February 8: 1 Peter 4:6, 17, etc

In the previous note, I discussed the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in 1 Peter 1:12, 25; today, I want to look at two more occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in chapter 4 of that letter, before surveying briefly the remaining occurrences in the New Testament.

1 Peter 4:6, 17

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in verse 6, part of a section of ethical instruction and exhortation with a strong eschatological emphasis. For the author (Peter), like nearly all early Christians, it was believed that the end was imminent (“the completion/end of all [thing]s has come near”, v. 7a), and the Judgment by God close at hand. The final Judgment is certainly in view in verse 6, as we read in verse 5: “…(they) shall give forth an account to the (One) holding readiness to judge the living and the dead”. We find in verse 6 the difficult phrase “the good message was brought even to the dead”, which has tripped up many commentators (cf. the earlier notice in 3:19). The main point to note, however, is that the Judgment of all humankind is to be based on the (Gospel) message of Jesus. Even more significant is that life (for the dead) in the Age to Come (i.e. eternal life) is dependent on the Spirit, which can only be bestowed on persons following reception of the Gospel message. Note the me\nde/ contrast:

    • “(on the one hand) they should live in the flesh according to man [i.e. as human beings]”
    • “(on the other hand) they (should live) in the Spirit according to God”

The same Judgment context, and implicit contrast between those who do and do not accept the message of Jesus, is present in verse 17, were the noun eu)agge/lion occurs:

“(it is) the time of the beginning of the Judgment from the house of God; and, if it is first from us, what (then) is (its) completion for the (one)s unpersuaded by the good message of God?”

The expression “good message of God” is familiar from Paul’s letters, where it occurs several times (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9), and was doubtless traditional by the time this letter was written (c. 60 A.D.?). What is unique about this usage in chapter 4 is how thoroughly the eu)aggel- word group is identified with trust in Jesus within the specific eschatological context of the last Judgment.

The Remainder of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group is entirely absent from the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), but it does occur twice in the (Johannine) book of Revelation—the verb in 10:7, and noun and verb together in 14:6. In 10:7, it is possible that the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is being used more or less in the general sense of bringing good news—in this case, the “good message” involves, not the Gospel per se, but the final eschatological mystery of how/when God will bring the current Age to an end. The dual use of noun and verb in 14:6 is especially dramatic, as would be appropriate for the scene:

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven(s), holding the good message of the Ages, to deliver as a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, and upon every nation and offshoot and tongue and people…”

Probably the technical sense of eu)aggel- as the (Christian) preaching of the Gospel is more in view here; however, the message is still primarily eschatological (not evangelistic), which can be obscured by translating the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion as “eternal Gospel”, rather than more literally as “good message (of the) Age(s)”—i.e. the good news that the Ages of humankind are coming to an end, and that the New Age of God is being ushered in.

The occurrence of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in Hebrews 4:2 and 6 is interesting in the way that the Christian meaning is read back into the more general sense (i.e. bringing good news). This is done in the context of paraenesis—ethical/religious teaching—involving the interpretation and application of Scripture (a common preaching technique, then as now). Believers in Christ had the “good message” of Jesus proclaimed to them, and yet are being warned of the danger of falling away. To emphasize this point, the example of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus is brought forth:

“indeed we are (one)s having the good message (declar)ed (to us) even as it also (was) to those (person)s; but the account [lo/go$] (which was) heard did not benefit those (person)s, not having been mixed together with trust/faith by the (one)s hearing.”

The rather complicated syntax in the second half of the verse is a roundabout way of saying that hearing the Gospel preached has to be accompanied by genuine trust from the person hearing in order to have its saving effect. The verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used again in the same context in verse 6.

Finally, we should note three occurrences of the noun eu)aggelisth/$. The common Greek noun eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) does not occur in the New Testament at all, but only eu)aggelisth/$, which is derived from the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and thus means “one bringing/declaring a good message”, emphasizing the action of bringing or announcing the message. Even so, this noun is rare, being used just three times, and in relatively late writings: Lukan narration in the book of Acts (21:8), 2 Timothy 4:5, and Ephesians 4:11. Second Timothy and Ephesians are often considered to be pseudonymous by commentators; whether or not this is correct, it is unlikely that either letter was written prior to the early-60’s A.D. The book of Acts was probably written c. 70-80 A.D.

In all three passages, eu)aggelisth/$ appears to be used in the established Christian sense of a specific ministry role, or position, within a group of believers (or congregation)—i.e., one who is specifically devoted to, and gifted in, preaching the Gospel message. The absence of this noun in the undisputed letters of Paul, and in the rest of the book of Acts, makes it unlikely that it was widely used prior to the 60’s A.D. It is possible that 2 Tim 4:5, if genuinely Pauline, represents the earliest surviving use of the noun, which was a word essentially coined by Christians. I am not aware of any occurrence prior to the 1st century, nor in any contemporary non-Christian context.

February 7: 1 Peter 1:12, 25, etc

Having discussed Paul’s use of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, it is necessary to supplement that discussion with a brief survey of occurrences in the letters where authorship is disputed. After this, we will survey the remainder of the New Testament evidence.

