This is the first of Peter Adam’s regular Paraklesis email encouragements to pastors and ministers. The series is published here for the benefit of a wider audience. In this post Peter explains the nuances of the New Testament word Paraklesis and what it means for us to encourage each other.
If you would like some light relief, then here is a recent sermon
A few people have asked me about the word Paraklesis.
So here is an explanation of what it means and why I like it!
Paraklesis/Parakaleo is a great New Testament word! I love it! It is a great word for mutual encouragement, and a great word for preachers. It combines what we often separate, and links together a rich range of ideas.1 Paraklesis is the noun, and parakaleo is the verb.
It is used in a variety of ways in a variety of contexts, and its meaning morphs subtly, productively and powerfully.
It is used as a call to action, a summons, an entreaty, a strengthening, an encouragement, a consolation, according to need. And it is firmly linked to the Bible, to the gospel, and to the ministries of public teaching and preaching and personal exhortation and encouragement.
As we look at how the word is used in the New Testament, I need to make two things clear about how this word is translated.
Firstly the same word is translated in a variety of ways in each translation of the Bible, and Bible translations vary in how they translate it. Each translation uses the context to decide the best English word to use.2 In each case, the choice of English word is debatable. In the references and quotations below, I underline the word which translatesparaklesis/parakaleo.
Secondly the word varies in its meaning and use, and that variety is instructive. I am not arguing that we should read an accumulation of all the meaning into every instance. That is not how language works! But translators have to use just one word, which may artificially restrict the meaning. They have to choose between urge, encourage, appeal, console, comfort, teach, instruct, beg, implore, to give just some of the options. It is good to realise that a wider range of meanings may have been intended.
I should also point out that this is not an academic paper, and I would welcome corrections and suggestions to improve it.
Paraklesis/Parakaleo as ‘invitation’ or ‘request’
It is used simply to ask, summon, invite, or request. The Ethiopian invited Philip to sit with him in his chariot [Acts 8:31]. Paul invited the Jewish leaders in Rome to meet with him [Acts 28:20]. It is used of an invitation to dine [Matt 20:28].
Paraklesis/Parakaleo as ‘appeal’, ‘urge’, ‘plead’
It is used more strongly, more emotionally, and more frequently, to beg, urge, implore, appeal, entreat, persuade, or plead. The leper implored Jesus to make him clean, as the centurion implored him to heal his servant [Mark 1:40, Matt 8:5]. Sick people begged to touch the fringe of Jesus garment to be healed [Matt 14:36]. When Tabitha died, the disciples urgedPeter to come to help [Acts 9:38]. The unclean spirits soon to be exorcised from the man with the unclean spirit beggedJesus not to send them out of the country, but instead into the pigs [Mark 5:10,12], as later the people of the area beggedJesus to leave their region [Mark 5:17].
Paul often uses it with this meaning:
‘I appeal to you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice’ [Rom 12:1].
‘I appeal to you to strive together with me in your prayers’ [Rom 15:30].
‘I appeal to you to watch out for those who cause divisions’ [Rom 16:17].
‘I urge you, then, be imitators of me’ [1 Cor 4:16].
‘I beg you to reaffirm your love for him’ [2 Cor 2:8].
‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’ [2 Cor 5:20].
‘We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain’ [2 Cor 6:1].
‘I, Paul, entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ [2 Cor 10:1].
‘I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called [Ephes 4:1].
‘I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord’ [Phil 4:2].
‘Urge the younger men to be self-controlled’ [Tit 2:6].
‘For love’s sake I appeal to you … for my child Onesimus’ [Philemon 9, 10].
Similarly, Jude appeals to his readers to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 4].3
Paraklesis/Parakaleo as ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation’
So the appeal may be a simple request, and it may also be an impassioned urging. When need arises, it can also be to provide sympathetic comfort and consolation. Jesus promised that those who mourn will be comforted [Matt 5:4]. The poor man Lazarus is comforted by Abraham [Luke 16:25], as Eutychus’ friends were comforted when Paul raised him from the dead [Acts 20:12]. Timothy comforted the Thessalonians when Paul was afflicted [1 Thess 3:2]. And Paul describes God as:
the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.42 Corinthians 1:3,4
Paul also uses the phrase ‘encourage your hearts’.
In 2 Thessalonians he prays,
Now may you Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your heats and establish them in every good work and word.2 Thessalonians 2:16,17
He sent Tychicus to Colossae, ‘that he may encourage your hearts’ [Col 4:8], as he sent him to Ephesus, ‘that he may encourage your hearts’ [Ephes 6:22]. And this was Paul’s own hope for the church in Colossae and Laodicea, ‘that their hearts may be encouraged’ [Col 2:2].
Paraklesis/Parakaleo as instruction and exhortation based on the Bible
It is also used in the context of what we might call the ministry of the word, that of teaching, applying, and urging people to respond to God’s words in the Bible, both in public and in private.
