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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. The meaning of the term.-‘Gospel,’ a compound of the O.E. gód, ‘good,’ and spel, ‘tidings,’ has been employed from the beginnings of English translation of the NT to render the Greek εὐαγγέλιον. In the classics this term denotes (a) the reward for good tidings, and is so used in the Septuagint (2 Samuel 4:10), ᾧ ἔδει με δοῦναι εὐαγγέλια (pl. [Note: plural.] ), ‘the reward I had to give him for his tidings’; but (b) in later Greek the word stands for the glad message itself. In the NT, however, εὐαγγέλιον refers not to the written record, as in the modern usage of ‘gospel’ = ‘book,’ but to the message as delivered and proclaimed. The gospel of N., e.g. is the good news as N. announced it, and St. Paul’s gospel is the message brought by the Apostle in his preaching. As long as oral teaching and exhortation could be had from eye-witnesses and intimates of our Lord’s ministry, ‘gospel’ was reserved for this testimony; accordingly, the Apostle John (1 John 1:1) writes, ὁ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωπάκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χαῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν, περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς, ‘that which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with out eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life.’ These are the credentials of his message, and the persuasion of it to the hearts of his hearers. Among the early Christians these memories-ἀπομνημονεύματα-were most prized, and that word rather than εὐαγγέλιον was the primitive term for the gospel (cf. Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 1911, p. 44, with foot-note).

But as the eye-witnesses and their immediate successors passed away, believers had to fall back, perforce, upon a written record. The earliest certain use of the word in the modern sense is found in Justin Martyr (circa, about 150 a.d.)-‘The apostles in the memoirs written by themselves, which are called “Gospels” ’ (Apol. i. 66; cf. Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , and Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , s.v.).

The passage which rules the use of εὐαγγέλιον in the NT is Mark 1:14, ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τὸ εὐγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ (the gen. is both subj. and obj.; all aspects are included), ‘Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God.’

The word, probably, came into favour through the use by the Septuagint of the cognate εὐαγγελίζειν and εὐαγγελίζεσθαι in 2 Is. and in the Restoration-Psalms (cf. our Lord’s discourse [Luke 4:18] in the synagogue of Nazareth concerning the glad tidings of His Mission, based on Isaiah 61:1). But, while the term (noun and verb) is of fairly frequent occurrence in the Synoptics, it owes its predominance in apostolic Christianity to the Apostle of the Gentiles. ‘It evidently took a strong hold on the imagination of St. Paul in connexion with his own call to missionary labours (εὐαγγέλιον sixty times in Epp. Paul, besides in Epp. and Apoc. only twice; εὐαγγελίζεσθαι twenty tunes in Epp. Paul, besides once mid seven times pass.)’ (Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5, p. 5f.).

In Mark 1:1, ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χπιστοῦ, and Revelation 14:6, καὶ εἶδον ἄλλον ἄγγελονἔχοντα εὐαγγέλιον αἰώνιον εὐαγγελίσαι, we see the word in almost the transition stage between a spoken message and a book. Before the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, ‘gospel’ was the glad message of the Kingdom, brought and proclaimed by Himself and those whom He sent out to prepare the way before Him. But in Acts 20:24 ‘the gospel of the grace of God,’ Romans 1:1-3 ‘the gospel of God regarding His Son,’ and 2 Corinthians 4:4 ‘the gospel of the glory (manifested perfection) of Christ, the second stage is approached.

2. The content of the gospel.-As to the subject-matter of the apostolic gospel, one can scarcely say that the content varied; it was rather that the emphasis was changed. In his synagogue ministry to the Dispersion, St. Paul found the soil in some measure prepared. The παιδαγωγός had brought men so far that certain beliefs might be taken for granted as a foundation laid by the Spirit of Revelation in the OT Scriptures both legal and prophetic. This would rule the content of his gospel message to them. The case was different, however, in purely missionary and pioneer work, not only in rude places such as Lystra, but also among the more cultured, though equally pagan, populations in the great cities of the Empire, both in Asia and in Europe. The pioneer gospel, therefore, would have notes of its own. Then, again, after a district had been evangelized and churches planted, we can see how the emphasis of the message would change, us apostolic men, prophets and teachers, sought to lead the primitive Christian communities up to ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13; cf. Hebrews 6:1).

