The Gospel (singular, capital G) in Christianity refers to the core message of God as revealed through Jesus’s life and ministry. I use the capital G to distinguish this from “the gospels,” which are the first four books of the Christian New Testament.
The word “gospel” comes from a middle English word meaning “good story” or “good tale.” That word, in turn, came from other Latin and Greek words. Since the New Testament was originally written in a form of Greek, you may hear people say that “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion (ευαγγελιον), which means “good news.”
Some English translations use the word “gospel” while others use the phrase “good news,” but they’re almost always taken from the same word. The question, “What is the Gospel?” can be answered with, “The Gospel is the good news,” but that still leaves the question, “What’s the good news?”
The theological meaning of “the Gospel” varies from context to context. Many life-long Christians are content to generalize, and I understand that might be confusing for newer Christians or folks who are trying to articulate the Gospel with more detail. This post is a general introduction, but I’ll try to write some more in depth posts at some point examining specific passages and possible implications.
In general, the Gospel is whatever good news one believes is at the core of what God is doing in and through Jesus. Sometimes it’s referred to as:
- “the good news of the Kingdom” (i.e. God’s kingdom or the kingdom of heaven)
- “the good news about Jesus” (i.e. whatever Jesus accomplished during his ministry or through the cross)
- in reference to the canonical gospels, “the Gospel according to…” (i.e. the good news, told as a story about Jesus, according to the author); the Gospel according to John, the Gospel according to Matthew, etc. I don’t normally use this language, because I like to distinguish between the gospels and the Gospel.
What each of those things means, precisely, depends on a person’s overall theology. What is the good news that one believes is revealed through the story of Christ Jesus?
In many expressions of Christianity, the Gospel has something to do with salvation, eternal life, freedom from sins, a relationship with God, God’s mission in creation, holiness, and/or the completion of God’s will for humanity/creation. The emphasis can change from community to community and depends on one’s understanding of each item in the list.
Why Am I Being So General?
I’m being very general about “the Gospel” because I want to emphasize how vague the term actually is, even in scripture. Some fundamentalist Christians may present the idea that the Gospel is “clear,” but the term is used in several ways in the New Testament, and it’s rarely used consistently from Christian to Christian. About the only consistent point is that the Gospel is supposed to be good news for the world.
What one Christian considers to be “good news” might not seem like good news to another Christian. Those differences can create even more tension when we add the word “the” to the front, and even if we agree on what things are good news, we might not agree on what is the good news; “the” implies that something is central or weightier or more prominent.
One person might consider God’s love for the world to be the good news. Another might consider Jesus taking the sins of the world to be the good news. Another might say the conquering of death or the gift of eternal life are the good news. Someone might say that some or all of those things are the same or interrelated, and therefore, they’re all the good news, together.
If you’re reading this and you’re tempted to make a case for your understanding of the Gospel, I think you’re about to make my point. The need to make a case for one’s understanding of the Gospel suggests that not everyone is using that same understanding.
Here are some common elements that often show up even across different expressions of Christianity.
- Jesus was, in some way, the Son of God.
- Jesus was the Messiah about whom many Old Testament prophets wrote or who fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies.
- Something about Jesus’s life and death addressed sin or sinfulness.
- Jesus was put to death on a cross.
- Jesus rose from the dead — was resurrected — several days later.
- The Holy Spirit was poured out after Jesus went to be with God.
- Something about those things affects our relationship with God.
Again, context matters. How, precisely, those things are explained and how they relate to each other might be different across different expressions of the Christian faith. The implications might also be different (i.e. what do these things mean for us and how we should live today?). I think it’s important to understand that how the Gospel is articulated has varied even among prominent theologians for over 2000 years. There’s at least as much importance in seeking God’s good news as there is in being able to articulate it concisely.
“The Gospel” refers to whatever a Christian or Christians believe is the core message — the core good news — of Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. While there are often common elements from community to community, the emphasis of the Gospel might be different from context to context.