views updated May 18 2018


GOSPEL . As a word in the English language, gōspel represents Middle English terminology derived from the Old English godspel (from gōd, "good," and spel, "story"). "Gospel" is the common translation of the Late Latin evangelium, which is a virtual transliteration of the Greek euaggelion. In classical Greek, euaggelion designated everything connected with the euaggelos, the bearer of good news (from eu, "well," and aggelos, "messenger, one who announces"). Initially euaggelion designated the reward given to the messenger who brought happy news (see Homer, Odyssey 14.152153). In the plural the term euaggelia was used to designate the offerings to the gods made in thanksgiving upon the reception of good news (e.g., Xenophon, Historia Graeca 4.13.14). Later euaggelion came to be used for the content of the message, the good news itself, usually an announcement of a military victory.

Euaggelion occasionally entered into religious use, where its connotation was derived from oracular usage. Within this context, euaggelion signified a divine utterance, but the term was also used in the cult of the emperors. There it enjoyed a mythical quality. Anything having to do with the emperor could be qualified as euaggelion, particularly imperial birth announcements and news of the emperor's ascension to the throne, but even imperial decrees. A significant passage in this regard is a calendar inscription (9 bce) from Priene in Asia Minor that comments upon the birth of the emperor Augustus. This passage is usually translated "For the whole world the birthday of the [emperor] god began the joyful news [euaggeliōn, a genitive plural] in his regard," but the passage is mutilated, and the Greek euaggeliōn may just as well refer to "joyful sacrifices" instead of "joyful news."

Hellenistic Jewish authors, such as Philo of Alexandria (d. 4550 ce) and Josephus Flavius (37c. 100 ce), used euaggelion with a secular connotation. The term was also employed by the translators of the Greek Bible (the Septuagint), who used euaggelion to render the Hebrew bsr. In the Hebrew scriptures bsr is used only in a secular sense. Euaggelion likewise has only a profane meaning in the Septuagint. There euaggelion is used of the reward given to a messenger in 2 Samuel 18:22 and of a joyous message in 2 Samuel 18:20 (likewise 2 Sm. 4:10, 18:25, 18:27; 2 Kgs. 7:9).

The Septuagint

In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures), the verb euaggelizein, cognate with euaggelion, is commonly used in the profane sense with the meaning "to announce." In "Second Isaiah" (Is. 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, 61:1), however, and in some texts dependent upon it (Na. 1:15; Ps. 68:11, 96:2), euaggelizein specifically connotes the announcement of the good news of salvation. The messenger of good news (euaggelizomenos ) announces that the time of salvation is at hand, that Yahveh will reign as king, that a new age is about to dawn. Within this context the use of the verb acquires an eschatological connotation. The era of salvation is made present by the announcement of it. Neither "Second Isaiah" nor the dependent texts use the noun euaggelion in this eschatological, salvific sense.

The notion of the bearer of the good news of salvation persisted in both Hellenistic and Palestinian Judaism (see the Targum on Isaiah 40:9 as well as 1QM 18:14 from among the Dead Sea Scrolls). The mid-first-century Psalms of Solomon (11:12) uses euaggelizein in the eschatological sense, while in postbiblical Judaism bsr and its cognate verb refer not only to concrete historical news but also to prophetic messages of weal and woe, angelic messages, and divine announcements of consolation and blessing.

New Testament

Within the New Testament, euaggelion is used far more frequently by Paul than by any other author (forty-eight times in the indisputably Pauline writings). His writings are the first literary attestation to the Christian usage of the term. It is characteristic of Paul that he uses the term in an absolute sense and without any qualifying adjective. To some authors this suggests that Paul first gave a Christian connotation to the term euaggelion, while to others it implies that Paul had taken over an earlier Christian usage. In any event, there is little doubt that the term acquired its Christian significance in a Hellenistic environment. While some scholars maintain that the early Christian usage was derived from emperor worship, the more common opinion locates the roots of the Christian use of euaggelion in "Second Isaiah."


