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Why Foreign Missions? 20e. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 2: kērygma and kerussō

Why Foreign Missions? 20e. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 2: kērygma and kerussō

The ‘Gospel’ that was discussed in the previous study is something that is ‘proclaimed.’  My second word study related to the content of the Gospel, then, has to do with the words ‘kērygma’ (proclamation) and kerussō’ (to proclaim).[1]  Here, too, a deeper understanding of the content of the Gospel can be discovered through a study of where the words are to be found in Scripture.
The Greek Old Testament uses ‘kērussō 27 times in 25 verses.  The verb means more than just ‘to say something out loud.’  It is used in reference to an important announcement of some sort.  As we study examples of such a usage in the Old Testament, we also see a connection with a particular announcement of importance that relates to the New Testament’s Gospel.

We find the word used in the Old Testament in reference to a public announcement.  For example, a crier ran before Joseph’s chariot in Egypt to proclaim, ‘Bow the knee’ (cf. Ex. 36.6; 1 Kgs. 22.36; 2 Kgs. 10.20; 2 Chr. 20.3; 24.9; 36.22; Est. 6.9, 11; Prov. 1.21; 8.1; Dn. 3.4; Hos. 5.8; Joel 1.14; 2.1, 15; 3.9; Jon. 3.5).  Prophets also give public announcements; they ‘proclaim’ their message (Mic. 3.5; Jon. 1.2; 3.2, 4).  In all the uses of the verb in the Old Testament, none of the passages conveys what we would consider as preaching, which is how the term is often translated.  It does not have to do with a sermon or homily that is a study of a Biblical texts or an exhortation to a congregation.  It is public declaration and an announcement of some very important information or news.

The final two passages to note where the verb is found from the Old Testament are of interest for a study on the ‘Gospel;’ both have to do with a public announcement of the important news of the coming of God’s kingdom.  The first passage comes from Zephaniah, a prophetic book from the time of Josiah and directed to Judah and neighbouring nations.  It predicts judgement and removal from the lands of these nations because of sin.  Yet it also predicts forgiveness and restoration.  Israel is told to ‘proclaim’ (LXX)[2] that God has taken away His judgement against him, removed his enemies, and that the ‘Lord’ is in his midst as king (Zeph. 3.14).[3]  Earlier in this passage, the sinfulness of Jerusalem and the nations is in view, and God’s solution is to render judgement against both (Zeph. 3.8) and then to ‘change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord’ (Zeph. 3.9).  Thus Zephaniah 3 involves a proclamation of God’s gracious restoration of Israel and the nations after he has judged them for their sins. 

The Septuagint of Zechariah 9.9 uses ‘kērusse,’ ‘proclaim’ (imperative) in reference to the righteous king riding a donkey into Jerusalem and bringing salvation: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud [kērusse], O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’  Here we have a messianic proclamation.

In this regard, we should note that a passage already referenced, Is. 61.1, which also uses the word: the one on whom the Spirit descends will announce good news (euangelisasthai) to the oppressed, heal those who have been broken in heart, and proclaim (kēruxai) liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  This is Jesus’ own programmatic passage for his ministry (Lk. 5.16ff).

The noun, ‘kērygma,’ refers to the proclamation, the content of the proclaiming.  It is only used three times in the Old Testament (2 Chr. 30.5; Prov. 9.3; Jon. 3.2).  The two uses of the noun outside of Paul in the New Testament are in verses referring to Jonah’s proclamation to Nineveh (Mt. 12.41; Lk. 11.32).  

The verb’s and the noun’s usage in regard to the proclamation of the Gospel in the early Church likely derives from the more basic meaning of the words, not from a significant Old Testament passage.   However, the proclamation of salvation for God’s people in Zeph. 3.14 and the related passage in Zech. 9.9 that envisions the righteous king bringing salvation do relate to the New Testament understanding of the Gospel.

