Word Study #44 — Preachers, Priests

The word kerux, “preacher”, like “evangelist” in W.S.#43, appears in the New Testament only three times! I am convinced that this constitutes confirming evidence that the New Testament focus is upon the functions that need to be performed in the brotherhood, and not upon any ranking or titles conferred upon its participants. Paul refers to himself twice as a “preacher” – I Tim.2:7 and II Tim.2:11 – and Peter (II Pet.2:5) calls Noah a “preacher of justice”. That is all. Consequently, as before, clues to the “job description” need to be gleaned from the verb (action) forms of the words.

Liddell/Scott identifies a kerux as “a herald, a public messenger, a crier who made proclamations and kept order at assemblies, an auctioneer, or a messenger between nations at war.” This latter description is interesting in a Kingdom context. Is a “preacher” a messenger from the Prince of Peace to any who had been “at war” with his Kingdom?
In their reference to the verb form, kerusso, L/S add, “to invite people to become colonists”! Both Herodotus and Plutarch use it that way. This historical reference, along with the New Testament contexts, tends toward a parallel to the evangelistic task. In no instance is this “job” described as a hierarchical function within a single congregation. “Preachers”, like “evangelists” and”apostles”, seem to have been primarily itinerant, proclaiming Jesus to the previously ignorant.

In the gospels, John the Baptist, Jesus, and his disciples are said to be “preaching.” In the case of Jesus and the disciples, the word is sometimes combined with “teaching” (Mt.9:35), “healing” (Lk.9:2), and “casting out demons” (Mk.1:38, 3:14). By far the most common reference is to “preaching/announcing the Kingdom” (Mt.4:17, 23; Mt.9:35, 10:7, 24:14; Lk.8:1, 9:2). It is primarily John the Baptist, not Jesus, who emphasizes “repentance” and “forgiveness” in his preaching (Mt.3:1, Mk.1:4,7; Lk.3:3). Please see also the previous post (#43), as some of these usages overlap.

The account of the early church in Acts, and Paul’s epistles, continues in the vein of an introductory proclamation to people or groups, and considerably broadens the base of “proclaimers.” Here, too, the subject matter is expanded to include Jesus’ resurrection (Ac.4:2, 17:3; I Cor.15:11-12 – actually the whole chapter). It also parallels the subjects listed in W.S.#43. “Preaching Jesus”, or “preaching Christ”, predominates, as well as “preaching the Word.” In contrast, again, to modern emphasis, “cross/crucified/crucifixion” is mentioned as the subject only once (I Cor.1:18-23). How, then, did that come to be the only acceptable focus for so many people? Folks who claim to “preach Christ” need to look again at all the wonderful things that such “preaching” includes: “Jesus Christ as the Son of God (II Cor.1:19), “the message of faithfulness”(Rom.10:8), “explaining about the resurrection” (Ac.17:3), “admonishing and teaching every person, in order that we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col.1:28), and persisting, like brother Paul imprisoned in Rome, in “preaching the Kingdom of God” (Ac.28:31)! “Inviting people to become colonists” (see above) of the Kingdom, seems to describe the task quite delightfully!
Do not neglect to note the warnings in II Cor.11:4 and much of Galatians, concerning the acceptance or propagation of “another gospel” – an erroneous or distorted version of the one Paul had proclaimed. The “real thing” comes (I Cor.2:4) not in fancy rhetoric and eloquent language, but in the simple demonstration of the power of God!
How carefully do you sift and evaluate what purports to be the “preaching of the gospel”?

At about this stage of a survey of the “job descriptions” in the New Testament church, someone frequently protests, “But if “pastors” and “bishops” represent just two of the tasks of “elders/old people”, and “preachers” are itinerant evangelists, then who’s in charge at home in the local congregation?”
The short answer is, NOBODY BUT THE LORD JESUS, through his Holy Spirit, with the elder members providing a degree of oversight and evaluation of the contributions of all the members!

Some groups, under the mistaken impression that they need “official” human leadership (to mediate – or replace? – the Holy Spirit?) have decided to pick out an individual – or several – whom they then elevate above the rest and call them “ministers,” (see W.S.#40), or “priests.” Sorry, but that doesn’t work in a New Testament church. Hiereus, “priest”, does not appear at all in Paul’s epistles. In the Gospels and Acts, it refers exclusively to the Jewish officials who uniformly opposed everything that Jesus did or said, except for one single reference (Ac.6:7) to a few individuals who had come to faith. The writer to the Hebrews spends considerable time in chapters 7, 8, and 9, reviewing the responsibilities of priests under the old covenant, and explaining Jesus’ superiority, noting that he has removed all need for their intricate ceremonies. Jesus’ position is compared to that of Melchizedek, who had no connection to the Levitical priesthood, but is called “a priest forever.”

The discussion in Hebrews also incorporates the word archiereus, “high” or “chief priests,”who, in the Gospels and Acts accounts, are also uniformly mentioned as Jesus’ opponents. Chapters 2 through 6 proclaim Jesus himself as the ultimate “high priest”, and the only mediator who is needed, in contrast to the multiplicity of the ancient hierarchy.

There are only two places where any form of “priesthood” refers to contemporary followers of Jesus, and none of these singles out any individual. I Peter 2:5 and 2:9 speak of the entire brotherhood of believers as “priests”: “You yourselves, also, as living stones, be continually built (into) a spiritual household, into a dedicated priesthood, to bring to God spiritual sacrifices that will be well-received because of Jesus Christ.” and “You all are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a set-apart [holy] nation, a people especially reserved for the purpose of sending out messages about the excellence of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light!”
Likewise, in the Revelation, (1:6, 5:10, 20:6), referring to the crowds singing praises around the throne, all of God’s people are proclaimed to be his “priests.”

As Dan noted in his response to W.S.#42, Martin Luther and other “reformers” had a lot to say about “the priesthood of all believers” – but somehow, both they and their descendents have neglected to treat that concept as a practical reality. Indeed, reference to “the priesthood of believers” has become nothing but a hollow buzz-word, if the privilege and responsibility to teach the word, proclaim the Kingdom, and organize the observance of its symbols is restricted to a narrow hierarchy of individuals, as it was before the arrival of our King!
These are tasks assigned to every citizen, for the benefit of every other such citizen, and for the glory of the Lord who has called us all!
“He has made US a kingdom – priests to God his Father! Glory and power to him forever!
Amen!” (Rev.1:6)

Amen indeed!

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