February 9: Word study on “Gospel” (conclusion)

Today’s note concludes the series of word studies on the eu)aggel- (“gospel”) word group in the New Testament. I will begin with a summary of the results, followed by a short survey of how the word group was used in other early Christian writings in the late-first and second centuries. The results of our study may be presented as follows:

1. The original context of the eu)aggel- word group had to do with the delivery of (good) news, lit. a “good message”, especially that which involved the outcome of military action or other important events related to the public welfare. Since the public good was often connected with the action of the ruler, thought (according to the ancient mindset) to be appointed and/or gifted by divine power, the idea of the “good message” was extended to the ruler himself—esp. his birth and accession, his own health and welfare, etc. This was specially so in the case of the Roman emperors of the first centuries A.D., who, as “Caesar” and successors to Augustus, were understood to be divine (“son of god”). The peace, protection (i.e. “salvation”), and prosperity brought about by the emperor’s rule, was “good news” for the population, and, as such, the eu)aggel- word group became associated prominently with the imperial cult. This certainly would have affected the early Christian use and understanding of eu)aggel-, though there is relatively little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself. The contrast, between Jesus and the Emperor, in terms of the “good message”, is most apparent in the Gospel of Luke (esp. the Infancy narrative), and, less directly, in Luke-Acts as a whole. Neither the common noun eu)aggeli/a (“good message”) nor eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) occurs in the New Testament. The neuter noun eu)agge/lion is used, but only in the singular, never the plural (eu)agge/lia). Originally, the neuter noun referred to the response to good news—i.e., the reward given to the messenger, or an offering of celebration and thanks, etc. It is this aspect that was notable in connection with the Roman imperial cult—offerings and celebration for the good news of the emperor’s accession, etc.

2. The verb eu)aggeli/zw (Koine middle eu)aggeli/zomai), “bring/declare a good message”, also occurs a number of times in the New Testament, largely under the influence of the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament Scriptures. The verb translates the Hebrew rc^B* (“bring [good] news”), just as eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion translates the derived noun hr*c)B=. The theological significance of the verb is more or less limited to its use in the Prophets, especially several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, all of which came to be interpreted in a Messianic and eschatological sense—40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and (most notably) 61:1. It is Isa 61:1 which exerted the greatest influence on the New Testament, rooted in the Gospel tradition. According to Lk 4:18ff and 7:22 par, Jesus identified himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald of the passage, especially in the context of the teaching and healing miracles performed during his ministry in Galilee. Indeed, this may well define Jesus’ own use of eu)aggel- (Aramaic rcb), recorded in several important sayings within the Synoptic tradition. It clearly influenced the frequent use of the verb in the Gospel of Luke (and the book of Acts). Luke virtually never uses the noun (only the verb); the opposite is the case in the core Synoptic tradition (of Mark-Matthew, cf. below).

3. With the Gospel and earliest Christian tradition, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, i.e. the announcing of good news to God’s people, came to be understood in two primary (and related) senses: (a) that one may obtain forgiveness of sin, and (b) will thus be saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon humankind. The Gospel message was thus originally (and primarily) eschatological in orientation. Both forgiveness and salvation were experienced only by believers who repented and trusted in Jesus. This was the essence of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers, and represents the core of the apostolic preaching. However, in both the Pauline letters and the early sermon-speeches preserved in the book of Acts, this was expanded to form a core message proclaimed by missionaries and preachers during the first century. The announcement of the opportunity for salvation (in Jesus’ name) came to include a brief narrative outline of Jesus’ life—from John the Baptist, through to Jesus’ own ministry, and his death and resurrection. To this was added a pair of fundamental theological/Christological statements: (i) that Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah) prophesied in the Scriptures, and (ii) that God exalted him (as Son of God) to a divine position/status in heaven, from whence he will appear (as a heavenly savior-figure) at the end time to rescue believers and usher in the Judgment. This is the “good message” proclaimed by Peter, Paul, and other early missionaries.

4. In Paul’s letters (c. 49-60 A.D.), this use of both the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and, in particular, the noun eu)agge/lion, took on still deeper theological significance. Already in the earliest surviving letters (1-2 Thessalonians), Paul was using the noun in three distinct expressions, each with an important point of emphasis:

    • “my/our good message”—Paul and his fellow ministers have been specially appointed by God to proclaim the message
    • “the good message of God”—God is the source of the message, having brought it about for believers in Jesus
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}”—the message is about the person of Jesus, who he is and what God has done through him

It is in Galatians and Romans that Paul expounds and explains what he means by the word eu)agge/lion. In Galatians, it is central to the conflict (with certain Jewish Christians) over the religious identity of believers. Paul argues forcefully for the central doctrine that it is through trust in Jesus alone that human beings are justified (“made right” in God’s eyes) and saved from Judgment; adherence to the Old Covenant and its Torah plays only a negative role in this process. In Romans, Paul adds to this an exposition of the nature of salvation (see esp. chapters 5-8). The twin ideas of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the coming Judgment are deepened in Paul’s thought, being expressed now in terms of the belief that, through trust in the Gospel, human beings are delivered from the power of sin that is dominant in the current world-order. In the mode of thought and expression by Paul, eschatology truly has become soteriology. Moreover, we find the important point that trust in Jesus (i.e. the good message) activates and makes effective the saving power of his sacrificial death and resurrection. This is central to Pauline theology and is expressed more clearly in his letters than perhaps anywhere else in the New Testament. We can thus begin to glimpse in Paul’s letters a wider and more expansive meaning of the word eu)agge/lion, so that it very nearly becomes synonymous with the Christian faith itself.

5. First Peter was probably written c. 60 A.D., roughly contemporary with the latest of Paul’s letters. In this work too we find a theological expansion (and exposition) of the meaning of eu)agge/lion. It is identified with the living and eternal word of God, with its creative and life-generating power, as also with the living Spirit of God (and Christ) that comes to dwell in the believer (1:23-25). The eschatological aspect is also sharpened, so that acceptance of the “good message” becomes the entire basis for deliverance from the coming Judgment and inheritance of eternal life through the Spirit (4:6, 17, and the surrounding context). The eu)aggel- word group does not appear in the Gospel or Letters of John at all, but does occur several times in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, where the early/traditional eschatological aspect is emphasized, much as we see elsewhere in the New Testament. Other NT occurrences are rare, and generally follow the usage and semantic range detailed above.

