Preaching Words

The New Testament uses around 60 different images and more than 30 verbs to describe the great task of preaching and communicating the truth. In a series of posts over the comings weeks, we will consider some of them, but it’s important to underline the fact that the one thing common in all of the many words and images is, as MacArthur says, “a focus on the things of God and Scripture as exclusively central in the preacher’s message.” [i]

1.     ‘kerusso’ (κηρύσσω)

This is the word used by Paul in his charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) and it occurs more than 60 times in the New Testament. It means ‘to declare’ or ‘to herald’.   In biblical terms, the preacher (kerux) preaches (kerusso) the proclamation (kerygma).

The herald’s task was like that of the town crier. He was appointed by the state authority to make official pronouncements and proclamations. The word has been defined as, “a herald, a messenger vested with public authority who conveyed the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave a public summons or demand.”   Examples in the Old Testament of those fulfilling such a role would be those who went before Joseph’s chariot in Egypt (Genesis 41:43); those publicly praising Mordecai (Esther 6:9,11); Nebuchadnezzar’s heralds (Daniel 3:4-6).

The word is used of the ministry of Jonah (Matthew 12:41), John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1), Jesus (Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:18-19), and Paul (Acts 28:31). It’s the word used by Jesus in his charge to the 12 early in his ministry (Matthew 10:7) and to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:47).

The emphasis of this word is on the ‘sent-ness’ of the messenger and the ‘given-ness’ of the message. The preacher is one who comes as a man under authority and simply passes on a message that has been entrusted to him, as in the Old Testament prophet’s ‘Thus says the Lord.’ The preacher has no authority of his own and no liberty to amend the message he has been given.

But the word kerusso also suggests an activity that is dynamic, passionate and engaging. This wasn’t an informal sharing of some thoughts and ideas by someone standing casually, as it were, with his hands in his pockets, leaning against a wall. This is communication that is authoritative and attention-grabbing.

“We are heralds of King Jesus, sent to herald His Word to all people in his realm.  This is our identity and duty.  The world will not define us as heralds.  The world bristles at the authority of our King which is inherent in His message.  We must nevertheless remind ourselves of our biblical identity and be conscious of our commission by Christ as we preach the Word.” [ii]

“In ordinary Greek literature the kerux himself has a position of significance at the court. He is a very important man, to whom not only political but also religious significance is ascribed. He is a ‘sacral person’.  In the New Testament such connotations are absent, for the herald is not the main thing, but his work: the announcement of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. [iii]

“The nature of the preacher’s work is determined by the word employed to describe it by the Holy Ghost.  The preacher is a herald; his work is heralding the King’s message.  Once, the apostles call themselves Christ’s ambassadors; but of old, ambassadors were no other than heralds.  Now the herald does not invent his message; he merely transmits and explains it.  It is not his to criticize its wisdom or fitness; this belongs to his sovereign alone. On the one hand, he does not carry it as a mere implement of sound, a trumpet or a drum; he is an intelligent medium of communication with the king’s enemies; he has brains as well as a tongue; and he is expected so to deliver and explain his master’s mind, that the other party shall receive not only the mechanical sounds, but the true meaning of the message.  On the other hand, it wholly transcends his office to presume to correct the tenour of the propositions he conveys, by either additions or change.  These are the words of God’s commission to an ancient preacher: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” [iv]

(For a detailed study in the use of this and related words in the New Testament see Robert H Mounce’s  The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching (Wipf and Stock, 1960)


[i] MacArthur, J F   Charismatic Chaos   Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992  p9

[ii] Martin, A N   The Man of God. His Preaching and Teaching Labours   Montville: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2018  p8

[iii] Runia, K WHAT IS PREACHING ACCORDING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT? Tyndale Bulletin, 1978  p8

[iv] Dabney, R L   Sacred Rhetoric   Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979  pp36-37

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