Saturday, January 6, 2018

Confusion about "Gospel"

Gospel (Greek εὐαγγελίζω, euaggelizō) is central to the New Testament. The word is often translated as "good news."

It is clear to me that many people cannot tell the difference between "gospel" and "Bible" or between "gospel" and inspired preaching. This confusion has led to several case of bad biblical exegesis. It is the burden of this article to clarify the meaning of "gospel."

What is "gospel?"

In Matthew, the concept of "gospel" is connected with eschatology (end-times study), especially if we understand "kingdom" to be something that is partially realized in the present but fully realized in the future.

Matthew 4:23
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Matthew 9:35
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
Matthew 24:14
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. 
In Luke, the good news gospel is about fortunes reversal.

Luke 3:4-6
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Luke 16:16
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.
This theme is evident in Mary's song.

Luke 1:52-53 (c.f., 1 Samuel 2:1-10)
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
It is thus good news for the poor.

Luke 4:14-18
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free....
See also, Luke 7:22; 8:35; 15:35; 17:18.

In Mark, the gospel is realized by those who accept discipleship.

Mark 10:29
Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,..."
Mark 8:35
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
In Paul, it is the message about salvation realized by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (emphasis mine)
Romans 1:3-7
 ...the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)
1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
The Christian message of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Romans 2:16).

"Indeed, for Paul, it was a synonym for the entire fabric of the Christian message (Romans 1:16)" (Allan J. McNicol, "Gospel, Good News," Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Much of the background information for this article came from this source).

In a nutshell, "Gospel" points eschatologically to a future event when Jesus returns and rights everything that is wrong. That time will be especially good news for those who are Christ's disciples.

A little song that was written by a friend of mine (Ben Mereness) back in the late '70s says it tightly:
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
Jesus my King is coming back again.
Paul warns that there is only one gospel.

Galatians 1:6-7
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ
Paul declared that his ministry in the churches has been to preach this one gospel.

Col 1:21-23
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. (emphasis mine)
Did Paul preach the same gospel from one church to the next? Of course he did!

This lengthy (but it could be more lengthy) study of "gospel" is going somewhere. Some preachers make the very correct point that Paul preached only one gospel from church to church; but they then assume that everything he said was consistent from one church to the next. That is, some make the incorrect extension from "gospel" to "everything Paul taught." The argument is meant to diffuse the possibility that Paul gave some instructions that were church-specific.

Did he always give the same instructions on "how to do church" (or whatever) from one church to the next?

Does every command apply universally? Consider the doctrine of the head covering. Paul says that his instruction is based upon a custom in the churches (1 Corinthians 11:16). He also argues that it is something, given their unique situation, for which they can judge for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:13).

Consider, for a really obvious example, the "holy kiss." Paul writes four times a command that church members greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Even Peter gets in on the command (1 Peter 5:14). Hardly anybody today considers this command to be something that should be followed. We easily dismiss it as being culture-specific. Today, we shake hands, hug, bow or, essentially, greet one another in a culturally meaningful way.

When we read an instruction in the New Testament, we need to examine carefully and try to determine its intended meaning. Was it local-church specific? Only after we make that determination should we look for some universal principle that applies in all churches for all time.

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