Seven Verbs Giving Gusto to New Testament Evangelism

While the study of nouns is very important, such as the church (ecclesiology), God (theology), or salvation (soteriology). How about the study of verbs that put these nouns into action? Salvation applied to a heart through the gospel evangelized and received? The calling and gathering of God’s elect into local churches? These nouns coupled with the verbs that move them to action provide a powerful grammatical mixture!

Evangelizology is therefore the study of evangelizing. Evangelizing is the act of preaching the gospel to the unsaved with the view of leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelization and evangelism are nouns based on the same root word, the noun “Evangel”, Gospel, or gospel, from which also comes the verb “evangelize”.

So, just as our English language has several ways of describing the concept of evangelism, the same is true for the New Testament. The Bible includes about 142 verbs and 19 nouns directly related to the act of the proclamation of the Gospel. Perhaps this chart [below] could be said to provide a backdrop of what is meant by evangelizing in the New Testament.

The plethora of verbs used attests to the number of valid approaches to evangelism. One way to view evangelism methodologies is to consider the question, is the gospel being proclaimed? Since the word “evangelize” is the verbal form of the noun “Evangel,” if the Evangel or gospel is being proclaimed, then it is, according to its root meaning, evangelism!

So Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:

“I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)*
*All Bible quotations in this article are from the Holman Christian Standard.

Even as all “means” by which the gospel is share are good, a study of the verbs used in evangelism is beneficial to understand the “means” encouraged and exemplified in the Bible. Among the 142 verbs used for evangelism in Scripture, some of them stand out as teaching important particularities related to the proclamation of the gospel. This article will look at seven of these.

  1. To Evangelize

The foundational term for evangelizing is the verb “evangelizing” in the New Testament. This verb is found 54, 55, or 56 times in the New Testament, depending on which Greek text is searched. And it is also found 22 times in the Old Testament Septuagint as a translation for the Hebrew stem basar.

The most well-know Old Testament usage is found in Isaiah 52:7, which was quoted by Paul in Romans 10:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa 52:7)

Both uses of the verb “evangelize” (in the Greek) are here translated by the English verb “proclaim.” For Paul Isaiah 52:7 provided a powerful precedent for his view of evangelizing (see Rom 10:15).

Of the 55 New Testament uses of “evangelize,” several stand out as particularly meaningful. In Luke 4:43, Jesus used the verb evangelize to explain His purpose for being sent to earth:

“But He said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.’” (Luke 4:43)

Behind the English verb “proclaim” is the Greek word “evangelize.” It is especially amazing that Jesus stated that He was sent with the obligation to evangelize. Hence the word “must”. As we read the story of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels we perceive His sense of obligation lived out in His exemplary life!

Another interesting use of the verb “evangelize” comes off the pen of Paul. In 1 Corinthians Paul used the verb “evangelize” 6 times. Similarly to Jesus above, Paul also uses this verb to frame his purpose for living:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” (1 Cor 1:17)

“For if I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast, because an obligation is placed on me. And woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward, but if unwillingly, I am entrusted with a stewardship.” (1 Cor 9:16-17)

While the translators of the Holman Christian Standard used the English verb “evangelize” in 1 Cor 1:17, 9:16 has a dual use of this verb:

“For if I evangelize… And woe to me if I evangelize not!”

As with Jesus in the Gospels, Paul’s example of evangelizing was laid out for us in the Book of Acts. These several uses of the verb evangelize show the importance of this verb in the New Testament.

It is worthy of note that the translators of the Holman Christian Standard broke new ground by translating euangelizo as “evangelize” 7 times in their translation (Acts 8:25, 40; 14:7, 21; 16:10; Rom 15:20; 1 Cor 1:17).

  1. To Proclaim

An important part of evangelizing involves proclaiming. The implication of the use of this term parallels the heralds of the kings in the Old Testament who went from city to city proclaiming the king’s message (2 Chronicles 30:6, 10).

