Back in the late 1960s, the Green Bay Packers had just lost to a team they should have easily defeated. Coach Vince Lombardi, football in hand, told his players, “Men, today we will get back to the basics—this is a football.” Understanding evangelism begins with, and never moves past, the Word of God. A variety of terms help us understand New Testament teaching about evangelism. Here are four key terms to help us understand evangelism.
First, Communicate Good News. The basic word for “evangelism” in the New Testament is the term transliterated into the English as “evangel” (noun) or “evangelize” (verb). The term euangelizo means “I communicate good news.” You can see the prefix eu, which means “good.” Think of other words that begin with eu: “eulogy”—a good word spoken of someone at a funeral; “eureka”—a good discovery; “euphoria”—a good feeling. The main part of the word evangelism contains the English term “angel,” a messenger. So to evangelize means to tell a good message. In the New Testament, the term implies a good message, as in a victory. While some people might attempt to make us feel as though evangelism imposes on the privacy of others or exemplifies a narrow view of reality, let us never forget we share the good news—Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the grave!
You see the verb form some thirty-three times in the New Testament. It’s most common in Luke’s Gospel, the Acts, and Paul’s epistles. The noun form euangelion occurs seventy-six times in the New Testament. It can be translated “gospel,” “good news,” or “evangel.” It emphasizes not just any good news but a specific message. Paul particularly used this term a great deal. Our primary message is the specific news that Jesus died and rose again. Part of our problem in the church today is our penchant for giving so many messages about so many things we care about, from issues in culture to personal preferences. We do this far better than we proclaim Jesus as the hope for the world, and the one whose gospel lies at the heart of all our other concerns, as vital as they may be.
Paul told the Corinthians: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1 KJV). He then summarized the gospel with the death, burial, and resurrection. There are two essential issues that confront every person: sin and death. On the cross Jesus dealt with the sin problem; in the empty tomb He defeated death. We have good news! Paul was a one trick pony: he proclaimed Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
We must recover evangelism as telling good news!
Another interesting use of this term is the expression evangelistes. You find it three times in the New Testament, each time translated “evangelist.” We read of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8). Ephesians 4:11 calls “the evangelist” (note, not evangelism) one of the examples of spiritual leadership in the church. Paul exhorted Timothy (and all ministers) to do “the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).
Second, We Herald or Proclaim a Message. A second term is kerusso and its related forms. This verb form means “to proclaim in the manner of a herald.” It implies the declaration of an event. The verb form is found sixty-one times in the New Testament. While not always referring to proclaiming the gospel, often it is used in that regard. In fact, at times kerusso and evangelizomai are used as synonyms, as in Romans 10:14–15. On twelve occasions the expression kerussein to euaggelion, “preach the gospel,” is found in the New Testament, showing the close relation between the terms.
The noun kerygma is found eight times in the New Testament. It means “the proclamation.”
Third, We Witness Or Testify. We see this in Luke 24:48 and Acts 1:8. Notice the words translated martureo (verb) and marturion (noun). Today we think of a martyr as someone who died for the faith. The Greek word martyr literally means “a witness.” The term is similar to the English word, for a witness was someone who gave testimony to things they had experienced. Peter declared, “We cannot help but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). But a witness gave testimony through words and actions. Many early believers died because of their commitment to Christ, leading to the expression martyr to describe such faithful witnesses. For many early Christians, it was better to die than to stop testifying about Christ.
The reason many believers today do not attempt to share their faith is because they have gotten over their salvation! The early believers did not—indeed they could not—get past the radical transformation they experienced through the gospel.
Fourth, We Make Disciples. Matheteusate is the main verb in the Great Commission passage, Matthew 28:19–20: “Go . . . and make disciples.” The verb in this passage is an imperative, a command. The Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion! We are not merely to proclaim good news; we are to make disciples. And, making disciples means more than helping Christians grow.
It is interesting that these terms can be seen in Great Commission passages in the Gospels and Acts:
- make disciples (Matt 28:19)
- good news, gospel (Mark 16:15)
- proclaim (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47)
- witness (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8)
There are other words used at times in regard to evangelism, such as laleo, “I speak,” or the times we read of Paul “reasoning” with others about the gospel, but the above are central to understanding the New Testament meaning of evangelism. Other expressions give insight into the message of the early church also. Followers of Christ were called to be fishers of men (Mark 1:16–20; Matt 4:18-22); salt of the earth (Matt 5:13); light of the world (Matt 5:14); fruit-bearers (John 15:8); and ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20).
May we be active in sharing the good news!
[Adapted from the Evangelism Handbook]