kat'-e-kist, kate-ku'-men (katechizein "to resound," "to teach," "to instruct"): A catechist is a teacher who instructs his pupils in the elements of his own religion. In the Old Testament he teaches them the rudiments of Old Testament truth; in the New Testament he teaches the principles of the Christian faith. A catechumen, one whom the catechist instructs or catechizes, in preparation for the ceremony of baptism.
The words are derived from katechein, meaning "to give a sound," "to answer," "to echo." Classically it was used of the sounding down of rushing water, of the falling of music from a ship to the sea. Then it came to signify the sounding down of words of command or instruction. The preposition kata strengthens the meaning, bringing out more emphatically the back or return sound, the echo, the answer. So it came to mean familiar verbal instruction, a free informal discussion between teacher and pupil. Luke informs Theophilus (Lu 1:4) that he intends to give him a succinct and orderly account of those things which he had previously received by word of mouth (peri hon katechethes). See also the Greek in Ac 18:25 and Ac 21:21; Ro 2:18; 1Co 14:19; Ga 6:6. In all these passages the Greek verb is "catechised."
We do not find in the New Testament an organized catechumenate, such as we find in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The apostles preached mainly to synagogue-instructed Jews who were familiar with the law and the prophets and the Psalms, or to Gentiles who had, learned from the Jews and had become "proselytes" (which see). The first apostolic preaching and teaching was to convince the hearers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. As believers multiplied, the contrast between them and those who rejected the teaching became more and more marked. Opposition, scorn and persecution became more bold and bitter. The Christians were compelled to set forth and defend their beliefs more clearly. They had to meet and answer keen and persistent objections. And so the necessity for clear, systematic and organized teaching grew more and more into the form of an ordered catechumenate. The Apostolic Constitutions, from the latter part of the 3rd century, show the institution in a fair state of development. A Jew, pagan, or heretic of good moral standing, upon application to the deacon, presbyter, or bishop, was admitted into the state of catechumen by the sign of the cross and the imposition of hands (Schaff-Herzog, under the word).
The basis for the Christian catechumenate we find in the great commission (Mt 28:19-20). The aim of this commission was to make disciples, i.e. believing followers. The means for this discipling are baptizing and teaching. The result of using the means is that those who have become disciples are to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.
Jesus Himself at twelve years of age had become a child of the law, a catechumen. He increased in wisdom and learned obedience. He became the great Catechist instructing His disciples, other private individuals and the multitudes. See an example of His catechizing in Mt 16:13 ff.
Paul was a master in method. See examples of use of the modern pedagogical method of apperception in Ac 14:14 ff; Ac 17:16 ff; Ac 19:8-9. The cathechetical method is frequently found in the epistles (see 1Co 3:1-2; Heb 5:11,14; 6:1-2; 1Pe 2:2; 1Jo 2:13), and so the idea of religious nurture and instruction is found all through the New Testament. The catechist and the catechumen are there. It was not something new in the New Testament. Its roots lie back and run through the Old Testament. The narrative of God's first communication with man, inside the gates of Eden, concerning commandment, law, sin, its consequences, its remedy, takes a catechetical form. The importance of systematic instruction, both public and private, is emphasized throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, although it might not always take the form of catechizing in the modern pedagogical sense. In the patriarchal age the father was the prophet, the teacher, the catechist, in his house, which often included several families with their servants (see Ge 18:19). Matthew Henry explains thus: "Abraham not only took care of his children, but his whole household, including his servants, were catechized" (see also Ex 12:26; De 6:1-9; Jos 4:6-7; 24:15; Ps 34:11). Priests and Levites in addition to their sacerdotal functions were catechists (instructors) among the people (Le 10:11; De 33:10; 2Ch 15:3; Eze 44:23). In later times the synagogues had regular instruction in the law and the prophets.
G. H. Gerberding