February 6: Acts 10:36; 15:7, etc

Before concluding this series of daily notes on the “gospel” (eu)aggel-) word group, it is worth examining the usage in the book of Acts, as a supplement to the earlier notes on the Gospel of Luke (on 4:18 and 7:22). Nearly all commentators agree that the book of Acts was written by the same author (trad. Luke) as the Gospel, so it would stand to reason that much, if not most, of the vocabulary was similar. However, a careful study of the sermon-speeches in Acts would seem to confirm that, at the very least, the author has preserved authentic traditions and elements from the earliest Christian preaching. This must be considered in any study of the use of the eu)aggel- word group in Acts.

I noted previously that the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is distinctively Lukan: it occurs 10 times in the Gospel of Luke, and only once in all the other Gospels combined (at Matt 11:5, part of a “Q” tradition shared by Luke [7:22]). A number of these occurrences (cf. my earlier note for a breakdown) clearly reflect Lukan composition, being found in summary narration that is characterized by the author’s distinctive language and style. The same is true, and even more so, in the book of Acts, where the verb is found fifteen (15) times, and nearly all in Lukan summary narration—5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 11:20; 14:7, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18. This then, demonstrates again the author’s predilection for the word (writing c. 70 A.D.), and tells us relatively little about earlier Christian usage. However, the verb does occur three times in the context of the speeches (10:36; 13:32; 14:15), and so we must consider seriously the possibility that the speakers themselves (Peter, Paul) made use of the verb (or the underlying Hebrew/Aramaic rc^B*, “bring [good] news”). Let us briefly consider each of these passages:

Acts 10:36

This is part of Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, and should be compared with the earlier sermon-speeches in chapters 2-5 (analyzed in my series “The Speeches of Acts”, to be posted here). I would maintain that, whatever Lukan character these speeches have in their literary form (i.e. in the book of Acts), they preserve authentic examples of early kerygma (proclamation/preaching of the Gospel). This early “good message” was extremely brief and presented in a simple narrative format. For Peter’s speech in chapter 10, verses 37b-41 (+ 42b-43) comprise the Gospel message. There is relatively little theological content, and essentially no developed Christology at all. The emphasis is on:

    • An outline of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preaching of John the Baptist (i.e. the primitive Gospel narrative)
    • The death, and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus by God (to a position in heaven), and
    • The impending (end-time) Judgment, to be inaugurated by Jesus in his role as Anointed One (and heavenly “Son of Man”)

To this is added a pair of key themes found in the earliest preaching: (a) his appearance as the Anointed One was prophesied in the Scriptures (v. 43a), and (b) trusting in him leads to forgiveness of sin (v. 43b). By all accounts, this was the earliest “good message” (Gospel), and is more or less accurately preserved in the book of Acts. This helps us to evaluate the use of eu)aggeli/zomai in verse 36, at the very start of the kerygma:

“He [i.e. God] se(n)t forth th(is) account [lo/go$] to the sons of Yisrael, bringing (the) good message (of) peace through Yeshua (the) Anointed, that (one who) is Lord of all, (and) you have seen this utterance [r(h=ma] coming to be (made known) down (through) the whole of Yehudah…” (vv. 36-37a)

It is important to note that the “Gospel” as such is not referred to with the noun eu)agge/lion, but with the word lo/go$ (“account”), understood as a spoken message or announcement (r(h=ma, “[something] uttered, utterance”). Moreover, unlike the Lukan use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, where it clearly refers to the preaching of the Gospel in a technical (Christian) sense, its use here (by Peter) seems to have a rather different meaning, indicated by the use of ei)rh/nh (“peace”) as a direct object. In other words, peace is proclaimed as a good message. This would seem to go back to the most common (original) context of the eu)aggel- word group—the good news of the outcome of battle, the resolution of military conflict, the removal of danger for the public, etc (cf. the earlier note). The Hebrew <olv* has a somewhat wider range of meaning than Greek ei)rh/nh—it often refers to health, welfare, well-being, etc, in a more general sense. The removal of sin (cf. the previous note) eliminates the hostility between humankind and God, and saves believers from the impending Judgment (i.e., the “anger” of God, cf. Rom 1:18ff).