6. The Gospel of Mark, probably written some time in the 60’s A.D., represent the earliest usage of eu)agge/lion to refer to a written work. The author (trad. John Mark) identifies his literary work specifically as eu)agge/lion, virtually serving as its title (1:1). At one other point—the declaration by Jesus in 14:9 (par Matt 26:13)—the noun appears to be used in the same context, whereas elsewhere it seems to refer to the message and teaching of Jesus in a comprehensive sense (8:35; 10:29; 13:10). The noun is less frequent in Matthew, which generally follows the Synoptic (Markan) usage.

By about 150 A.D., roughly a hundred years later, the earlier meaning of eu)agge/lion had largely disappeared from use. The relatively rare occurrences of the word group in writings of the mid/late 2nd century demonstrate a rather clear shift in meaning—from an oral proclamation about Jesus to an authoritative written record. We can see this, for example, in the writings of Justin Martyr. In the rare instances where the word eu)agge/lion occurs, it clearly refers to written works, most likely corresponding to some (if not all) of the canonical Gospels. In his First Apology 66:3, the “memoirs of the Apostles” (ta\ a)pomnhmoneu/mata tw=n a)posto/wn) are specifically called eu)agge/lia, the plural of eu)agge/lion. The word a)pomnhmoneu/mata literally means “(thing)s given/coming from memory”; that written works (i.e. written/recorded from memory) are meant is relatively clear from the context, and is confirmed by the use of the singular eu)agge/lion in the Dialogue with Trypho (twice, 10:2; 100:2). The Letter to Diognetus (author unknown), probably written around the same time, uses the plural eu)agge/lia to refer to written Gospels (11:6). Two or three decades on, Irenaeus, in his famous work Against Heresies (c. 180), has gone a step further: not only does eu)agge/lia refer to authoritative written works, it is used specifically for the four canonical Gospels—these four and no other (III.10-11, etc).

Concluding note on the Apostolic Fathers

An examination of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers”, a collection of Christian writings surviving from the period c. 90-150 A.D., allows us to fill in the gaps a bit, to see how the use of the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament developed to the point that the “good message” became defined in terms of authoritative written documents (“Gospels”).

It is a bit surprising that, in the lengthy letter-treatise of Clement (1 Clement) to the congregations in Corinth, written c. 95 A.D., the eu)aggel- word group is so rare. The author clearly is familiar with Paul’s letters, and is writing to congregations founded by Paul, yet this important Pauline terminology is absent. In 42:1, 3, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in the older, traditional sense of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus in his ministry, and which was subsequently declared by the Apostles (cf. also the Letter of Polycarp, 6:3; Barnabas 5:9; 8:3; 14:9). At 47:2, where the noun eu)agge/lion occurs, the author is citing Paul (cf. Phil 4:15).

The noun also is used several times by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters (c. 110)—to the Christians of Philadelphia and Smyrna. In Philadelphians 5:1-2 he appears to use eu)agge/lion as synonymous with the Christian faith and one’s religious identity (as a believer in Christ). He describes the eu)agge/lion of Christ as being manifest or embodied in the Eucharist. Elsewhere in the letter, however, the term seems to refer to an authoritative record (oral and/or written) of Jesus’ teaching and saving work (8:2; 9:2; also Smyrneans 5:1; 7:2). This is in accord with the later strands of the Synoptic tradition (c. 60-70 A.D., cf. above). Passages such as Smyrn. 5:1 seem to imply a written record.

The work known as the Didache (“Teaching”), and attributed to the Twelve Apostles, is properly called a Church Manual, composed sometime before 150 A.D., but containing traditional material that may go back to the late 1st century A.D. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs four times (8:2; 11:3; 15:3f), signifying an authoritative body of teaching by Jesus (and the Apostles), and perhaps intended to correspond to one or more of the canonical Gospels. In tone and approach it is closest to the Gospel of Matthew, yet even where the Lord’s Prayer (close to the Matthean version, 6:9-13) is cited (at 8:2ff), eu)agge/lion probably is not meant as a reference to Matthew per se, since the expression is “in his [i.e. Jesus’] eu)agge/lion“, i.e. the teaching of Jesus which is recorded in Matthew. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written c. 155-165), the noun is used repeatedly, where it similarly refers to an authoritative record of Jesus’ teaching and life-example (including his suffering and death), without necessarily intending any particular written Gospel (or Gospels).

In the work known as 2 Clement, on the other hand, eu)agge/lion does refer to a specific written work; however, interestingly, the saying of Jesus cited (8:5) does not correspond precisely to anything in our canonical Gospels (cp. Lk 16:10-12). It may be a reference to the so-called “Gospel of the Egyptians”, or a similar extra-canonical work. Another extra-canonical saying of Jesus is cited by the author in 12:2.

The custom of referring to the canonical Gospels by the title [to\] eu)agge/lion kata\ … (“the Good Message according to…”), which may have been established by the middle of the 2nd century, was probably inspired by the Markan title (Mk 1:1). Given Luke’s reluctance to use the noun, it is highly unlikely that he would ever have referred to his own work that way (he uses the noun dih/ghsi$ in 1:1). Matthew is more likely to have followed the Markan usage. The title appears to have the sanction of Jesus himself, at least in the Synoptic formulation of the tradition in Mk 14:9 par, which implies the existence of an account more or less corresponding with 14:3-9 as part of a larger narrative. Such a narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, and followed, with certain additions and modifications, in the Gospel of Matthew. The author of the latter may well have understood Jesus’ statement in 24:14 as encompassing the publication and distribution of his own work narrating “the Gospel of the Kingdom”. In the centuries since, the New Testament title “Gospel according to…” has become so familiar that there is little thought given as to how this custom was established in the first place. I hope that this series of notes has helped you to appreciate better the rich heritage surrounding the eu)aggel- word group as it was used and developed by believers in the first two centuries.

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.

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.

February 5: 2 Cor 4:3-4, etc

In the previous note, on 1 Cor 15:1-2, as well as the earlier note on Rom 1:1, 16, etc, I discussed how Paul, in his letters, only rarely expounds the theological aspects of the term eu)agge/lion. Most prominently this is done throughout the main body of Romans (the probatio, 1:18-11:36). There are, however, a few other passages where it is touched on—notably, in 1 Cor 15:1-2, and 2 Cor 4:3-4, which we will examine below.