In the Pauline letters two passages confirm the thesis that Paul has taken over the absolute use of euaggelion from early Christian usage. The passages in question are 1 Corinthians 15:14 and Romans 1:14. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses classic language to describe the handing on of traditional teaching and employs euaggelion to identify the content of that teaching. Paul explicates the content of the euaggelion by citing a creedal formula, probably derived from Palestinian Christian circles, that focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the opening verses of the letter to the Romans, the content of the gospel is the disclosure of Jesus as the Son of God and the Lord by his resurrection from the dead. Thus, for Paul, the basic content of the gospel is the resurrection by means of which Jesus is constituted as Lord. This is understood as the fulfillment of the scriptural promise. Paul sometimes (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:12, 2 Cor. 2:12) calls it the gospel of Christ (euaggelion tou Christou ) because the good news of salvation has Christ as its central object.

In the writings of Paul, euaggelion also defines the oral proclamation of the missionary (e.g., 2 Cor. 8:19, Phil. 4:15). In 1 Corinthians 9:14, Paul uses the word in two senses, that is, as his message and as the act of proclamation. The act of proclamation involves more than recitation of a creedal formula or recital of the traditional kerygma on Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul's whole person is involved (see 1 Thes. 1:5, 2:8). His proclamation is the work of an apostle "approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel" (1 Thes. 2:4). Paul writes succinctly of "my gospel" (Rom. 2:16) or "our gospel" (2 Cor. 4:3). Those who receive his message receive it "not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work" (1 Thes. 1:13). For Paul, the gospel is the "gospel of God" (e.g., 1 Thes. 1:9, 2 Cor. 11:7) because it comes from God and is about God's work. Coming from God, the gospel is powerful. Its proclamation brings about the eschatological era of salvation; it implies the ending of one world order and the beginning of a new one.


Both in understanding of the term euaggelion and in frequency of its usage (seven times), Mark is similar to Paul. This does not imply a direct dependence of Mark on Paul, because both of them reflect earlier Christian missionary usage. Mark, however, uses only euaggelion, the noun, and not the related verb. For Mark, euaggelion is a technical expression used to denote the kerygmatic announcement of salvation. Jesus is the subject of the gospel insofar as he proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1:15). When proclamation occurs, that which is proclaimed becomes a reality. Accordingly, the activity of Jesus became the object of the gospel. Mark editorializes on the tradition he has incorporated into his work in order to affirm that the gospel relates to that which has been done in and through Jesus. Mark emphasizes this notion by opening his work with "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk. 1:1). This striking statement brings into focus a point of view even if it does not, strictly speaking, function as a title for the entire work.

Matthew and Luke

Neither Matthew nor Luke employs euaggelion so frequently as does Mark, and the Johannine literature does not use the term at all. Matthew uses the term four times but never without further qualification. He writes of "the gospel of the kingdom" (Mt. 4:23, 9:35), of "this gospel" (Mt. 26:13), and of "this gospel of the kingdom" (Mt. 24:14). In all four instances Matthew uses euaggelion in relation to a speech complex. For him Jesus is no longer the content of the gospel; instead, he is the communicator of the gospel. The speeches of Jesus are "gospels." Matthew's emphasis is on Jesus' preaching and teaching as providing a paradigm for the Christian way of life.

Luke does not use euaggelion at all in the first part of his written work, but it appears twice in Acts (15:7, 20:24). Nonetheless, Luke employs the verb euaggelizomai ("I bring the good news") frequently both in his gospel (ten times) and in Acts (fifteen times). By doing so, Luke emphasizes the act of preaching, which is then explained by the direct object that accompanies the verb. He sharply distinguishes the preaching of the apostles from Jesus' own preaching. Willi Marxsen has suggested that Luke deliberately avoided using euaggelion in the first part of his work because instead of giving a record of the church's proclamation he was writing a type of "life of Jesus."