And this was the methodology of Philip when he entered Samaria. He proclaimed (kerusso) as he evangelized (euangelizo):

“So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.” (Acts 8:4-5)

In these verses, Luke used the Greek verb for “evangelize” (euangelizo) in verse 4 and he used the verb “proclaim” (kerusso) in verse 5.

It is important to note that Jesus used the verb “proclaim” (kerusso) when He gave His Great Commission in Mark 16:

“Then He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’” (Mark 16:15)

Rather than implying one-to-one evangelism (as perhaps the verb evangelize does), the concept of proclamation implies bold preaching to a group of people. This verb is used 31 times in the New Testament in evangelistic contexts.

  1. To Boldly Speak

The verb “to speak boldly” in Greek is paresiozoo. It used 9 times in the New Testament in the context of evangelism. This verb is found used alone and with in combination with other verbs. Two examples of its being used alone are found in Acts 9:27-28 to describe the early ministry of the Apostle Paul:

“Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” (Act 9:27-28)

While translated “speaking boldly, the verb is used by itself in this context. However, paresiozoo is also used coupled with the verb “to speak.” One example of this verbal duo is in 1 Thessalonians:

“On the contrary, after we had previously suffered, and we were treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, we were emboldened by our God to speak the gospel of God to you in spite of great opposition.” (1 Thess 2:2)

The power of this word is its counter-cultural, counter-physical, and counter-emotional context wherein the speaker went beyond outward circumstances to proclaim the name of Jesus with boldness.

  1. To Confess

The verb “confess” is used 24 times in the New Testament, seven of these in evangelistic contexts. The power of this word is its use in multiple settings, from confessing sins to God, to confessing Christ before men.

The complexity of this term is increased by the six ways that various churches have used this term in their views of salvation and worship:

  • Reactive, confessing Christ when asked
  • Sacramental, going to a Confessional to confess
  • Liturgical, confessing a Creed
  • Conversionistic, confessing Christ verbally to be saved
  • Baptistic, obeying Christ in baptism as public confession
  • Proactive, speaking of Christ to men as public confession

Beyond these varied interpretations and applications, the verb confess provides a very powerful admonition to evangelize. For example, here is what the Baptist Balthasar Hubmaier wrote back in 1524:

“If anyone confessed Christ before men, not fearing them, though they rage as lions, Christ will confess him, in the presence of the Father. (Matt. 10; Mark 8)”

Hubmaier was martyred in 1528, being burned alive for confessing Christ. Matthew 10 twice uses the verb confess (translated “acknowledge” in the Holman Christian Standard):

“Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.” (Matt 10:32-33)

Just as verbal denial was decried by Christ, so verbal confession is required by Christ as a necessity for His followers. The Mark 8 passage to which Hubmaier was referring above makes it absolutely clear:

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

  1. To Teach

Teaching is also a part of good evangelizing. In fact, the verb teach is found 18 times in evangelistic contexts. Two of these uses are used in parallel with the verb “evangelize” in Luke-Acts. These two uses provide a bridge between the ministry of Jesus and that of the Apostles:

“One day as He was teaching the people in the temple complex and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the scribes, with the elders, came up and said to Him: ‘Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Who is it who gave You this authority?’” (Luke 20:1-2)

“Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 5:42)

The use of both “teaching” and “evangelizing” in tandem in these two writings of Luke draws strong parallels between the evangelism ministry of Jesus (as noted in Luke 4:43) and the evangelism ministry of the apostles in Acts. Further, by way of application, the use of the verb “teaching” in evangelizing contexts shows that what is said in evangelism ought to be accurate and informative to the recipient of the gospel.

  1. To Persuade

The use of persuasion in evangelism is another interesting verb. The Greek verb peitho is usually translated “persuade”. This verb is used seven times in evangelism contexts. Consider for example the evangelistic context of the word “persuade” in Acts 28:

“After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.” (Acts 28:23-24)

In this case, we find Paul persuading (active voice) and we see some being persuaded (passive voice). Paul sought to persuade, and he used the Bible as the basis of his persuasive power. However, even with all the persuasive efforts of Paul, there was a mixed reception: some were persuaded, but others did not believe. The “all” and the “some” of 1 Cor 9:22 (as quoted above) worked itself experientially in the ministry of Paul. So, clearly in a context of evangelism, some persuasion is both useful and necessary, as exemplified by the ministry of the Apostle Paul.

