Gospel

Gospel [N] [E]

"Glad tidings" or "good news, " from Anglo-Saxon godspell.

The Old Testament. Good news is proclaimed widely ( 1 Sam 31:9 ; Psalm 96:2-3 ; Isa 40:9 ; 52:7 ), spread rapidly ( 2 Sam 18:19-31 ; 2 Kings 7:9 ; Psalm 68:11 ), and declared and received joyfully ( 2 Sam 1:20 ; Psalm 96:11-12 ; Isa 52:7-9 ; Jer 20:15 ).

Where the message is gospel for Israelites and based on fact, the news is in every case but one ( Jer 20:15 ) related to God the Savior. Psalm 40:9-10 celebrates his saving help. Kings and armies are scattered by the Almighty ( Psalms 68:11 Psalms 68:14 ). It is he who delivers David from his enemies ( 2 Sam 18:19-31 ). A direct act of God puts the Syrians to flight ( 2 Kings 7:1-9 ); he breaks the Assyrian yoke ( Nahum 1:13 Nahum 1:15 ). Having conquered Babylon by the hand of Cyrus ( Isaiah 41:25 Isaiah 41:27 ), the mighty God returns to Zion ( 40:9-10 ). The peace and salvation announced in Isaiah 52:7 are won by his sovereign power ("Your God reigns!"). "The year of the Lord's favor" brings glad tidings to the afflicted ( 61:1-2 ).

The explanation for God's saving action lies nowhere but in God himself. In whatever measure Israel has paid for her past sins ( Isa 40:2 ), she remains a sinful people ( 42:25 ; 46:12-13 ). She is saved by divine grace alone ( 55:1-7 ). There being no righteousness to reward, Yahweh Acts to create righteousness in Israel ( 45:8 ; Isaiah 61:3 Isaiah 61:10-11 ). The penalty for sin is exacted not from Israel but from the Servant appointed to stand in her place ( 53:4-12 ). Through the Servant's work, many will be justified ( 53:11 ); those who possess no righteousness ( 43:25-28 ) will be acquitted.

The joy that attends the gospel finds ultimate expression in the praise of God. "Praise be to the Lord your God!" exclaims Ahimaaz in reporting victory to David ( 2 Sam 18:28 ). The glad tidings of Psalm 68:11-14 are recollected during a festal procession celebrating God's enthronement (cf. Psalm 40:9-10 ). The watchmen of Isaiah 52:7-8 shout for joy over Yahweh's return to Zion. Psalm 96:1-3 summons the whole earth to tell of Yahweh's salvation, to "bless his name" and "declare his glory."

With the return of the exiles from Babylon, the salvation announced in Isaiah is but partly realized. The foreign nations, far from becoming her fellow worshipers, remain Israel's oppressors. Israel's own unrighteousness was to persist; the Servant appointed to bear her iniquities has not yet appeared. As Isaiah makes clear, the full realization of salvation awaits the dawn of a new agean age created by the saving God. At the close of the Old Testament, the inauguration of this new age is still awaited.

The New Testament: Stage One. Except for Galatians 3:8 and Hebrews 4:2, 6, the New Testament restricts gospel terminology to proclamations made during the time of fulfillment, when the salvation promised in the Old Testament is actually accomplished. According to Mark 1:1-4 the gospel "begins" not in the Old Testament but with John the Baptist, in whom Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled. The promised birth of John, Messiah's forerunner, is good news ( Luke 1:19 ). John's own preaching is gospel, too ( Luke 3:18 ): it warns sinners of impending doom and urges them to repent before the axe falls ( 3:7-9 ); it assures the repentant of forgiveness ( 3:3 ) and membership in Messiah's community ( 3:17 ). Messiah's own birth is announced as "good news of great joy" ( 2:10-11 ). According to Romans 1:1-5 the gospel promised in the Old Testament is actually given when Jesus comes (see also Acts 13:32-33 ).

Jesus' gospel declares: "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near" ( Mark 1:14-15 ). God reigns eternally over all that he has made. Yet his will is not done on earth as it is in heaven; wrong, not right, prevails. But these conditions are not final. With the coming of the kingdom, God's rule will be complete; wrong will be judged and right established. That kingdom is now being inaugurated: "The time has come" ( Mark 1:15a ) for Old Testament promises to be fulfilled. The consummation of the kingdom is no longer a distant prospect; the full realization of God's rule is "near" ( Mark 1:15b ).

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: "the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" ( Luke 4:18-19 ). the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus' own ministry ( 4:21 ). He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). He helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah's day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in viewpeople broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ).