Acts 13:32

Here the context is Paul’s sermon-speech in Pisidian Antioch, which resembles Peter’s Pentecost speech of chapter 2 in many important ways. This similarity probably reflects a measure of Lukan editing, but it may also indicate that, by the time of Paul’s ministry in Antioch (c. 46-47 A.D.?), there was a relatively well-established outline and format to Gospel preaching, at least within a Jewish setting. Paul uses the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in much the same was as Peter in chap. 10 (above). Here, however, the emphasis is not on God as the source of the “good message”, but, rather, on Paul (and his fellow ministers) as messengers bringing the good news. This is an emphasis found frequently in Paul’s letters, as we have seen. In Peter’s speech, the verb was used at the start of the kerygma; here it occurs after, at the conclusion:

“And we bring (as) a good message to you the message coming to be upon (it) toward the Fathers, that God has fulfilled this to us their offspring…” (vv. 32-33a)

This immediately precedes Paul’s exposition/demonstration of the Gospel (through citation and interpretation of Scripture) in vv. 33b-37, and his exhortation in vv. 38-39ff. These two components are directly parallel to the two parts of 10:43 in Peter’s speech (cf. above). It must be admitted that Paul’s use of eu)aggeli/zomai is closer to Luke’s (as well as to Paul’s own in the letters), yet it still does not correspond entirely to the technical meaning that attached to the word group among early Christians. Instead, the Gospel (i.e. the “account”, or kerygma) is identified, in a particular way, with the message (e)paggeli/a), or “promise” made by God to Israel and the Patriarchs. The association is primarily Messianic, but also is connected with the forgiveness of sin. Both of these aspects are developed by Paul in his letters.

Acts 14:15

The third occurrence of the verb in the speeches of Acts is Paul’s brief sermon-speech in Lystra (14:15-17); as in Peter’s chapter 10 speech, the use of eu)aggeli/zomai precedes the proclamation proper:

“Men, (for) what [i.e. why] are you do(ing) these (thing)s? Indeed, we are men (who) suffer similarly with you, (and are) bringing a good message to you: to turn away from these empty (thing)s, (and back) upon the living God…”

This is the first sermon-speech in Acts address to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience, and, in these speeches, Paul appears to frame the kerygma rather differently, beginning with a declaration of the falseness (“emptiness”) of the ancient polytheistic religion. In this regard, the Lystra speech foreshadows the great Athens speech in chapter 17. This use of eu)aggeli/zomai is a bit closer to Paul’s usage of the verb in his letters, but still, it seems to me, is a distance removed from the technical early Christian terminology. Here the essence of the “good message” is the opportunity for humankind to turn away from false conceptions of God, and the sinfulness which that entails (expounded vividly by Paul in Romans 1:18-32). It does not refer, per se, to the act of proclaiming the Gospel; it is still “good news” in a more general sense.

Acts 15:7; 20:24

Finally, we should note two occurrences of the noun eu)agge/lion, which otherwise does not appear in the Gospel of Luke. Both occurrences are in speeches, suggesting that, at least at those points, neither Lukan composition or editing is directly involved. In other words, the use of the noun likely derives from historical tradition, and/or any sources used by Luke in recording the speeches. The first instance is from the short speech by Peter at the Jerusalem conference of chapter 15, an episode central to the book of Acts. It draws upon the scene with Cornelius, during which (according to the narrative) Peter made use of the related verb. The parallel use of the noun here could be seen as confirmation that the usage derives from authentic tradition (as opposed to Lukan composition). This authenticity, in my view, receives further confirmation from the expression “the account [lo/go$] of the good message”: “…(that) the nations (were) to hear the account of the good message and to trust” (v. 7b). It would seem that the word lo/go$ (“account”) reflects more primitive early Christian (apostolic) terminology.

When we turn to Acts 20:24, we move closer to Paul’s use of the word in his letters—as the message about who Jesus is and what God has done through him. This deeper theological connotation is shown by the expanded expression “the good message of the favor of God” (to\ eu)agge/lion th=$ xa/rito$ tou= qeou=). At the same time, we have the familiar Pauline use of the eu)aggel- word group to describe and characterize his ministry: as a messenger bringing the good news of Jesus. In the context of the narrative, this speech was given at Miletus to the elders of the congregations of Ephesus; at the historical level, this would have taken place in the late 50’s A.D., roughly contemporary with the letters of 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, and (probably) Galatians. It is the last occurrence of the eu)aggel- word group in Acts, and certainly indicates a notable development in meaning and theological significance, comparable to what we find in the letters.