PREACHER, PREACHING. Preaching is the proclamation of the Word of God recorded in the Bible and centered in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, summoning men to repentance, faith, and obedience. It is God’s appointed means for communicating the Gospel of salvation to the unbelieving world and for strengthening the spiritual life of His people.

Biblical terms.

The basic content of preaching.

The apostolic message (kerygma), in its essential substance and general outline, can be reconstructed in these terms. In fulfillment of OT prophecy, the new age of salvation has dawned through the ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, now exalted as Lord and Messiah. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church testifies to Christ’s present power and glory. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation at the return of Christ in judgment. God’s action in Christ promises forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal salvation to all who repent and believe in Jesus (cf. C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments, 3-73).

On the basis of this reconstruction the following observations can be made about the Christian message: (1) it consists of a definite body of facts; (2) it is essentially neither a doctrinal nor philosophical system, still less an ethic, but a proclamation of those mighty acts in history whereby God has accomplished the salvation of His people; (3) it is centered in the Person and work of Christ, esp. His cross and Resurrection; (4) it is organically related to the OT; (5) it imposes a stern ethical demand on men; and (6) it has an eschatological dimension, looking forward to a final fulfillment yet to be. The only preaching that strikes all of these chords stands in the apostolic tradition.

Preaching and teaching.

Throughout the history of the Church, preaching often has assumed the form of extended exposition of Biblical passages, doctrinal instruction, ethical exhortation, or discussion of various aspects of Christian life and experience directed to largely Christian audiences. With the publication of Dodd’s work (u.s.), however, it has become fashionable to differentiate sharply between “preaching” (κηρύσσειν) and “teaching” (διδάσκειν) in the NT sense of the terms by restricting “preaching” exclusively to evangelistic proclamation to the unconverted. Alan Richardson alleges, “In the NT, preaching has nothing to do with the delivery of sermons to the converted...but always concerns the proclamation of the ‘good tidings of God’ to the non-Christian world” (A Theological Word Book of the Bible [1950], 171, 172).

Although it would not be accurate to argue that in the NT sense preaching and teaching are identical, the two are nevertheless so intimately related that to draw a hard and fast line between them is equally untenable. In both cases, the basic content is the same: the Gospel of eternal salvation through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Teaching is simply the extension of preaching into the regions of doctrine, apologetics, ethics, and Christian experience. Preaching includes all of these elements. What difference there is lies in emphasis and objective. Whereas the primary thrust of preaching is evangelistic, looking to the conversion of unbelievers, teaching unfolds and applies the fullness of the Gospel to the total sweep of life, challenging and enabling believers to become more mature followers of Christ. Neither preaching nor teaching can be conceived without the other, while in actual practice they are so finely interwoven that their separation is largely academic. To preach in the NT sense is not only to herald the saving evangel, but also to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 27; cf. 2 Tim 4:2).

The divine character of preaching.

The main words for preaching in the NT ring with authority. This authority lies not in the person of the preacher, but in the message entrusted to him. True preaching does not consist in man’s ideas about God, or in his sanctified religious ponderings and reflections, but in the divine Word of revelation that sets forth God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ and the full purpose of His will for men.

The preacher’s message is also charged with divine power. After expressing his eagerness to preach the Gospel at Rome, Paul added that this Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom 1:16). To men blinded by sin, the message of Christ crucified may seem as sheer folly. When it is faithfully proclaimed, the sovereign Spirit by a miracle of grace generates faith where He wills, so that the blind see and the dead are raised to newness of life (1 Cor 1:18ff.; cf. Eph 2:1ff.). The divine power of preaching remains for all time the most convincing evidence of its timeless relevance.

Preaching in the NT further is marked by a sense of divine compulsion. The authentic Christian preacher proclaims the Gospel not merely by personal choice or preference, but by the irresistible call and appointment of God (Luke 4:43; Acts 4:20). He preaches out of an overwhelming inner necessity, his heart ablaze with a holy fire, which neither competing attractions nor any natural reluctance in the face of staggering hostility to his message can ever extinguish. With Paul he cries, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). For his task he is equipped with a special gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28, 29; Eph 4:11), and his task is his sufficient and satisfying reward.


