Evangelists and Evangelism in the New Testament

Evangelists and Evangelism in the New Testament

What does the Bible have to say about the distinction between the work of an evangelist and the responsibility of every believer?

Is your preaching and teaching ministry doing enough to prepare your church for the task of evangelism? In this series, Andy Paterson offers biblical encouragement that every Christian has a role to play, free from false guilt.

This is part 8 in the series.

You might want to get some more caffeine in you as we drill down into the Biblical record on evangelism!

Our passion must not be whether a thing works, but whether it is what scripture commends or commands. So, we must ask the question: does the growth of the early church, recorded for us in Acts and illustrated in the New Testament letters, reflect the distinction between the work of evangelists and the responsibilities of all God’s children?

Primary gospel announcement

Now forgive me for getting a bit technical, but with a subject as vital as evangelism, we have to work hard at trying to understand what the Bible actually says.

I’m not saying this is the definitive interpretation of the biblical data, but I’d love to start a conversation that helps us build towards a better understanding. None of this is original. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

For the Apostle Paul, there was nothing more important than preaching the gospel. In the Greek language, this is captured in one word: euangelizomai (εὐαγγελίζομαι), from which we get the noun/verb evangelism/evangelise. When Paul uses this word, it always carries with it the sense of primary gospel announcement (with the possible exception of Romans 1:15) and he uses it in connection with himself, other apostles, and a recognised band of evangelists.

So, does Paul extend the use of this Greek word euangelizomai to all believers?

Of the 68 occurrences of this word, only 20 are in the context of non-evangelists, and of these the vast bulk describe how the believers received the gospel through the proclamation of Paul and his co-workers.

John Dickson convincingly argues that the language describing apostolic evangelism is not used of other believers in the same way. He concludes:

“Nowhere are believers portrayed as responsible for or engaged in the task of proclaiming of the gospel. One cannot avoid the impression that Paul did not understand his converts’ role in the advancement of the gospel as the same as, or even as similar to, his own.” 1

We should therefore expect to find references to these evangelists who were recognised for their ministry of ‘gospel proclamation’. And we do.

The New testament evangelists

“And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.” (2 Corinthians 8:18)

Here we find again that word – euangelio (εὐαγγελίῳ). It appears that this famous brother is someone recognised by the local churches as an evangelist. Indeed it is argued that the ‘apostles (representatives) of the churches’ mentioned just a few verses later in 8:23 are also to be understood as gospel proclaimers who are recognised by the churches.

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)

Here these two women are identified as those who worked with Paul “in the cause of the gospel” (again εὐαγγελίῳ) along with Clement and other unnamed co-workers. Dickson’s observation is that:

“Paul’s continuing willingness to describe them as co-workers and to ascribe to them the traditional honorific...strongly suggests that these men and women were continuing to struggle together in the proclamation of the gospel in and around Philippi.”

This also helps explain an earlier reference in this letter that at first glance might seem to suggest that formal, proclamatory evangelism is something to be undertaken by all believers:

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:14)

But in the Greek ‘the brothers’ has a more specific and technical definition. Dickson quotes E. E. Ellis:

“When used in the plural with an article, ‘the brothers’ in Pauline literature fairly consistently refers to a relatively limited group of workers, some of who have the Christian mission and/or ministry as their primary occupation.” 2

Dickson’s summary is:

“During the course of his missionizing activity in an area, Paul’s normative expectation was that certain men and women among his converts (or his missionary team) would further the work of local evangelisation once he had departed.” 3

So what we are suggesting - that there is a clear distinction between the work of evangelists and the work of evangelising by non-evangelists - seems to be borne out by the Biblical record.

But it does beg the question: what were non-evangelists expected to do? How did Paul expect his converts to give themselves to the promotion of the gospel? And once again we have to say that the New Testament is not silent on this issue.

We’ll pick that up next time.

1 Dickson, John P (2003). Mission-Commitment in Ancient Judaism and in the Pauline Communities. (Pg.131). Mohr Siebeck.

2 E. E. Ellis. (1971).Paul and his Co-Workers. (Pg.15). NTS

3 ibid (pg.150)

Next time: Giving practical help.

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