seems intuitive. It seems logical. But since 1388 the Greek verb “evangelize”
has not been translated “evangelize” in the English Bible. What a
strange quirk of Bible translation!

Wycliffe in his translation of the Bible in 1382 translated almost every one
of the 54 uses of evangelizare [Latin for evangelize] as “evangelise”
or “evangelysinge” [Old English]. The 1388 revision of Wycliffe published
after his death changed every use of “evangelize” to “preaching
the gospel”, “showing Jesus”, or something other than evangelize.
This change in translation remained through the Tyndale Version, the King James
Version, and has been followed by every version of the English Bible since that
time – with the exception of six uses in the 2000 Holman Christian Standard
Bible. How can such a verbal discrepancy be perpetuated for so long?

you are a reader of an English New Testament, as I am, you will find approximately
115 uses of the verbs preach or proclaim. In reality, 61 uses are translations
of the verb kerusso – “preach” and 54 are translations of evangelize
into preach. My classes in evangelism cover quite a different content than what
is taught in a preaching (homiletics) class!

are some of the verses that contain evangelize, and you will notice the
impact of translating these as “evangelize”. Here are five of the
ten uses of “evangelize” in Luke (adaptations of the NASB):

  • Luke 3:18, “So
    with many other exhortations he [John the Baptist] evangelized the people.”
  • Luke 4:43, “But
    he [Jesus] said to them, ‘I must evangelize the kingdom of God to the other
    cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.'”
  • Luke 8:1, “Soon
    afterwards, He [Jesus] began going around from one city and village to another,
    preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God.”
  • Luke 9:6, “Departing,
    they [12 disciples] began going throughout the villages, evangelizing and
    healing everywhere.”
  • Luke 20:1, “On
    one of the days while He was teaching the people in the Temple and evangelizing,
    he was confronted by the chief priests and the scribes with the elders.”

are nine of the fifteen uses in the Book of Acts:

  • Acts 5:42,
    “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right
    on teaching and evangelizing Jesus as the Christ.”
  • Acts 8:4, “Therefore,
    those who had been scattered went about evangelizing the word.”
  • Acts 8:12, “But
    when they believed Philip evangelizing the kingdom of God and the name of
    Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.”
  • Acts 8:25, “So,
    when they [Peter and John] had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the
    Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were evangelizing the many villages
    of the Samaritans.”
  • Acts 8:40, “But
    Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept evangelizing
    all the cities until he came to Caesarea.”
  • Acts 11:20,
    “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene who came to Antioch
    and began speaking and to the Greeks evangelizing the Lord Jesus.”
  • Acts 14:7, “And
    there they [Paul and Barnabas] continued to evangelize.”
  • Acts 14:21,
    “After they [Paul and Barnabas] had evangelized that city and had discipled
    many, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.”
  • Acts 15:35,
    “But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and evangelizing,
    with many others also, the word of the Lord.”
  • Acts 16:10,
    “When he [Paul] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into
    Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”

are 12 of the 21 uses of evangelize in the Pauline epistles (Paul only uses
kerusso – “preach” 19 times!):

  • Rom 1:15, “So,
    for my part, I am eager to evangelize you also who are in Rome.”
  • Rom 15:20, “And
    thus I aspired to evangelize, not where Christ was already named, so that
    I would not build on another man’s foundation.”
  • 1 Cor 1:17,
    “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize, not in cleverness
    of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”
  • 1 Cor 9:16,
    “For if I evangelize, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion;
    for woe is me if I do not evangelize.”
  • 1 Cor 15:1-2,
    “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel by which I evangelized
    you, which you received, in which you stand, by which also you are saved,
    if you hold fast the word by which you were evangelized, unless you believed
    in vain.”
  • 2 Cor 10:16,
    “So as to evangelize regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has
    been done in the sphere of another.”
  • Gal 1:8-9, “But
    even if we, or an angel from heaven, should evangelize you contrary to how
    we evangelized you, let him be anathema! As we have said before, so I say
    again now, if any man is evangelizing you contrary to what you received, let
    him be anathema!
  • Gal 1:23, “but
    only, they kept hearing ‘He who once persecuted us is now evangelizing the
    faith which he once tried to destroy.'”

was incredible to me to see the impact of unearthing this one word in the Bible.
I am amazed at how many times various persons in the Bible were involved in
a ministry of itinerant evangelism, and of how many times the Apostle Paul and
others addressed this important mandate!

you may ask, doesn’t “preach the Gospel” mean the same thing as “evangelize”?
Please consider Mark 16:15, which states, “And he said to them, ‘Go into
all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” The original words
for “preach the gospel” in this verse consist of three words “preach
the gospel” – not “evangelize”. If God had chosen to use
“preach the gospel” (as in Mark 16:15) in every context that He used
“evangelize,” He could have. But He did not. He chose to use the verb
“evangelize.” If one believes in verbal inspiration (that every word
is inspired by God, cf. Matt 5:18), then the conclusion for translation is quite
clear – why not use evangelize to translate the Greek word evangelize?


P. Johnston is Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Kansas City, MO.


column is provided on an occasional basis by the Proclamation Evangelism Network
(PEN), which includes leaders of man of the nation’s key evangelistic and
mission ministries.

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