It may be worth recalled the background of the eu)aggel– word group (and the corresponding root rcb in Hebrew/Aramaic). It was often used in the context of (good) news involving the outcome of a battle, or other public action (by the ruler/government) related to public welfare and protection; however, the military aspect—victory in battle, deliverance from danger—was prominent. Interestingly, there is little indication that this context (or connotation) was primary for the earliest Christians in their use of the word group. The main influence, as I discussed, was from the use of the verb rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw in several key passages of (Deutero-)Isaiah, most notably 40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and, especially, 61:1. In these oracles, the idea of “good news” is tied to the future/end-time restoration of God’s people (the faithful remnant of Israel). The passages came to have a marked eschatological and Messianic sense—especially Isa 40:3ff and 61:1ff as they appear in the Gospel tradition, and as used by John the Baptist and Jesus himself. This eschatological/Messianic dimension appears to have shaped the earliest Christian usage of eu)agge/lion and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai; in this regard, the “good message” may be summarized as follows:

  • Jesus is the Anointed One sent by God, whose appearance was promised/prophesied in the Scriptures
  • Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has exalted him to the divine/heavenly status and position as Son of God; at the same time the exalted Christ is also identified with the “Son of Man” savior-figure who will appear at the end-time
  • The faithful ones—identified as those trusting in Jesus—will be saved/rescued from the end-time Judgment that is about to come upon humankind

For the earliest Christians, salvation was fundamentally eschatological—being saved from the end-time Judgment. Paul very much followed this emphasis, as we can see from the opening of the probatio (1:18ff); that is to say, he begins his exposition of the Gospel with a warning of the anger (o)rgh/) of God that is about to be revealed upon all sin and wickedness in the world. This is the end-time Judgment that Paul declares so succinctly in the Athens speech of Acts 17: “…He established a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited (world) in (His) justice” (v. 31).

However, Paul’s understanding of salvation was certainly not limited to this eschatological aspect. More than any other New Testament author (or speaker), it is Paul who also defines salvation fundamentally in terms of deliverance from the power of sin. Interestingly, though, this understanding is presented in detail only in a few passages. By far, the most prominent and clearest presentation occurs in chapters 5-8 of Romans. After the eschatological warning of 1:18-32, Paul, in chapters 2-4 of the letter, argues vigorously for the proposition that all human beings—Jew and non-Jew alike—are justified (“made right”) in God’s eyes, and thus are saved, only (and entirely) through trust in the “good message” of Jesus Christ. The old covenant and observance of the Torah does not lead to salvation in any sense; quite the opposite, in Paul’s view (his view on the Torah is discussed in detail in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, soon to be posted here). But what, exactly, does this salvation entail? From Paul’s standpoint there are two principal, related aspects for the believer, which follow, as a necessary consequence, from the eschatological aspect:

  • Believers in Christ are saved from the coming Judgment
    however, since the Judgment is due to sin and wickedness, it is first necessary that human beings be freed from sin, for which there is a dual aspect:
    • (1) We are cleansed from sin, and
    • (2) We are freed from the power of sin

The first aspect is central to the very earliest preaching, going back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the first apostles (Mark 1:4-5, 15 par; Matt 3:2; Acts 2:38; 3:26, etc). It is tied to the ritual of baptism, and is associated with the role (and presence) of the Holy Spirit. The second aspect, on the other hand, is more distinctly Pauline, informing the soteriology expressed by Paul in his letters. And he expresses the idea of the power of sin in various ways. In Romans 5ff, for example, sin is personified as tyrant, a conqueror who enslaves the population. All of humankind is in bondage to the ruling power of Sin. However, the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus perfectly and totally reverses this situation, freeing from bondage (to sin) all who trust in him.

Much of this same basic idea may be found in Paul’s declaration regarding the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 which I will now discuss briefly.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

In this passage, Paul personifies sin and evil in a different way, using the expression “the god of this Age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$ tou/tou). Like many Jews and Christians of the time, Paul held the fundamental worldview that the current Age was thoroughly wicked, dominated by sin and evil. This was related to a dualistic mode of thinking common to the eschatology of the period—i.e., a contrast between “This Age” and “the Coming Age”, which will be ushered in by God at the Judgment. The current Age (and world-order, ko/smo$) was seen as sinful/evil and opposed to God; Paul expresses this dualism just as forcefully as the Johannine writings, if not through such distinctive use of the word ko/smo$. Rather, Paul tends to use the word ai)w/n (“life[time], period of time, age”); it occurs, in a negative (and contrastive) sense, in 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6ff; 3:18; Rom 12:2; Gal 1:4; also Eph 2:2. The word ko/smo$ (“world[-order]”) is used in a similar way in Gal 4:3, 9; Col 2:8, 20; 1 Cor 3:19, etc. In Gal 1:4, he uses the expression “the evil Age (that) has been set in (place)”. In referring to the “god” (qeo/$) of this Age, Paul presumably has in mind the Satan (or ‘Devil’) and various unclean/evil (“demon”) powers which God has allowed to exercise influence and control over the world (cf. 1 Cor 15:24; Gal 4:8-9; Col 2:8-10; 2 Thess 2:9; Eph 2:2, etc).

Here in 2 Cor 4:3-4, the power of sin, wielded/controlled by “the god of this Age”, is described in terms of a darkness which blinds the eyes of human beings (cf. 2 Thess 2:9-12). This, of course, is another way of referring to humanity as being in bondage to sin (note the play on bondage/blindness in Isa 61:1 MT/LXX, discussed in the earlier note). The dualism of Light vs. Darkness is natural and was widespread in the ancient world; Paul makes use of it, though not so thoroughly as the Johannine writings and discourses of Jesus do. The entire section of 3:7-4:6 develops the theme of seeing and revelation (vb. a)pokalu/ptw, literally “take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). Believers in Christ are able, through trust, and through the Spirit, to see the glory/splendor (do/ca) of God in a way that was impossible (even for Moses) under the Old Covenant. Here in 4:3-4, the implication is that it is the very Gospel message (eu)agge/lion) that illumines believers and allows us to see the glory of God in the person of Jesus.

