Basic Definition. "To evangelize" is to proclaim the good news of the victory of God's salvation. "Evangelism" is the noun denoting that activity. This biblical concept is expressed through a Hebrew verb (basar [r;f'B]) and a Greek verb and noun (euangelizo [eujaggelivzw] and euangelion [eujaggevlion]). Euangelion [eujaggevlion] is normally translated "gospel, " denoting the content of the good news. But it can also be a noun of action, describing the activity of telling that news ( eg 1:1 9:14 ; 2 Col 2:12 ; Php 1:5 ).
The Old Testament. In family matters, one may "bring news" to a father that a male child is born ( Jer 20:15 ). In military matters, "to evangelize" is to bring news of the outcome of a military engagement, usually a victory ( 1 Sam 31:9 ; 2 Sam 18:31 ; 1 Kings 1:42 ; but cf. 1 Sam 4:17 ). This secular usage serves as the background for the theological usage in Isaiah and the psalms.
Since Israel's national destiny is in God's sovereign hands, and he fights the nation's battles for her, any announcement of military victory necessarily has theological meaning. The victory over the Canaanite kings in the conquest of the land is so complete and certain that it is captured in a juxtaposition of its prelude"The Lord announced the word"and aftermath"and great was the company of those who proclaimed it" ( Psalm 68:11 ; cf. Exod 15:20-21 ).
The initial act of bringing the news of military victory can be a religious act for pagan nations as well ( 1 Sam 31:9 ; cf. 2 Sam 1:20 ). But for Israel, the "good news" is that the Lord has freed (vindicated) the nation and its divinely anointed ruler from the hands of their enemies. When the lepers discover the abandoned camp of the Syrian siege-makers of Elisha's and Jehoram's day, they name it "a day of good news" ( 2 Kings 7:9 ). To withhold proclamation of this divinely accomplished victory is not right (7:9). Indeed, they must tell the beneficiaries of the victory immediately.
David appropriates "evangelism" terminology for the worship context as he describes his confession before the God of divine deliverance: "I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly" ( Psalm 40:9 ). Again there is a protestation of moral constraint: "I do not seal my lips." The message proclaimed is that God has acted in accordance with his character, his righteousness. He explains God's actions further by referring to God's reliability: God's faithfulness, truth, covenant loyalty and love, and salvation ( 40:10 ). The audience is the people of God, "the great assembly" ( 40:9-10 ).
What is true on a personal level is true for the nation as the people return the ark of the covenant to its rightful place at the center of Israel's worship ( 1 Chron 16:23-25 / Psalm 96:2-4 ). In an act of worship the whole earth is exhorted to continually proclaim good tidings. The message is an announcement of the salvation, glory, and mighty deeds of the supreme God, who is great and greatly to be praised. The messenger, the message, and the audience all have a universal quality.
Isaiah makes the most extensive and significant contribution to understanding the proclamation of the victory of God's final salvation in its Old Testament promise form ( 40:9-11 ; 52:7 ; 60:6 ; 61:1 ). This prophet's teaching is not only foundational for seminal New Testament passages, but it is also the source for the New Testament use of the term "gospel."
Within the context of predicting comfort for Israelthe return to the land of those in exile in BabylonIsaiah unfolds a scene of redemption that will only be fully realized at the end of time. The prophet relates the proclamation of the good news of the victory of God's salvation in progressive stages until the Gentiles are publishing it.
At God's initiative ( 41:27 ) a messenger arrives from Babylon bringing good news of happiness (good, 52:7 ). The "beautiful feet" figure, along with the joyful response, indicate the news' value and personal benefit. As in the military context, the basic message is one of complete victory: "Your God reigns!" God, with supreme sovereign power, has acted in covenant loyalty to Israelto restore, comfort, redeem, save, and protect her ( 52:8-12 ). Israel will know peace, good, and salvation ( 52:7 ). To speak of restoration, redemption, and salvation in the sight of all the nations and all the ends of the earth points us beyond the return from exile to full salvation at the end of time ( 52:10 ). The prophet emphasizes a Spirit-empowered messenger divinely sent "to bring good news to the afflicted."
Isaiah 61:1-3 also unveils the physical/spiritual dynamic of this salvation along with the relationship between proclamation and accomplishment. It is possible to view the messenger's message and mission as dealing only with the external, physical, socioeconomic condition of the exile and the emotional trauma it has caused. Indeed many who practice a liberation theology hermeneutic see these verses and Jesus' appropriation of them as justifying a message and praxis of socioeconomic and political liberation. Is that not what it means to "preach good news to the afflicted (the oppressed poor)"? The term Isaiah uses (anawim) refers to those who are poor because of the oppression of the rich and powerful.