P. Brooks, Lectures on Preaching (1877); P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (1907); J. Denney, “Preaching Christ,” HDCG, II (1912), 393-403; A. J. Gossip, In Christ’s Stead (1925); G. A. Buttrick, Jesus Came Preaching (1932); C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (1936); H. H. Farmer, The Servant of the Word (1941); J. S. Stewart, Heralds of God (1946); F. R. Webber, A History of Preaching in Britain and America, I (1952), II (1955), III (1957); J. S. Stewart, A Faith to Proclaim (1953); E. C. Dargan, A History of Preaching, reprint (1954); J. B. Weatherspoon, Sent Forth to Preach (1954); J. Knox, The Integrity of Preaching (1957); R. H. Mounce, The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching (1960); D. Ritschl, A Theology of Proclamation (1960); E. P. Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (1961); J. R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait (1961); C. H. Thompson, Theology of the Kerygma (1962); P. C. Marcel, The Relevance of Preaching, tr. (1963); R. C. Worley, Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Definition

2. The Preacher’s Limitations

3. A Man with a Message

4. Preaching a Necessary Agency

5. Biblical Terms and Their Meanings

6. The Hebrew Prophets

7. Christ as a Preacher

8. The Apostles as Preachers

9. Fundamental Postulates

(1) Preach the Word

(2) "We Are Ambassadors"

1. Definition:

In the New Testament sense a preacher is a man who has the inner call from the Holy Spirit and the external call from the church the witnessing body of Christ on earth, and has been duly set apart as an accredited and qualified teacher of the Christian religion. His vocation is that of addressing the popular mind and heart on religious truth, as that truth is set forth in the sacred Scripture, for the spiritual profit of the hearer as its end. The preacher, recognized as such by the church, speaks as a personal witness of God’s saving truth, explaining it and applying it as the circumstances of the people and the time may require. The gravity and importance of this vocation, as set forth in the sacred Scriptures and amply illustrated in the history of the church, surpass those of any other calling among men. Luther said, "The Devil does not mind the written word but he is put to flight whenever it is preached aloud."

2. The Preacher’s Limitations:

The preacher, in the sense indicated above, is with all other Christians a sharer in the freedom that is in Christ. But as a recognized teacher and leader of the church, he is not an unattached and entire unrestricted teacher. He is not to speak as his own, but as the mouthpiece of the church whose apprehension of the gospel he has voluntarily confessed. The faith of the church is, by his own assent, his faith, and her doctrine is his doctrine. He is not expected to give his own, as distinct from or opposed to the faith of the church in whose name he has been set apart to proclaim the gospel. Both the personal and the representative or official are united in him and his preaching.

3. A Man with a Message:

His work is always to be related to the Old Testament and New Testament. His sermon is under the creed of his church as the creed is under the word. The preacher is a man with a message, and the preacher who has no message of the particular kind indicated above is in no true sense a preacher. It has been well expressed in one of the valuable Yale series of lectures on the subject, "Every living preacher must receive his communication direct from God, and the constant purpose of his life must be to receive it uncorrupted and to deliver it without addition or subtraction." When he presents the message of his divinely-appointed ambassadorship in its integrity, he speaks with that peculiar kind of "authority" which has been pronounced "the first and indispensable requisite" in giving a message from God. He manifests thereby a "high celestial dogmatism," and "human weakness becomes immortal strength." The true preacher preaches from a divine impulsion. He says with Paul, "Necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1Co 9:16; compare Jer 20:9). He says with Peter, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard" (Ac 4:19,20). The message of the preacher is greater than the man, because it is from God. It largely makes the man who preaches it in its fullness and power. Whatever be his own gifts or whatever the alleged gift conferred in the laying on of hands, without the sense of the message he is not chosen of God to proclaim His word. Destitute of that, he does not have the sustaining impulse of his vocation to enlist his entire personality in his work and give him mastery over the minds and hearts of men.

4. Preaching a Necessary Agency:

No agency of religion is older than preaching. It is as old as the Bible itself (2Pe 2:5). It is a necessary adjunct of a religion that is communicated to man by means of an objective and authoritative revelation, such as we have in the sacred Scriptures. It is an entirely natural agency of the forms of religion revealed in the Old Testament and New Testament. It is strictly in harmony with those ideas that obtain in both testaments regarding the method of propagating the faith, set forth through the agency of holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. That faith is disseminated by means of teaching through argument, explanation, motive and exhortation. The agency for the spread of a religion of persuasion must be preaching.