Salvation—freeing believers from the power of sin—is thus described in terms of (1) dispelling the darkness and (2) restoring sight to the blind. In the Gospel tradition, the association of the Gospel with recovery of sight (by way of Isa 61:1 LXX), was taken literally, being fulfilled in the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. the note on Lk 7:22 par). Paul, however, understands this symbolically, in a spiritual sense—the “good message” of Christ does away with the blinding power of sin (for a similar development, or interpretation, see John 9). There is then an absolute contrast between believer and non-believer in this regard:

“But if our good message is covered (up), it is covered (up) among the (one)s going away to ruin, (among) the (one)s whom the god of this Age (has) blinded the minds, the (one)s without trust, unto (there being) [i.e. so there would be] no shining forth of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed (One), who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3-4)

Note the conceptual structure, which may be outlined as a chiasm:

  • the good message
    • is covered up
      • the ones going away to ruin (i.e. lost, perishing)
        • the message is covered up/over for them
          • the Age of sin and evil (“god of this Age”)
        • their minds are blinded
      • the ones without trust (in Jesus)
    • it does not shine forth
  • the good message

This structure helps to demonstrate how and why many do not respond to the Gospel—it involves a complex dynamic between the reigning power of sin and the person’s ability/willingness to trust in the Gospel. Paul details a similar sort of dynamic in Romans 7. It is also worth noting the significance of the double use of eu)agge/lion that brackets this passage:

    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] that is proclaimed by Paul and his fellow ministers (v. 3a)
    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] characterized as being that which reveals (“shines forth”) the splendor of the Anointed (do/ca tou= Xristou=), the Messiah Jesus being further described as “the image of God” (ei)kw\n tou= qeou=) (v. 4b)

Thus the common/traditional (early Christian) usage of the term eu)agge/lion is transformed into a powerful Christological statement, about who Jesus is in relation to God the Father. Through this, Paul effectively explains his earlier declaration in Rom 1:16, that the good message is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is just this Christological statement in 2 Cor 4:3-4, which, in turn, frees believers from “the power of sin.”

February 4: 1 Cor 15:1-2, etc

If we look at the remaining occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in the Pauline corpus, especially in the undisputed letters (of 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon), we find two main themes which continue (and develop) the usage examined thus far in 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans:

    1. Paul (and his fellow ministers/apostles) as chosen messengers, i.e. chosen (by God) to proclaim the “good message”, and
    2. The religious identity of believers defined by the “good message” which they heard and received

These two aspects bind believers together with Paul (and the other ministers) in a special bond of unity. This is expressed variously by Paul in these letters, both where he is attempting to resolve points of conflict with the congregations to whom he is writing, and also as a way of exhorting believers to support him in his labors and to join with him in suffering on behalf of the Gospel. Here is a summary of these references:

Clearly, the noun is more frequently used by Paul than the verb (as we have already seen). The specific expression “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” also appears to be distinctively Pauline (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:27, as in 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:19; Gal 1:7; cf. also 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4).

What stands out is how well-established the meaning of the noun eu)agge/lion, especially, is for Paul (and his audience) at the time these letters were written (c. 50-60 A.D.). For the most part, Paul makes no attempt to explain his use of the word; moreover, there is rather clearly a range of theological (and Christological) associations present with the use of eu)agge/lion which, likewise, it was not necessary to clarify. Only in Galatians and Romans does Paul feel the need to expound the term, and for somewhat different reasons:

    • In Galatians, Paul is addressing views of other (Jewish) Christians regarding the religious identity of believers in Christ—that is, whether such identity was defined entirely by faith in Jesus Christ, or also involved observance of the Torah. Paul argues vigorously for the former position, while his Jewish-Christian ‘opponents’ took the latter view. Paul characterizes their view as a “different Gospel” (Gal 1:6-7, cf. also 2 Cor 11:4).
    • In Romans, Paul is writing to believers who, for the most part, were unfamiliar with his preaching and theological outlook. In 1:15, he states his eagerness “to bring the good message” to them, even though they are already believers. As I mentioned in the previous note, chapters 1-11 of Romans could be described fairly as Paul’s definitive exposition of what he means by the term “good message” (eu)agge/lion).

In the prior note, I discussed Paul’s central declaration in Rom 1:16, where he states that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is really only in Romans that Paul goes over thoroughly what this means, though it certainly would have been implied elsewhere by his use of the term (above). From a rhetorical standpoint, in the body of the letter (the probatio, 1:18-11:36), Paul presents various lines of argument to “prove” the proposition (propositio) of 1:16-17, using just about every literary/rhetorical device and approach at his disposal. By studying these sections of Romans carefully, we can begin to fill out the important soteriological dimension of the eu)aggel- word group for Paul (and for other early Christians as well).

To supplement such a study (which I encourage you to take), I would point out two other passages in the undisputed letters, where theological and soteriological aspects of eu)agge/lion are brought out. The first of these is 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Here, in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, at the beginning of a paraenetic (instruction) section, dealing with the question of the (end-time) resurrection, Paul exhorts his readers, including a summary declaration regarding the “good message”:

“I would make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] which I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you, which (indeed) you received alongside [parela/bete], (and) in which also you have stood [e)sth/kate], through which also you are saved [sw/|zesqe], by what account [i.e. lo/go$] I brought as a good message, if you hold down (onto it), if indeed you (have) not trusted (in it) futilely.”

In many ways, this serves as an excellent summary of Pauline theology; each phrase could be isolated and treated as a specific chapter in a detailed theological study. Here I wish to focus on the central phrases which qualify the “good message” (presented emphatically by doubling of noun and verb together). First note the overall structure:

  • “…the good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion), followed by a sequence of simple relative clauses:
    • “which [o^] I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you”—i.e. Paul’s proclamation
    • “which also [o^ kai] you received alongside [parela/bete]”
    • “in which also [e)n w!| kai] you have stood [e(sth/kate]”
    • “through which also [di’ ou! kai] you are saved [sw/|zesqe]”
      • “by what account [lo/go$] I brought as a good message to you…”

Of the four relative clauses, the first two form a pair, both syntactically and conceptually:

    • “which I brought as a good message”—Paul’s role as messenger, proclaiming the Gospel
    • “which…you received alongside”—the Corinthian believers’ response to the message; the verb paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”) implies acceptance and the bringing of someone/something in close

Similarly, the last two clauses form a pair:

    • “in [e)n] which…you have stood”
    • “through [dia/] which…you are saved”

Each statement represents an aspect of the effect that receiving the good message has on believers, utilizing a different preposition and verbal tense. The first statement uses the preposition e)n (“in”) with the verb i%sthmi (“stand”)—believers stand in the good message of Christ. Paul tends to use this verb in relation to the trust/faith (pi/sti$) of believers (Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; 2 Cor 1:24). A careful study of these (and other) passages reveals the core Pauline idea that, as believers, we trust primarily in the favor (xa/ri$) God has shown in what He has done for us through the person and work of Jesus (cf. Rom 5:2). This is expressed more directly by the second clause, using the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the verb sw/|zw (“save”). We are saved through the good message, together with all that it entails.