Matthew, Mark, Luke (in both the Gospel of Luke and in Acts), Paul, and John (once in Revelation) use the verb, kērussō.  ‘Proclaim’ is what John the Baptist does (e.g., Mk. 1.4; Mt. 3.1; Lk. 3.3; Acts 13.34).  It is also what Jesus does (Mk. 1.14; Mt. 4.17; Lk. 4.4).  Jesus’ travelling ministry involved proclaiming the ‘good news/gospel of the kingdom’ (Mk. 1.38-39; Mt. 4.23; 9.35; 11.1; Lk. 8.1; Acts 10.37).  The disciples are also to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near (Mk. 3.14; 6.12; Mt. 10.7; Lk. 9.2) or, as Acts 10.42 puts it, ‘He commanded us to preach [kēruxai] to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.’  Some who are healed or delivered begin to proclaim what Jesus had done (Mk. 1.45; 5.20; 7.36; Lk. 8.39). 

In this change from the message of the kingdom being the proclamation to the message of what Jesus, the one bringing the kingdom, has done, we see how Jesus becomes the content of the ‘good news.’  Thus, when we turn to Acts, Philip is said to ‘proclaim’ Christ in Samaria (Acts 8.5).  After his conversion, Paul begins to ‘proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’’ (Acts 9.20; cf. 19.13).  But Paul can just as easily refer to his message as ‘proclaiming the kingdom’ (Acts 20.25).  Proclaiming the kingdom of God and proclaiming Jesus amount to the same thing, as we see in Acts 28.31: Paul is in Rome ‘proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.’

In Paul’s letters, Jesus is the content of the proclamation that is the Gospel.  The passages to consider are the following.

*The words ‘Gospel’ and ‘proclamation’ appear together in Rom .16.25: ‘Now to the one able to make you stand fast according to my Gospel and the Preaching [Proclamation]of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of past but now revealed the mystery hidden in ages through the writings of the prophets according to the command of the eternal God being made known for the obedience of faith to all the nations....’  This passage also emphasises the obedient response of faith from those who hear and that the proclamation is for all nations. 

*Similarly, the ‘foolishness of the preaching [proclamation]’ (1 Cor. 1.21) that brings salvation to those who believe is a preaching about Christ crucified (1 Cor. 21.23). 

*In 1 Cor. 2.4, Paul says that his word and proclamation were not through the persuasive words of wisdom but in a showing of the Spirit and power.  Here the relationship between content and character of Paul’s missionary proclamation are brought together.  Paul does not proclaim as do the Greek orators.[4]  The content of the Gospel is at odds with the powerful rhetoric because this would upstage the show of the Spirit and power that is consistent with the content of the Gospel.  Note in this passage, too, that the response to the Gospel is not some sort of powerful expression on the hearer’s part but simply faith.  The proclamation’s content is commensurate with its expression and reception.  This power of the Gospel is seen in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which is equally a part of the proclamation as the cross of Jesus. 

*1 Cor. 15.14 states: ‘If Christ has not been raised, then both our preaching [proclamation] is vain and your faith is vain, and we are found to be false witnesses of God, for we witnessed accor­ding to God that he raised Christ, whom he did not rise if it is true that the dead are not raised.’  I have once again suggested replacing the NRSV’s ‘preaching’ with ‘proclamation.’  What Paul does is make a public announcement to do with the remarkable good news concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection more than offer a public lecture or sermon of some sort.  He offers a ‘witness’ to this event which, once again, calls for faith. 

*Similarly, Paul’s goal is to ‘fulfill’ the proclamation of this message to the nations (2 Tim. 4.17).  In order to do so, ‘the Lord stood by’ Paul and ‘empowered’ him. 

*The final use of ‘proclamation’ by Paul could be discussed at length: ‘Titus 1:1-3  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness,  2 in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began--  3 in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…. (Titus 1.1-3).  One might note the parallel terms of ‘faith,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ ‘hope,’ ‘word,’ and ‘proclamation.’  This is a particular message to be proclaimed and believed, and here the content of the message is described as ‘the hope of eternal life.’

In conclusion, proclamation is what Paul does as an apostle (one sent), particularly to the Gentiles.  What he proclaims is ‘the Proclamation.’  This proclamation refers to a specific content that is about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Paul understands his own role to involve carrying this proclamation of God’s power to the nations as it is for Jews and Gentiles.  The content of the proclamation needs to be expressed not only in word but in how it is presented—not as the Greek orators—and in how it is received—by faith.