One of Israel's sins was economic oppression of the weak and defenseless ( 10:1-2 ). For this their divine punishment was to experience oppression at the hands of the Babylonians. When God acts to save and restore Israel he will relieve physical oppression by release from exile and an establishment of justice in Messiah's reign ( 11:4 ; 29:18-19 ; 49:13 ). And he will get at the spiritual root of the problem by offering forgiveness to these former sinful oppressors ( 41:17 ; Isaiah 55:1 Isaiah 55:7 ). This they receive as they adopt a humble stance before the Lord as the oppressed in heart and spirit ( 57:15 ; 66:2 ). Any proclamation of good news to the oppressed poor, then, must present a holistic salvation with a spiritual center.
That the messenger's task is both to announce and to accomplish what is announced"to bring good news to the afflicted to bind up the brokenhearted"has led some to conclude that Scripture views the proclamation itself as accomplishing the salvation. Such a view, although it takes cognizance of the Bible's claims for the saving power of the good news, fails to reckon with the distinction between Jesus, who both proclaims and accomplishes salvation, and those who come after him, who simply proclaim its accomplishment. In the sense that proclamation is the occasion for the appropriation of the salvation by the hearers, it can be said to effect it.
Although Isaiah 40:9 might be seen as another command to a messenger to Jerusalem, it is better, given grammatical considerations, to take it as an exhortation to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have received the good news of the victory of God's salvation and now are encouraged to become "bearers of good news" themselves. They are to carry the message to the surrounding towns of Judah. "Your God reigns!" becomes "Here is your God!" The salvation arrives with the coming of the powerful God who with a shepherd's gentleness brings his reward, but also exacts his judicial recompense.
The next step in the proclamation of God's victorious salvation is evidently to the Gentiles. They in turn will come to Jerusalem and "bear good news of the praises of the Lord" ( 60:6 ).
The New Testament. Other than 1 Thessalonians 3:6, all New Testament uses of the term have a theological meaning. Whether in predicting the forerunner's genesis ( Luke 1:19 ) or announcing the Savior's birth ( 2:10 ), angels "evangelize" people. In the latter case, "great joy" is to be proclaimed as good news to all the people. The fulfillment of the promises through Isaiah have begun for a savior, Christ the Lord, is born.
John the Baptist's ministry is at the decisive boundary between promise and fulfillment in God's salvation history ( Luke 16:16 ). Jesus characterizes it as a time from which "the kingdom (reign) of God is proclaimed as good news." Such preaching in John's case is termed "exhortation" ( 3:18 ). He announced both a preparatory repentance ethic, in the light of the approaching final judgment ( Luke 3:3 Luke 3:7-14 ), and a corrective to his audience's messianic expectations as he pointed to Jesus and the salvation blessings he offered ( 3:15-17 ).
Jesus' mission is to be the divinely sent proclaimer of the good news ( Luke 4:43 ; Acts 10:36 ). This Jesus claims is in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3 and establishes his messianic identity ( Luke 4:18-21 ; Luke 7:19 Luke 7:22 ). Jesus' conduct of his earthly itinerant ministry of proclaiming the good news is accompanied by healing miracles and combined with teaching ( 4:43 ; 7:22 ; 8:1 ; 20:1 ). He sends out his disciples in Israel to follow the same pattern ( Luke 9:2 Luke 9:6 ).
The message Jesus proclaims is revelational ( Acts 10:36 ) and points to the arrival of endtime salvation in terms of the coming of God's reign or of peace ( Matt 24:14 ; Mark 1:14-15 ; Luke 8:1 ; Acts 10:36 ; Eph 2:17 ; cf. Isaiah 52:7 Isaiah 52:19 ). The response looked for is repentance and faith ( Mark 1:15 ). Echoes of Isaiah and military victory imagery clearly underlie the expressions "proclaiming the good news of the reign of God" and "the good news of the kingdom." The "hiddenness" aspect of Jesus' precross earthly mission prevented him from making consistent and explicit reference to himself as the embodiment of the good news. Jesus makes clear the christological center of the gospel only after he has accomplished salvation, through his death and resurrection. Still, when Mark entitles his account of Jesus' life and ministry, he labels it "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" ( Mark 1:1 ).
