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Why Foreign Missions? 20d. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 1: ‘Euangelizomai,’ and ‘Euangelion’

Why Foreign Missions? 20d. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 1: ‘Euangelizomai,’ and ‘Euangelion

The verb, ‘To proclaim good news’ (euangelizomai),[1] and the noun, ‘good news’ (euangelion),[2] could be used broadly or more specifically in Greek.  More specifically, the usage was in regard to announcing a victory, a communication of the gods, or some imperial event, such as the birth of a future emperor or his coming of age.[3]  Everett Ferguson draws attention to a 9 BC text celebrating the Emperor Augustus that uses the Greek word ‘euangelion’ to refer to the ‘good tidings’ of the benefits of his rule:

Since the Providence [Pronoia] which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life has set in most perfect order by giving to us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue [divine power] that he might benefit mankind, sending him as a Saviour [Sōtēr], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [phaneis] excelled even our anticipations], surpassing all previous benefactors [euergetai], and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he had done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good tidings [euangelion] that came by reason of him….[4]

Thus the early Church’s use of ‘gospel’ may have been heard by at least some in the audience in contrast to the Imperial Cult’s claims about its Emperor, its ‘Lord and Saviour.' 

Paul uses this verb and noun to describe his role in the Good News[5] (Rom. 1.15).  It is the activity of the one who proclaims (kērussō) (Gal. 2.2)[6] and who is sent (apostellō) (Rom. 10.15).[7]  He intends to evangelize where Christ's name was unknown (Rom. 15.20).  He is sent not to baptize but to evangelise (1 Cor. 1.17), which is his compulsion (1 Cor. 9.16, 18).  (The English word ‘evangelise’ comes from the Greek word, ‘euangelizō,’ meaning ‘I proclaim the good news.’)  Paul even sees himself as set apart from his mother's womb and called by God's grace to evangelise Christ among the nations (Gal. 1.16; Rom. 1.1; Eph. 3.8).  Emphasis may fall on the activity, preaching, or on the content, the Gospel, when Paul uses the term.  This is evident when he uses the verb and noun together: proclaim the Gospel (1 Cor. 15.1f; 2 Cor. 10.16).

The significance of the term can be seen in its use ‘to herald Yahweh's uni­versal victory over the world and his kingly rule’ (e.g., Pss. 40.9; 68.11; 96.2ff; Isa. 41.27; 52.7).[8]  The crucial meaning  of ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament comes from its usage in Isaiah.  Isaiah uses the verb six times in four verses.  Each is important for the early Christian message.

The first passage is Isaiah 40:9: ‘Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"’  This text appears at the beginning of the message that God was bringing exiled Israel out of captivity.  Is. 40.3 was taken by the early Church to refer to John the Baptist’s ministry.  Is. 40.9 announces God’s coming, reminiscent of Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God had drawn near (Mk. 1.15; Mt. 4.17; Lk. 10.9, 11).  The ‘Good News’ involves the coming of and the presence of God, which in turn means a redemption from exile for Israel.

The second passage is Isaiah 52:7: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."’  This text has similarities to Is. 40.9.  It is quoted by Paul in Rom. 10.15.

The third text is Isaiah 60:6: ‘A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They [the nations] shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.’  The Greek translation of this text has for the last words ‘they will proclaim the good news of the salvation of the Lord.’  This text is significant because it refers to the participation of the nations in the redemption that God would bring for Jacob (Israel) that had just been announced a few verses earlier (Is. 59.20-21).

The final text is Isaiah 61:1: ‘The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners….’  This is the text that Jesus quotes in his first sermon in Luke’s Gospel, the sermon that inaugurates Jesus’ ministry (Lk. 4.16ff; compare the beatitudes in Mt. 5.3ff).
We see from these verses, then, that Isaiah 40ff was programmatic for John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ministry.  We also see that Jesus’ message of the coming of the Kingdom of God is a message that is tied to the early Church’s proclamation of the ‘Gospel.’  Both proclamations announce God’s coming or bringing of salvation for Israel and extend this good news to the nations.  For the early Church, Jesus was the central figure in God’s mission of bringing this good news to Israel and the nations.  He who came proclaiming this good news of redemption and salvation in his message of the Kingdom of God also was the one who brought redemption for Israel and salvation for all nations through his sacrificial death on the cross, thus dealing with sin.  Thus the proclaimer of good news, Jesus, became the good news, the Gospel.

[1] Paul uses the verb in: Rom. 1.15; 10.15; 15.20; 1 Cor. 1.17; 9.16, 18; 15.1, 2; 2 Cor. 10.16; 11.7; Gal.1.8, 9, 11, 16, 23; 4.13; Eph. 2.17; 3.8; 1 Th. 3.6.
[2] Paul uses the noun in: Rom. 1.1, 9, 16; 2.16; 10.16; 11.28; 15.16, 19; 16.25; 1 Cor. 4.15; 9.12, 14, 18, 23; 15.1; 2 Cor. 2.12; 4.3, 4; 8.18;  9.13; 10.14; 11.4, 7; Gal. 1.6, 7, 11; 2.2, 5, 7, 14; Eph. 1.13; 3.6; 6.15, 19; Phl. 1.5, 7, 12, 16, 27;  2.22; 4.3, 15; Col. 1,5, 23; 1 Th.1.5; 2.2, 4, 8, 9; 3.2; 2 Th. 1.8; 2.14; 1 Tim. 1.11; 2 Tim. 1.8, 10; 2.8; Phlm. 13.
[3] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, pp. 56f.
[4] As quoted by +Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 46.  From W. Dittenberger, Orientis Graeci inscriptiones selectae (2 vols.; repr. Hildesheim, 1960) number 458.  Trans. A. D. Nock in Early Gentile Christianity in its Hellenistic Background (repr. New York, 1964), 37 (Essays, 79).
[5] The English word ‘Gospel’ is an old English word.  It is made up of two words, ‘good’ and ‘spell’ (meaning ‘tale’ or what someone says—‘news’).  The word is used for the ‘good news’ that the early Church proclaimed and believed.  It was also used of the biographical writings of the early Church about Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The use of the term for these writings originates from Mark’s use of the term in his first verse: ‘the beginning of the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mk. 1.1).  Here, ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ is understood as the content of the good news.  Since a Gospel writing explores this content through a biographical writing, the term ‘Gospel’ came to be applied to these writings.
[6]Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain’ (Gal. 2.2).  The Greek word ‘kērussō’ is often translated ‘I preach.’  ‘Preach’ has become a highly nuanced term, being associated with a Sunday morning sermon.  The general term, ‘proclaim,’ is better for English translations of the New Testament usage.
[7]And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom. 10.15).
[8] U. Becker, ‘Gospel,’ The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975-1978), 107‑115; here, p. 109.