Is the Word “Gospel” Gospel?
The English word “Gospel” has a tortured and convoluted history. I don’t know this because I’m a genius. I know this because I looked at the Oxford English Dictionary. Behold where it comes from:
- It started out as the Greek εὐαγγέλιον
- Then it morphed into the Latin evangelium
- Then Old English translated this as “godspel”
- We now have it as “gospel”
Why should you care? Well, it matters when you read Jesus saying something like this:
Mark 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”
The word almost all English translation translate as “gospel” here is the Greek τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, or “the gospel.” What does this word mean?
Hopefully, you can see the rendering “Gospel” really doesn’t tell you anything at all. The word is useless, in and of itself. It descended from the Old English rendering of the Latin, which in turn was descended from the Greek. The only place in this chain where we really have primary contact with the true definition is in the Greek – because the Old English, Latin and Modern English renderings are just derivatives from the Greek, not the actual definition itself.
So, what on earth did Jesus mean when he commanded everybody to believe in τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ? He meant they must believe the “good news.”
If we translate terms consistently throughout the Bible, you can see connections easier. I stumbled across a perfect example this evening during my Bible reading:
Isaiah 52:7-10 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout; in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes the LORD’s return to Zion. In unison give a joyful shout, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD consoles his people; he protects Jerusalem. The LORD reveals his royal power in the sight of all the nations; the entire earth sees our God deliver.
The Israelites will go into exile because of their sin. Life will be terrible. It will be hard. They’ll be punished for their sins. But, all hope is not lost. God will deliver them. Enemies will be vanquished and trampled in the mud. The tables will be turned. Because of the new and better covenant, peace, justice, holiness and righteousness will reign in all God’s people and on all the earth. The Israelites will be rescued from their exile, and led back to their own Promised Land by Yahweh Himself.
In our passage, Isaiah gives us a picture of a special messenger from God. The messenger races over the mountains toward them. He has news! He has a message! What is he bringing?
He is bringing good news.
We just saw that phrase somewhere before, didn’t we!? Interesting. How do you suppose the Greek translation of the Old Testament which Jesus and the apostles used translated this word for “good news?”
I’ll bet you can’t guess it! They translated it as εὐαγγελιζόμενος, which is the exact same Greek word (in different form) which Jesus used in Mark 1:15, when He commanded Israelites to believe in the “good news.”
Connecting the Dots
Jesus is called elsewhere the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1). He is the messenger who will bring word about God’s new and better covenant. In Isa 52:7, He is also the “messenger” who will race across mountains to the Israelites bearing the message of peace (compare the angel’s Christmas message to the shepherds). He comes preaching “good news.”
Coincidence? I think not. Now do you see why “good news” might be a better translation than “gospel?”