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Thoughts on "Heralding" the Gospel

H A Barnes, Westhoughton


One of the original Greek words used in the New Testament for gospel preaching means "a public proclamation by a herald". In those days heralds represented kings, princes, military leaders, magistrates or civil authorities, personally and publicly conveying their messages to the people, unchanged and with clarity and solemnity. Such heralding emphasised the representative character of the commissioned herald, and the seriousness, dignity and authority of his proclamation, since it is "always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed" (Thayer's New Testament Greek Lexicon). When we find this word used for gospel preaching we should immediately realize the implications, since there is nothing more important than God's message, from God's messenger, being delivered to unsaved people with all earnestness, authority and dignity. It is interesting to note in the New Testament the verses in which our particular "herald" word is used for preaching, as it is often when the divine authority of the message is to be highlighted along with the great resultant responsibility of the hearers. We will now examine actual examples, in all of which the word "preach" in its various forms has the implication of "heralding".

John the Baptist John the Baptist arrived on the scene unannounced and without human accreditation, but he was a herald, a forerunner with a message to be "listened to and obeyed". Unusually he heralded "in the wilderness", in "all the country about Jordan" (Mt 3.1; Mk 1.4; Lk 3.3), far away from the great public centres but proclaiming with divine authority. Malachi's quoted prophecy perfectly illustrates the herald character of John's preaching "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me" (Mal 3.1; cf Is 40.3).

The disciples

The disciples were commanded by the Lord Jesus to herald when "he ordained twelve … that he might send them forth to preach" (Mk 3.14); "And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God" (Lk 9.2). Then, later, we read His instruction "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16.15), and "they went forth, and preached everywhere" (Mk 16.20). Luke's Gospel also uses our "herald" word - "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations" (Lk 24.47), where "in his name" implies that they would be representatives of their absent Lord, sent by His authority with His message which is "the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 1.8). Interestingly, our "herald" word is not found at all in any of John's writings.


When Saul set out to arrest Christians in Damascus, he had with him written authority in the form of letters from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 9.2; 22.5) to whom the Romans had granted jurisdiction over all matters Jewish. Following his vision of the Lord Jesus on the way, he was converted and "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God" (Acts 9.20), where "preached" is our word "heralded". So, in the very synagogues where he would have previously shown his written authority, he proclaimed Christ with the authority of the One who had so recently commissioned him (v.15)!

No doubt the itinerant Jewish exorcists who tried to imitate Paul attempted to sound more credible by chanting in their exorcisms "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth" (Acts 19.13). However, rather than being freed of his demon, the man attacked and wounded them. They had no real authority! How different from Paul speaking to the Ephesian assembly elders, when he reminded them that his ministry was "received of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 20.24). Therefore it is not surprising that he tells them "I have gone [about, JND] preaching the kingdom of God" (v.25). Even when he was imprisoned in Rome, we read that he was "Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him" (Acts 28.31).

Paul pondered the effectiveness of gospel preaching, and asked the questions "how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10.14) and "how shall they preach, except they be sent?" (v.15). Of those gospel heralds, divinely sent, "it hath been written, 'How beautiful the feet of those proclaiming good tidings of peace, of those proclaiming good tidings of the good things!'" (v.15 YLT). The irony of gospel preaching is that both Jews and Gentiles are offended by the cross, which is an offence [stumbling-block] (Gal 5.11). But "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor 1.21). Further Paul said "my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor 2.4).

In 2 Corinthians Paul wrote "the Son of God, Jesus Christ … was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus" (2 Cor 1.19), reminding us of the activities of his co-workers. However, he later notes about them that "we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor 4.5). A faithful herald proclaims the message of the one who sent him, with nothing added and nothing taken away. If this were not the case "he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted" (2 Cor 11.4).

The Galatian Christians amazed Paul in that they had so soon been bewitched and had "removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Gal 1.6). He tells them that at Jerusalem he "communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" (Gal 2.2). He later reminded them "… if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased" (Gal 5.11). Since faithful heralding demands that the message delivered on behalf of another is unchanged, there was therefore no temptation to Paul to escape persecution by substituting the message of the cross with one of circumcision, that is, Judaism.

Of course, clear heralding externally is no guarantee of a clear conscience internally, since "Some indeed preach Christ even [because] of envy and strife [rivalry]" (Phil 1.15). Another feature of heralding is that the same message should be delivered in every place and at all times, so Paul speaks of "the gospel … which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister" (Col 1.23; see also 1 Thess 2.9).

Paul reminded Timothy that a great truth of the gospel was "God was manifest in the flesh … preached unto the Gentiles" (1 Tim 3.16). But finally, the great charge to Timothy in a day of growing hostility to the truth of God, even among professing Christians, was "Preach the word" (2 Tim 4.2). The last occurrence of Paul's heralding is most striking where, during his second imprisonment, at his first court hearing, Paul found that "the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (2 Tim 4.17) - perhaps even the Roman emperor Nero himself!


To preach the gospel appropriately we should show a proper balance in that we speak the good news to generate joy in the hearers, but we should also fearlessly herald the message with authority, seriousness, and "reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12.28) to produce obedience in the hearers as well.



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