authorized heralds (Acts 2:14-18; 10:40-42; 13:47; 14:3; compare Romans 10:15), even as Jesus had stressed that he was ‘sent by God’ (Luke 9:48; John 5:36, 37; 6:38; 8:18, 26, 42), who gave him “a commandment as to what to tell and what to speak.” (John 12:49) Therefore, when ordered to cease their preaching, the disciples’ reply was: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29, 32, 42) This preaching activity was an essential part of their worship, a means of praising God, a requisite to the gaining of salvation. (Rom. 10:9, 10; 1 Cor. 9:16; Heb. 13:15; compare Luke 12:8.) As such, it was to be shared in by all disciples, men and women, down till the “conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 2:17; compare Acts 18:26; 21:9; Romans 16:3.
These early Christian preachers were not highly educated men by worldly standards. The Sanhedrin’s comment on certain apostles is that they were “men unlettered and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13) Of Jesus himself “the Jews fell to wondering, saying: ‘How does this man have a knowledge of letters, when he has not studied at the schools?’” (John 7:15) Secular historians noted the same points. “Celsus, the first writer against Christianity, makes it a matter of mockery, that labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men, should be zealous preachers of the Gospel.” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, Dr. Augustus Neander, pp. 46, 41, from the German, translated by Henry John Rose ) Paul explained it in this way: “For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame.”—1 Cor. 1:26, 27.
However, although not highly educated in worldly schools, the early Christian preachers were not untrained. Jesus gave extensive training to the twelve apostles before he sent them out to preach. (Matt. chap. 10) This training was not just the giving of instructions but a practical training.—Luke 8:1.
The theme of Christian preaching continued to be “the kingdom of God.” (Acts 20:25; 28:31) However, their proclamation contained added features as compared with that made prior to Christ’s death. The “sacred secret” of God’s purpose had been revealed through Christ, his sacrificial death had become a vital factor in true faith (1 Cor. 15:12-14), his exalted position as God’s assigned King and Judge must be known, recognized and submitted to by all who would gain divine favor and life. (2 Cor. 4:5) Thus, the disciples are often spoken of as ‘preaching Christ Jesus.’ (Acts 8:5; 9:20; 19:13; 1 Cor. 1:23) An examination of their preaching makes clear that their ‘preaching Christ’ was not such as isolated him in the minds of their listeners as though somehow independent or detached from God’s kingdom arrangement and overall purpose. Rather, they proclaimed what Jehovah God had done for and through his Son, how God’s purposes were being fulfilled and would be fulfilled in Jesus. (2 Cor. 1:19-21) Thus, all such preaching was to God’s own praise and glory, “through Jesus Christ.”—Rom. 16:25-27.
Their preaching was not performed simply as a duty, nor did their heralding consist merely of speaking out a message in a formal way. It sprang from heartfelt faith and was done with the desire to honor God and the loving hope of bringing salvation to others. (Rom. 10:9-14; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 4:13) Therefore the preachers were willing to be treated as foolish by the worldly-wise or be persecuted as heretics by the Jews. (1 Cor. 1:21-24; Gal. 5:11) For this reason, too, their preaching was accompanied by the use of reasoning and persuasion to aid the hearers to believe and exercise faith. (Acts 17:2; 28:23; 1 Cor. 15:11) Paul speaks of himself as being appointed “a preacher and apostle and teacher.” (2 Tim. 1:11) These Christians were not salaried heralds but dedicated worshipers giving themselves, their time and strength to the preaching activity.—1 Thess. 2:9.
Since all who became disciples also became preachers of the word, the good news spread rapidly, and by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians (c. 60-61 C.E. or about thirty-seven years after Christ’s death) he could speak of the good news “which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) Hence, Christ’s prophecy of the ‘preaching of the good news in all the nations’ saw a certain fulfillment prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10) Jesus’ own words, as well as the book of Revelation, written after that destruction, point to a greater fulfillment of this prophecy at the time of Christ’s beginning to exercise Kingdom rule and preliminary to the destruction of all adversaries of that kingdom, a logical time for a great heralding work to be accomplished.—Rev. 12:7-12, 17; 14:6, 7; 19:5, 6; 22:17.
What results should Christian preachers expect for their efforts? Paul’s experience was that “some began to believe the things said; others would not believe.” (Acts 28:24) Real Christian preaching, based on God’s Word, requires a response of some kind. It is vigorous, dynamic and, above all, it presents an issue on which people must take sides. Some become active opposers of the Kingdom message. (Acts 13:50; 18:5, 6) Others listen for a time, but eventually they turn back for various reasons. (John 6:65, 66) still others accept the good news and act upon it.—Acts 17:11; Luke 8:15.
PREACHING WITHIN THE CONGREGATION
Most preaching activity recorded in the Christian Greek Scriptures relates to the proclamation done outside the congregation. In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season,” however, the context places primary emphasis on preaching within the congregation, but in a general way and on a broader scale, as done by a general overseer. (2 Tim. 4:2) Paul’s letter to Timothy is a pastoral letter, that is, it was directed to one who was doing pastoral work among the Christians and provides counsel on such superintending ministry. Previous to this exhortation to “preach the word,” Paul warned Timothy of the apostasy beginning to manifest itself and which was to develop to serious proportions. (2 Tim. 2:16-19; 3:1-7) Following up his exhortation to Timothy to hold to and not be sidetracked from “the word” in his preaching, Paul shows the need for the urgency, saying, “for there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching,” but, rather, will seek teachers who teach according to their own desires and so will “turn their ears away from the truth,” hence describing, not outsiders, but those within the congregation. (2 Tim. 4:3, 4) Timothy, therefore, was not to lose his spiritual balance but be constant in boldly declaring God’s word (not human philosophies or useless speculations) to the brothers, even though this might bring him trouble and suffering from those wrongly inclined within the congregations. (Compare 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13; 2:1-3, 14, 15, 23-26; 3:14-17; 4:5.) By so doing, he would act as a deterrent to the apostasy and be free of responsibility for bloodguilt, even as Paul had been.—Acts 20:25-32.
PREACHING TO THE SPIRITS IN PRISON
At 1 Peter 3:19, 20, after describing Jesus’ resurrection to spirit life, the apostle says: “In this state also he went his way and preached to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while the ark was being constructed.” Commenting on this text, W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says: “In 1 Pet. 3:19 the probable reference is, not to glad tidings (which there is no real evidence that Noah preached, nor is there evidence that the spirits of antediluvian people are actually ‘in prison’), but to the act of Christ after His resurrection in proclaiming His victory to fallen angelic spirits.” (Vol. III, p. 201) As has been noted, ke·rysʹso refers to a proclamation that may be not only of something good but of something bad, as when Jonah proclaimed Nineveh’s coming destruction. The only imprisoned spirits referred to in the Scriptures are those angels of Noah’s day who were ‘delivered into pits of dense darkness’ (2 Pet. 2:4, 5) and “reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 6) Therefore the preaching by the resurrected Jesus to such unrighteous angels could only have been a preaching of judgment. It may be noted that the book of Revelation transmitted in vision to John by Christ Jesus toward the close of the first century C.E. contains much about Satan the Devil and his demons and their ultimate destruction, hence, a preaching of judgment. (Rev. chaps. 12-20) Peter’s use of the past tense (“preached”) suggests that some such preaching had been done even prior to the writing of his first letter.