What Should We Teach?

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. ~ Matthew 11:1

I quote this simply to point out that the New Testament uses two different words, “preach” and “teach.” Since I am not a biblical languages scholar nor-do-I-play-one-on-television, I don’t know all the nuances of difference between the two Greek words didaskō (teach) and kēryssō (preach; proclaim; herald). I can’t tell you of a certainty that the same words have the same meaning or would have been used in the same situations in which we’d use them today. (See also Acts 4:2, 5:42, 15:35 and Colossians 1:28, where they are used together.)

But I am of the opinion that the Holy Spirit does not use words lightly in scripture – certain words are used for certain reasons – and that we followers of Christ may well have gotten sloppy about what we preach and what we teach, as well as how and when and where.

Jesus taught in synagogues (Matthew 13:54; Mark 1:21, 6:2; 4:15, 13:10; John 6:59), the temple courts (Matthew 21:23; Mark 12:35, 18:49; Luke 19:47, 20:1, 21:37; John 7:14, 7:28, 8:2, 8:20), by a lake (Mark 2:13, 4:1; Luke 5:3), from village to village (Mark 6:7; Luke 13:22), in a house (Luke 5:17-18), even in the streets (Luke 13:26). His disciples followed suit (Acts 5:21 – apostles in the temple courts; Acts 18 – Paul and Apollos in synagogues; Acts 28:31 – Paul at his own house, Acts 8:25-40 – John, Peter and Phillip in village after village, etc.).

Recently, I posted a blog entry (What Should We Preach?) that listed incidences of preaching. Looking at these examples in the New Testament – plus those above – I can’t help but get the impression that there was a difference both in the matter and manner between preaching and teaching, at least in the majority of situations shared there.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, proclaimed, heralded – in a manner which invited no particular interaction. The truth was shared powerfully: Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God; He lived and died and was raised to nail our sins to the cross so that we might be resurrected to new life, eternal life. Simple. Truth. No controversy permitted.

Yet the situations in which other matters were taught seemed to be ones where dialogue was encouraged; people felt free to trade questions and answers. Yes, sometimes the gospel was taught, as well has having been preached or proclaimed. But look back again at what those matters were.

For the most part, what was taught was not the gospel – not the Truth itself – but the ways in which people respond to it; become part of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus taught in beatitudes and parables. He answered and asked questions. He said provocative things which begged for discussion and illumination. He taught about how the truth spreads, how to live it out in daily life, how to pray, and how therefore the kingdom propagates. He prodded about who the Messiah would be, and who people thought He was. He taught what would come, and how to prepare for it.

But what He first preached was the good news.

His followers taught all sorts of love-driven ways to imitate Jesus Christ; taught a theology of redemption, the dangers of heresies, the sufficiency of Christ’s blood and a host of other doctrines.

But what they first preached was the gospel.

I’m afraid that we Christians too often preach a lot of things we should be teaching, and give only teaching mentions and cameos to what we should primarily be preaching.

We wonder why we’re not persuading more people to follow Christ, yet we hardly ever proclaim Him.

We frequently herald a “gospel” of behavior modification but we rarely speak of the One whom we should be like.

We often preach our position on all sorts of disputable matters and neglect the weightiest matter of all.

I think there’s a reason why the gospel is of “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

I believe there’s a reason that “preach” (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) are the first imperative verbs in both instances of Jesus’ commission to His followers, followed later by “teach.”

I’m also persuaded that elevating the disputable matters and the doctrines of men to the level of preaching implies incorrectly that they are somehow a part of the gospel. By all means, teach such matters and do so in an environment where all are free to ask and answer questions. Pray together for discernment and the guidance of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14, Philippians 1:9-11, Luke 11:13).

And let the gospel be preached.

7 thoughts on “What Should We Teach?

  1. If I am not mistaken, Jewish preaching and teaching both were interactive, lively and loud. It wasn’t a prepared Socratic monologue. Give me the interactive thing in church and you won’t catch me falling a asleep or daydreaming about salmon fishing in Alaska…

  2. You may be right, Dusty Chris – and I’m usually more attentive to the interactive, too! But there is some suggestion in 1 Corinthians 14 that only two or three tongue-speakers and/or prophets should speak … maybe that’s the influence of Gentiles on the assembly.

  3. Although just two or three might speak (which is more than one)Scripture also says that “everyone of you has a word, a hymn, a teaching or revelation” I Cor. 14.26. Clearly it was more interactive and open to everyone to participate.

    Isn’t it time for the church to try something different, something more effective than the current model?

  4. Interesting take on the difference between “preach” and “teach” – I’ve not looked into this myself, but will now.

  5. I have not looked extensively to see if there are differences between “preach” and “teach”, and if so, what crossovers remain between the two words. However, I had a friend in seminary who did a research paper on the two words and, after concluding his research, believed that there was not only a difference between the two words but also not nearly as much similarity and cross-over as generally assumed by most Christians.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  6. You bring some good food for thought, thanks! It seems our biggest problem is a failure to preach Jesus. Can you imagine the things that could be accomplished for the kingdom if we centered our preaching on Jesus rather than our doctrine and traditions of controversy?

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