The coming of the kingdom is not the effect or the reward of human effort, but God's answer to the human predicamentthe gift of his favor ( Luke 12:32 ). The explanation for the salvation of the poor lies nowhere but in the gracious God. As the prodigal son recognizes, he is not worthy to be called his father's son; nothing he has done, not even his repentance, accounts for the father's love ( Luke 15:11-32 ). In the parable of Matthew 20:1-16, it is owing to the goodness of the employer that the last workers hired receive a full day's wages. The first debtor in Matthew 18:23-35 has earned nothing but the right to be sold into slavery; instead the king cancels his enormous debt. The publican with nothing to offer God but a confession of sin and a plea for mercy is justified ( Luke 18:13-14 ). The same holds true for the more virtuous among the poor, such as those described in Matthew 5:7-10. Their virtue is real, not imagined. Yet in keeping God's commands, they do not put him in their debt; they are simply doing their duty ( Luke 17:7-10 ). Even the most merciful need divine mercy ( Matt 5:7 ); for even those most zealous to obey God's law are unable to fulfill all its requirements ( Matt 11:28-30 ). Grace depends for its exercise upon the inability of its objects ( Luke 14:12-14 ).

As the Israelites are a sinful people ( Matt 1:21 ; Luke 1:77 ), Jesus proclaims his gospel to the whole nation ( Matt 4:23 ; 9:35 ; 15:24 ). From the most respectable to the least, all are summoned to submit to God's rule, to come to the banquet he has spread ( Luke 14:16-24 ). Salvation must be received to be experienced ( Mark 10:15 ). While it is a gift that costs nothing, it is also a priceless treasure for which a wise person will sacrifice all else ( Matt 13:44-46 ). "Repent and believe the good news!" commands Jesus ( Mark 1:15 ). The self-righteous and the self-sufficient must be jolted out of their false security and recognize their need of God ( Luke 6:24-26 ). An announcement of liberation ( Luke 4:18-19 ) is good news only to people who are enslaved and know they are. Even the destitute and the afflicted must learn that it is being personally related to God as subject to sovereign and as child to father, which makes one "blessed" ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Even those who are already "poor in spirit" in the sense defined above, are not really "blessed" until they acknowledge the truth of Jesus' claims ( Matt 11:6 ) and commit themselves to a life of obedience on his terms ( Matt 7:21-27 ).

Throughout Jesus' ministry, the theme of his gospel remains the dawning kingdom of God ( Matt 4:23 ; 24:14 ; Luke 4:43 ; 16:16 ), a message preached almost exclusively to Jews ( Matt 10:5-6 ; 15:24 ). Yet Jesus provides glimpses into what the gospel is to become. He speaks of persons who make sacrifices "for me and for the gospel" ( Mark 8:35 ; 10:29 ). Jesus and the gospel are here associated in the closest way. We are moving toward the time when the Proclaimer of the gospel will become the Proclaimed. Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14 foretell the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to the Gentiles. Mark 14:8-9 indicates that Jesus and his death will be prominent themes in the worldwide gospel. Here we have an indication of the cruciality of Jesus' death both for the provision of salvation announced in his gospel and for the launching of the mission to the Gentiles.

The New Testament: Stage Two: For the gospel declared after Jesus' resurrection, our main sources are Acts and the letters of Paul.

God authors the gospel and authorizes its proclamation ( Acts 15:7 ; 16:10 ; Rom 1:1-5 ; Gal 1:11-16 ; 2:7-9 ; 1 Thess 2:2-9 ). God himself is an Evangelist, personally calling persons to salvation through his human agents ( Acts 10:36 ; 2 Col 4:4-6 ; Gal 1:6 ; 2 Thess 2:13-14 ; Rev 10:7 ). Paul's gospel is both a witness to an expression of God's grace ( Acts 20:24 ; Col 1:5-6 ), power ( Rom 1:16 ; 1 Col 1:17-25 ), and glory ( 2 Col 4:4-6 ; 1 Tim 1:11 ). To accept the gospel is to turn to God ( Acts 14:15 ; 1 Thess 1:5-9 ). To disobey the gospel is to be deprived of the knowledge of God ( 2 Thess 1:8 ). To trade the true gospel for a false one is to turn away from God ( Gal 1:6 ).

Risen from the dead, Christ again evangelizes ( Eph 2:16-17 ) through his representatives ( Rom 15:16-18 ; 1 Col 1:17 ; 9:12-18 ; 2 Tim 1:9-11 ). Moreover, Christ has become the gospel's major theme. This is repeatedly affirmed in Acts and in Paul's writings. Mark describes his whole book as "the gospel about Jesus Christ" ( 1:1 ). Galatians 2:7-9 speaks not of two gospels but of two mission fields; Paul (apostle to the uncircumcised) and Peter (apostle to the circumcised) are both entrusted with the "gospel of Christ" ( Gal 1:7 ), the message ordained for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles alike ( Rom 1:16 ). The "different gospel" of Galatians 1:6-9 and 2 Corinthians 11:4 is not another gospel about Jesus, but a message about "another Jesus"not the real Jesus, but one who exists only in the minds and the message of its advocates. On the other hand, to preach the true Christ is to preach the true gospel, however questionable one's motives ( Php 1:15-18 ); to respond rightly to the gospel is to turn to Christ ( Acts 11:20-21 ; Rom 10:8-17 ; Gal 2:14-16 ).