Jesus' teaching makes one point about evangelism. World evangelism is the one positive feature of the time between his return to heaven and his second coming ( Matt 24:14 / Mark 13:10 ; Matt 26:13 / Mark 14:9 ): "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." World evangelization is certain in its occurrence and universal in its scope. Jesus does not command it but predicts it and declares that its accomplishment is determinative of the end of human history. He says the whole inhabited world will be the arena for proclamation and that the witness will be addressed to every ethnic group. The last occurrence of euangelizo [eujaggelivzw] and euangelion [eujaggevlion] in Scripture carries the same teaching ( Rev 14:6-7 ).
In the Book of Acts, whether as the activity to which God calls a person for lifelong service ( 20:24 ; cf. 1:8 ) or as the result of immediate divine guidance ( 15:7 ; 16:10 ), God is the source of evangelizing. The messengers may be apostles or evangelists ( 5:42 ; Acts 8:12 Acts 8:24 Acts 8:35 Acts 8:40 ; 15:7 ; 21:8 ), but not exclusively so. For the early church found the apostles evangelizing in company with nonapostles ( 13:32 ; Acts 14:7 Acts 14:21 ; 15:35 ). And in the same context where the work of Philip the evangelist is highlighted, believers dispersed by persecution following Stephen's death "preached the word wherever they went" ( 8:4 ). Anyone who has received, believed, and experienced the salvation blessings of the good news is qualified to proclaim it.
The message proclaimed is in continuity with Jesus' gospel in its eschatological/promise and fulfillment, soteriological, and ethical dimensions. Only now the revelational and christological aspects are central. To proclaim the good news is to proclaim Messiah Jesus or the Lord Jesus or simply Jesus. The response looked for is repentance ( 14:15 ) and faith ( 8:12 ; 15:7 ).
The early church also imitated her Lord in the way she evangelized. Teaching and making disciples were closely allied to it in an itinerant ministry that possessed a momentum moving the witnesses to the ends of the earth. Such evangelism evokes persecution, yet perseveres in the wake of it.
The good news concerns the fulfillment of promises made to the Jews ( 13:32 ), so it is right that the proclamation be made to them first ( 3:26 ; 13:46 ). But its Old Testament divine design and its very contentthe universal offer of salvation to everyone who believes ( Luke 24:47 ; Acts 13:39 )show that it is for the Gentiles as well. Almost every time a significant cultural threshold is crossed as the gospel reaches people who are farther and farther away from the light that God had given to Israel, euangelizo [eujaggelivzw] is used to describe what the church is doing.
Paul at the New Testament fulfillment stage as Isaiah at the Old Testament promise stage contributes the fullest exposition of "evangelize, evangelism." The divine source of this activity manifests itself both in the commissioning and the enabling of the apostle. He was "set apart for the gospel [proclaiming the good news] of God" ( Rom 1:1 ). This and this alone he was sent to do ( 1 Cor 1:17 ). Taking the singular messenger of Isaiah 52:7 as a collective, Paul declares that all who evangelize are fulfilling Isaiah's prophetic pattern ( Rom 10:14-15 ). The divine enablement in proclaiming the good news is a grace given; a spiritual gifting from the risen and exalted Lord, so much the work of Christ that Paul can say that the risen One himself comes and preaches peace to those who are afar off and to those who are near ( Eph 2:17 ; Ephesians 3:2 Ephesians 3:8 ; 4:11 ; 6:19 ).
As modeled in the early church Paul teaches that the proper messengers of the good news are not only apostles and evangelists ( Rom 1:9 ; cf. 1 Col 9:18 ; Eph 3:5 ) and full-time Christian workers ( 1 Corinthians 9:14 1 Corinthians 9:18 ; 2 Col 11:7 ), but all the church of Christ ( Eph 3:10 ; cf. Col 1:7 ). Every member must have feet shod "with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace" ( Eph 6:15 ).
Paul does give the content of the gospel in summary form several times ( Rom 10:8-10 ; 1 Col 15:3-4 ; 2 Tim 2:8 ). The qualifying phrases he puts with the word "gospel" yield important insights. Yet, when it comes to presenting an object for euangelizo [eujaggelivzw], which might give us clues as to Paul's understanding of the "good news" proclaimed, he seems to speak in tautologies. What is proclaimed as good news is the good news, to euangelion [eujaggevlion] ( 1 Col 15:1 ; 2 Col 11:7 ; Gal 1:11 ). Since there is only one good news, which Christians will recognize over against false gospels, this expression is in the end no meaningless tautology ( Gal 1:6-9 ). What Paul does bring out in his use of objects with euangelizo [eujaggelivzw] is the Christocentric and soteriological nature of the message. The messenger proclaims Christ, his unfathomable riches, and the faith ( 2 Col 4:5 ; Galatians 1:16 Galatians 1:23 ; Eph 3:8 ). The response looked for is an understanding and believing of the good news that leads to a calling on the Lord for salvation and an active obedience to that same Lord Jesus in this new relationship ( Romans 1:5 Romans 1:16-17 ; 10:14 ; Eph 1:13 ; Col 1:5-6 ).