Interestingly, the first verb is in the perfect tense (“you have been saved”), while the second is in the present (“you are [being] saved”). We might rather have expected the opposite—i.e., “you have been saved”, and now “you stand”. This, however, reflects a different understanding (or aspect) of salvation. Modern-day Christians tend to think of “being saved” as something which happens to an individual at a particular (past) moment in time (i.e., when a person come to believe/accept Christ). By contrast, early believers in the first-century tended to view salvation primarily as something which was to occur in the future—specifically being saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment. Paul, in particular, added to this a most distinctive soteriological aspect, one expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, but never so clearly than it was by Paul: that believers are (even in the present) saved/rescued from the power of sin in the world that currently holds humankind in bondage. This point will be discussed further in the next daily note.

February 3: Romans 1:1, 16, etc

The letter to the Romans is probably the best known of Paul’s surviving letters, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the comprehensive theological argument that is developed and expounded throughout the first 11 chapters. It may also be fair to say that these chapters represent the definitive exposition of what Paul means when he uses the word eu)agge/lion. It thus will prove useful to rely on Romans for a clear understanding of the Pauline meaning and significance of the eu)aggel- word group. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the noun occurs at both the beginning and the end of chapters 1-11, showing its importance as a key word and thematic reference point for the letter. The noun is used 3 times in the opening verses of chapter 1 (vv. 1, 9, 16, and again at 2:16), while the verb is used once in context (v. 15). Then, in chapters 10-11, at the close of the main body of the letter (probatio) the noun occurs twice (10:16; 11:28), and the verb again once (in context, 10:15). We can be fairly certain, I think, that this usage gives us the clearest sense of the meaning of the word group at the time of Paul’s writing (mid-late 50s A.D.), and how it had come to be developed in his thought.

Romans 1:1

Here in the opening words (prescript) of the letter, Paul introduces something of his own well-developed usage of the word eu)agge/lion. There are two aspects to be seen here immediately, which have already been discussed in the previous notes: (1) Paul as a chosen messenger and (2) God as the source of the “good message”, that it relates to what He has brought about for humankind through Jesus Christ. The phrasing brings this out:

“Paulus, a slave of the Anointed Yeshua, called (as one) se(nt) forth [i.e. an apostle], having been separated unto the good message of God (v. 1), which He gave forth as a message… (v. 2) about His Son… (v. 3)”

We can see the sequential structure:

  • Paul…called…separated
    • unto the good message of God
      • which He gave forth as a message…
        • about His Son…

As messenger of the Gospel, Paul is bringing to people a message from God, a message (about Jesus) which is rooted in the Sacred Writings (esp. the Prophetic oracles). The relative pronoun (o^, “which”) at the beginning of the verse 2 clause (vv. 1-7 making up a single long sentence in Greek) serves to explicate and summarize just what this “good message” from God actually is. As noted above, this is done throughout the entirety of chapters 1-11, but begins here in the prescript of the letter (1:1-7), is mentioned again in the exordium (1:8-15, v. 9), and then in the main proposition (propositio, vv. 16-17). The wording here in vv. 1-3ff corresponds with the three distinct expressions, using the noun eu)agge/lion, which we outlined in the prior note on 1 Thessalonians:

    • my/our good message”—the message entrusted to Paul and his fellow ministers to proclaim
    • “the good message of God“—a subjective genitive, indicating God as source (used here in v. 1)
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}“—an objective genitive, referring to the content of the message

This content is summarized in vv. 3-4, which are thought by many commentators to represent an older creedal formula adopted by Paul. It reflects a somewhat earlier point of Christological development, such as expressed in the sermon-speeches in the first half of the book of Acts, and, for example, in the core Gospel (Synoptic) Tradition. The two principal points of this Christology are: (1) Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah, prim. the Davidic ruler figure-type) who has appeared on earth, and (2) with the resurrection, God exalted him to a position in heaven, according to which he can be understood as Son of God. To this, Paul adds the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“…through whom we received (the) favor (of God) and (our be)ing se(n)t forth…among all the nations, over [i.e. on behalf of] his name, among whom you also are called of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 5-6)

This is the essence of the message proclaimed by the early apostolic preaching (by Peter, and others), emphasizing both: (a) the favor (or grace) that comes through Jesus, and (b) that the early believers were chosen to be apostles (one sent forth by God [and Jesus]) to proclaim the message to others. This latter point is developed by Paul in the introduction (exordium), where the verb katagge/llw is used (v. 8), and the expression “the good message of His Son” (v. 9), as also in the closing words of the exordium (v. 15), with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai.

Romans 1:16

The word eu)agge/lion is expounded further in the central proposition (propositio) of the letter in vv. 16-17, where Paul states famously:

“For I do not feel shame upon the good message, for it is the power of God unto salvation for every (one) trusting—for the Yehudean {Jew} first, and (also) for the Greek. For in it the justice/just-ness of God is uncovered, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written, ‘the just (person) will live out of trust’.”

The italicized words give a clear and concise definition of what the good message is:

  • “the power of God”—i.e., God’s power is manifest in and through it, being communicated to those who hear
    • “unto salvation”—the prepositional expression indicated the purpose (and result) of the message
      • “for everyone trusting”—the message brings salvation only for those who trust in it

That this applies to Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) equally is a distinctive Pauline emphasis (though not exclusive to him) and is a major theme of Romans. The statement in verse 17 also reflects Pauline thought and (theological) expression, and is epexegetical here—it further clarifies the proposition in v. 16. A similar structure may be discerned:

    • “the justice/just-ness [dikaiosu/nh] of God…”
      • “…unto/into trust”
        • (everyone trusting will live): “…the just will live out of trust”

This is not the place to attempt a detailed exegesis of this powerful and profound declaration (itself an interpretation of Habakkuk 2:4), only to state here that it is a fundamental theological proposition of Paul’s, and that he spends the better part of Romans expounding it (especially in chapters 2-4). In literary and theological terms, he is doing very much what he expressed in 1:15: “…to bring the good message also to you the (one)s in Rome”.

Romans 10:15-16

At the end of the main body (probatio) of the letter, we find the famous (and controversial) chapters 9-11 on the place of Israel in God’s plan of salvation. For the first (and only) time in Paul’s surviving letters, he addresses the problematic question of how it is that so many of God’s chosen people (Israel) have rejected or failed to respond to the Gospel. The point of difficulty is summarized in verses 15-16 of chapter 10. First, Paul refers to himself (and his fellow ministers) again as ones chosen to proclaim the good message, citing Isaiah 52:7, one of the key (Deutero-)Isaian passages in which the verb eu)aggeli/zw is used in the Greek (cf. my earlier note). The early believers (including apostles such as Paul) fulfilled this passage as messengers bringing the good news to all people, and yet much of Israel did, or would, not accept the message, as Paul states in verse 16: “but not all heard under [i.e. responded to, heeded] the good message”. This rejection effectively turns many/most Jews into “enemies” of the Gospel—

“…according to the good message (they are) enemies through [i.e. because of] you” (11:28a)

which seems to be in direct contrast to their status as God’s chosen people:

“…but according to the gathering out (they are one)s loved through [i.e. because of] the Fathers” (v. 28b)

Paul’s attempt to explain and reconcile this apparent contradiction in chapters 9-11 is highly complex, and his line of argument, and how it can/should be interpreted, remains much discussed (and disputed) by commentators today. What is important to note here is how the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) is central to the religious identity of believers. As in Galatians (cf. the previous note), Paul frames the Jewish-Christian conflict over religious identity in terms of response to the Gospel message.

