"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

“Gospel” Meaning…What?

Posted in Questions For You, Theological by matt on Friday, August 14, 2009

Sooooo I’m just gonna come straight out with it: I’m not entirely sure what the term “gospel” means.

Yup, I said it.

I know some of my readers probably haven’t even heard the word, but for my fellow heritage English speakers around the world this is a pretty common term. It’s used to refer to a type of music, as a term for four books in the Bible, or as just an everyday word to describe something as being absolutely true. It’s a fairly common word.

And, of course, people with church background know that the term originates from the word euangelion meaning ‘good news’ or, more specifically, “the good news about Jesus Christ.” My dictionary simply defines gospel as “the teaching or revelation of Christ.”

So what’s the good news? What are these teachings and revelations? That may be the most important question a person can ask when considering the Christian faith.

In my experience, this question has almost always been answered by quoting – whether it be directly or indirectly – Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (ESV)

Blood given for the forgiveness of sins. It’s the classic substitutionary-atonement interpretation of Paul. And this is a glorious, fundamental part of our faith. But what about what Jesus says about the gospel? Does it differ? In Mat. 4:23a it says,

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom… (ESV)

What gospel is that?

Jesus talked a lot more about the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ than he did about the gospel of substitutionary-atonement that we see in Paul – isn’t that significant? I don’t consider them opposed to one another, but what the heck is the ‘gospel of the kingdom’?! That’s a new gospel to me. And there are so many other passages where Jesus is either teaching, preaching or referencing ‘the gospel’ (Mat. 9:35, Mark 1:14, Mark 10:29, etc.)

But Jesus obviously wasn’t running around telling people, “I’m going to die for your sins (in your place) and come alive again on the 3rd day and thus conquer death. Believe and trust in me!”

So what “good news” was he telling people? How do we understand these different uses of the term ‘gospel’ and how do they tie together?

(This isn’t rhetorical, by the way. I could use some insight.)

9 Responses

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  1. matt said, on Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 3:30 am

    From James Pendergraft:

    What if we think of the word “gospel” as we do the word “salvation”? As in, salvation is often used to refer to two different aspects of the same process. Firstly, it is used to refer to the “salvation experience,” that moment when a person first comes into a saving knowledge of Christ. However, salvation can also refer to the process that is begun as a result of that instance (eg., “continue to work out your salvation”). Yes, I know “sanctification” better fits the process, but I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to use salvation in this instance.

    Now, what if “gospel” is used in the same way? Paul is discussing the process gospel whereby we attain Jesus’s end result gospel? What if the gospel of the kingdom Jesus preached was directed at proclaiming the truth that God loves and is concerned with each and every human soul, that we are all fallen and yet still valued by our creator, and what the kingdom of god is like? And what if Paul’s preaching of the substituionary-atonement gospel is Paul trying to explain the functioning process that leads to Jesus’s gospel of the kingdom? The two, then, are simply two facets of the same concept. Like a relationship between a man and a woman, Jesus talks about the marriage, and Paul talks about the courtship and engagement. To fully understand, you have to have both, and the one illuminates and informs the other.

    I dunno. That’s just my initial thoughts as I’m sitting here. I could be entirely out of left field. Good question, though. You definitely gave me something to ponder. Also, facebook needs to allow longer comments. I tried to post this as a comment on your note, but I overran the character limit.

    Hope you’re doing well, Matt!

  2. tim said, on Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    This is a good question.
    Here are the references to “gospel” in Mark that I know of: Mark 1:1; 1:14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9 and 16:15.
    In studying Mark 1, I began to think that the “gospel” mentioned in 1:1 (and 16:15) is slightly different than that which is stated by Jesus in 1:14-15. At the same time, they are certainly connected. Check them out, if you haven’t yet.

    • matt said, on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 11:50 pm

      @tim: Thanks man. I’ll definitely check that stuff out – especially since it’s in Mark. I’ve really enjoyed that book these past few weeks.

      My main reason for even bringing this up is the fact that I’ve never really thought of the gospel as a lifestyle. I believe the gospel of Jesus entails a new kind of life, but that’s significantly different rhetoric.

      So ya, I think I need to rethink my understanding of the gospel that Jesus brought. It’s not just a set of theological realities that we intellectually ascent to, it’s much, much more holistic than that.

      There is “good news” for each and every part of this broken creation. That includes the broken parts of work, the environment, social justice, human relationships, families, politics, etc. And, most importantly (thought not the only part of the gospel), the good news of a fixed relationship between us and God.

      In short, I need a broader perspective on the good things God offers people through the gospel.

  3. benjamite said, on Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I would love to point you to Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy.” It’s half an exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount, half philosophical assault on what he calls “consumer Christianity.” And it’s all about what life looks like in the Kingdom of the Heavens.

    In other words, he takes 400 pages to answer your question. And you like that kind of stuff (admit it).

    I’ll mail you my copy. Just gimme an address, fool.

    • matt said, on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 7:37 am

      @benjamite: I’m actually reading that book now! It’s fantastic. I stopped for a couple weeks to read “Made in America” by Bill Bryson (you’d really love it), and now I’m starting back on Willard. Great stuff.

  4. chris said, on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 8:04 am

    I think clearly the gospel is intimately linked with the “kingdom of heaven.” I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around what that means. We don’t use kingdom anymore. Jesus gives all kinds of analogies for what it will be LIKE, but I still have hard time viewing the realitay, and how it relates to church, and the gospel. I think I’ll read throught he gospels again, to try to wrap my brain around it.

    Is the kingdom of heaven in our hearts? Is it community? Is it church?

    • matt said, on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 11:49 pm

      @chris: Hey! Actually, in just two weeks we’ll begin looking at some of Jesus’ “kingdom of God” parables in Mark, so that will be a good chance for us to further explore this phrase and what it entails – I’m pumped. We should also take a look at it sometime in a smaller context. Maybe within the next few weeks we can get food and read a bit.

      Oh, and my legs are still sore from lifting with you. I can’t decide if that means I should do it more often or never do it again.

  5. TerryE said, on Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 8:47 pm


    You will never know the full Gospel of the Kingdom until you know the Mysteries of the Kingdom.

    The Kingdom is very mysterious. For God does truly work in “mysterious ways”.

    As is says in the sacred volume….”unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God…”

    Do you know the Mysteries of the Kingdom?

    If the answer is “NO”

    You dont know the Gospel

    Its just that siimple.

    Remember the Gospel of Christ, The Gospel of Heaven, THe Gospel of Salvation is no other than the Gospel of the Kingdom.

    It is the Gospel of the Kingdom that must be preached before the end can come.

    It is this kingdom we should seek first above all things

    Have you sought first the kingdom of God?

    If you have found it, you know its mysteries

    If you know its mysteries, you know the GOSPEL.

  6. JimmyBean said, on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 2:46 am

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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