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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Gospel

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a history of the life, actions, death, resurrection, ascension, and doctrine of Jesus Christ. The word is Saxon, and of the same import with the Latin term evangelium, or the Greek ευαγγελιον , which signifies "glad tidings," or "good news;" the history of our Saviour being the best history ever published to mankind. The history is contained in the writings of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, who from thence are called evangelists. The Christian church never acknowledged any more than these four Gospels as canonical: notwithstanding which, several apocryphal gospels are handed down to us, and others are entirely lost.

The four Gospels contain each of them the history of our Saviour's life and ministry; but we must remember, that no one of the evangelists undertook to give an account of all the miracles which Christ performed, or of all the instructions which he delivered. They are written with different degrees of conciseness; but every one of them is sufficiently full to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world, who had been predicted by a long succession of prophets, and whose advent was expected at the time of his appearance, both by Jews and Gentiles.

2. That all the books which convey to us the history of events under the New Testament were written and immediately published by persons contemporary with the events, is most fully proved by the testimony of an unbroken series of authors, reaching from the days of the evangelists to the present times; by the concurrent belief of Christians of all denominations; and by the unreserved confession of avowed enemies to the Gospel. In this point of view the writings of the ancient fathers of the Christian church are invaluable. They contain not only frequent references and allusions to the books of the New Testament, but also such numerous professed quotations from them, that it is demonstratively certain that these books existed in their present state a few years after the conclusion of Christ's ministry upon earth. No unbeliever in the apostolic age, in the age immediately subsequent to it, or, indeed, in any age whatever, was ever able to disprove the facts recorded in these books; and it does not appear that in the early times any such attempt was made. The facts, therefore, related in the New Testament, must be admitted to have really happened. But if all the circumstances of the history of Jesus, that is, his miraculous conception in the womb of the virgin, the time at which he was born, the place where he was born, the family from which he was descended, the nature of the doctrines which he preached, the meanness of his condition, his rejection, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, with many other minute particulars; if all these various circumstances in the history of Jesus exactly accord with the predictions of the Old Testament relative to the promised Messiah, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, it follows that Jesus was that Messiah. And again: if Jesus really performed the miracles as related in the Gospels, and was perfectly acquainted with the thoughts and designs of men, his divine mission cannot be doubted. Lastly: if he really foretold his own death and resurrection, the descent of the Holy Ghost, its miraculous effects, the sufferings of the Apostles, the call of the Gentiles, and the destruction of Jerusalem, it necessarily follows that he spake by the authority of God himself. These, and many other arguments, founded in the more than human character of Jesus, in the rapid propagation of the Gospel, in the excellence of its precepts and doctrines, and in the constancy, intrepidity, and fortitude of its early professors, incontrovertibly establish the truth and divine origin of the Christian religion, and afford to us, who live in these latter times, the most positive confirmation of the promise of our Lord, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

3. The Gospels recount those wonderful and important events with which the Christian religion and its divine Author were introduced into the world, and which have produced so great a change in the principles, the manners, the morals, and the temporal as well as spiritual condition of mankind.

They relate the first appearance of Christ upon earth, his extraordinary and miraculous birth, the testimony borne to him by his forerunner, John the Baptist, the temptation in the wilderness, the opening of his divine commission, the pure, the perfect, and sublime morality which he taught, especially in his inimitable sermon on the mount, the infinite superiority which he showed to every other moral teacher, both in the matter and manner of his discourses, more particularly by crushing vice in its very cradle, in the first risings of wicked desires and propensities in the heart, by giving a decided preference to the mild, gentle, passive, conciliating virtues, before that violent, vindictive, high-spirited, unforgiving temper, which has been always too much the favourite character of the world; by requiring us to forgive our very enemies, and to do good to them that hate us; by excluding from our devotions, our alms, and all our virtues, all regard to fame, reputation, and applause; by laying down two great general principles of morality, love to God, and love to mankind, and deducing from thence every other human duty; by conveying his instructions under the easy, familiar, and impressive form of parables; by expressing himself in a tone of dignity and authority unknown before; by exemplifying every virtue that he taught in his own unblemished and perfect life and conversation; and, above all, by adding those awful sanctions, which he alone, of all moral instructers, had the power to hold out, eternal rewards to the virtuous, and eternal punishments to the wicked. The sacred narratives then represent to us the high character that he assumed; the claim he made to a divine original; the wonderful miracles he wrought in proof of his divinity; the various prophecies which plainly marked him out as the Messiah, the great Deliverer of the Jews; the declarations he made that he came to offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind; the cruel indignities, sufferings, and persecutions to which, in consequence of this great design, he was exposed; the accomplishment or it, by the painful and ignominious death to which he submitted, by his resurrection after three days from the grave, by his ascension into heaven, by his sitting there at the right hand of God, and performing the office of a Mediator and Intercessor for the sinful sons of men, till he shall come a second time in his glory to sit in judgment on all mankind, and decide their final doom of happiness or misery for ever. These are the momentous, the interesting, truths on which the Gospels principally dwell.