From 1 and 2 Thess. we may gather the content of St. Paul’s evangelistic gospel in his heathen mission. ‘Those simple, childlike Epistles to the Thessalonian Church are a kind of Christian primer’ (A. B. Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, p. 15ff.). From the address on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:30-31) we have further indications of the staple of his message to those outside. But, perhaps more succinctly and perfectly than anywhere else, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 we have the evangelistic Pauline gospel-‘for I delivered to you, among the most important things (ἐν πρώτοις), that which also I received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared unto Cephas; then to the twelve: then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the majority survive to this day, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles. And Inst of all, as to the one untimely born, he appeared to me also.’ This summary of the Christian Creed reveals what, to St. Paul, constituted the essential content of the gospel (cf. J. E. McFadyen, The Epistles to the Corinthians [Interpreter’s Com., 1911], p. 205ff.).

To this synopsis of his gospel St. Paul adds (1 Corinthians 15:11), ‘Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.’ In all essentials St. Paul stood on the same ground as the Twelve-St. Peter, St. James, and St. Paul were absolutely unanimous. Had it been otherwise, tine can hardly see how he could have won recognition among ‘the pillars’ or been accepted by the Church. His gospel was not a different (ἕτερος) gospel, though his rapidly changing spheres, and the pressing need of the occasion, may have shifted the accent. This he acknowledges when, speaking of the evangelical mission of the Church, he says (Galatians 2:7), ‘I had been entrusted with the gospel of (for) the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of (for) the circumcision.’ But it was the same gospel in alt its manifold adaptability. Therein no schism is the NT as to the content of the gospel message. The opinion that there is has been well called a ‘perversity of criticism.’ Thus (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , s.v.) the apostolic gospel may be defined as ‘the good tidings, coming from God, of salvation by His free favour through Christ.’ But as the ‘gospel’ of a church is to be sought not only in the message of its preachers, but also in its condensed creeds and in its hymns, there ought to be added to the above summary at least two splendid fragments that have the true liturgical ring about them:

(1) Christ exalted: 1 Timothy 3:16 (ὅς, not θεός, is the subject, Revised Version )-

ὅς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί,

ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι,

ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις,

ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν,

ἐπιστεύθη ἐη κόσμῳ,

ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ.

‘This fragment, in its grand lapidary style, is worthy to be placed by the side of the Apostles ‘Creed’ (Köhler, quoted by J. Strachan, Captivity and Pastoral Epistles [Westminster NT, 1910], p. 218f.).

(2) God glorified: 1 Timothy 6:15-16 -

ὁ μακἀριος καὶ μόνος δυνάστης,

ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν βασιλευόντων

καὶ κύριος τῶν κυριευόντων,

ὁ μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν,

φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον,

ὅν εἶδεν οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων

οὐδὲ ἰδεῖν δύναται.

ᾦ τιμὴ καὶ κρἀτος αἰώνιον.

3. The relation of the gospel to the Law.-Acts 13 records the opening of St. Paul’s official missionary Labours, and there (Acts 13:38-39) we have the first indication of the Pauline attitude to the Law. In his address in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, he generalizes the incident of Cornelius; ‘Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man (Jesus) is proclaimed unto yon remission of sins; and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.’

But Romans 7, with its logical conclusion in ch. 8, is the crucial passage for the understanding of the relations of Law and gospel in the life of St. Paul, and in that of the NT Church generally. It is the Apostle’s account of the struggle, ‘often baffled, sore battled,’ that filled the years before his conversion. He also was a rich young ruler troubled with the haunting question, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ For years he had struggled to put down sin in his own heart, to be righteous in the sight of God, passionately longing to have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, that in peace he might will his will and work his work. In this respect he is like his spiritual kinsmen, Luther and Bunyan. In some respects, St. Paul sharpened the antithesis between Law and grace to a point that was extreme, in that it did not take account of the prophetic element in the Old Testament which was not legal. Jeremiah , 2 Isaiah, and Hosea may be instanced.