The Written Gospel

The general Pauline usage of euaggelion to mean the proclamation of salvation as concretized in the death and resurrection of Jesus continued into the second century as the writings of Polycarp of Smyrna (Letter to the Philippians 9.2) and the Didache (12.3.1) attest. Aristides of Athens, the first of the Christian apologists, once mentions the "evangelical writing" (euaggelikē graphē ), and Ignatius of Antioch intimates that the gospel was a written text when he wrote to the church of Smyrna that neither "the prophetic predictions nor the law of Moses nor the gospel" has convinced his opponents (Letter to the Smyrneans 5.1).

Even when euaggelion came to be applied to a written text, the word continued to be employed in the singular, and this use of the singular was still widespread in the third century. The usage bespeaks the conviction that the gospel was identical with the teaching of the Lord. This usage is reflected in the formulaic expression "the Lord says in the gospel" (e.g., 2 Clem. 8:5), but it is also reflected in the titles of the Gospels. The earliest parchment codices of the New Testament, namely, the fourth-century Sinaiticus and Vaticanus codices, entitled the Gospels "according to Matthew," "according to Mark," and so on. This manner of providing each of the written gospels with a title suggests that euaggelion applied to the whole collection of the four canonical gospels. Nonetheless, three of the early New Testament papyri have made use of more complete titles: Gospel according to Matthew (P4) and Gospel according to John (P66, P75). Even this is a strange turn of phrase if the sole intention is to designate authorship. These titles seem to suggest that the single gospel was narrated according to the vision of a specific evangelist. There was only one message of final, eschatological salvation, namely, salvation accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the message could be conveyed in different ways.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr (c. 100163/5), writing in Rome, was the first Christian author to write of the Gospels in the plural (euaggelia ). In his First Apology (c. 155) and his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho he refers to the "memoirs of the Apostles" on some fifteen occasions. The first time he mentions the memoirs, he adds by way of explanation "which are called gospels" (hatina kaleitai euaggelia; Apol. 1.66.3). In two other places, however, he retains the singular use of euaggelion (Dial. 10.2, 100.1). At the time of Clement of Alexandria (150?215?) the euaggelion was understood to be a book on the system of Christian morality. Subsequently the term was also applied to the so-called apocryphal gospels, the oldest of which come from the second century.

The transference of euaggelion from the designation of an oral proclamation to a written texta usage that most probably derives from the first verse of Markattests that these texts had the same content and purpose as the oral proclamation. Both the oral proclamation of the gospel and the written gospel speak of eschatological salvation accomplished in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Far from being biographies of Jesus, the four canonical gospels attest to his preaching and to his activity in the light of his death and resurrection. The historical traditions they contain are subordinated to their religious and kerygmatic purpose. They were written to evoke and/or confirm faith in Jesus as Christ and Lord (see Jn. 20:31). The central content of the gospel is one, even if it is attested in documents written by different authors.

Later Usage of the Term

At the time of the continental Reformation, Martin Luther (14831546) sharply distinguished between the law and the gospel. The law makes demands and provokes anxiety; the gospel bestows grace and brings consolation. From his study of Romans 1:1617, where Paul writes of the gospel as "the power of God for salvation for in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith," Luther concluded that justification did not depend on outward obedience to the law. Although the content of the law is the unchangeable will of God, the law brings humans before the throne of judgment. The first use of the law deters people from sin by fear of punishment; a second use makes even believers conscious of their sin. In contrast, the gospel, appropriated through faith, reveals the saving love of God, assures believers of justifying grace, and offers a promise of the forgiveness of sins.

In modern times, preaching the gospel is characteristic of Christian missionary endeavors throughout the world. Gospel faith is popularly associated with evangelical preaching and the view that Jesus is one's personal savior. The reading of a passage from one of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John ) is a key feature of worship services of the more liturgically oriented Christian churches. Frequently the excerpt that is read is simply referred to as "the gospel."


