Words of Life – “Gospel”

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:68 (NET)

“Words of Life”
In this new series of articles, we will seek to explore common “church words” which we frequently hear and say in Christian circles, but rarely use outside of a religious context. 

The Christian faith finds its foundation in the written word passed down through the ages. These writings, originating in distant lands and times, often feel foreign to our modern lives. Yet, they hold profound significance for our beliefs and practices. Over time, many of these words and phrases have picked up theological baggage as they have been the focus of well-meaning and even brilliant thinkers such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin among others. As we read these words through the lenses of dogmatic tradition and modern western culture, however, the original meaning of these vital texts is obscured to us. Our beliefs are unknowingly influenced as much by traditions of men as they are by the inspired word of the biblical writers.

In this series, we peel back these layers to uncover the true essence of these words as understood by their original readers. By exploring their linguistic roots and historical contexts, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the inspired intent behind the sacred texts. Join us on this journey as we uncover the richness and depth of the words of life.

The Word in Focus: “Gospel” (Greek: Euangelion)

You might have heard that “gospel” means “good news,” and that’s true! But like many of the words we’ll explore in this series, there’s more to it than meets the eye. When we hear “Gospel” today, we usually think of it in a religious sense; but back in the first century, it was mainly used in a political context, and interestingly, it was almost always plural (Greek: euangelia). The word was common and was used in a variety of settings, but one in particular seems especially relevant to how first century Christians would have used and understood their “gospel.”

What is a Gospel? – iDigressAnnouncements of significant events such as the birth or accession of an emperor, as well as to proclaim his political and military victories were called euangelia – or “gospels”. These “gospels,” were often inscribed on monuments and publicly displayed to honor the leader they esteemed. Additionally, heralds would be dispatched to proclaim these “gospels” aloud in advance of the emperor’s imminent visit; conveying news of his achievements to the public in preparation for his arrival.

Add to this a better understanding of other “church words” like “apostle,” which means “herald” or “one who is sent,” and “Christ,” which means “Anointed One” — that is, “God-ordained King” — and we find that the writings of the New Testament as a whole, and especially the letters of the Apostle Paul, take on a distinctly royal overtone. Consider Paul’s introduction to his letter to the churches in Rome:

1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”


Romans 1:1-4 (NET)

Roman Coin Son of God - Kuyperian CommentaryPaul introduces himself as a servant of the duly-anointed Davidic King, Jesus; as a herald sent out on behalf of this king to proclaim his singular and incomparable triumph — his gospel — and announce his rule and coming judgment. He proceeds to call Jesus the “Son of God” (Greek: divi filius) and “Lord” (Greek: kurios), both of which were titles attributed to Caesar Augustus and were even printed on Roman coins. In deliberately sending this letter into the heart of the Roman Empire, Paul is knowingly kicking a hornet’s nest! It’s no wonder one of the earliest known Christian creeds was “Jesus is Lord!” — the provocative implication being “and Caesar is not!” The early church saw “the gospel” as the proclamation of a new world order in which Jesus was the supreme authority over all human and spiritual powers on earth and in the heavens.

The Gospel Revealed

The gospel, therefore, recounts how Jesus became King over all kings and Lord over all lords. It proclaims the wonderful benefits of willingly submitting to his rule and issues a stern warning of the coming judgment for those who willfully reject his authority. While the gospel isn’t merely biographical, neither is it simply the “good news” that we can be saved, go to heaven, or have our sins forgiven. The gospel is the glorious fulfillment of God’s epic plan, which began before the cosmos, was cryptically hinted at in the prophets, unfolded in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and is now revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the writings of his early followers and apostles.

The Gospel is simply this: God has made Jesus both King and Lord, placing all things on earth and in Heaven under his authority. He offers citizenship and even shared rule in an eternal Kingdom to any who will earnestly pledge their heartfelt allegiance to him. The Gospel challenges hearers then and now with a single question: “Whom do you serve?”

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