But in his day, as a general rule, it was the legal aspect of the OT that held the thought of the Jewish people. Judaism knew but one answer to such questionings as St. Paul’s-‘Keep the law’; and if a man replied, ‘I cannot,’ the answer came back remorselessly: ‘Nevertheless, keep it.’ ‘Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all’ (James 2:10, Galatians 3:10).

As the Apostle looked back on the long, weary way ever which he had come, he found that he had travelled into ‘a dark and dreadful consciousness of sin and disaster’ (Rainy in The Evangelical Succession, p. 20). And this refers to the observance not of one part of the Law but of the whole; what appealed to the conscience of men everywhere, ceremonial Judaism, and the tradition of the elders-all that νόμος means is included.

‘All his experience, at whatever date, of the struggle of the natural man with temptation is here [ch. 7] gathered together and concentrated in a single portraiture. [But] we shall probably not be wrong in referring the main features of it especially to the period before his Conversion’ (Sanday-Headlam, op. cit. p. 186). But of course, as St. Paul presents it to the churches, it is his own experience universalized. There is no possibility of winning a standing before God by the Law-

‘For merit lives from man to man,

And not from man, O Lord, to Thee.’

He had discovered also that there was no life to be hoped for from the Law. Such had never been its intention. The ‘parenthesis’ of the Law had for its purpose to create the full knowledge of sin (διὰ νόμον ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), to produce in the conscience the conviction of it.

Moreover-such is the weakness of human nature-the Law tended to stir sin into dreadful activity, for every commandment seemed tit bring up a new crop of sins into his life.

But to the Law St. Paul held on as long as possible; his sudden conversion means as much. The Law was the one outlet to the hopes of Judaism; while to the patriotism of St. Paul Christianity seemed anti-national. Therefore he hung on till he could hold no longer-‘O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?’ (Romans 7:24). ‘Any true happiness, therefore, any true relief, must be sought elsewhere. And it was this happiness and relief which St. Paul sought and found in Christ. The last verse of Romans 7 marks the point at which the great harden which lay upon the conscience rolls away; and the next chapter begins with an uplifting of the heart in recovered peace and serenity; “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” ’ (Sanday-Headlam, op. cit. p. 189). He had found salvation by grace, redemption in Christ, and righteousness by faith and union with Him; ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from ‘the law of sin and of death’ (Romans 8:2). The very essence of St. Paul’s gospel is to be found in his conception of Christ’s relation to the condemning Law. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, because He stood condemned in their place, and took their condemnation upon Himself; therefore St. Paul is bold to say, ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13).

It is characteristic of his rebound and gladness of spirit that he, by pre-eminence in the NT, called his message the good news (εὐαγγέλλιον, and the discovery sent him out everywhere (‘Woe is me if I preach not the gospel’) to the multitudes of burdened souls, who wore held, as he had once been held, in this strange captivity. Through all his letters, the contrast between Law and gospel as mutually exclusive is developed in the antitheses, law and faith, works and grace, wages and free gift-‘Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace’ (Galatians 5:4). In the Third, the Pauline, Gospel, we have our Lord’s story of the two debtors, both of whom, when they had nothing to pay, were frankly forgiven. In the days before his conversion, St. Paul had been painfully trying to pay that debt. Brought to the knowledge that he had nothing wherewith to pay, he made the great discovery that Christ had paid the debt and set him free. And, as he who has been forgiven much will love much, therefore evangelical love burned in St. Paul’s heart, as perhaps never in the heart of man besides, to the ‘Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’