  1. To Take Men Alive

The last of the seven verbs is the verb zogreo—to “capture men alive”. This unusual and powerful term was used by Jesus when He described the ministry to which He was calling Peter in Luke 5:10:

“For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they took, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jesus told Simon. ‘From now on you will be catching people!’” (Luke 5:9-10)

The phrase “you will be catching people” is the English translation of “you will be capturing men alive.” Jesus used this military verb found eight times in the Old Testament Septuagint. It was used of King David capturing enemy soldiers:

“He also defeated the Moabites, and after making them lie down on the ground, he measured them off with a cord. He measured every two cord lengths of those to be put to death and one length of those to be kept alive. So the Moabites became David’s subjects and brought tribute.” (2 Sam 8:2)

It was also used of the battles of Amaziah:

“Amaziah strengthened his position and led his people to the Valley of Salt. He struck down 10,000 Seirites, and the Judahites captured 10,000 alive. They took them to the top of a cliff where they threw them off, and all of them were dashed to pieces.” (2 Chron 25:11-12)

Most importantly, from an evangelism perspective, Rahab the Harlot used this term when she pleaded for the lives of her family members in Joshua 2:

“Now please swear to me by the LORD that you will also show kindness to my family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.” (Jos 2:12-13)

In this use of zogreo by Rahab, translated “spare the lives,” she linked it to a second verbal phrase, “save us from death.” So she linked “capture alive” with “deliver our souls from death.” So there was a spiritual dynamic to her request for her family.

There is, however, a second use of the verb zogreo in the New Testament. This one relates to the work of the Devil:

“Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:26)

This use of the verb zogreo provides a humble reminder to the Christian that Satan prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to ensnare and entrap the unsuspecting. Even while Satan never sleeps, the Christian needs-be about the business for which he has been commissioned by Christ. He must seek to “capture men alive” while it is still day. Indeed, night is coming when no man can work.

 

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Four Ways to Kindle Faithfulness in Personal Evangelism

A student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked me a great question. He said, “Dr. Johnston, what is one thing that has been most helpful to you in maintaining endurance in evangelism?” When Tyler asked me this question, my first thought was, “Have I endured in personal evangelism?” “Am I truly faithful?” Well, I want to be faithful! And in the eyes of Tyler, a 55-year-old professor leading street and door-to-door evangelism is an example of endurance. If this is truly the case, all I can say is “Praise the Lord,” and “To God be the glory!”

So, in keeping with Tyler’s excellent question, my mind has expanded from one thing to four ways that have contributed to my remaining faithful in personal evangelism.

  1. Plan It in Your Weekly Schedule

The one most important thing that forces me to remain faithful in evangelism is to plan it in my weekly schedule. More than anything else, planning time for street or door-to-door evangelism in my weekly schedule has been the one thing that has prompted a level of faithfulness in this most challenging spiritual discipline.

When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School my evangelism professor required that we turn in an Evangelism Contact Report each week for ten weeks. At first I resented that requirement. But during that next four years the Lord used that one requirement to transform my entire life in the area of evangelism.

That same fall I began to go out in evangelism weekly with the Wheaton Evangelistic Team. On one of these evenings a student named Henry said, “Tom, let me show you how it’s done.” We crossed the street and began talking to taxi drivers across from the Water Tower Place. It was an amazing time of growth and stretching!

A veil over my eyes was soon lifted. I began to see those I encountered much as described by Jesus, “weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). These experiences raised my eyes to see as Jesus:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35)

Leading a weekly evangelism team has proven the best spiritual discipline to allow me to maintain a heart for the lost.

