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Prophecy, Preaching, Teaching | Theology Matters

  • October 2015 Issue
Theology Matters

The Bible uses several terms to describe ministries of the church that proclaim the Word of God. Three of the most important are prophecy, preaching, and teaching. What is the relationship between these? Is prophecy the same as preaching? Is teaching different from preaching?

Prophets and teachers seem to be distinguished from one another in Acts 13:1, which notes: “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” The two gifts are also distinguished from each other in the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, where Paul ranks teachers third after apostles and prophets.

Prophecy is inspired speech that is the result of divine revelation. The words of the prophet were to be regarded as the word of God. Although the prophet’s own vocabulary and personality were evident in what they said, the Holy Spirit controlled the outcome so that it was without error. The prophets were “carried along” by the Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21).

Teaching is speech that explains and applies what God has revealed. The Holy Spirit is also the source of the gift of teaching. But teaching operates differently from prophecy. Teachers provide instruction, not revelation. Their ministry is based on what God has already said. Their words have authority only to the degree that they agree with what God has said in Scripture. The ministry of the prophets, like that of the Apostles, seems to have been primarily associated with establishing the church. Teaching is both foundational and ongoing for the church (Eph. 2:20).

Is preaching in a separate category when compared to teaching? Or does it align more with prophecy? In the New Testament, preaching is usually linked with teaching. A common New Testament word for preaching had the meaning,“to act as a herald.” For instance, in Matthew 4:23 and Acts 28:31 the word is used in this way. Those who preach are teaching.

Many today distinguish between preaching and teaching. Some claim that teaching involves doctrine, while preaching requires application. They also note that teaching is more conversational. But this difference does not hold up in Scripture. Teaching and admonishing are associated in Colossians 1:28 and 3:16. Preaching can include discussion and even incorporate question-and-answer time; Scripture never insists that preaching must be a monologue. And teaching that does not apply to the lives of the hearers is really just weak teaching.


To learn more about the theology of preaching, read Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching by John Koessler (Zondervan).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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