The "Godspell" of Christ

James Sanders
Greencastle, Indiana

The word "gospel" (translated from the Greek euaggelion) is both a remarkable and significant word. It is one of the most notable terms found in the New Testament. Euaggelion (or gospel) literally means "good news" or "good tidings" and is sometimes so translated. But a rendering of euaggelion as "good news" is not altogether satisfactory. "Good news" tends to be a little misleading. Euaggelion (gospel) implies much more than "good tidings" or "news."

The best translation of euaggelion may also be the most common -- that of "gospel" itself. Gospel far better suits the significance and wealth of euaggelion than "good news" or "good tidings." Gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word godespell or godspell which was but a compound of two separate words: god (God) and spell (tidings or story). Originally godspell (later gospel) meant "the story concerning God." Such a meaning (the story concerning God) is closer to the New Testament usage of euaggelion than mere "good news" or "tidings."

The Proclamation of Victory

Euaggelion, as used by the ancient Greeks, was "a technical term for news of victory" (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 2, p. 722). When the runner Phidippides returned from the battle of Marathon, the cry he brought was that of euaggelion - the proclamation of victory. The appearance of any bearer of euaggelion was a striking sight: "The messenger appears, raises big right hand in greeting and calls out with a loud voice... By his appearance it is known already that he brings good news. His face shines, his spear is decked with laurel, his head is crowned, he swings a branch of palms, joy fills the city. . ." Mittel, Vol. 2, p. 722). To the ancient Greek, euaggelion was a jubilant word; it was the proclamation of victory.

Paul alluded to this very practice in his epistle to the Romans: "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (10: 15). In the New Testament euaggelion (gospel) was heralded because of the sublime triumph that had been gained. God had been manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, believed on in the world, and received up into glory. (Cf. I Tim 3:16). Salvation had been brought down. Hence, "we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." (Rom. 8:37). When the early Christians spoke of the gospel (euaggelion), they spoke of the victory which was theirs. Euaggelion is more than "good tidings"; euaggelion is the "news of victory."

Reward, An Essential Feature

At first euaggelion meant "the reward of good tidings" (Liddell-Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 322). Any messenger who brought good tidings was due a reward (euaggelion) for the news he proclaimed. Thus we read of the disguised Ulysses claiming a reward (euaggelion) for the good tidings he has brought (Odys. XIV, V152). "Let me have a reward (euaggelion) for my good news." In the Old Testament the same idea is prominent. The Amalekite who brought the news of Saul's death is represented as doing so in hopes of euaggelion or reward. David said, "When one told me, saying, Behold Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward (euaggelion) for his tidings." (2 Sam. 4: 10 LXX). Originally, euaggelion meant the reward for good tidings brought.

In view of this, a bearer of good tidings spared no effort to be first with the news he carried. For if another runner arrived before he, his euaggelion (reward) would certainly be less (Kittel, Vol. 2, p. 723).

In the New Testament, however, reward for good news is not the precise meaning of euaggelion. Yet reward and the corresponding need for urgency are essential features of the New Testament euaggelion. As Paul said: "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willing, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me." (I Cor. 9:16, 17). Paul felt the overwhelming necessity to preach the gospel. Unfortunately not many today feel that same compulsion. We have forgotten the urgency which the gospel (euaggelion) demands. Compulsion and necessity are inherent in the euaggelion of the New Testament. "And I went up by revelation and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach but privately to them which were of reputation lest by any means I should RUN or HAD RUN in vain." (Gal. 2:2). Euaggelion is more than good news; euaggelion demands urgency lest the reward of good news be forever lost to us!

The Promise of Good Things

During the Hellenistic period, euaggelion frequently was used in "the sense of to promise.'" Mittel, Vol. 2, p. 712) A midwife would thus encourage the expectant mother by euaggelion ---- "the promise of the future." Or a sacral messenger would describe a forthcoming oracle as euaggelion -- "a promise of good things." Kittel lists several references of the use of euaggelion during the Hellenistic period and concludes, "In all these passages there is no question of proclaiming something present but of referring to something future." Euaggelion was the promise and hope of the future.

In the New Testament euaggelion is closely associated with the thought of hope. Paul warned the Colossians of the danger of being moved away from the hope of the gospel. (1: 23). And the writer of Hebrews described the new covenant as founded upon better promises. (8: 6). When the New Testament spoke of euaggelion, it spoke of hope and the promise of good things to come. Take away the hope from the New Testament, and there is no gospel. "The promise of good things" is the very core of the euaggelion of Christ. Euaggelion is far more than mere "good news" or "good tidings"; euaggelion cries of the promise of God! And thanks be to God for His unspeakable Gift!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 42, pp. 6-8
September 2, 1971