It was the Greek word used to describe the sermon in the Jewish synagogue. When Paul and Barnabas visited the synagogue in Antioch, they were invited to preach in these words: ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people say it’ [Acts 13:15]. Paul’s word of exhortation includes a summary of the Old Testament promises and the promise of John the Baptist of the coming of Christ the saviour [13:16-25]; the fulfilment of those promises in Christ, his death and resurrection [13:26-37]; a declaration of the gospel of forgiveness of sins, and an appeal to respond [13:38-40]. After the synagogue meeting, many followed Paul and Barnabas to hear more from them, and Paul ‘urged them to continue in the grace of God’ [13:43].
Similarly, the writer of Hebrews refers to his letter as ‘my word of exhortation’ [13:22]. This exhortation, paraklesis, includes the extensive exposition and application of the Old Testament [1:1-14, 2:5-5:10, 6:13-10:18, 11:1-40, 12:18-24], and practical advice on how to respond [2:1-4, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:1-17, 12:25-13:25]. And he encourages his readers, ‘Pray for us … I urge you the more earnestly to do this…’ [13:19].
Similarly Peter describes his first letter in these words: ‘I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it’ [1 Pet 5:12]. Like Hebrews, Peter’s exhortation and declaration includes reference to and exposition of the Old Testament, as well as the application of that teaching to his readers, and also an encouragement to respond.
So too we find the word used in the context of the public reading, teaching, and applying of the Bible:
‘Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching’ [1 Timothy 4:13]
‘Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing’ [1 Timothy 6:2-4].
‘All scripture…is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness … preach the word … reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ [2 Timothy 3:16-4:2].
‘He must hold to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ [Titus 1:9].
‘Declare these things: exhort and rebuke with all authority’ [Titus 2:15].
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians, the one who prophesies, ‘speaks to people for their upbuilding, and encouragement and consolation’ [1 Corinthians 14:3].5
The Bible and this kind of encouragement are closely linked. In Romans 15:4 we read, ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’. The writer of Hebrews introduces a quotation from Proverbs with the words, ‘And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?’ [12:5].
And we find the same word used in the context of the evangelistic Bible teaching and preaching in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:40, we read of Peter, ‘And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them…’. In Acts 11:23 we read that Barnabas ‘exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’. Paul and Barnabas to the same in Acts 14: 22, ‘strengthening the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith…’. Judas and Silas ‘encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words’ [15:32, see also 15:31, 16:40, 20:2].
It is also used of John the Baptist’s preaching, ‘So with many other exhortations he preached the good news to the people’ [Luke 3:18]. And this is ultimately based on the hope of the gospel, summarised in Luke 2:25, as ‘the consolation of Israel’.6
When Paul explains to the Thessalonians about what will happen to the dead in Christ at the resurrection and about the return of Christ, he tells them ‘encourage one another with these words…encourage one another build each other up, just as you are doing’ [1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11].
The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to encourage each other! ‘Exhort one another every day … encouragingone another’ [3:13, 10:25].
Biblical encouragement is richer, deeper, more instructive, and Bible-based than our general pattern of encouragement. Biblical encouragement shapes and challenges mind, intellect, memory, heart, will, action, and habits. Let’s encourage each other richly and deeply.
Biblical Bible teaching is more than teaching the Bible! Biblical preaching is more than teaching the Bible! Let’s drop the language of ‘preaching a sermon’ or ‘teaching the Bible’. Biblical teaching and preaching uses the Bible, but has a firm transformative purpose in mind. It not only teaches, but urges, encourages, implores, and appeals for a response. And let’s make sure that there is more encouragement than discouragement!
Biblical encouragement includes the personal emotional appeal for a response from the person who is doing the encouragement. Biblical encouragement is not just the passing on of information. But neither is Biblical encouragement just a general cheer-up, or an expression of personal warmth and love. It is Bible-based and theologically deep and rich.
Biblical encouragement is a deeply personal experience and activity. One person encourages, so that others may be encouraged. And this applies to public encouragement to a crowd, as to personal encouragement of individuals.
As Paul writes, we ‘appeal’ because God makes his appeal through us [2 Corinthians 5:20].
May God encourage you each day in godliness and good ministry.
Yours in Christ’s love,
1 I do not deal with the word parakletos,used in a distinctive way of Christ in 1 John 2:1, and of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, 26, 15:26. 16:7.
2 I use the ESV in this doc.
3 See also Matt 8:5, 8:31,34, 18:29,32, Luke 15:28, 16:15, 25:2, 1 Cor 4:13, 16, 16:12, 15, 2 Cor 8:6, 9:5, 10:1, 12:18, etc.
4 See also Matt 2:18, 2 Cor 2:7, 7:6,7,13, 13:11, etc.
5 See also Romans 12:8.
6 Note the background to this language in Isaiah 40:1.