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]

didasko – διδάσκο

There is another word frequently used by the New Testament writers to describe the Gospel ministry of the Apostles and Christ. The word ‘didasko’ means ‘I teach’ and focuses on the purpose and content of the message being communicated.  The content of what is taught clearly focuses on the Word of God.

The disciples recognised that Jesus taught (‘didasko’) “the way of God truthfully” (Matthew 22:16), and Paul spent 18 months in Corinth teaching (‘didasko’) “the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). Teaching (‘didasko’) is part of the work of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20), and is what Timothy was exhorted to do in his work as a Pastor (1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2).

The emphasis of this word is surely on the careful explanation and application of the truth being proclaimed. It is, as Stuart Olyott puts it, “spelling out in concrete terms what the message means as far as the living are concerned.” [ii]

There has been a tendency over the years, largely due to the influence of writers like C H Dodd, to drive something of a ‘coach and horses’ between the activities of kerusso and didasko, but we must take great care not to over-emphasise the difference between those two terms.

As we read of the ministries of the New Testament church, again and again we read of them “teaching and preaching” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 11:1; Luke 20:1; Acts 4;1,2; 5:42; 15:35; 28:30,31). Apparently, the two activities are inseparable, and the different passages clearly show that teaching was not restricted to believers but was aimed at any one who listened in the various places where teaching took place. Even in describing the missionary activity of the disciples and apostles both words are used. They are apparently used interchangeably.

Al Martin suggests that the distinction between teaching and preaching lies in “the dominant focus of each mode of communicating the Word of God…In teaching, the primary, if not exclusive, focus is on imparting Bible truths to the minds of our hearers.  However, in preaching, the primary focus is on “reproving, rebuking, and exhorting” (2 Tim 4:2) and eliciting a response that translates into personal action.    Teaching focuses primarily on the mind of the hearer, whereas preaching focuses primarily on the affection and the will of the hearer.  Both are necessary and often work in tandem.” [iii]

But even here I fear the distinction drawn is too great.  Surely, effective, Spirit anointed, preaching does not in any way bypass the affection and will of the hearer.  One of the goals of faithful preaching is to teach the mind; indeed the Scriptural pattern is that the Word of God reaches the affection and will of the hearer through informing the mind.   Martin is absolutely correct when he says that the two “often work in tandem”.  Indeed, I would say that so closely do they work in tandem that they are virtually indistinguishable. 

If anything, the distinction I would make between the two would be in the form or mode of communication rather than in the content.  Let me express it in this way – you can teach without preaching, but you can’t preach without teaching. Preaching should be more than teaching, but it must always include teaching.

I am in agreement here with Ridderbos who says that “What is specific and unique about ‘teaching’ and ‘doctrine’, in distinction to kerygma, does not lie so much in the content, as in the form. While kerygma is the work of the herald, the didache belongs to another sphere, that of religious instruction…The message of redemption is not only ‘announced’, but it also demands the unfolding, the exposition of its meaning. In this sense ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching’ belong together, whereby ‘teaching’ is the necessary consequence and follow-up of ‘preaching’. But it does not supersede preaching. It not only presupposes it, but also takes up the elements that constituted the contents of the preaching.” [iv]

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

[ii] Olyott, S. (2005). Preaching Pure and Simple Bridgend: Bryntirion Press p15

[iii] Martin, A N (2018), Pastoral Theology (Vol.2) Montville: Trinity Pulpit Press p316

[iv] Ridderbos, H N (1963) The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures Baker, Grand Rapids p67

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