What Is “The Gospel”?

Written by forrest : December 26, 2007

A “gospel,” in the original meaning, was the official announcement that a new Roman Emperor had decided to offer the World (whether or not it wanted) his protection.

This was “Good News” if you were one of the elite who used Roman rule to enrich themselves and protect their ill-gotten gains, less so if you were among the poor, particularly among the peasants whose livelihoods were most at risk under Roman taxation and business practices. And for pious Jews, it was just another reminder that the land of Israel, no doubt for some sin or another, was still consigned to pagan domination.

So “Good News,” in those days, was a public announcement of who was in charge.

The phrase still had that meaning when the Christians took it up. The first occasion of that would have been when Jesus, after John the Baptist’s arrest, “came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘The time has come; the Reign of God is upon you; repent and believe the Gospel.’ ”

“The Gospel”?–The announcement of Who, in fact, actually rules the World. Whose kingdom?–God’s. [As I read the story, Jesus has already been anointed king of Israel by John at his “baptism”, where the words quoted (particularly in early manuscripts of Luke) hint at Psalm 2.7 (’a royal psalm, composed for a coronation’): “He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.!’” So Jesus’ identity as Messiah (the king approved by Israel’s true owner: God) was in fact part of the message, but in view of Roman political domination of the region, necessarily a tacit part.)

Nothing there about Substitutionary Atonement (Jesus wasn’t even dead yet!), Eternal Life, Personal Saviors, any of that. I’m not saying that all the theology later interpreters have added hasn’t helped some people navigate their lives a little better, but I do say that much of it comes from human reason run amok.

Since then, when someone talks about preaching “the Gospel,” he normally means one or another of those human theological constructs. George Fox, who tended to find his doctrines in highly spiritual interpretations of New Testament letters, took “The Gospel is the Power of God” almost as a definition. That is, he would not accept any doctrine as being “the Gospel,” because to him nothing could be “the Gospel” short of God’s actual power to save human beings, present and palpably at work among us!

But you can’t define or expound that kind of Gospel; you can only, by closely following the Spirit’s leadings, cooperate in making opportunities for it to proclaim itself! And so Quakers like myself have gone through considerable perplexity about: What is it we do or should mean by “the Gospel”?

I myself return to that original meaning. Who’s in charge, here? Satan still claims authority over the nations and their rulers, as all their ways continue to demonstrate. But the Gospel says that God, despite appearances, 1) rules in actual fact and 2) matches Jesus’s description of our Father. Not condemning us, but doing all He can to help us, despite our misconceptions, misdeeds, and mistrust. So God has told me; so I have found.

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2 Responses to “What Is “The Gospel”?”

  1. R. Jackson on December 26th, 2007 3:38 pm

    I agree, you can only be taught by the Spirits Leadings. We should no longer desire to be or do anthing but the will of the Father

  2. greg on December 26th, 2007 11:42 pm

    okay yoder

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