Paul expounds the conduct of "evangelism" in terms of the motives for it, the spiritual transaction it is, and the imagery that may describe it. A person proclaims the good news moved both by the necessity of an entrusted stewardship ( 1 Corinthians 9:12 1 Corinthians 9:16-17 1 Corinthians 9:23 ; 1 Thess 2:4 ) and commitment to the audience ( Rom 1:15 ; Col 1:7 ; 1 Thess 1:5 ; 2:8-9 ).
Paul delights in highlighting the spiritual transaction that occurs during the proclamation of the good news. He may say power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction accompanied the preaching ( 1 Thess 1:5 ). He may present the proclamation as the means by which God called persons to obtain salvation blessings ( 2 Thess 2:14: ; cf. 1 Col 4:15 ). In fact, the proclamation may be personified as the power itself as what "all over the world is bearing fruit and growing" ( Col 1:5-6 ; cf. Rom 1:16-17 ).
Paul's imagery characterizes evangelizing as revelatory. It is making plain "the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God" ( Eph 3:9 ; 6:19 ; Rom 16:26 ). By it the manifold wisdom of God is "made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" ( Eph 3:10 ). Evangelism is also worship, for Paul says he ministers "with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" ( Rom 15:16 ).
On the human plane evangelism is not only the proclamation of a commissioned witness ( Rom 10:15 ; Eph 6:15 ; Col 1:5 ). It is also a "traditioning" ( 1 Cor 15:1-3 ) and a controversial activity for which one will suffer persecution and at the same time offer a defense ( Philippians 1:7 Philippians 1:16 ; 2 Timothy 1:8 2 Timothy 1:12 ; 2:9 ).
For Paul the audience to be evangelized includes both unbelieving Jew and Gentile, although he notes Jewish rejection and Gentile receptivity. Paul also speaks of evangelizing Christians. For them such proclamation holds up a standard for their Christian conduct ( 2 Col 9:13 ; Gal 2:14 ; Php 1:27 ) and strengthens them in their faith ( Rom 16:25 ; Col 1:23 ; 2 Timothy 4:2 2 Timothy 4:5 ). Neither this use nor the fact that a local pastor, Timothy, is instructed to do the work of an evangelist should lead us to the false conclusion that the biblical understanding of evangelism in its full exposition by Paul is so broadened that in the end it does not retain its sharp focus of proclamation of the good news of salvation to the unsaved. Christians only rightly apply such evangelizing to themselves in their saved condition when they continue to receive it as the proclamation of the gospel.
Peter brings the biblical teaching on evangelism to an appropriate climax with an emphasis on the value and power of the message proclaimed. In continuity with the prophets, Jesus, and the other apostles, Peter recounts a gospel with the Messiah's suffering and glory at its center and salvation and grace as its benefit. The Holy Spirit not only revealed the message to the Old Testament prophets, but he, sent from heaven, empowered those who evangelized Peter's hearers ( 1 Peter 1:10-12 ). No wonder this gospel is things into which angels long to look ( 1:12 ).
Peter says that there is power in evangelism to make people be born again unto eternal life ( 1:23-25 ). Peter makes it clear that it is not the act of evangelizing but the good news communicated in that act, the Word of God that abides forever, which is the imperishable seed that by the Spirit ( 1:12 ) gives the new birth. It is no coincidence that Peter quotes verses that immediately precede Isaiah 40:9 when he describes the message that was proclaimed as good news to his hearers. This power Peter finally places in eschatological perspective when he notes the purpose for which those who had already died had been evangelized: "so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit" ( 1 Peter 4:6 ).
William J. Larkin, Jr.
Bibliography. N. P. Bratsiotis, TDOT, 2:313-32; J. K. Chamblin, BEB, 1:892-97; G. Friedrich, TDNT, 2:707-21; M. Green, Evangelism in the Early Church; Y. Hattori, Ev R Th 12 (1988): 5-16.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Evangelize, Evangelism'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".