“Gospel” by Gerald Cowan

     For this first essay in the column called “Word Studies,” the logical choice is the word “gospel.”  We will not use this column to discuss many words in their original Greek or Hebrew spelling, and we will spend little if any time on nuances of original grammar and syntax – that is frankly far beyond me, and I suspect it would be beyond the interest and expertise of most readers of this journal.

     The Gospel Gleaner is not intended for scholars and language experts, but rather for the average Christian who is concerned about proper usage and application of common words and phrases heard in ordinary communication in the church, so original words will be given an Anglicized spelling.

     The studies will be centered on some transliterated expressions such as ecclesiastical, baptism, presbyter, and evangelist.  Some common expressions such as faith, grace, church, hope, communion, saint, and election will be addressed too.  All these words are easily and commonly misunderstood or misapplied, and they are not all understood or used in the same way in different religious traditions.

     We will not be particularly concerned with traditional concepts, even with the way we have generally used them, but will focus on truly biblical concepts. The etymology of English words will often be a necessary consideration because of the continuing plethora of translations and updates that vary so widely.

     Many are confused by the translations.  Some think any deviation from the wording of a favored translation, would amount to a departure from the inspired word of God.  I will leave to others the judgment and evaluation of translations of Scripture.

     Now, since we are to be concerned about gleaning God’s truth from God’s gospel, it seems the proper definition and application of that word “gospel” is the right place to start.  There is much confusion about the gospel, and those who preach it.

     Gospel and gospel of Christ stand high on the list of words used frequently in the church but often misunderstood and misapplied.  The power of God for salvation is in the gospel, and we should not be ashamed to preach it to everyone in the world (Romans 1:15-16, Mark 16:15, 1 Peter 1:25).  But what is it?

     Reference to the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as “the four gospels” has led some to think that the gospel is “the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.” But these titles were given by men, not by inspiration of God.  Because of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, some equate gospel with “the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.”  But how can one “obey” that gospel (1 Peter 4:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:8)?

     The gospel cannot be reduced to “the plan of salvation,” in which one outlines and explains the commands one obeys or the steps one takes to become a Christian and be added into the kingdom of God in Christ (Romans 6:17-18, Acts 2:40-41, 47).

     In view of Romans 1:15-17 and 2:16, we should certainly be aware that the gospel includes and requires a response to all the revealed will and commands of God and to the standard of judgment imposed by Jesus Christ.

     We do not give full credit to the gospel and its power unless we take all of this into account.  Since we are to preach the gospel to all the people everywhere in the world (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20), we should take care to know it and repeat it accurately.  Paul preached the gospel everywhere (Colossians 1:23).  We must follow his example – we must preach what he preached (2 Timothy 2:2), which is much more than a few basic principles.

THE “GOSPEL” IS “GOD’S MESSAGE.”

     The Greek word translated “gospel” is EUANGELION. It was Latinized to EVANGEL (with numerous cognates such as evangelism and evangelist derived from it).  It is not a religious word as such.  EU means “good.”  ANGELION means “message,” and ANGELOS (ANGEL) means “messenger.” So, EUANGELION is “good message; good news.” EUANGELISTES (evangelist) is “a messenger, a bearer of good news.”

     The common definition of gospel is “good news.”  Now you know why.  But there is more to the full meaning and application of the word.

     Our English word “gospel,” is often but not consistently used to translate EUANGELION. The word is from Anglo-Saxon GOTTSPIEL, Old English GODSPIEL or GODSPELL. A “spiel” is a message or story.  A Gottspiel, Godspiel. Godspel, or gospel is a story or message from or about God.

     Any message from God would be presumed true.  We sometimes use the word “gospel” as a synonym for “truth” – that’s the gospel; that’s the truth (compare Galatians 2:14).  Any message about God, or which claims to be from God must be certifiably true (Galatians 1:11, compare also 1:6-8).

     One must not distort God’s message, nor give false information in the name of God.  A message of truth from or about God would certainly be “good news.” The relationship of “good” to “God” in English may be significant.

     The word EUANGELION, translated “gospel,” is used in many ways in the New Testament.  It is singular, a unit. Note: (1) the gospel (Romans 1:15, 15:20); (2) there is only one gospel (Galatians 1:6-8); (3) the gospel of God (Romans 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:11); (4) the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14); (5) the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24); (6) the gospel of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-3, 9); (7) the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).  In these passages we find the focus of the gospel is the source (God), the content (the kingdom), the purpose (grace), and the prime subject is Christ himself.

THE GOSPEL OF GOD IS GOOD NEWS.

     The gospel is good news because it tells about God’s activity in behalf of mankind, the whole story from creation to eternity, from Genesis through Revelation.  The gospel also tells mankind how to establish and maintain a right relationship with God, how to achieve the “righteousness” which is from God (Romans 1:17; compare Romans 10:4).

     The gospel is preached to us, and it was also preached to people under the old covenant (Hebrews 4:2).  The gospel is not just the news about the Christ, whether coming, come, or coming again, but the whole story, the whole message of God’s will for His people, at any time and under any covenant.

     The message concerning the Messiah/Christ is certainly a part of the gospel of God, but it is not the whole of God’s message.  It is the center and focus, the heart of the message. But the whole message must be heard and accepted for the gospel to be mixed with faith in those who heard or hear it (Hebrews 4:2b).

     The preparation of a people through whom to bring the Christ, the life and ministry and present activity of the living Christ, and the eternal activity of Christ with His redeemed people are all part of the story of and from God – the evangel, the Godspiel, the gospel.

     Our present focus on the gospel of God should be about what God has done, is doing now, and will do in the future through Jesus Christ.  Consider:

  • His BIRTH. Christ was proved to be divine by virgin birth (the incarnation of the eternal God in the human flesh of His Son – begotten in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:3, Matthew 1:21-23 and John 1:1-4, 14).
  • His DEATH. Christ died as a sacrifice to remove human sin and guilt (Romans 3:25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
  • His RESURRECTION and ASCENSION TO HEAVEN (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 1:4, Acts 1:9-11).
  • His RETURN (Acts 1:9-11, Philippians 3:20-21).
  • HEAVEN with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Peter 1:5, 9).

WHAT MUST BE OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST?

  • FAITH, knowledge and acceptance of it (1 Timothy 2:4, Romans 10:17, Romans 1:16-17).
  • REPENTANCE, commitment to the truth (Luke 24:47).
  • BAPTISM, identification with Him who is the truth (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-27, John 14:6).
  • DISCIPLESHIP, living the truth. (Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10 and 23, Ephesians 4:1).

     It is not possible to understand and apply the identity of Jesus Christ and one’s obedient and faithful relationship to Him unless one knows the rest of the story, the whole gospel of God.