4. We find in the ancient records a twofold order, in which the evangelists are arranged. They stand either thus, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark; or thus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The first is made with reference to the character and the rank of the persons, according to which the Apostles precede their assistants and attendants ( ακολουθοις , comitibus. ) It is observed in the oldest Latin translations and in the Gothic; sometimes also in the works of Latin teachers; but among all the Greek MSS. only in that at Cambridge. But the other, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, is, in all the old translations of Asia and Africa, in all catalogues of the canonical books, and in Greek MSS. in general, the customary and established one as it regarded not personal circumstances, but as it had respect to chronological; which is to us a plain indication what accounts concerning the succession of the evangelists, the Asiatic and Greek churches, and also those of Africa, had before them, when the Christian books were arranged in collections. It is a considerable advantage, says Michaelis, that a history of such importance as that of Jesus Christ has been recorded by the pens of separate and independent writers, who, from the variations which are visible in these accounts, have incontestably proved that they did not unite with a view of imposing a fabulous narrative on mankind. That St. Matthew had never seen the Gospel of St. Luke, nor St. Luke the Gospel of St. Matthew, is evident from a comparison of their writings. The Gospel of St. Mark, which was written later, must likewise have been unknown to St. Luke; and that St. Mark had ever read the Gospel of St. Luke, is at least improbable, because their Gospels so frequently differ. It is a generally received opinion, that St. Mark made use of St. Matthew's Gospel in the composition of his own; but this is an unfounded hypothesis. The Gospel of St. John, being written after the other three, supplies what they had omitted. Thus have we four distinct and independent writers of one and the same history; and, though trifling variations may seem to exist in their narratives, yet these admit of easy solutions; and in all matters of consequence, whether doctrinal or historical, there is such a manifest agreement between them as is to be found in no other writings whatever. Though we have only four original writers of the life of Jesus, the evidence of the history does not rest on the testimony of four men. Christianity had been propagated in a great part of the world before any of them had written, on the testimony of thousands and tens of thousands, who had been witnesses of the great facts which they have recorded; so that the writing of these particular books is not to be considered as the cause, but rather the effect, of the belief of Christianity; nor could those books have been written and received as they were, namely, as authentic histories, of the subject of which all persons of that age were judges, if the facts they have recorded had not been well known to be true.

5. The term Gospel is often used in Scripture to signify the whole Christian doctrine: hence, "preaching the Gospel" is declaring all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity. This is termed "the Gospel of the grace of God," because it flows from God's free love and goodness, Acts 20:24; and when truly and faithfully preached, is accompanied with the influences of the divine Spirit. It is called "the Gospel of the kingdom," because it treats of the kingdom of grace, and shows the way to the kingdom of glory. It is styled, "the Gospel of Christ," because he is the Author and great subject of it, Romans 1:16; and "the Gospel of peace and salvation," because it publishes peace with God to the penitent and believing, gives, to such, peace of conscience and tranquillity of mind, and is the means of their salvation, present and eternal. As it displays the glory of God and of Christ, and ensures to his true followers eternal glory, it is entitled, "the glorious Gospel," and, "the everlasting Gospel," because it commenced from the fall of man, is permanent throughout all time, and produces effects which are everlasting.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Gospel'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/g/gospel.html. 1831-2.

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