What is the Gospel? How would you articulate it? If I said to you, “Fill in the blank. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is ______________,” what would you say?
Before answering that question with very much of the content of the Gospel, it is important to first lay the groundwork about its (1) scope, (2) nature, and (3) primary description. In other words, what topics does the Gospel cover? What is ‘gospel’ anyway? And how is this Gospel predominantly described in the Bible?
Those three can be succinctly stated in this sentence: The Gospel is the good news about Jesus of Nazareth. Notice, first, it is about Jesus. Its focus is narrowly on him. That’s its scope. Second, it is news. That is its category of communication or the nature of it. Third, it is good news. It is primarily described as positive. Let’s think more deeply about each of these three as a sort of preamble to the more extensive content of the Gospel.
First, the Gospel is about Jesus of Nazareth. In the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul made that clear at the outset…
1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning his Son,
The Gospel of God is ‘concerning his Son’; that is, it is with reference to or regarding or in relation to Jesus. Though God the Father is its originator and God the Spirit is its invisible proclaimer, the topic of the message is not about God generally speaking, nor is it specifically about the Father or the Spirit. It’s more narrowly about God the Son, Jesus. He is its constricted center. The content of the Gospel inescapably revolves around him.
It’s common today to hear that the Gospel can be summed up in four words like ‘Creation–Fall–Redemption–Restoration’ or ‘God–Man–Christ–Response’ or even that both of those versions accurately define it from two important perspectives.
While these short, pithy lists are very helpful to summarize the entire Bible story or provide a brief systematic theology of the Gospel, they lack the narrow focus in which the Bible itself explains the message.
On more than one occasion, I have been told that my view of the Gospel is too narrow. I came to my view after years of studying every occurrence of the word, its cognates, and its euphemisms in the entire Bible. I have a narrow view of the Gospel because this study showed me that the Bible has a narrow view of the Gospel. It’s narrowly about Jesus of Nazareth.
So, I am not against picking four words to summarize the content of the Gospel, not at all! I simply insist that Jesus be the subject of each sentence that explains those four words.
For example, I think ‘Lord–Sin–Savior–Faith’ is the best way to summarize the Gospel in four words. That is, JESUS is the Lord. JESUS is going to put the world right regarding sin. JESUS is the only Savior of sinners. JESUS saves sinners by grace through faith. JESUS isn’t simply the hero of the story or the third act in a four part play. He is the consuming topic of every bit of it.
And I think this articulation is not only faithful to the restricted scope of the Biblical use of the word, it also provides the unsearchable depth in the Gospel that those who critique my view as narrow seem to be wanting.
To say it a different way, my response to those who want the Gospel to be wider is that I think they are confusing width and depth. Narrow doesn’t mean without depth because narrowness is not antithetical to depth. The Gospel isn’t wide and deep. It’s narrow and deep. It’s narrowly about Jesus. That narrowness in no way diminishes its depth. It’s the deepest message in history because it is about Jesus’ life, authority, identity and salvific work. The Gospel is about Jesus of Nazareth. That is its scope.
Second, the Gospel is news. The word ‘euangelion’ in the Koine Greek New Testament is commonly translated as ‘gospel’ in English versions. The etymology of the word suggests that it means good news. The prefix ‘eu-’ refers to something that is good or pleasant. The root ‘angelion’ is the word for ‘message.’ The combination of those terms would lead us to believe it is a ‘good message.’
A simple etymological analysis alone can be misleading though. For, while a ‘racecar’ is, in fact, a car that races, a ‘butterfly’ is not a fly that butters your toast in the morning. Right? So, we must do more than analyze the components of a word to determine its meaning. We must also analyze how the word was actually used in its original context.
In the case of ‘euangelion,’ it was often used in the first century to announce a great military victory, but it was also used to simply celebrate more common events. For example, when Caesar Augustus eventually emerged as the Roman Emperor out of the turmoil resulting from his adoptive father Julius Caesar’s assassination, his ascension to the throne was announced across the Empire as ‘euangelion.’ At the same time, a person who recovered from an injury would spread that ‘euangelion’ to their friends and family. The semantic range of the word indicates that it was used to communicate good news of all sorts.
So, what is news? News is important information about past, current or future events, or some combination of the three, usually reported to people who are interested in, affected by, or involved with these events.
That is, something has happened, is happening, and/or will happen. That something is deemed significant by somebody. Therefore, they broadcast or publish that important information. And they often aim their report towards people who want to hear about it, are impacted in some way by it, and/or are perceived to have a desire to participate in it. That’s what news is.
Consider some examples:
“Did you hear that Joe was in a car accident? He might be paralyzed from the waist down! Poor guy ☹”
-from your friend on Facebook
“We are having a baby! Come celebrate with us at our Reveal Party on Saturday!”
-an Evite from your cousin & her husband
“A tornado has just touched down in Plainfield, Illinois.”
-an iPhone alert courtesy of The Weather Channel
“Zobrist’s home run leads the Cubs to victory.”
-the Sports section headline in the Chicago Tribune
Joe was in a car accident. Your cousin is pregnant. A tornado has been spotted in a nearby town. Ben Zobrist hit the game winning home run. These are all examples of news. The Gospel is news.
It is very important to be clear and disciplined in our thinking, then, about the nature of what it is and, therefore, what it is NOT. It is news and thus, it is NOT:
- An editorial or an op-ed. The Gospel is NOT a subjective commentary about Jesus. It is the objective re-telling of his story.
- An advice column. The Gospel was NOT given as a response from God to the questions human beings have been asking about their life. It is definitive revelation to people who have actually been blind to their own realities.
- Simply a story. The Gospel is NOT merely a tale for inspiration or entertainment. It is a true account of events in history.
- A worldview or a vision for life. Certainly, the Gospel creates a conception of the world and motivates specific lifestyle choices, but it is NOT a philosophy or rule of life.
- Our actions. It is fashionable these days to assert that our acts of compassion and justice are part of the Gospel. Not so. Though there is a prescribed response to the Gospel imbedded in the Gospel, the actual response of the hearer(s) is NOT part of the message itself.
- A documentary or a biography or history book. Though the Gospel does document real events, tell about Jesus’ life and accurately account for historical happenings, the nature of ‘euangelion’ is best understood as a more truncated expression of all three. The Gospel is NOT as broad in its scope.
- The Bible. Though the Gospel is contained in the Scriptures and defined by the Scriptures, it is NOT the Bible and vice versa.
The Gospel is news. It is very important information about Jesus of Nazareth, namely, that he is the Lord, he is going to put the world right regarding sin, he is the only Savior of sinners, and he saves sinners by grace through faith. Since every human being is affected by this information, this news must be proclaimed to all people.
Lastly, the Gospel is good news. Look at the way an angel of the Lord announced Jesus’ birth…
8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord
The angel described Jesus’ birth as ‘euangelion’ on steroids! It wasn’t just the typical good news. It was ‘euangelion’ packed with exceedingly great delight!
And it was for the general public…the crowds…the populace. It was given so that everyone would celebrate. Don’t miss this important theological description of the Gospel. The intention of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ is for the good of all humanity, our great joy in fact. The Gospel is the good news about Jesus of Nazareth.