In the early church the word was used to describe the person who taught the catechesis* to the catechumens. Clement and Origen were famous Alexandrian catechists. In modern times it has been used (by missionaries) of native pastors, teachers, or preachers, and sometimes in the Western world of those who teach children the Christian faith-especially in the Roman Catholic Church.
CATECHIST, CATECHUMEN kăt’ ĕ kĭst, kăt’-ĕ k(y) u mĕn, generally understood in the Early Church as respectively a person giving and a person receiving elementary Christian instruction, esp. prior to baptism. Neither word occurs in the NT. The verb from which both are derived, κατηχέω, G2994, is used in Acts 21:21 (where it clearly means simply “inform”), Romans 2:18 (where it refers to instruction in the Jewish law), 1 Corinthians 14:19 and Galatians 6:6 (where it refers to more or less formal teaching given in or in relation to the church), Acts 18:25 (where Apollos’ Christian instruction is accurate but rudimentary) and Luke 1:4. The meaning given to the last depends on, but does not determine, whether Theophilus is an official or interested outsider who has been “informed” about the outlines of Christian preaching, or a convert who has been “instructed” in them.
In the earliest period baptism apparently followed close on profession of faith (e.g. Acts 2:38-41; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15). Most baptisms so recorded are of Jews, proselytes or “Godfearers,” already instructed in monotheistic worship and the perils of idolatry and immorality; but this is hardly likely of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33). As, however, the proportion of doctrinally and ethically instructed inquirers declined, it would not be surprising if Christians adapted the Jewish custom of pre-baptismal instruction of converts.
P. Carrington, The Primitive Christian Catechism (1940); E. G. Selwyn, I Peter (1946), 18ff.; A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors (2 ed., 1961), 24-64; C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the NT (1962), esp. ch. 8.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
kat’-e-kist, kate-ku’-men (katechizein "to resound," "to teach," "to instruct"): A catechist is a teacher who instructs his pupils in the elements of his own religion. In the
The words are derived from katechein, meaning "to give a sound," "to answer," "to echo." Classically it was used of the sounding down of rushing water, of the falling of music from a ship to the sea. Then it came to signify the sounding down of words of command or instruction. The preposition kata strengthens the meaning, bringing out more emphatically the back or return sound, the echo, the answer. So it came to mean familiar verbal instruction, a free informal discussion between teacher and pupil. Luke informs Theophilus (Lu 1:4) that he intends to give him a succinct and orderly account of those things which he had previously received by word of mouth (peri hon katechethes). See also the Greek in Ac 18:25 and Ac 21:21; Ro 2:18; 1Co 14:19; Ga 6:6. In all these passages the Greek verb is "catechised."
We do not find in the New Testament an organized catechumenate, such as we find in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The apostles preached mainly to synagogue-instructed Jews who were familiar with the law and the prophets and the Psalms, or to Gentiles who had, learned from the Jews and had become "proselytes" (which see). The first apostolic preaching and teaching was to convince the hearers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. As believers multiplied, the contrast between them and those who rejected the teaching became more and more marked. Opposition, scorn and persecution became more bold and bitter. The Christians were compelled to set forth and defend their beliefs more clearly. They had to meet and answer keen and persistent objections. And so the necessity for clear, systematic and organized teaching grew more and more into the form of an ordered catechumenate. The
The basis for the Christian catechumenate we find in the great commission (Mt 28:19,20). The aim of this commission was to make disciples, i.e. believing followers. The means for this discipling are baptizing and teaching. The result of using the means is that those who have become disciples are to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.
Jesus Himself at twelve years of age had become a child of the law, a catechumen. He increased in wisdom and learned obedience. He became the great Catechist instructing His disciples, other private individuals and the multitudes. See an example of His catechizing in Mt 16:13 ff.