The eu)aggel- word group occurs four more times in Romans, including three times in the personal exhortation(s) of chapter 15 (vv. 16, 19-20). Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is expressed three ways, which should by now be familiar:

    • “the good message of God” (v. 16), using the unusual phrase “working as a sacred official [i.e. priest] (for) the good message of God”; on numerous occasions, Paul compares the Gospel ministry to the ancient priesthood
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” (v. 19), where Paul, referring to the total of his lifetime of ministry, as “to have fulfilled [peplhrwke/nai] the good message of the Anointed”
    • with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai (v. 20)

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs again in the closing words of the letter (16:25ff), which echo the opening sections (cf. on 1:1, 16, etc, above) in wording and theme:

“…according to my good message and the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of the secret having been kept silent for age(-long) times, but shining forth now…”

Note the three parallel expressions, which I have arranged as a chiasm:

    • “my good message”
      • “the proclamation of Yeshua”
    • “the uncovering of the secret”

Paul thus equates the Gospel message which he proclaims with the revelation of a great mystery long kept hidden (by God), and that both—Gospel and Revelation—are identified as proclaiming the truth about Jesus.

January 31: Galatians 1:6-11ff

In the previous note, I discussed Paul’s use of the eu)agge/l- word group in 1 Thessalonians (often considered the earliest of his surviving letters). We saw that, for the noun eu)agge/lion at least, by the late 40’s A.D. it had already come to have a definite technical meaning for early Christians—as the message regarding Jesus Christ, which ministers (such as Paul) were proclaiming to audiences, and which, through acceptance of it, people were led to become believers in Christ. At the same time, there is also evidence, we may say, of a distinctive Pauline development in the use and significance of the term. Among the points of emphasis appear to have been:

  • God as the source of the “good message”, who entrusted it specially to chosen ministers (such as Paul)
  • The content of the “good message” centered on what God has done through the person and work of Jesus.
  • The proclamation of the “good message” entails sacrificial service by the messengers (i.e. missionaries such as Paul), the two going hand in hand.
  • The effect of the proclamation is achieved through the power and work of the Spirit.

These defining aspects of the “good message” may not be original to Paul’s thought and expression, but there is no certain evidence for them prior to Paul’s (earliest) letters, with the possible exception of two or three Synoptic sayings of Jesus (to be discussed in an upcoming note).

The eu)aggel- word group is even more prominent in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, with the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai) occurring 7 times each. The dating of Galatians remains disputed, with some commentators treating it as the earliest of his letters (mid/late-40s). This view is held primarily by traditional-conservative commentators, with an eye toward harmonizing the accounts in Galatians 2 and Acts 15. In terms of the subject matter, style, and rhetorical/polemic thrust of the letter, I find much in common with Romans and 2 Corinthians, and tend to think that it was probably written around the same time as those two letters. In any event, it may be argued that, in Galatians, we have Paul’s clearest (and most forceful) expression of what he means when he uses the eu)aggel- word group. The polemic character of the letter has much to do with this, since Paul is arguing against certain Jewish Christians who have a different sense of the religious identity for believers in Christ, and what that entails. Paul addresses this matter through his use of eu)agge/lion/eu)aggeli/zomai.

The bulk of occurrences in Galatians are found in the introductory section (exordium) of the letter (1:6-11), where the noun is used three times (vv. 6-7, 11) and the verb four (vv. 8-9, 11)—half (7) of all occurrences in the letter. Through this specific language, Paul establishes the importance of the terminology in relation to the conflict he addresses—eu)aggel- becomes a theological and rhetorical keyword. See, for example, how the exordium begins:

“I wonder that you (have) thus (so) quickly set (yourselves) over [metati/sesqe], (away) from the (one) calling you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) into a different good message…” (v. 6)

The words in square brackets may not be original (e)n xa/riti instead of e)n xa/riti Xristou=); in that case, the reading would presumably be “the (one) calling you in (his) favor”—i.e. God calling believers in/through his own favor. The emphasis on believers’ identity in terms of the favor [i.e. grace] of God (rather than observance of the Torah) is, of course, developed strongly throughout the letter; however, note here how this is framed—the Galatians have, or are in danger of, setting themselves “into a different good message” (ei)$ e%teron eu)agge/lion). This rather neatly, and concisely, indicates that the religious views of those Paul is arguing against represent “a different Gospel” entirely. The prefix meta/ in the verb metati/qhmi indicates a change in position; as a political term, it can refer (in a negative sense) to a partisan viewpoint. The implication is that those who heed the message of these other Jewish Christians would be separating themselves from Paul and the Gospel message he preached to them. The line of rhetorical argument used by Paul, and beginning here in this verse, is meant to prevent that from happening.

Similar language is employed in verse 7, when Paul shifts from the Galatian believers, to the Jewish Christians who were proclaiming this “different Gospel”, stating that they are ones “wishing to turn over [metastre/yai] the good message of the Anointed”. The verb used (metastre/fw, “turn over/across”, i.e. pervert, change) is parallel to that used in v. 6 (metati/qhmi, “set over/across”), with its common prefix meta/ (indicating change of position or transferal). We already saw the expression “good message of the Anointed” (i.e. Gospel of Christ) used by Paul in 1 Thess 3:2; it also occurs in Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 10:14; Phil 1:27, etc. It is best understood as an objective genitive indicating the content of the message—i.e. being about, or regarding, Jesus Christ.

The falsity of the “different Gospel” (of these Jewish Christians) is emphasized by Paul’s aside here in v. 7 that, in reality, there is no “other” Gospel besides the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. In verses 8-9, Paul uses the verb (eu)aggeli/zomai, 3 times) to say much the same thing, even more forcefully, emphasizing that is the message that is proclaimed, not the pedigree of the messenger doing the proclamation, which is at issue. Noun and verb are used together, for special emphasis, at the conclusion of the exordium, in a declaration that also transitions into the narrative section (narratio) of the letter:

“For I (would) make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] th(at was) being given as a good message [to\ eu)aggelisqe/n] under [i.e. by] me, that it is not according to man…” (v. 11)
Note the effective wordplay in this emphatic doubling—to euangelion / to euangelisthen.

