Acts 20:17-21 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. (18) And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, (19) serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; (20) how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, (21) testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
A few observations:
1. In verse 20, the Greek for ‘declaring’ is ἀναγγέλλω, which means to declare, report, tell, or show. Also in verse 20, is the word διδάσκω for teaching, which is closely related to διδακτικός (meaning apt to teach) in 1 Timothy 3 in qualifications for overseers. Also in 1 Tim 4, Paul instructs Timothy to prescribe and διδάσκω these things.
2. Also in verse 20 that Paul declared (ἀναγγέλλω) to them and taught (διδάσκω) them both publicly and from house to house.
3. Again in verse 20, he kept back ‘nothing that was profitable (συμφέρω)’ Which is very similar to the ‘profitable’ from 2 Tim 3:16:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (ὠφέλιμος) for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Both ὠφέλιμος and συμφέρω have similar definitions:
ὠφέλιμος: helpful or serviceable, that is, advantageous: – profit (-able)
συμφέρω: to bear together (contribute), that is, (literally) to collect, or (figuratively) to conduce; especially (neuter participle as noun) advantage: – be better for, bring together, be expedient (for), be good, (be) profit (-able for).
(Source: Strong’s Dictionary)
In other words, they are synonyms.
4. In verse 17, it is clear that he is speaking to the elders of the church.
5. In verse 21, it says that he testified (διαμαρτύρομαι, a compound word: δια + μαρτυρέω) that is, he bore witness (μαρτυρέω) to both Jews and Greeks concerning repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ
Where am I going with all this?
Is preaching biblical, that is, preaching by one man proclaiming the word of God to a group of gathered believers? I believe this affirms that it is. What is preaching if it is not a man who apt to teach (διδακτικός ) declaring (ἀναγγέλλω), teaching (διδάσκω), and bearing witness (μαρτυρέω), from the Scriptures all that is profitable (ὠφέλιμος, συμφέρω), to both the church and to unbelievers concerning repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ, both publicly (where unbelievers are almost certainly present) and from house to house (where the gathering consists of mostly believers)?
I believe this passage demonstrates that Paul and the apostles preached the gospel and everything that is profitable from the Scriptures to both believers and unbelievers alike. Furthermore there is nothing in this passage that suggests that Paul is speaking of a dialogue, like in Acts 20:7 where is says:
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking (διαλέγομαι) to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
This verse, by the way, is often cited in support of this idea that preaching to the church is unbiblical. For those who make this argument, Acts 20:7 is a proof text to claim that preaching in the church was not actually preaching as we think of it but rather always a dialogue.
But this passage from Acts 20:20-21 does not suggest a dialogue. It speaks of ‘declaring’, ‘teaching’, and ‘testifying”. Sounds like good old fashioned preaching to me.
Yes there is a time for dialogue in the church, and perhaps we do not emphasize that enough in the traditional church today. But there is also a time to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).