We are looking at what the Bible says about preaching, and how the modern practice doesn’t really match up with what the Bible reveals. Yesterday, we saw that preaching is more of an announcement or proclamation of what God is doing in the world. Today, I want to build on this, and show how preaching differs from teaching.
Preaching Was Short and Pithy
In preaching, when the herald went through the streets and marketplaces proclaiming the message from the emperor or king, those who heard the proclamation frequently asked questions, and often, the herald would answer them to the best of his ability. Furthermore, because he wanted to get as many people to hear his message as possible, it was usually short, pointed, and memorable so that people could take what they learn and spread the news.
With John the Baptist and with Jesus, the message they preached was “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” We often think this is the summary of this message, which in a way, it was, but it may also have been the totality of their message as well. For example, John may have gone into a marketplace or other area where people gathered, and simply walked around, shouting, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” This was preaching.
When was the last time you heard “preach” a sermon that was only nine words?
For Jewish people living under the rule of the Roman Empire, this was a message that got people’s attention, and which spread far and fast. Of course, it also generated many questions, such as when the Kingdom would arrive, who would be the King, how the new Kingdom would look, and how people should prepare for the kingdom. We read of John answering these sorts of questions in Luke 3:10-17.
The preaching of Jesus was similar, and most of the recorded messages and parables of Jesus in the Gospels are devoted to answering the questions that people had. Jesus had inaugurated a new kingdom, and He was explaining through His words and actions what this Kingdom looked like.
Teaching was Not a Monologue
Teaching differs from preaching. It has a different audience, a different message, and different content. To see this, let us look at the teaching method of Jesus.
The Gospels record very little of what Jesus said when He was teaching, but we do know that He performed a lot of teaching, and the Gospels do tell us what and where He taught. The Gospels record that every week on the Sabbath, Jesus could be found in the synagogue, teaching those who had gathered (cf. Luke 4:14-16, 31; 6:6). If Jesus followed the pattern of other Rabbis at the time, He would have read a text of Scripture and then explained it in detail, while answering questions or objections from the other members of the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:17-27). Regrettably, other than the few brief comments in Luke 4:20-27, not a single one of these synagogue Scripture teachings of Jesus are recorded in the Gospels.
Preaching and Teaching
So Jesus performed both preaching and teaching. He walked around the cities and towns of Israel proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and inviting people to participate in it. This was His preaching.
But Jesus also taught the Scriptures in the synagogue. This teaching was an interactive Scriptural discussion that probably looked more like a Bible study than our modern-day monologue sermon.
It should also be noted here that neither preaching nor teaching are the same thing as evangelism, which is a different type of proclamation altogether, with a different content, audience, and goal. I will talk more about evangelism in future posts, but for now, a chart might be helpful.
Short, pithy, memorable proclamation
Proclaim what God is doing in the world
An extended explanation of Scripture
Impart an Understanding of the Scriptures
Believers and Unbelievers
Declaration of everything related to Jesus Christ
Bring people to believe in Jesus for eternal life and become His followers
Therefore, we must be careful when reading Scripture to distinguish between preaching and teaching, and not confuse either one with what goes on today in most of our churches.
The practice in our churches of a person standing up in front of a group of people who sit passively in padded chairs for thirty minutes listening to a speech about a spiritual topic or passage from Scripture is not necessarily wrong; it is just not a practice that can be found within Scripture. To be honest, I am not sure that shouting in the streets is a good way to “preach” today. While we must not confuse what happens in our churches today with what is described in Scripture, this does not mean that the Scriptural method of preaching by shouting a short phrase in the streets would be a good way to preach today. I will look at these issues in future posts.
First, however, we need to look at some of the passages in Scripture which seem to indicate that long speeches to passive audiences did in fact occur. We will begin to look at some of these in the next post, beginning with Nehemiah 8:8.