The narratio (1:12-2:14) which follows brings out clearly two points outlined above: (1) that the good message comes from God as its source, and (2) Paul is one of the ministers specially entrusted with the good message (by God). These two points serve to confirm the truth of the (version of) the message proclaimed by Paul, and, by implication, the falseness of anything different. Paul’s situation is all the more unique because of his commission by Jesus himself through a special revelation (v. 12). The remaining four occurrences of the noun eu)agge/lion are all here in the narratio (2:2, 5, 7, 14 [along with the verb in 1:23]), beginning with verse 2:

“…the good message which I proclaim among the nations”

The context (i.e. second half of the narratio) is a meeting in Jerusalem (usually identified with that of Acts 15), in which Paul’s role as an (apostolic) missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, etc, was confirmed (cf. also v. 7). The statement in verse 5 is especially significant, in relation to the conflict regarding believers and observance of the Torah, whereby the expression “the truth of the good message” is essentially identified with “the freedom which we hold in the Anointed Yeshua”—i.e., freedom not be ‘enslaved’ again by any requirement to observe the Torah (v. 4). The same expression, “truth of the good message” occurs again at the close of the narratio (v. 14), where the point of conflict is stated most clearly, and, in rather practical religious terms.

The final occurrence (of the verb) is in 4:13; interestingly, it is the only instance where the eu)aggel- word group is used (directly) in the main body (probatio) of the letter, an indication, perhaps, of how powerfully Paul had already established the association—i.e., the truth of his position with the Gospel itself—so that there was really no need to clarify this point further. However, the rhetorical emphasis in 4:13 is interesting to note, as it stresses again that it is the content of the message, and not the messenger himself (i.e., Paul) that is important. Paul proclaimed the good message “through weakness [lit. lack of strength] in the flesh”, and yet, through faith/trust, the Galatian believers accepted him “as a messenger [a&ggelo$] of God”, even “as the Anointed Yeshua” himself (v. 14). Again, this is due, not to Paul’s own character, but to the power of the message of Christ which comes from God.

If the “good message” is not tied to observance of the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Torah), then, in terms of the religious identity of believers, it must be centered upon something else. This is not specified directly in connection with the term eu)agge/lion in Galatians (or 1 Thessalonians), but is implied throughout the letter, especially in the lengthy main section (the probatio) of chapters 3-4, where it is expounded in detail. The content of the “good message”, quite apart from the Torah and the (Old) Covenant, is based entirely on the person and work of Jesus—establishing a New Covenant with God’s people. Paul brings this theological matrix of meaning more directly in line with his use of the eu)aggel- word group in other letters, such as that to the Romans, which we will examine in the next note.

January 30: 1 Thess 1:5; 2:2, etc

In these notes on the earliest Christian usage of the eu)aggel- word group, we turn now to the letters of Paul. First Thessalonians is generally regarded as the oldest of his surviving letters, dated perhaps from the late 40s. Thus it represents important evidence for early Christian use of the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai). The noun occurs 6 times (1:5; 2:2, 4, 8-9; 3:2) and the verb once (3:6). The first occurrence is in the opening section (exordium) of the letter, the conclusion of a long sentence in Greek, spanning verses 2-5, and which has the following outline:

  • “We give (thanks to God) for (his) good favor always about all of you… (v. 2)
    • remembering your work of trust/faith… (v. 3)
    • having seen/known…your (bei)ng gathered out (by God) (v. 4)
      • (in) that [o%ti, i.e. for/because] our good message [eu)agge/lion]…” (v. 5)

Verse 5 is a climactic o%ti-clause, though many translations will render it as a separate sentence in English. Here is the clause in full:

“that our good message did not come to be unto you in (an) account [i.e. word] only, but also in power and in the holy Spirit, [and] (very) much in the full carrying (out of it), even as you have seen what (kind of messenger)s we came to be [among] you, through you [i.e. on your behalf].”

There is a subtle chiasm to this complex clause:

    • the good message came to be unto you
      • in an account (i.e. word, preaching of the Gospel)
        • in power and
          • the Holy Spirit
        • the full carrying out of it (i.e. with confidence/assurance)
      • “what kind of…” (i.e. our character as ministers of the Gospel)
    • we came to be among you (as messengers)

From a chronological perspective, verses 2-5 work backward, indicating the effect of the Gospel message:

    • Believers in the present (“we give thanks…about you”)
      • Their work and demonstration of faith up to this point (“remembering…”)
        • Their election, lit. being “gathered out” by God [as believers in Christ] (“having seen…”)
          • The preaching of the Gospel (“our good message unto you…among you, through/for you”)

This, I think, provides a convenient snapshot of how Paul understands the word eu)agge/lion: it is the message regarding Christ, which Paul (and his fellow ministers) have been preaching, and which has led (through the work of the Spirit) to people becoming believers in Christ. The expression “our good message” can easily be misunderstood, as though Paul were taking an undue position of prominence; indeed, some copyists appear to have found it problematic, and modified it to “the good message of God“, used elsewhere in the letter (cf. below). But in verse 5, the emphasis is on Paul’s (and the other missionaries’) role in proclaiming the message, putting it (in the exordium of the letter) on a personal basis.

After this, the noun eu)agge/lion is used four times in the narratio (historical/narration section) of the letter, in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9, and again in 3:2. Contrary to the expression “our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n) in 1:5, here we find instead “the good message of God” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=). The genitive can be understood several ways: (a) possessive [i.e. belonging to God], (b) attributive/descriptive [i.e. having a divine character], (c) indicating content [i.e. about God], or (d) ablative [i.e. coming from God, as its source]. The New Testament usage overall suggests the latter—a subjective genitive in the sense that the “good message” comes from (i.e. sent or brought about by) God. Regarding Paul’s use of the noun here, we may note that:

    • the “good message” is something spoken (i.e. preached/proclaimed) by Paul and his fellow missionaries to others (v. 2)
    • the missionaries were entrusted with the message by God (v. 4), as a result of God’s own thought and consideration
    • the message is tied to the sacrificial service (on God’s behalf) of the messenger (v. 8)—”we thought it good to give over to [i.e. share with] you not only the good message of God, but also our own souls”
    • the proclamation of the message is something which takes place over a considerable period of time (not just in one or two meetings), and as the result of considerable labor (v. 9)

In the narratio of his letters, Paul’s often relates the background of his missionary labors, summarizing and reminding his readers of what was done (and is being done) on their behalf in the proclamation of the Gospel. In 1 Thessalonians there is less of a defined rhetorical structure (compared with Galatians, for example). A long narratio (2:1-3:5) is followed by the central message of the letter, which is rather brief (3:6-13), being primarily exhortational in nature, with no specific issues or controversies to be addressed. Additional instruction is provided in 4:1-5:11. The final occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion is found at the close of the narratio (3:2), where the expression has again changed to be “the good message of Christ” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= Xristou=). Here the genitive is best understood as meaning “about Christ, regarding Christ”, which will be discussed further in the next note.