The most comprehensive study of the term euaggelion remains the article "Euaggelion" written by Gerhard Friedrich for the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1964), pp. 721736. The original German text was first published in 1935. Significant contributions to the knowledge of Paul's understanding of the gospel are Peter Stuhlmacher's Das paulinischer Evangelium, in the series "Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testament," vol. 95 (Göttingen, 1968), and Ernst Käsemann's Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980), pp. 610. An analytic study of Mark's understanding of euaggelion is Willi Marxsen's Mark the Evangelist (Nashville, 1969), pp. 117150. In this study Marxsen also compares the use of the term by Matthew and Luke with that by Mark. In his Studies in the Gospel of Mark (London, 1985) Martin Hengel examines the Markan use (pp. 5358) as well as the titles of the Gospels (pp. 6484). Useful studies of the gospel as a Hellenistic literary genre are G. N. Stanton's Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (London, 1974), pp. 117136, and Charles H. Talbert's What Is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels (Philadelphia, 1977). A good introduction to Luther's understanding of the difference between law and gospel has been given by Gerhard Ebeling in chapter 7 of his Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (Philadelphia, 1970).

New Sources

Dart, John. Decoding Mark. Harrisburg, Pa., 2003.

Funk, Robert Walter, and Roy W. Hoover. The Five Gospels. New York, 1993.

King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary Magdala. Santa Rosa, Calif., 2003.

Koester, Helmut. Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. Philadelphia, 1990.

Raymond F. Collins (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 18 2018


The good news about Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings to mankind. The English word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon term gōd (good) spell (tale), a correct translation of the Greek word εαγγέλιον (good news), which was taken over bodily into Latin as evangelium.

In the New Testament. The New Testament usage of the term εαγγέλιον depends less on the usage of the word in classical literature, where it seldom has a religious connotation, than on its usage in the Septuagint, where the cognate verb εαγγελίζω (to announce good news) is employed to translate the Hebrew verb bissēr, especially in the Deutero-Isaian sense of announcing the glad tidings of Yahweh's eschatological salvation (Is 40.9; 52.7; 60.6; 61.1).

Jesus used the word gospel only in this sense, as the fulfilling of the prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah: He was God's messenger announcing the good news of divine salvation to the poor (Lk 4.1619; 7.22; Mt 11.5). The good news that He proclaimed was "the gospel of the kingdom of god" (Mk 1.1415; See also Mt 4.23; 9.35;24.14). It was a message, not of something that had happened (the ordinary non-Biblical sense of the word), but of what was about to take place.

For the Apostles, however, the gospel was the glad tidings of the divine salvation that Jesus as the Messiah had won for men by His Passion, death, and Resurrection (Acts 5.42; 14.6, 20; 15.20; etc.). Such use of the term is common especially in the writings of St. Paul, who employed the noun εαγγέλιον about 60 times (Rom 1.1, 9, 1516; etc.) and the verb εαγγελίζω about 20 times. He called his message "the gospel of God" (Rom 1.1;15.16; 2 Cor 11.7; etc.) because it came from God, "the gospel of Christ" (Rom 15.19; 1 Cor 9.12; 2 Cor 2.12;9.13; etc.) because it concerned Jesus Christ and His redemptive work, and "my gospel" (Rom 2.16; 2 Tm 2.8; etc.), not as if Paul's message of salvation differed in any essential way from that of the other Apostles (Gal 1.69), but because he received it directly from Christ (Gal1.1112; 1 Cor 15.3), who made him an outstanding "minister of the gospel" (Col 1.23).

Although the gospel that the Apostles proclaimed was concerned primarily with the mystery of Redemption, the earthly life of Jesus as far as it was known to them, i.e., His public ministry, formed part of their preaching also (Acts 10.3443). This is the meaning of the word gospel as it is used in verse 1 of St. Mark's Gospel: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," which means: this is how the good news concerning Jesus Christ begins. Neither here nor anywhere else in the New Testament is the term used in the sense of a written Gospel. The custom of using the term as the name of a book began in the second century (Justin, Apol. 1.66; Dial. 10.2). The early Church always remembered that there was only one gospel; the New Testament never employed the term in the plural. Therefore it spoke only of the four-fold form of the one gospel: "the Gospel according to Matthew [κατ Ματθα[symbol omitted]ον]," "the Gospel according to Mark," etc.