The proclamation is about God's saving work for a sinful people, whether Jews or Gentiles.  This proclamation is already one stated in the prophets, such as in Zeph. 3.14-15; Zech. 9.9; and Is. 61.1.  God would restore his sinful people and the nations (Zeph. 3.14-15); Israel's king would be restored to Zion to save her from her enemies (Zech. 9.9, cf. v. 16); and God's Spirit-anointed prophet would proclaim liberty to the captives.  This salvation came in Jesus Christ.  It came first in Jesus' ministry, which announced God's coming reign, the Kingdom of God.  It came in particular through Jesus' death and resurrection.  The news of God's salvation for Jews and Gentiles in the prophets, of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels, and of Jesus Christ in Paul is the same thing.  This is the content of the proclamation that drives Paul the apostle on.  It is his mission to the nations.

[1] I am avoiding the technical term ‘preach’ for translating this word, since we are likely to read into such a word our own understanding of what ‘preaching’ is in the church.  The same might be said for our word ‘evangelist,’ taken from ‘euangelion’ (Gospel), since evangelists in our day may or may not have anything to do with proclaiming the Gospel.

[2] The Hebrew has ‘rejoice,’ simḥiy.

[3] Cf. +N. T. Wright.  Although Wright does not, to my knowledge, discuss Zeph. 3 in this regard, he says that ‘Jesus applied to himself the three central aspects of his own prophetic kingdom announcement: the return from exile, the defeat of evil, and the return of YHWH to Zion’ (Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), p. 477).  Similarly, he says, ‘the Kingdom of God’ involves these three themes (p. 481).  First, the return from exile is equivalent to dealing with Israel’s sin: Israel went into exile because of her sin, and so to come out of exile means to deal with this sin (see Wright, p. 268).  It is the end of Israel’s punishment for sin (Lam. 4.22; Jer. 31.31-34; 33.4-11; Ezek. 36.24-26, 33; 37.21-23; Is. 40.1-2; 43.25-44.3; chs. 52-55; Dn. 9.16-19).  Second, the defeat of Israel’s enemies did not turn out to mean the overthrow of the Roman Empire in Israel for Jesus.  Rather, Jesus accomplished this as the shepherd who would be struck (Zech. 13.7; cf. Mk. 14.27; Mt. 26.31), the stone that the builders would reject (Ps. 118.22; cf. Mk. 12.10; Mt. 21.42; Lk. 20.17; Acts 4.11; 1 Pt. 2.7), the one rejected by God (Ps. 22), and the servant who would suffer redemptively (Is. 53).  Through his own battle that he fought by suffering, Jesus overthrew Satan (p. 605).  He also fought the battle against those pushing for Israelite nationalism, the battle of Caiphas the high priest who called for Jesus’ death, and the battle with Rome, whom he fought in Gethsemane by refusing to fight (cf. p. 609).  Finally, Wright says, ‘Jesus went to Jerusalem in order to embody the third and last element of the coming of the kingdom.  He was not content to announce that YHWH was returning to Zion.  He intended to enact, symbolize and personify that climactic event’ (p. 615),‘ and he notes the following OT passages in regard to the return of YHWH to Zion: Is. 4.2-6; 24.23; 25.9f; 35.3-6, 10; 40.3-5, 9-11; Is. 52.7-10; 59.15-17, 19-21; 60.1-3; 62.10-11; 63.1, 3, 5, 9; 64.1; 66.12, 14-16, 18-19; Ezek. 43.1-7; Hag. 2.7, 9; cf. 1.8; Zech. 2.4-5, 10-12; 8.2-3; 14.1-5, 9, 16; Mal. 3.1-4; 50.3-4; 96.12-13; 98.8-9.  To these passages we should add Zeph. 3.15.

[4] See the excellent article on this point by +Bruce Winter, ‘The Entries and Ethics of Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2.1-12),’ Tyndale Bulletin 44.14 (1993): 55-74.  Online: