We began a study on the concept of “the gospel” last night at Mizzou. I looked at all of the instances of mention of the term “the gospel”, “good news” and “the message.” Fascinating study. I know Keller has done a lot on this, and Scot McKnight did a series of blog posts on it, but I am interested for my own interest and looking at teaching through it with college students.
We start with Mark 1.1 – The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [son of God]. We begin with a question, is this gospel about Jesus Christ or according to Jesus? I believe it is the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, because it tells the whole story surrounding Jesus and his message, not necessarily only his message.
The word gospel - The term comes from an Old English word “godspell.” God was the Old English term meaning good and “spell” was the term that meant history or story. The term godspell or gospel means….a good report or “the good news.” It directly corresponds to the Latin term “evangel” which comes from a Greek term “euangelion.” Now an evangel in the time of Jesus was usually about the emperor of Rome. The emperor’s birthday or his rise to power were celebrated as occasions for festivals throughout the world. The reports of these occasions were called “evangels.” One such evangel was written of Augustus, the emperor who followed Julius Caesar. This evangel reads “the birthday of the god (they assumed the emperor’s were gods) was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings (or good news) which have been proclaimed on his account.” This is very similar to Mark’s opening verse: “The beginning of the gospel (or good news) about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the essential content of an evangel in the ancient world: a historical event which introduces a new situation for the world. The Roman reader of Mark’s gospel would understand Mark’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Mark announces Jesus’ coming as an even that brings about a radically new situation for humanity.
Immediately, Mark connects the gospel with the Old Testament and begins with quotes from a couple of prophets (Mal. 3.1 and Isaiah 40.3). There is an allusion to Ex. 23.20, that of the pillar of fire going before the people of Israel.
The messenger or forerunner is John the Baptist who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah.
His message: repentance for forgiveness of sins (people come, being baptized and confessing sins).
The difference between the messages of John and Jesus: John baptizes (only) with water, but the one who comes after him (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
So, the gospel, here, is about Jesus Christ; it is connected to the Old Testament as it has roots in God's revelation or previous holy writings; it fulfills prophecy; and is distinct from the message of prophets in that it bestows the presence of God (baptism of the Holy Spirit).
More to come on this multifaceted and fascinating subject.