Though the idea of the Law in the Epistle to the Hebrews is so different that it is impossible for Gal. and Heb to have come from the same pen, yet the contrast between the Law and the gospel is ‘without doubt identical with that of St. Paul, although the writer of Hebrews possibly reached that position by a different road’ (A. B. Davidson, Hebrews [Hand books for Bible Classes], p. 19). Both writers hold that Christ is the end of the Law to every one that believeth, and through Him is the Atonement made once for all. but inasmuch as the question between Jews and Gentiles had in the days of Hebrews passed beyond the stage of keen controversy, and a free gospel was preached everywhere, the writer did not feel it needful to develop the contrasts between Law and gospel in the Pauline manner. Yet ‘the ceremonial observances are in themselves worthless (Hebrews 7:18; Hebrews 10:1-4); they were meant to be nothing more than temporary (Hebrews 9:8-10; Hebrews 8:13); for God Himself in OT Scripture has abrogated them (Hebrews 7:18; Hebrews 10:9); and the believing Hebrews are exhorted to sever all connection with their countrymen still practising them (Hebrews 13:13)’ (A. B. Davidson, op. cit. p. 19). When the Sun has risen, all other lights pale and fade. The substance has come, the shadow disappears.

It has already been pointed out that there is no sufficient reason for assuming a schism re Law and Faith in the apostolic writings. St. Paul stood on substantially the same ground as the Twelve; his recognition by them (Galatians 2:2-10), and much more his acceptance by the Church, imply as much. Nor is there on a fair and careful interpretation any antagonism between the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle of James. The question turns on the meaning of πίστις. St. James is not denouncing the Pauline πίστις, but the caricature of it in a narrow Judaism, which has reduced this noble faculty of the soul to the mere intellectual acceptance of a dogma-a fides informis, ethically fruitless-a faith without works (James 2:26). St. Paul, on the other hand, thinks of a fides formata, ‘faith which worketh by love’ (Galatians 5:6). Words mean different things to different men. To St. Paul ‘works’ moan ἔργα νόμου, while to St. James they correspond to what St. Paul calls ‘the fruits of the Spirit. Thus, ‘so far as the Christian praxis of religion is concerned, James and Paul are a tone, but each lays the emphasis on different syllables ‘(Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 465). It is nothing strange that both go to the story of Abraham (Genesis 15:6) for an apposite example, for it has been pointed out (Lightfoot, Gal.5, 1876, p. 157) that this passage was a stock subject of discussion in the Jewish schools and in Philo. St. Paul, quoting Genesis, affirms that the initial act for which Abraham was accepted in the sight of God was his faith; and St. James, thinking more of Genesis 22:12 than of Genesis 15:6, says that his faith was made clear, ‘seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.’ ‘Faith alone justifies, though the faith which justifies does not remain alone.’ Thus we read (Titus 3:8), ‘I will that thou affirm confidently to the end that they which have believed God may be careful to maintain good works’ (cf. the Scots Paraphrase [56], ‘Thus faith approves itself sincere, by active virtue crowned’). But white all real opposition between the apostles (whatever may be the temporal relation between Romans and James) may be disallowed, it need not be denied that the formal differences which appear in the Epistles may well have risen from the extremities to which the controversy was pushed in the different schools of thought in the Church (paulinior ipso Paulo). The Apostle was not oblivious of misinterpretation (Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15), and the school of St. James doubtless had those who carried their master’s doctrine to extreme lengths. But in the balance of Holy Scripture, the truths of which St. James and St. Paul are protagonists are not contradictories, but safe and necessary supplementaries in the body of Christian doctrine. (For the relation between the doctrines of St. Paul and St. James re the Law and Faith, reference may be made to Romans 5 [International Critical Commentary ], p. 102ff.; James [Cambridge Bible, 1878], p. 76ff.; The General Epistles [Century Bible, 1901], p. 163ff.; Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 465.)

Literature.-Sanday-Headlam, Roman5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902), pp. 184-189); J. Denney, Studies in Theology, 1894, p. 100ff., ‘Romans’ in Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1900, p. 632ff., also art [Note: rt article.] ‘Law’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; R. Rainy in The Evangelical Succession (Lects. in St. George’s Free Church, Edinburgh), 1882, p. 20ff.; A. B. Bruce, The Kingdom of God4, 1891, pp. 63-84, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, 1894, p. 293ff.; Expository Times vii. [1895-96] 297f., xii. [1900-01] 482b, xxi. [1909-10] 497f. For the Law in Hebrews, see A. S. Peake, Hebrews (Century Bible, 1902). p. 30ff.

W. M. Grant.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gospel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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