  1. Find a Friend to Join with You

Closely akin to going out in planned weekly evangelism is going with someone else. God gave me a good friend to go out with me in the early years of the Trinity Evangelistic Team. I quickly learned that street evangelism was not an activity that I should be doing alone. Dave and I would head down to the Water Tower place together on Saturday nights for evangelism. After I began recruiting students for the evangelism team, God brought other men to partner with me in street evangelism. Leading evangelism teams has led to a lifetime of building friendships, spending time in prayer, encouraging one another, and sharing the gospel together.

It is no surprise that Christ sent out his disciples two-by-two (Matt 10; Mark 6; or Luke 9, 10). Two are definitely better than one! If you want to remain encouraged in weekly scheduled evangelism, find someone else to go out with you.

  1. Regularly Pray by Name for Those You Encounter

It was only after being involved in intentional evangelism that I truly developed a spiritual burden for others. I began to encounter a large number of people with hugely diverse spiritual needs. Time on my knees turned from being inward focused to caring about the spiritual lives of others. I prayed for them by name. I also began to be more earnest in praying for them while I was with them. I cried out to God on their behalf.

I began to add the names of my contacts to a prayer list. Soon that list became too long for me to pray through all the names, so I began a notation system to focus on those who made specific decisions. As this list grew, the paper began to deteriorate from daily use, and my small three-ring binder began to fall apart.

A great lesson of that period of my life came from the long list of names of people I had spoken to about Jesus. The harvest truly is white, as Jesus had said. And the laborers are few.

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Matt 9:36-38)

These timeless truths remain wherever we may find ourselves: “the harvest is truly plentiful”! Praying for those we encounter helps us maintain a burden for sharing the gospel with lost souls around us every day.

  1. Memorize Verses that Specifically Motivate Obedience in Evangelism

A fourth motivator for me in evangelism was to memorize verses that spur on urgent evangelism. There are numerous verses that describe the four urgencies of evangelism:

  • Jesus is coming back quickly!
  • The lost are really lost and headed for hell!
  • The Christian is accountable for the lost whom he should reach!
  • The time is short and the harvest is white!

Each one of these concepts provides powerful incentive to remain active in evangelism, along with the many verses that are related to each of these topics.

There are some verses that provide unusual examples of a the motivation for evangelism:

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (1 Cor 1:17)

“For if I evangelize, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not evangelize! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” (1 Cor 9:16-17)

Further, several verses exemplify the need for diligence in the work of evangelism:

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:16-17)

These and many other verses provide a spiritual incentive to evangelize. Hiding these Scripture in our hearts gives the Holy Spirit tinder for kindling the flame when a cold blanket settles on our soul.

Need to rekindle a heart for the lost and a passion for evangelism? Add evangelism into your weekly calendar; find a friend to join you; begin praying for those you encounter; and memorize soul-winning verses. Soon God will pour His passion for souls into your heart!

Nine Verbs NOT used for Evangelism in the New Testament-with charts

Next month a group of students and two faculty members will be leaving Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City to head to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Part of the cacophony of activities in New Orleans is a wide spectrum of evangelistic ministries. These ministries range from people holding up “Need Prayer” signs to others that say “You Are Going to Hell!” Those who hold those signs generally speak to those who pass by in a way that is concomitant to the signs they hold.

In order to ground our thoughts about what is appropriate in evangelism and what is not, it would do us well to glean wisdom from the Word of God in this area.

In gathering and listing 142 verbs and 19 nouns used to describe evangelism in the New Testament, I had the idea of gathering communicatory verbs that were not used for evangelism. So, over the past ten or so years I have been gathering these verbs, which provide a type of photonegative for what evangelism is not meant to be. Among the 68 communicatory verbs and 7 nouns that are not used for evangelism, I have chosen nine verbs that speak to what evangelism is not.

  1. Stirring up a Crowd/Starting a Riot

While there are quite a number of riots started in the New Testament, they are never started by Christ or his disciples. Riots were always started by antagonists of the gospel. It is interesting to note that Paul in his defense actually disavowed ever having provoked a riot:

“And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city.” (Acts 24:12)

Yet, this was exactly the technique of Paul’s antagonists, who had provoked a riot against Paul:

“Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him.” (Acts 21:27)

  1. Cursing

Cursing is defined as “An appeal or prayer for evil or misfortune to befall someone or something” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com). Although the word is used in the New Testament on several occasions, it is never used in the context of evangelism. Biblical evangelism does not include expounding curses on other people. Rather our speech should “always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6).