In the Liturgy. The public reading or singing of a pericope or selection from the Gospels before the celebration of the Eucharist forms part of the liturgy in all Christian rites. The importance of this ceremony is shown by the special reverence that is given to the Gospel Book, e.g., by its being carried in procession with candles and incense at more solemn services, by its being read from a special ambo or pulpit, by its reader having to be at least

a deacon, by the standing of the congregation during its reading, and by other ceremonies (at least in the Roman rite, the greeting to the faithful before the reading, the doxology"Glory be to you, Lord!"at the end, and the kissing of the book by the reader). The term Gospel is also applied to the selection read.

In the 13th century the custom arose of reading Jn1.114a as the so-called Last Gospel at the end of the Roman Mass as an additional blessing on the people. Later, some other selection from the four Gospels was occasionally substituted for Jn 1.114a as the Last Gospel. The Roman Missal (1570) of pius v made the reading of the Last Gospel obligatory for almost all Masses of the Roman rite, but this custom was abolished in the liturgical reform of 1964.

See Also: evangelist; lectionaries.

Bibliography: j. huby, L'Évangile et les Évangiles (3d ed. Paris 1954). j. schmid and j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, 2 vols. (New York 1950). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 888890.

[l. f. hartman]


views updated May 18 2018

gos·pel / ˈgäspəl/ • n. 1. the teaching or revelation of Christ: it is the Church's mission to preach the gospel. ∎  (also gospel truth) a thing that is absolutely true: they say it's sold out, but don't take that as gospel. ∎  a set of principles or beliefs: the new economics unit has produced what it reckons to be the approved gospel.2. (Gospel) the record of Jesus' life and teaching in the first four books of the New Testament. ∎  each of these books. ∎  a portion from one of these read at a church service.3. (also gospel music) a fervent style of black American evangelical religious singing, developed from spirituals sung in Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches: [as adj.] gospel singers.


views updated May 23 2018

gospel the ‘good tidings’ proclaimed by Jesus Christ; any of the four books written by the Evangelists; portion of any of these read at the Eucharist OE.; something ‘as true as the gospel’ XIII; something ‘to swear by’ as doctrine to be believed XVII. OE. gōdspel, i.e. gōd GOOD, spel news, tidings (SPELL1 ), rendering of ecclL. bona annuntiatio, bonus nuntius, used as literal renderings of ecclL. evangelium, Gr. euaggélion EVANGEL. Identification of the first syll. with God in Eng. is reflected in forms adopted in the Gmc. langs. of peoples evangelized from England, viz. OS. godspell, OHG. gotspell, ON. guð-, goðspjall.
Hence gospeller (which illustrates various uses of -ER1), OE. gōdspellere, f. gōdspel or the corr. vb. gōdspellian, †one of the four evangelists (OE.-XVII); †gospel-book XV; one who recites the Gospel at the Eucharist; one who professes the faith of the gospel, esp. fanatically (hot-gospeller) XVI.


views updated May 14 2018

Gospel the record of Christ's life and teaching in the first four books of the New Testament; each of these books. The four Gospels ascribed to St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, and St John all give an account of the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, though the Gospel of John differs greatly from the other three. There are also several apocryphal gospels of later date.

The word comes from Old English gōdspel ‘good news’, translating ecclesiastical Latin bona annuntiatio used to gloss evangelium, from Greek euangelion ‘good news’; after the vowel was shortened in Old English, the first syllable was mistaken for godGod’.
Gospel side in a church, the north side of the altar, at which the Gospel is read, opposite to the Epistle side.
gospel truth what is absolutely true (the related take something for gospel is also found).


views updated Jun 08 2018

Gospel (Gk., euangelion; OE, godspel, ‘good news’).
1. The content of Christian preaching.

2. A book containing sayings and stories of Jesus. Since there was only one Good News, the four separate gospels in the New Testament were distinguished as ‘according to’ Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

3. The reading from the gospels in the Christian eucharist.


views updated May 18 2018

gospel Central content of the Christian faith, the good news (god spell in Old English) that human sins are forgiven and that all sinners are redeemed. The first four books of the New Testament, ascribed to the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are known as the four Gospels.