What does Evangelize mean in the Bible and is David Vaughn on target with his understanding of Evangelism? By Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is part two in a five part series based on insider David Vaughn’s unique critique of the Ablaze program.)

In the New Testament the noun “evangel” is simply translated “gospel.” It is a word which is made up of two smaller words; eu or ev and angel. The first word means good and the second means message. So the evangel is the gospel which is a good message or good news. The verb then means to speak a good message. It is usually translated, “preach the gospel” although I suppose it might be a bit clearer if we simply used the word “evangelize” or, better and more consistent, “gospelize.”

In the Bible the word “evangelize” is used 53 times. Of the 53 times it refers to public preaching roughly 41 times. Primary evangelizers are Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles, Paul, Barnabas, Philip and various angels. In Luke 2:1ff the Angel evangelizes or gospelizes. In Luke 8 Jesus evangelizes or gospelizes. In Acts 8 Philip gospelizes and in Acts 15:1ff Paul and Barnabas evangelize. Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that all Christians are evangelists or that 10% of people have the gift of evangelism as the church growth crowd used to assert. Rather, those who evangelize are specially appointed to the task. No where in the New Testament is there the suggestion that the word “evangelize” refers primarily to communicating one on one. It’s usually preaching to a group. No where in the New Testament is there any hint that the word gospelize refers to communicating the good news exclusively to those who do not yet believe as if the content of a message is determined by the unbelief of the hearer.

Instructive is the use of the word in Romans 10 and its connection with the word “sent.” Romans 10:14-15, sited by David Vaughn [1] in his article on Ablaze!, rhetorically asks, “How can people gospelize unless they are sent?” Gerhard Kittel in his huge New Testament dictionary makes the point that the word “send” is a word which refers to the call into the service of the church. “In the NT we must say finally that the word [send] does begin to become a theological term meaning ‘to send forth to service in the kingdom of God with full authority (grounded in God).” [2] So, in order to Gospelize or evangelize you must be sent or called into the service of the church. Kittel further asserts that the job of Evangelizing was given to certain people who were answerable to the apostles. [3] Vaughn seems to understand this when he asserts “the need for an intentional effort by the LC-MS to mobilize evangelists with one aim; the telling of the Good News.” [4]

Of course now we have the word Evangelist in front of us. This word is used only three times in the New Testament. Once it refers to Philip (Acts 21:8). Once it says that Evangelists are among the offices which God has given to the church (Eph 4:11). It stands between Apostles, Prophets, and pastors and teachers. And once the word is used by Paul in a pastoral epistle. He tells Timothy to “do the work of Evangelist, fulfill your ministry” ( I Timothy 4:5).

So, in New Testament the word “evangelize” or “gospelize” refers to publically speaking the good news to people. It requires a call and it is a task and an office which is given to pastors among whom were Jesus, Timothy, Paul, Barnabas and others. These exegetical conclusions are summarily contradicted by Vaughn who says, “Evangelism is not a delegated action to a select few sent to the masses to evangelize.” [5] In fact that is precisely what an evangelist is in the New Testament.

(Philip’s designation as “Evangelist” coupled with the fact that he was one of the deacons is worthy of further analysis. Consider also that Stephen, another deacon, was clearly preaching the Gospel in Acts 7 although the designation Evangelist is not given him. This analysis will not be done by me any time soon.)

I know what you are thinking. If all Christians are not evangelists then doesn’t that relieve the vast majority of church members from the responsibility of telling other about Jesus? Of course not. May it never be. We just need to use words the way God does in the Bible. Christians confess the faith. They tell others. They proclaim Jesus. But a discussion of these words will have to wait for another day.

Now that we have a clear and biblical definition of the term “Evangelize” from the Bible let’s look into the history of the LC-MS to ascertain whether or not the statement “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed,” is true. But that will have to wait until next time.


[1] David Vaughn, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” Missio Apostlica, Vol. xvi, no. 2 (November 2008) 133-134.

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Ten volumes (Grand Rapids, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964) I, 406.

[3] Ibid. vol. II 723.

[4] Vaughn 128

[5] Vaughn 130

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.