Gospel?

One of the most misunderstood words in all of Christendom has to be the word ‘gospel’. The English word ‘gospel’ comes from the Greek word “euangelion” (εὐαγγέλιον) and is generally further translated as ‘good news’. The important question, then, should be, what is this good news?

If you ask most people they will tell you that the gospel is the ‘death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ’. And they’ll probably tell you that you share the gospel so that people to be saved.  But, what if I told you that this isn’t really a truly Biblical definition? What if I told you that the ‘gospel’ is something bigger than personal salvation?

It’s a very American thing, making the good news about personal salvation. Making the good news about ‘me’. God, the creator of the universe, came to earth to fulfill his promise of restoring his kingdom while ruling from the midst of his people, and we in America (and many other parts of the western world) have made it about us, individually.

There are many Bible verses we could look at when trying to figure out what is actually meant when we talk about the gospel but I’d like to start with one that is not often thought of.

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. (Heb 3:16-4:2 NKJV)

These verses are generally looked at when considering the relevance of the Sabbath. However, it’s Hebrews 4:2 that we really want to focus on so we can take a deeper look at what is meant by ‘the gospel’. The author of Hebrews, when discussing the ‘rest’ which we are still able to enter into, references the Israelites who came out of Egypt being given the same good news (gospel) as is offered to us, only they did not have the faith to walk out the gospel being presented to them.

If ‘the gospel’ is the ‘death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ as we are often told, how were the Israelites in the wilderness presented with this message? And, if ‘the gospel’ is not the ‘death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ what even is it?

If ‘the gospel’ is the ‘death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ as we are often told, how were the Israelites in the wilderness presented with this message? And, if ‘the gospel’ is not the ‘death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ what even is it?

Good News!

Shortly before our Messiah and King made his entrance onto this mortal plane, the Roman world was experiencing the pronouncement of a different king. Pay attention, because this is going to provide an understanding of what ‘good news’ meant when people were declaring it about Yeshua.

Most of us have heard of Julius Caesar, even if it’s only because of a play we had to read back in high school. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, it started a civil war throughout the Roman empire which lasted for 13 years. There’s much fun history in this story (more than you learn just by reading Shakespeare) but the end result was that Octavian (who would become Augustus and get a month named after him) defeated Marc Antony in a battle on September 2nd, 31 B.C. For the previous 13 years there had been war within the empire. Everything was thrown into chaos. You never knew what you were going to encounter as you went about your daily life. Then, after Octavian’s victory, word finally reaches you that the civil war is over and your life just may be able to start getting back to normal. That is good news! N.T. Wright states, “The word good news became a regular slogan for announcing to the world that Octavian, soon to be acclaimed as Augustus, by which he is now more usually known, had brought peace, justice, and prosperity to the world.”[1]

Furthermore, there is an inscription which has been found which dates back to 9 B.C. which acts in a way as a birthday card for Caesar Octavian (Augustus), who just so happens to be the Caesar who was the emperor of the realm during the upbringing of Yeshua. This inscription, while announcing the birthday of Octavian, refers to him as “savior” as well as “god”, and it does this while declaring the inception of his reign as the gospel (good tidings). It reads as follows:

Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [sōtēr], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance . . . surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god [tou theou] Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings [euangelion] for the world that came by reason of him. . . .[2]

It’s important to keep this in mind when we’re thinking about the gospel written of in the Bible. The at-the-time contemporary meaning of the word definitely included the idea of, not just the declaration of a new king (though, this was certainly the primary goal of the pronouncement) but also the idea that this king’s reign was ‘good news’ because he was going to bring peace and justice. In fact, going back even further, in the ancient near east (ANE) it was the responsibility of the king to bring about a righteous and just society.[3] This wasn’t an uniquely Israelite concept, either. All throughout the ANE, not only were kings supposed to bring ‘truth and justice’, many of them declared something similar to what the Bible would call a ‘Jubilee’ (Lev 25), granting economic freedom to those who were enslaved or indebted.[4] This is one of the reasons why when a new king was declared it was thought of as ‘good news’.

 

(Look for Part Two of this series next Friday)

 

Resources Leaned On For This Article

Obviously, the Bible

(Just a disclaimer that I don’t fully agree with someone just because I list them below. These are just sources which I found helpful.)

Bates, Matthew. 2019. Gospel Allegiance: What Faith Misses for Salvation in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Bates, Matthew W. 2021. The Gospel Precisely: Surprisingly Good News About Jesus Christ the King: Bates, Matthew W. Renew.org.

Mackie, Tim. n.d. “What Does the Word ‘Gospel’ Mean? Podcast | BibleProjectTM.” BibleProject. Accessed May 19, 2022. https://bibleproject.com/podcast/what-does-word-gospel-mean/.

McKnight, Scot. 2016. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Zondervan.

Weinfeld, Moshe. 1995. Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. 2015. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. Harper Collins.

[1] Wright, N. T. 2015. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. Harper Collins, 11.

[2] Bates, Matthew. 2019. Gospel Allegiance: What Faith Misses for Salvation in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 105-106.

[3] Weinfeld, Moshe. 1995. Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 45.

[4] Ibid, 75-96.

 

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About the Seeking Scripture Team: We are a group of believers from all walks of the faith, saved by grace alone through faith in our Messiah. While we are of one accord in many things, we are all works in progress and lifelong learners. Therefore the opinions of one may not always represent the opinions of all.

Aaron Baker