The word "gospel" is used a great deal in Christian conversations. It's not an everyday sort of word and therefore we may not intuitively know what it means. The English word gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "godspell." It is a compound word from god (good) and spell (news). Over time, the spelling morphed into the modern word gospel. This is the English word that scholars have chosen to translate the Greek word euaggelion (εὐαγγέλιον, Strongs G2098) which simply means “good news.”
Bible definition of “gospel”
As you can see, both the English and Greek words mean "good news." Good news about what exactly? What does the Bible include in this good news?
There are two prominent texts in the New Testament which help delineate what the good news consists of.
1 Corinthians 15
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Cor 15:1-8 NIV
From this passage we can note a few defining characteristics of the good news.
- Jesus died for our sins according the [Old Testament] Scriptures
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus was raised on the third day
- After Jesus’ resurrection he was seen by many witnesses
What does Romans 1 add to this list?
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom 1:1-4 NIV
- The good news was promised by God through the prophets
- The good news concerned the Son of God
- The Son of God is a descendant of King David
- The Son of God was resurrected from the dead
- Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and our Lord
It’s really important to recognize here that the good news was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. I encourage you to read Isa 40:9-12, 52:7-15, 53 (the whole chapter) and Isa 61:1-3. In these passages from Isaiah more items can be added to the list which details what this good news was all about.
- God will be triumphant
- God is a shepherd who loves His people
- Through God’s servant (Jesus), the nations (Gentiles) will be forgiven
- The servant will be wounded and suffer for our betterment
- He will be treated as a transgressor even though He is innocent
- He will bear our sin
- He will intercede for us
- He will have the Spirit of God
- He will help the broken and disadvantaged
Every passage which characterizes the good news (gospel) is describing a person (Jesus) and His deeds. The same is true of any New Testament passage that further defines the good news.
Gospel and doctrine are not the same
The word “doctrine” is translated from the Greek word didaskalia (διδασκαλία, Strongs G1319). This word simply means teachings or instruction. Some people tend to blur the lines between the gospel and all of the other teachings (doctrines) found in the New Testament writings.
We are taught the gospel. Therefore, the gospel is doctrine, but not all doctrine is the gospel. Sometimes religious words take on a life of their own because time and tradition has imbued them with concepts that aren’t really there. As I sometimes like to do to make things clearer, let’s repeat the first two sentences of this paragraph substituting the keywords with their definitions.
We are taught the gospel good news. Therefore, the gospel good news is doctrine instruction, but not all doctrine instruction is the gospel good news.
In the passage from 1 Cor 15 which is quoted above, Paul the apostle proclaimed that the gospel is of primary importance to our faith. If we don't believe in the good news, we can't be saved from eternal death. Misunderstanding the good news is a fatal mistake as it strikes at the very core of our understanding about Jesus. All other teachings that are not a part of the core gospel are secondary issues. There is a hazard to our growth as disciples if we confuse the good news with all the other instructions contained in the New Testament. You see, If everything taught in the New Testament is part of the gospel, then every doctrinal issue becomes a salvation issue since the gospel is central to our salvation. Much sleep has been lost because people confuse the two which often results in doubts about the assurance of their salvation
This doesn't mean that teachings which are not part of the gospel are uninspired or unimportant. Committed disciples of Jesus will not fail to take all the instructions of the bible seriously even though they are not all part of the gospel.
The good news is a very specific teaching that does not include everything that is taught in the New Testament. The gospel is the good news about Jesus and what He did to bring about salvation. This is a very important distinction. Therefore, the bible does not teach that being mistaken about some secondary matter will cost us our salvation. God's grace is bigger than our mistakes.