  1. Threatening

While it is easy to respond in kind if we are reviled, we are taught in the Bible that we should not menace others who may be rejecting Jesus. Ours is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). Further, Jesus gave the example of not threatening others, even when he was in the midst of unjust suffering:

“Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Pet 2:23)

It is a dangerous thing when our evangelism descends to be nothing more that menacing tones of threatening.

  1. Reproaching or Insulting

Another word never used in an evangelistic context is that of reproaching or insulting another person. Paul admitted that the gospel that he was proclaiming did bring him reproaches and insults:

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).

So while Paul was suffering reproach, he was not reproaching others. This verb in the Greek (oneidizo, to reproach) is found 9 or 10 times in the New Testament, depending on the version of the Greek being used. None of these 9 or 10 uses describes how Jesus or one of His followers was evangelizing.

  1. Speaking Evil of

Another similar verb is the Greek verb kakologeo, which means to speak evil of someone else. This verb is found 4 times in the New Testament. For example, it is used in the Book of Acts to describe the behavior that led Paul to “shake the dust off of his feet.” When some in the synagogue at Ephesus spoke evil of Paul, he left and met elsewhere:

“But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” (Acts 19:9)

Again, here is another verb that is not used for evangelism, but rather its usage relates to antagonists of the gospel.

  1. Speaking Against

This verb appears to be using pyrrhonic logic in evangelism. That is, tearing down everything the other person is saying. In the Greek it is the verb antilego, or to speak against or to contradict. This verb is also found 9 times in the New Testament, and it is never in the context of evangelism. One use relates to the response of the Jews to the receptivity of the Gentiles in Antioch:

“But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.” (Acts 13:45)

  1. Deceiving

Deception is not to be used in evangelism at any time and under any circumstances. Satan is the father of lies, and God can only speak the truth. As followers of Christ, therefore, it behooves us never to lie when we are evangelizing. The verb for lying (5 NT uses) and leading astray (40 NT uses) are never used in a context of godly evangelism. Rather these verbs are used of the evangelism of false teachers who intentionally or unintentionally deceive others with their message:

“For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Rom 16:18)

  1. Arguing or Debating

Another interesting set of verbs not used for evangelism relates to arguing and debating. Again, debate was the method or style of the antagonists of the gospel, but it is never used of Jesus or the disciples:

“But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.” (Acts 6:9)

For example, the Greek verb suzeteo (10 NT uses, meaning to argue, debate, discuss, question) is never used for evangelism. It does not appear that Christ has sent us out to debate others. Rather he was sent us to lovingly proclaim the Good News to those who are receptive.

  1. Debating or Dialoguing

Similarly to debating is the concept of dialoguing. Each party in a discussion sharing their point of view, and seeking to find a middle ground, as it were. The Greek verb sumballo (6 NT uses, meaning to debate, confer) is not used in an evangelistic context. Interestingly it is used of those that Paul was seeking to reach prior to the Mars Hill disrupted sermon:

“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” (Act 17:18)

The first highlighted term, “encountered” is the English translation of the verb sumballo. The philosophers were debating or dialoguing with Paul. Meaning, however, Paul “preached to them.” The verb for “preach” is the verb “evangelize” in the Greek. Whereas the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers were batting ideas back and forth to Paul, Paul held his ground and was evangelizing Jesus and His resurrection.

So here are nine examples of the 68 verbs in the New Testament that do not describe evangelism. They are, as it were, the photonegative of what true evangelism ought to be. So it is interesting that while the Bible has a lot to say about evangelism, it even speaks by what it does not say about evangelism.

May our speech always give grace and be seasoned with salt!

Can you think of other lessons from these words, or other New Testament concepts that I have not listed?

[comments based on the charts below from an unpublished update of Evangelizology]

verbs & nouns for evangelizing

verbs & nouns not used for evangelizing