Usage in the disputed Pauline Letters

Colossians and Ephesians are often regarded as pseudonymous by many critical commentators. For my part, I consider Colossians to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), without any real reservation; however, I must admit to a little doubt in the case of Ephesians, where there appears to be more evidence for unusual wording and the development of (Pauline) thought and expression. In any case, the noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in Colossians, in expanded expressions:

  • Col 1:5—”the account of the truth of the good message” (o( lo/go$ th=$ a)lhqei/a$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…through the hope th(at is) being laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the account of the truth of the good message th(at is com)ing to be alongside unto you, even as it also is bearing fruit in all the world…” (vv. 5-6)
  • Col 1:23—”the hope of the good message” (h( e)lpi\$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…if (indeed) you remain (well-)founded upon the trust and settled (down), and not being stirred over (away) from the hope of the good message which you heard, th(at) is being proclaimed among every (creature) formed (by God) under the heaven…”

It is possible that this reflects a development of the Pauline mode of expression. Certainly it is a more expansive kind of statement than we typically see in Paul’s letters, though rooted in his own style and vocabulary. For the expression “truth of the Gospel”, see Gal 2:5, 14; “hope of the Gospel” does not occur elsewhere in the letters, but cf. Rom 5:2ff; 8:24-25; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:3, etc. The phrasing in Col 1:5 is quite close to Eph 1:13, and involves the critical questions of authorship and the relationship between the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion itself occurs four times in Ephesians (1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19), and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai twice (2:17; 3:8). Even scholars who believe Ephesians is pseudonymous must admit that it is derived and inspired by authentic Pauline tradition and expression:

  • Eph 1:13: “the account of the truth, the good message of your salvation”; cf. Col 1:5 (above). Vv. 13-14 represents a more systematic theological formulation.
  • Eph 2:17: “he [i.e. Jesus] brought the good message (of) peace to you the (one)s far (off), and (also) peace to the (one)s (who are) near”. This statement utilizes traditional language (cf. Acts 10:36 and the prior note), and does not reflect the technical Christian meaning of eu)aggeli/zomai as “preach the Gospel”.
  • Eph 3:6 and 8. The first half of chapter 3 (vv. 1-13) presents a detailed summary of Paul’s view regarding his role as minister of the Gospel (to the Gentiles), fully in keeping with what is expressed in his other letters, though not in such a clear and systematic manner as we find here. Verse 6 states concisely the Pauline doctrine that Gentile believers are heirs together (and equally so) to the promises God made to Israel, which are fulfilled for believers in Christ. This takes place “through the good message” (dia\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou). In verse 8, Paul declares once again that he was appointed by God “to bring the good message”.
  • Eph 6:15 and 19, where we find two developed Pauline expressions: “the good message of peace” (v. 15) and “the secret [musth/rion] of the good message” (v. 19, cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27, and earlier in Eph 3:6.

The Pastoral letters are also generally considered to be pseudonymous by critical scholars (and even some traditional-conservative commentators). The greatest doubt surrounds 1 Timothy (which has the largest concentration of unusual vocabulary and expression), while, in my view, 2 Timothy appears to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds). The noun eu)agge/lion occurs 3 times in 2 Timothy (1:8, 10; 2:8) and corresponds entirely with Paul’s usage of the word. The expanded expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 is more unusual: “…the good message of the splendor of the blessed God”.

1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group occurs 12 more times in the New Testament: the noun eu)agge/lion twice (1 Pet 4:17; Rev 14:6), the verb eu)aggelizomai seven times (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; 4:6; Rev 10:7; 14:6), and the derived noun eu)aggelisth/$ three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The largest concentration (4) occur in two passages of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:12, 25

1 Peter 1:3-12 is essentially a single long introductory sentence, climaxing in verse 12, with the key declaration that the death and resurrection of Jesus (and its saving effect) was first revealed to the Prophets, and then subsequently made known to people (believers) through the Gospel:

“…the(se thing)s which now were given up as a message to you through the (one)s bringing the good message to you [in] the holy Spirit…”

The parallel between Prophets and Apostles (i.e. preachers of the good message) was traditional in early Christianity, with both groups seen as uniquely inspired, moved by the Spirit. There is similar traditional language used in the next section of the letter, the exhortation in vv. 13-25, which concludes with an important expository sequence:

  • The declaration in verse 23:
    “your trust and hope (is) to be unto God {v. 21}…having come to be (born) again, not out of decaying seed, but (out of seed) without decay, through the living word [lo/go$] of God (that is) also remaining (in you)”
  • The paraphrased quotation from Isa 40:6-8 in vv. 24-25a, which ends with a similar statement:
    “…but the utterance [r(h=ma] of the Lord remains into the Age” (cf. Isa 40:8b)
  • The statement in verse 25b identifying the eternal “word of the Lord” with the “good message” proclaimed by the apostles:
    “and this is the utterance being brought as a good message unto you”

In the previous note, I argued that the words lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were more primitive, earlier terms for the Gospel message than eu)agge/lion. In Acts 10:36-37a, where the early message (kerygma) is proclaimed during Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, both of these words are used in tandem, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, just as we see here; indeed, the declaration in vv. 36-37a introduces the Gospel. The use of eu)aggeli/zomai there does not refer to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense used by early Christians. We are, perhaps, closer to that here; certainly, there is distinct theological (interpretive) development at work. We may be able to trace this development by working backward in the syntax of this passage:

    • the eternal, undecaying seed which brings new life for the believer; this “seed”, which dwells and grows in the believer is elsewhere identified with the Spirit (of God and Christ)
      • this seed is identified as the living “word” [lo/go$] of God
        • it is part of the eternal creative power associated with the spoken word (“utterance”, r(h=ma) of God
          • lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were both terms used by the first Christians to refer to the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma)
            • the early/first preaching of the message of Jesus by the apostles, bringing “good news” (vb. eu)aggeli/zomai)

The occurrences in 1 Peter 4:6, 17, and the rest of the New Testament, will be discussed in the next daily note.