What’s in a name?

In Scotland we have many different words for rain. They all refer to water falling from the sky but the different terms introduce nuances in the way and speed the water is falling.

Some translations of the New Testament use the word ‘preach’ where the original text recognises more nuance. For example where the NIV says preach the Synoptics often have a verb meaning announce or proclaim (eg. Matt 3.1). But sometimes the word denoted by preaching, in the original text, is the noun ‘Proclamation’ (eg. Matt 12.41). And in the book of Acts ‘preach’ in the English translation can refer to a verb in the original text which we might call ‘good newsing’ or ‘announcing good news’ and is the basis of the word ‘evangelism’ (eg. Acts 8.40). At least once in Acts the NIV says ‘preach fearlessly’ but the original text says ’boldly speak’ (Acts 9.27). And on another occasion in Acts the original language uses ‘spoke the word’ but the NIV says ‘had preached’ (Acts 14.25).

The New Testament also uses a separate word for ‘teach’ alongside preaching. For example in Matt 4.23 we read in the NIV that ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom…’ How are we to understand this verse? Is the teaching separate from the preaching? In the original text there appears to be an extra ‘and’ which might separate the two activities. But the NIV appears to understand the content of the teaching to be the preaching of the Kingdom. Are teaching and preaching then synonymous?

Later in Acts we find the Apostle Paul arguing for Christ in local synagogues, on the Sabbath. For example in Acts 17, the NIV says that Paul ‘reasoned’ in the Thessalonian and Athenian synagogues. Here, the original text uses a word related to dialogue or discuss. How does Paul’s arguing relate to Jesus’ teaching/preaching in synagogues? Then further on in the chapter Paul is said to be ‘preaching’ and the original text uses another word for ‘declare’ or ‘announce’ which we’ve not yet come across.

I am not a serious Greek scholar, by any means. But I hope that this brief examination of some NT references to speaking, in relation to the Gospel, indicate that our quest to define what we mean by preaching is not entirely straightforward. By preaching, we tend to specifically mean a lecture style monologue. But where the NIV uses the word ‘preach’ or variants, the original text appears to indicate public speech to share the Good News. Additionally, sometimes the context for Gospel speech might suggest that teaching, preaching, discussing and arguing could be interchangeable or at least related activities.

We should, therefore, be careful of assuming or imposing back into the text our relatively uniform understanding of preaching.

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