The gospel bears witness to every aspect of Christ's saving work, from his birth and public ministry to his second coming and the last judgment. But Christ's death and resurrection, the crucial saving events, are the gospel's most prominent themes. Mark's whole Gospel prepares for Passion Week. In Paul's gospel Jesus' death and resurrection are central ( 1 Cor 15:1-4 ), with the cross at the very center ( 1 Col 1:17-2:5 ; Rom 3:21-26 ; 2 Col 5:14-21 ). Acts proclaims Jesus' death ( 8:35 ; Acts 20:24 Acts 20:28 ) and preeminently his resurrection, the event by which he conquered death and was exalted as Lord and coming Judge ( 10:36-43 ; 13:32-33 ; 17:31 ). According to 1 Peter the bearers of the gospel focused, as had the Old Testament prophets, upon "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" ( 1:11-12 ).

Paul declares ( Rom 1:16 ; 1 Col 1:17-18 ) the gospel to be "the power of God"not merely a witness to, but an expression of his power. The gospel is no bare word but is laden with the power of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Col 2:1-5 ; 1 Thess 1:5-6 ). Thus it cannot be fettered ( 2 Tim 2:8-9 ). The gospel effects the salvation it announces and imparts the life it promises.

The gospel offers salvation "through the grace of our Lord Jesus" ( Acts 15:11 ). Paul testifies "to the gospel of God's grace" ( Acts 20:24 ). The gospel is a witness to God's grace. In offering his Son as a sacrifice for sins ( Rom 3:25a ), God demonstrates his righteousness ( Romans 3:25 Romans 3:26 ). In Jesus' death sins formerly "passed over" ( 3:25c ) become the object of divine wrath ( 1:18 ). Yet in the place where God deals justly with sins, he shows grace to sinners. For the judgment is focused not upon the sinners themselves but upon the One who stands in their place ( 4:25 ; 5:6-11 ; 2 Cor 5:21 ; Gal 3:13 ). Sinners are therefore freely pardoned ( Rom 3:24 ). The gospel is a channel of God's grace. "A righteousness from God is revealed" in the gospel ( Rom 1:17 )not merely expounded but unleashed, so that the gospel becomes "the power of God for salvation" ( 1:16 ). God activates his righteousness by bestowing it freely upon sinners ( 5:17 ). They are acquitted, justified, "declared righteous, " by God the Judge by virtue of their union with Christ, who is himself their righteousness ( 1 Col 1:30 ; 2 Col 5:21 ; Php 3:9 ).

The gospel calls for a threefold response. (1) Believing. The gospel is "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" ( Rom 1:16 ). Faith abandons all reliance on "works of law" for justification ( Rom 3:28 ) and trusts in God's grace imparted in Christ ( Romans 3:22 Romans 3:26 ; Galatians 2:16 Galatians 2:20 ). One must believe the gospel for here God's salvation is mediated. (2) Growing. The gospel is both a message to be received and a place in which to stand ( 1 Cor 15:1-2 ); it both gives and sustains life. The Spirit imparts wisdom by taking persons ever more deeply into the gospel of the cross ( 1 Col 1:18-2:16 ). Paul is eager to declare the gospel to the Christians in Rome ( Rom 1:15 ), by both his letter and his visit. (3) Hoping. "The hope held out in the gospel" ( Col 1:23 ) includes Christ's return and the heavenly glory ( Col 1:5 ; 2 Thess 2:14-16 ), as well as the final judgment ( Rom 2:16 ). For those who embrace the gospel the judgment holds no terrors, because the Judge has rescued them from the wrath to come ( Rom 8:1 ; 1 Thess 1:10 ); the last judgment marks their final vindication ( 1 Col 4:5 ; Gal 5:5 ). Those who died after believing the gospel ( 1 Peter 4:6 ) have not suffered the fate of the lawless; their response to the gospel assures them of approval by the coming Lord ( 4:5-6 ; 5:4 ) and of a share in the imperishable inheritance of heaven ( 1:4 ).

J. Knox Chamblin

See also Death of Christ; Faith; Grace; Jesus Christ; Kerygma; Salvation

Bibliography. W. Barclay, New Testament Words, pp. 101-6; U. Becker, NIDNTT, 2:107-15; K. Chamblin, Gospel according to Paul; G. Friedrich, TDNT, 2:707-37; P. Stuhlmacher, ed., The Gospel and the Gospels.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Gospel'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.