5. Biblical Terms and Their Meanings:

6. The Hebrew Prophets:

Thus, while preaching belongs especially to Christianity, it has well-defined antecedents in the Old Testament. Under both the old and the new dispensations the subject takes the church for granted and utters the testimony, not simply of a solitary believer, but of a divinely-founded society, whether it be of Jews or Christians. The older books in the Canon have in them the beginnings and some of the features of the preacher’s office and of the high function of preaching. In them we find a special class of men set apart and separated unto that particular work, as we find in the Christian church, from its beginnings, the same divinely instituted office. The Hebrew prophet had a message direct from God, which frequently came with supernatural knowledge in the power of prediction. The mission of the prophet, however, was simply or chiefly to forecast the future, but to declare a present message from the Lord to the people. The prophet of the Old Testament was the forerunner in office and the prototype of the ambassador of Christ. With the development of the synagogue as the center of Hebrew worship, application as well as interpretation of the Law became essential.

Moses, the most commanding figure in Hebrew history, was a prophet, and no messages in the Old Testament are more imbued with power, sublimity and pathos than those uttered by the great lawgiver. He became the guide Israel, not so much by his rod as by the word he delivered to the people. There are numerous indications that after Moses there was a continuous class of religious teachers whose work it was to instruct men and inspire the people, as is indicated in the cases of Joshua, in the history of Deborah and Barak, and in the days of solemn assembly which are inconceivable without men who spoke and other men who listened. In the time of Samuel there was a distinct advance made in the work of the prophets, and the prophetic office had become a fixed institution. There were schools of the prophets at Bethel, Jericho and Gilgal, the very seats of heathen idolatry. Under the Old Testament dispensation the whole course of progress was toward presenting divine truth in its simplicity and power, by bringing it to bear upon the popular mind and heart. One of the marks of the new era beginning with John the Baptist was a revival of prophetic preaching (Mt 11:9), which again resumed its old character and meaning.


7. Christ as a Preacher:

The words meaning "to proclaim as a herald" and "preaching," are frequent in the New Testament. The mission of our Lord was essentially one of proclaiming good tidings concerning the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:17). He at once, on His entrance upon His ministry, gave to preaching a spiritual depth and practical range which it never had before. At that time preaching had manifestly become a fixed part of the synagogue worship, and was made one of the chief instruments in the spread of the gospel. our Lord constantly taught in the synagogue (Mt 4:23; Mr 1:21; Joh 6:59). He thus read and interpreted and applied the Law and the Prophets (Mr 1:39; Lu 4:16). Christ’s testimony about Himself was that He came "to bear witness to the truth." The spoken word became His great power in His life and ministry. Throughout His life Jesus was above all things a preacher of the truths of His kingdom. Telling men what He was in Himself, what in His relation to man and his salvation and what to God the Father, formed a large part of His public work.

8. The Apostles as Preachers:

The preaching of the apostles was essentially prophetic in character, and bore testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus and His early return to judgment (Ac 2:24,32,36; 1Co 15:15). The sermons of the apostles which are reported with much fullness are those of Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Ac 2), his address in the house of Cornelius at Caesarea (Ac 10), and the counsels of James to the brethren at Jerusalem, as to what ordinances should be imposed on Gentile Christians. In the early church preachers were first of all witnesses to what Jesus had said and done, and to the significance to be attached to the great facts of the redemptive history. With the spread of the gospel and the passing of time, this office was taken up by others, especially such as were endued with "the word of wisdom" and "of knowledge" (1Co 12:8).

9. Fundamental Postulates:

Upon the basis of what is taught in the word of God there are two fundamentally important postulates concerning preaching and the preacher.

(1) Preach the Word.

The first note of preaching is that it be the word of God (2Ti 4:2). Out of the Bible must the life of every generation of Christians be fed. To Holy Scripture, therefore, ought the pulpit to abide faithful, for out of its treasures the preacher fulfils his double office of edifying believers and subjugating the world to Christ. There must always be an organic connection between the word in the text and the sermon.

(2) "We Are Ambassadors."

The work of preaching is the fulfillment of a divinely instituted ambassadorship (2Co 5:20). The gospel is put into the hands of men for a distinct purpose, and is to be administered in accordance with the plan of its author. The preacher is in a very distinct sense a trustee. "But even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts" (1Th 2:4). Those who have accepted the responsibility imposed upon them by this divine commission are enjoined to exercise their office so as to warrant the approbation of Him who has appointed them to a specific work. The homiletic practice of taking theme of every sermon from a passage of Holy Writ has been an almost invariable rule in the history of the church. It is the business of the preacher to present the truth embodied in the text in its integrity. In the exercise of his divinely-appointed ambassadorship he is to administer God’s word revealed to Christian faith, not human opinions or speculations.

David H. Bauslin