Thus Paul uses the noun in three different genitival expressions, each of which refers to a different aspect of the meaning of the word:

  • our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n)—i.e. the message which we were entrusted by God to proclaim
  • “the good message of God (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message which comes from God, and which comes about because of what God has done
  • “the good message of (the) Anointed {Christ} (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message is about Jesus as God’s Anointed, and what God has done through him.

What is clear, however, is that, by the late-40’s the noun eu)agge/lion appears to have a relatively well-defined technical meaning—i.e. as a message about Jesus Christ—which Paul does not need to clarify for his readers. Interestingly, the related verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in 1 Thessalonians in the general sense (of good tidings generally, 3:6), and does not carry the same technical meaning as the noun. This contrasts with the frequent Lukan usage of the verb (discussed in the previous note).

The authorship of 2 Thessalonians remains disputed by (critical) commentators, with many believing the letter to be pseudonymous. However, if the Pauline authorship is genuine, the letter was presumably written around the same time as 1 Thessalonians, and may even be the earlier of the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in 2 Thessalonians (1:8; 2:14). The usage in 2:14 follows that of 1 Thess 1:5 (cf. above), using the expression “our good message” as the means by which God “gathered out” (i.e. called/chose) the Thessalonian believers. In 1:8, we find the more expansive expression “the good message of our Lord Yeshua”, which seems to serve as a kind of shorthand for the (true) Christian faith as a whole. While a bit unusual, the use of eu)agge/lion in the undisputed letters occasionally approaches this comprehensive meaning and may reflect a genuine Pauline development of the term.

Gospel: Meaning and Background of the word

I am beginning a series of daily notes dealing with the word eu)agge/lion (euangélion) and the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament and early Christianity. This series will lead into various notes and articles dealing with the ministry of Jesus and the related Gospel Tradition, to be posted in the time prior to the Lenten/Easter season. The very word “gospel” is central to any study of this Tradition—it features prominently in Jesus’ first recorded words in the core Synoptic tradition, and, indeed, introduces the Markan Gospel itself:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1)
“The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—repent and trust in the gospel” (Mk 1:13)

Let us begin with this English word “gospel”. It is a Germanic word, existing in Old English as gœdspel, meaning good (gœd) speech (spel), i.e. a good talk or telling (tale). As such, it corresponds reasonably well with the Greek word eu)agge/lion. The close correspondence between gœd and the word which came to express the idea of deity (god) was fortuitous, as it allowed for a bit of wordplay so that “godspel/gospel” could be understood as “talk/speech of/about God”.

English godspel/gospel would have been used to translate the Greek eu)agge/lion, already in the Old English/Saxon versions. Let us now consider this Greek term. Actually, there are three closely related words (or forms): the feminine noun eu)aggeli/a (euangelía), the neuter noun eu)agge/lion (euangélion), and the plural form of the latter, eu)agge/lia (euangélia). There is also the related verb eu)aggeli/zw (euangelízœ). These form the primary eu)aggel- word group.

The noun eu)aggeli/a is made up of two components: the noun a)ggeli/a (angelía) and the prefixed eu@ (eu), an adverb meaning “good, well”. The noun a)ggeli/a and the related verb a)gge/llw are part of an a)ggel- word group with the fundamental meaning “tell, declare, proclaim” (TDNT 1:56-57ff). The word a)ggeli/a refers to what is told or proclaimed, i.e. the message. Thus, eu)aggeli/a essentially means a good message, often rendered in English as “good news”. The neuter eu)agge/lion refers primarily to the response to a good message, i.e. a reward or offering of thanks, etc; it is thus fundamentally tied to both the messenger and the content/effect of the message. The plural form of eu)agge/lion ([ta] eu)agge/lia) is rather more common in Greek (though not in the New Testament!). The messenger (a&ggelo$, ángelos) is primary, and the one who brings the good message or tidings is called eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger [of] good [news]”). Interestingly, this noun does not occur in the New Testament; instead, we find eu)aggelisth/$, from the verb eu)aggeli/zw, i.e. “one who brings/proclaims the good message”.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the noun eu)aggeli/a was used to render hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), which occurs 6 times in the Old Testament (2 Sam 4:10; 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9); eu)aggeli/a renders it in all but one instance (2 Sam 4:10), where the neuter eu)agge/lion (plural) is used instead. The Hebrew noun is derived from the root rc^B*, a relatively common Semitic verb meaning “bring (good) news”. The verb is more frequent in the Old Testament (24 times), often used in a military context (reporting on the outcome of a battle, etc), or for other important events (such as the birth of a son). It is nearly always translated in Greek by eu)aggeli/zw (“give/bring a [good] message”), which occurs 23 times in the LXX (the middle form eu)aggeli/zomai being more common by the time of the New Testament). This Old Testament usage, and its influence on the New Testament and early Christian expression, will be discussed in the notes.

Largely due to the Christian usage, the Greek eu)agge/lion was borrowed in Latin as evangelium, and it is this Latinized form which made its way into English and our evangel word group, which has been used almost exclusively in a Christian context. The word “evangelism” is related to “evangelist” (properly from the Greek eu)aggelisth/$, euangelist¢¡s), and refers to preaching/proclaiming the Gospel. The word “evangelical” means “belonging, or related to, the Gospel”; unfortunately, this meaning has become somewhat distorted today, and often refers more to socio-political identity than to the Gospel message. The modern-day usage of “evangelical” ultimately stems from the Protestant Reformation, where it was essentially synonymous with “Protestant” and “Reformed”, and quickly took on partisan religious (and political) connotations. In the late-19th and 20th centuries, especially in America, it came to refer to a particular idea of mainstream (traditional-conservative) Protestant Christianity (and Christian identity). Currently, however, as noted above, it often connotes socio-political conservatism as much as anything to do with historical Christianity.