The Difference Between Teaching and Preaching


volume 18, number 5, January 31, 2019

Preach the word.” -2 Timothy 4:2

The Difference Between Teaching and Preaching

The New Testament uses several words to describe the actions of the Lord Jesus and His Apostles concerning their ministries. Two of these Greek words are didasko (teaching) and kerusso (preaching). As Jesus began His earthly ministry in Galilee, Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” (Matthew 4:17). In Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ early Galilean ministry he says, “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,” (Mark 1:14). The Greek word used in these instances is kerusso, to proclaim, like a town crier announcing to the inhabitants of the city the message the new conquering king is requiring the people to heed. The action of obedience is expected and demanded. Notice there is no hint of dialogue, no give and take. The preacher, in the same way as the town crier, is to proclaim the truth without equivocation. The trumpet must produce a clear, certain, unwavering call to obedience, to bow the knee to the new king. Merely receiving as information the town crier’s message is unacceptable.

Paul tells young Timothy to preach the word. To be ready in season and out of season (whether or not preaching is hip, cool, and readily accepted and appreciated by the people). He goes on to say that he is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction (2 Tim.4:2-4). In other words, Paul is expecting the people to do something with what they are hearing. Most assuredly Biblical content is to be  communicated, but the emphasis is on obedience to the gravity of the message proclaimed. He tells the Colossians that we proclaim Him, admonishing every man, and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. The word for teaching is didasko. It means to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, to deliver a didactic discourse, to teach one, to explain or expound a thing.[1] Matthew tells us that after Jesus completed His Sermon on the Mount the people were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching with authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28,29). Only once in its ninety-seven uses in the Greek New Testament is the word didasko translated in the New American Standard Bible as preaching. All the rest use a form of our word teaching, imparting information. 

Paul the Apostle makes clear that the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness (1 Cor.1:18). From there he says that his message and his preaching (kerugma) were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Why? That their faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Cor.2:4,5). The preaching of Jesus and His apostles always evoked a reaction. Some loved it and were drawn to it. Others hated and repudiated it. Jesus’ preaching eventually got Him killed. Ditto for Stephen and the apostles. Teaching on the other hand is often admirable. The multitudes were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. Large crowds gathered to hear him teach (Matthew 5-7). Teaching, the dissemination of information, can be very entertaining. People can marvel at the intellect of the teacher, at how he brings in the latest articles by secular, social, psychological commentators, at how he brings the word of God to bear so beautifully on the issues of the day. Preaching, on the other hand, is different. Preaching is proclamation of the truth. It comes with authority and urgency. It has one central idea, drawn from the text of Scripture itself. The burden of the preacher is to drive home that one vital truth. Teaching, on the other hand, after solid exposition, often ends with four or five principles left for the congregation’s edification. Teaching is helpful, even necessary, for people to grow in grace, but preaching calls people to act now on what they have just heard.

Perhaps this illustration will help you distinguish between teaching and preaching. Let’s say that you are a medical doctor who not only has a private oncology practice but who also teaches regularly in the local medical college. At eight a.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the time the college is in session, you enter the lecture theatre and give a detailed lecture on your topic for the day, drawing upon your years of study and practical experience, citing medical journals, and various scientific experiments. Your purpose in the lecture hall is to impart the necessary information in order to prepare your students for their residency programs and eventually to become medical doctors in a specific field. The doctor, as medical college lecturer, is similar to the theologian who lectures at a theological seminary. 

Now once you have completed your lecture at 9:30 a.m., you drive to the office of your medical practice. You have, beginning at 10:30 a.m., a full day of patients coming to you for their care. Prior to seeing your patients for the day, you must catch up on the oncology reports which have come to your office that morning. Unfortunately, you have very bad news for your first patient. The oncology report reveals what your experienced observation suspected, that this patient indeed has stage three cancer. Now, what will you say to your patient that morning? You will tell him one thing. You will no doubt speak as gently as possible, but you will tell him the truth. He has cancer. No doubt about it. You will then give him the remedy for his current situation. You will draw upon the many years of your education, as well as your many years of teaching in the lecture hall in order to give him the one, direct message he vitally needs to hear from you. Your patient is not interested in your grasp of science. Nor does he really want four or five principles you have observed from your observation of his oncology report.  He simply wants to know his problem and what you hope to do about it.

Likewise the pastor who is teaching in the theological seminary will need to go into much more detail to train pastors for theologically faithful ministries. However, when he steps into the pulpit, or when he counsels in his study, the congregation, the counselee, or the unconverted person needs to hear the one thing necessary. He needs to hear the diagnosis of his problem and the remedy which the pastor gleans from the text of Scripture before him.

Pray for your pastor that he will preach. Yes, of course preaching is Biblical content, but it is packaged in such a way that the people can understand it and act upon it. And the only way the congregation or an unconverted person can hear the word of God and be moved to action is if the preached word has the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Pray for that anointing. 


  1.  Greek Lexicon by Thayer.

One thought on “The Difference Between Teaching and Preaching

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  1. I know that not all pastors are teachers. I often find those who lead Bible studies are better at teaching the word. Pastors often do not go verse by verse explaining each. Funny thing is, I learn more from teachers than from any pastor. But that’s just me.


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