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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Transliteration of the Greek word that means proclamation or preaching. Depending on the context, it may refer to either the content proclaimed or the act of proclaiming. The word is used once in Matthew (12:41), once in Luke (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 of these 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 points toward content as the intended meaning of kerygma. Thus the statement in both Matthew and Luke 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 large passage Paul is explaining his gospel in contrast to the influence of the Jews who are concerned about signs and of the Greeks who are concerned about wisdom. This Greek influence seems to have come from the Sophists (the wisdom teachers). The believers in Corinth seem to view the gospel through Sophist eyes as "wisdom" and the evangelists as "wisdom teachers." Paul is correcting this kind of misunderstanding of the gospel. His opening reference to "the message of the cross" (1:18) clearly indicates that he has a definite content in mind. His reference to "the wisdom of the world" (1:20) shows what the kerygma has rendered untenable. Then comes the crucial assertion in 1:21 that God is saving those who believe through the kerygma—the message about Jesus' death and resurrection, which from the viewpoint of the world is foolishness. Verse 23 combines the cognate verb (kerysso []) with the primary content of the kerygma by saying, "We preach Christ crucified." Paul goes on to declare that this message is the power and wisdom of God that, in fact, the Jews and Greeks are seeking; yet they fail to perceive these qualities in the gospel and reject it as an offense or foolishness. God's purpose in allowing this failure and rejection is explained in verses 26-31. The twofold purpose is stated negatively as preventing people from boasting and positively as allowing them to boast only in the Lord. For Paul kerygma is the gospel or the proclamation of the death of Christ to bring about the salvation of all those who believe. Verses 1-5 of chapter 2 explain that belief in the message comes about not by human wisdom or eloquence, but by means of the demonstration and power of the Spirit. Verse 4 refers to Paul's word or proclamation (kerygma []), and verse 5 asserts that faith in this proclamation results in trust in the power of God. That is, the believer in this message is brought into a relationship with God: salvation or redemption.

At the end of 1 Corinthians, in the last major unit on the resurrection (15:1-58), Paul returns to the theme of kerygma. Interestingly, at the beginning of this section Paul uses the word "gospel" (euangelion) and spells out the four crucial elements of the gospel: Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (vv. 1-8). Then, in the process of asserting the absolute necessity of the resurrection, Paul refers to "our preaching [kerygma]" (v. 14). Clearly Paul understands "our preaching" 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 that the kerygma is the gospel message about Christ's death and resurrection. These two large units (1 Col 1:18-2:5; 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 doxology of Romans, Paul parallels gospel (euangelion) and proclamation (kerygma []) (16:25). Probably the conjunction "and" (kai []) would be better translated "that is, " which would show that by proclamation Paul means the gospel or message about Christ. As it is here paralleled with gospel, kerygma is certainly intended to mean the content or message Paul proclaims. Because the entire Letter to the Romans is an elaborate and systematic development of the gospel, it might be suggested that Romans is at the same time 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 own masterful development of his earlier definition of kerygma in 1 Corinthians, which was written about two years before Romans.

Paul includes in the opening salutation of his Letter to Titus a reference to the proclamation. The context might possibly be understood with either meaning here. The immediately preceding reference to "his Word" (ton logon autou) could be viewed as the message Paul declares in proclaiming (en kerygmati). But it seems more 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 []) all refer to the message or the gospel Paul proclaims. Thus it may be said that the context indicates that he is referring to the content of the gospel he proclaims, which is the message that has been entrusted to him from God.

In the closing instructions of his final letter (2 Tim 4:17) Paul makes his last reference to the kerygma. The context indicates that he means the gospel 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 the understanding that kerygma in verse 17 does refer to the gospel or message about Jesus' death and resurrection.

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

Hobert K. Farrell

See also Paul the Apostle; Preach, Proclaim

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


Copyright Statement
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, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Kerygma'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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