What does the Bible say about evangelism? We’ve gathered a list of familiar words to study more closely and learn what the Bible says about evangelism and outreach—and what those words mean for today’s Church as it reaches out to an unsaved world.
An article on “outreach” in the Bible should be pretty short. The word doesn’t even occur in Scripture. Neither do other repeatedly used, modern-day words like “evangelism,” “soul-winning,” or “campaigns to reach the lost.” However, the concept of outreach runs throughout the Old and New Testaments via biblical words that lend new significance and meaning to our attitudes and approaches toward sharing the Gospel with the unchurched.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT EVANGELISM
Poreuomai (por YOU oh my): “Go”
In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), God gave the Church its marching orders: Go—to the whole world, to the end of the age. While in the original Greek, poreuomai is a participle, it shares the force of the imperative command to “make disciples.” We can’t make disciples of all nations without actually going. Fortunately, all major Bible translations correctly catch this idea, saying, “Go and make disciples.” The heart of outreach is reaching out—by going to the people who are lost.
The second half of the familiar verse includes matheteuo (mah thay TYOO oh), meaning to “make disciples.” After Christ’s disciples go, they are to “make disciples” of others. Essentially, a disciple is a learner. Our task is to enroll people into the Kingdom.
To sum up the Great Commission, “going” comprises the necessary prerequisite action, while “make disciples” is the main command.
The third part of the verse, “baptizing and teaching,” consists of explanatory components of what the command includes. Underlying the Commission is the authority given to Jesus. He has the right to tell us what to do.
Euangelizo (you ahn geh LID zo): “Evangelize”
The word “evangelize” actually is in the Bible, but it’s not translated that way. In Acts, Paul uses the word 15 times. In Acts 5:42, euangelizo is translated, “proclaiming the good news.” It didn’t have to be a proclamation from the pulpit; believers just went everywhere spreading the joyous message (Acts 8:4).
The early uses of euangelizo are vivid. A swift runner brings the good news of military victory to an anxiously waiting city. Two horsemen race to “evangelize” a politician that he has won an election. It is “good news” to announce a wedding or to proclaim the birth of a son. The news is urgent and joyful. If those events were good news, how much more so is our Gospel?
Kerysso (kay ROO so): “Preach”
Reaching out with the Gospel also includes formal preaching. Kerysso comes from the word keryx (KAY roox), meaning a “herald.” In the ancient culture’s pre-microphone days, these public proclaimers’ voices needed to be loud and clear. The Greeks even held herald contests along with the athletic contests at their great national festivals. The herald’s job was to call soldiers to battle, to summon citizens to the public assembly, and to proclaim the king’s edicts. A herald spoke under the authority of his king; his message was not to be ignored.
Part of outreach, then, is what Paul told Timothy: “Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). God’s herald does not preach himself, but Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 4:5). The message has never changed: We preach Christ crucified—the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23). This is what God wants us to do.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT WHY GOD WANTS US TO DO EVANGELISM
Splanchnizomai (splahk NID zo my): “To show compassion”
This remarkably ugly-looking word is the heart of outreach—our motive for reaching out. To the ancient Greeks, the seat of emotions was not the heart, but the bowels—the splanchna. To feel something in the splanchna meant to be “moved with compassion.”
Every use of this verb in the New Testament either describes Jesus or is used by Him in one of His parables (the forgiving master, the good Samaritan, the prodigal’s father). When Jesus saw people who were like lost sheep without a shepherd, He “had compassion” on them and taught them (Mark 6:34). Moreover, it was this same compassion that prompts the Lord of Harvest to send out workers into His harvest field (Matt. 9:36-38). The heart of outreach is our compassion for those who don’t know Christ.
Sozo (SO dzo): “To save”
Jesus came “to seek and to save” the lost. In everyday Greek, the word sozo meant to “heal,” to “make whole.” When Jairus’ daughter was dying, he pleaded with Jesus to come and put His hands on her so that she would “be healed” (sozo) and live. In the next few minutes, the woman with the flow of blood reached out to touch Jesus’ garments so that she could “be healed” (sozo). When Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole,” the word was sozo.
The purpose of our outreach, then, is not just to pass out free tickets to heaven. God wants to do more than just forgive people for being sinful. He wants to heal them. We bring the good news that God can heal to a broken, fallen world.
Koinonia (koi no NEE ah): “Fellowship”
When people are harvested into God’s family, they are brought into a precious fellowship, called koinonia. The Greeks used the word to describe a business partnership, a close friendship, a communal society, and even a marriage. It meant a sharing of life and intimate companionship.
As members of Christ’s body, we have fellowship with God and with one another. But this fellowship is not just inward; it must also be outward. Koinonia means “sharing your faith” (Philem. 1:6); koinonia is “partnership in the Gospel” (Phil. 1:5). Koinonia is reaching out to draw others into fellowship in God’s family.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HOW GOD WANTS US TO DO EVANGELISM
Apologia (ah pol oh GEE ah): “Defense”
In ancient culture, the word apologia reflected a noble status. It was a “formal defense” spoken in court or a “strong written statement” that proved a person was in the right. The “Apology” of Justin Martyr, for example, was a dynamic defense of the Christian faith.
But the word has fallen on hard times. Today an apology is “an expression of regret for causing offense.” The most common apology is the abject admission, “I’m sorry.”
Peter challenges his readers to “be ready to make a defense” (or “be prepared to give an apologia”) in 1 Peter 3:15, which begs the question: What kind of apologia are we presenting? “I’m a Christian, and I’m ready to present my case,” or “I’m a Christian…and I’m sorry.”
Martyria (mar tu REE ah): “Witness”
In the Greek court, an eyewitness was expected to give his testimony to confirm a truth. His testimony was called martyria, and he was called a martyr. At first, the word carried no association with death—just “giving testimony.” But early Christians changed all that. Stephen was a witness, and it cost him his life (Acts 22:20). By the end of the first century, so many witnesses had paid with their lives that “the blood of the witnesses” is often translated “the blood of the martyrs.” (Rev. 17:6) They made their defense with boldness—even to death.
Parresia (par ray SEE ah): “Boldness”
In the democracy of the ancient Greek city-states, every citizen had the right to speak up and be heard. The word for their confident freedom of speech was parresia, translated “boldness.”
The early Church prayed with boldness in Heb. 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” And they prayed for strength to preach with boldness in Acts 4:29-30: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
When people saw the boldness of their outreach, they could not help but conclude, “These men have been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
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