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Kerygma

Kerygma
Transliteration of the Greek word that means proclamation or preaching. Depending on thecontext, it may refer to either the content proclaimed or the act of proclaiming. The wordis used once in Matthew ( 12:41 ), once inLuke ( 11:32 ),and six times in Paul's letters ( Rom 16:25 ; 1 Col 1:21 ; 2:4 ; 15:14 ; 2 Tim 4:17 ; Titus 1:3 ). All ofthese New Testament occurrences appear to refer to what is being proclaimed.

Both Matthew and Luke apparently refer to Jonah's message as the content proclaimed.The parallel statement in Matthew 12:42 speaking of the wisdom of Solomon also pointstoward content as the intended meaning of kerygma. Thus the statement in both Matthew andLuke would mean that the men of Nineveh repented at the message of Jonah.

There are two occurrences ( 1:21 ; 2:4 ) of the term"kerygma" in the first major unit of 1 Corinthians (1:18-2:5). In this largepassage Paul is explaining his gospel in contrast to the influence of the Jews who areconcerned about signs and of the Greeks who are concerned about wisdom. This Greekinfluence seems to have come from the Sophists (the wisdom teachers). The believers inCorinth seem to view the gospel through Sophist eyes as "wisdom" and theevangelists as "wisdom teachers." Paul is correcting this kind ofmisunderstanding of the gospel. His opening reference to "the message of thecross" ( 1:18 )clearly indicates that he has a definite content in mind. His reference to "thewisdom of the world" ( 1:20 ) shows whatthe kerygma has rendered untenable. Then comes the crucial assertion in 1:21 that God issaving those who believe through the kerygma—the message about Jesus' death andresurrection, which from the viewpoint of the world is foolishness. Verse 23 combines thecognate verb (kerysso [khruvssw]) with the primary content of the kerygma by saying, "Wepreach Christ crucified." Paul goes on to declare that this message is the power andwisdom of God that, in fact, the Jews and Greeks are seeking; yet they fail to perceivethese qualities in the gospel and reject it as an offense or foolishness. God's purpose inallowing this failure and rejection is explained in verses 26-31. The twofold purpose isstated negatively as preventing people from boasting and positively as allowing them toboast only in the Lord. For Paul kerygma is the gospel or the proclamation of the death ofChrist to bring about the salvation of all those who believe. Verses 1-5 of chapter 2explain that belief in the message comes about not by human wisdom or eloquence, but bymeans of the demonstration and power of the Spirit. Verse 4 refers to Paul's word orproclamation (kerygma [khvrugma]), and verse 5 asserts that faith in this proclamationresults in trust in the power of God. That is, the believer in this message is broughtinto a relationship with God: salvation or redemption.

At the end of 1 Corinthians, in the last major unit on the resurrection ( 15:1-58 ), Paulreturns to the theme of kerygma. Interestingly, at the beginning of this section Paul usesthe word "gospel" (euangelion) and spells out the four crucial elementsof the gospel: Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (vv. 1-8). Then, inthe process of asserting the absolute necessity of the resurrection, Paul refers to"our preaching [kerygma]" (v. 14). Clearly Paul understands "ourpreaching" as the gospel he has just defined in the opening verses of the chapter.The interchangeability of kerygma and gospel in this passage brings out unmistakably thatthe kerygma is the gospel message about Christ's death and resurrection. These two largeunits ( 1 Col1:18-2:5 ; 15:1-58 )are the definitive passages in the New Testament on kerygma.

There are three other references to kerygma in Paul's letters. In the closing doxologyof Romans, Paul parallels gospel (euangelion) and proclamation (kerygma [khvrugma]) ( 16:25 ). Probablythe conjunction "and" (kai [kaiv]) would be better translated "that is," which would show that by proclamation Paul means the gospel or message aboutChrist. As it is here paralleled with gospel, kerygma is certainly intended to mean thecontent or message Paul proclaims. Because the entire Letter to the Romans is an elaborateand systematic development of the gospel, it might be suggested that Romans is at the sametime the most extensive statement of Paul's kerygma. Thus, even though the word"kerygma" occurs only in the closing doxology, Romans in fact is Paul's ownmasterful development of his earlier definition of kerygma in 1 Corinthians, which waswritten about two years before Romans.

Paul includes in the opening salutation of his Letter to Titus a reference to theproclamation. The context might possibly be understood with either meaning here. Theimmediately preceding reference to "his Word" (ton logon autou) could beviewed as the message Paul declares in proclaiming (en kerygmati). But it seemsmore natural to understand "his word" to refer back to God's promise (v. 2)which is then embodied in "the proclamation" that has been entrusted to Paul.Thus, throughout the salutation "truth, " "knowledge, " "promise," "word, " and "preaching" (kerygmati [khvrugma]) allrefer to the message or the gospel Paul proclaims. Thus it may be said that the contextindicates that he is referring to the content of the gospel he proclaims, which is themessage that has been entrusted to him from God.

In the closing instructions of his final letter ( 2 Tim 4:17 ) Paulmakes his last reference to the kerygma. The context indicates that he means thegospel or the message he has proclaimed throughout his ministry. His statement is that"through me the kergyma might be fully proclaimed." The use of"words" (logois) at the end of verse 15 further strengthens theunderstanding that kerygma in verse 17 does refer to the gospel or message aboutJesus' death and resurrection.

The meaning of kerygma all six times that Paul uses this term is consistentlythe message about Jesus, the content of the gospel Paul so courageously proclaimedthroughout his ministry.

Hobert K. Farrell

See also Paulthe Apostle; Preach,Proclaim

Bibliography F. F. Bruce, Romans; C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preachingand Its Development; G. D. Fee, The First Epistle of the Corinthians; D.Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistle; L. Morris, 1 Corinthians.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Kerygma
'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.