A εὐαγγελιστής ("evangelist") is one who proclaims some piece of εὐαγγέλιον ("good news").
1 The latter word is derived as a noun from the verb εὐαγγελίζω ("to announce good news"). The word family comes from a compounding of the Greek adverb εὖ ("pert[aining] to that which is good or beneficial") and the verb ἀγγέλλω ("to announce").
In 2 Tim 4:5, the ἔργον ("work") of an evangelist is then tied up in the verbal action—the announcing of good news. Paul is exhorting Timothy to continue that announcing, despite the fact that many will not heed truth (v.3-4).
But what good news? The epistle's context tells the reader this in 2 Tim 1:8-11 (NKJV; emphasis added)—
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel [dative of εὐαγγέλιον] according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel [genitive of εὐαγγέλιον], 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.
At a minimum, the word is directly associated to:
- A testimony about Jesus Christ (v.8; i.e. His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection)
- That such a work abolished death and brings life and immortality (v.10, i.e. it does relate to the atoning work and testimony of the resurrection particularly).
It may be Paul intends the points in v.9 to also apply as part of the "testmiony" and "good news." But that the resurrection is clearly intended is further stated in 2 Tim 2:8—
Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel [accusative of εὐαγγέλιον].
The resurrection is core to the following teaching in 2 Tim 2:11-13, which teaching Paul exhorts Timothy to "remind" people of (v.14), and is summed up in the call to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim 4:5) as Paul gives his final charge to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1).
Interspersed through the whole epistle is both the fact that Paul is suffering for his holding to the testimony of Christ and that Timothy needs to strengthen himself and hold fast to that testimony.
Certainly Paul was rather itinerant in much of his ministry, yet not always (in Act 19:10 he was two years in one place). The work of proclaiming the good news of Christ can occur whether localized or itinerant, but the nature of that work is "to announce good news," and news is something "new," yet to be heard. So the work more specifically lends itself to not being fixed in one place for too long, though one can be an an area of some time and still have people who have not heard.
It is generally believed, partly from 1 Timothy 1:3, that Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus (at the least, Paul charged him to take some oversight authority in Ephesus, but the nature of 1 Timothy is focused on pastoral work), and if he was still so at the writing of 2 Timothy, would not himself have been generally itinerant at that time. However, Paul is urging Timothy to come (2 Tim 4:11), and the following point "And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus" (4:12) may be intended to let Timothy know a replacement is on the way. Perhaps Timothy was to begin travelling again, unless this was a temporary journey.
In short, the nature of the work lent to being itinerant, but the actual work, proclaiming of the good news of Christ and His resurrection, could happen any time, any where that one had an audience to hear about it.
Paul often appears to relay the "facts" (i.e., made the announcement of the good news), and let the audience believe it or not. However, there are points where he engaged in persuasion:
So persuasion, to some extent, is contained in the work of proclamation. The idea is to get people to realize the truth of the good news.
William W. Combs in “The Biblical Role of The Evangelist” (Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 7 ) on pages 24-25 discusses any early, non-Scriptural uses of the term:
The only non-Christian usage of the word is a poorly preserved inscription from Rhodes, where it apparently means “proclaimer of oracular messages."[
3] However, this is disputed by Spicq, who argues that there are so many questions about the inscription that “nothing certain can be drawn from it.”[
4] Marshall doubts the inscription predates Christian usage. In any case, it is hardly likely that this distant inscription would have had any influence on the early Christian use of the term.[
5] More than likely, εὐαγγελιστής was coined from the cognate verb εὐαγγελίζω (or εὐαγγελίζομαι).[
6] The coining of εὐαγγελιστής is a perfectly natural development.
So there is contested evidence that the term existed at all prior to the Christian era, and arguments made that it was even coined during that time. Other uses come in later Christian writings. Perseus notes some other early uses from Saint Basil, Eusebius, and John of Damascus.
1 Definitions come from William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
2 Spiros Zodhiates. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).
3 Combs is citing in his note 7:
Henry G. Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. with supplement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), s.v. “εὐαγγελιστής,” p. 705; Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “εὐαγγελίζομαι, εὐαγγέλιον, προευαγγελίζομαι, εὐαγγελιστής,” by Gerhard Friedrich, 2:736.
4 Combs is citing in his note 8:
Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), s.v. “εὐαγγελίζομαι, εὐαγγέλιον, εὐαγγελιστής,” 2:91.
5 Combs is citing in his note 9:
I. Howard Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999), p. 804, n. 125.
6 Combs is citing in his note 10:
A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), pp. 115, 151, 153; James H. Moulton and Wilbert F. Howard, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 2: Accidence and Word-Formation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, ), p. 365; Nigel Turner, Christian Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981), p. 191; Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 299, n. 105; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 346. The active εὐαγγελίζω appears only twice in the NT (Rev 10:7; 14:6), but the active and middle (εὐαγγελίζομαι) are identical in meaning in the NT and Hellenistic Greek in general. See BDAG, s.v. “εὐαγγελίζω,” p. 402; and F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and ed. Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 163 (§309, 1).