Sunday, April 22, 2007

What does "gospel" mean in the Scriptures?

Consider Romans 1:15-16:

"So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (NASB)

I have been struggling with several questions related to the meaning of the term "gospel" as it is used in Scripture. My primary question is:

Does the meaning of the term "gospel" change slightly depending on the context?

The Romans passage quoted above is a good example because it is a place where there could be a change in nuance from the first usage to the second with the one being in close proximity to the other. In the first, it sounds as though Paul is talking about a verbal account of the story of Christ and His role in the greater plan of salvation as designed and implemented by God from the creation of the world through the eschaton. Please don't read too much into that last sentence. I simply mean a verbal account of the way of salvation that could be as detailed as it is given in Scripture from Genesis through Revelation or as cursory as your average "Roman Road" presentation. What I'm really focusing on here is a vocalization or telling of the gospel to those who would hear.

In the second usage, however, I find it difficult to read the term in exactly same way as I do in the first. If I limit the second usage to a simple vocalization of the plan of salvation, I find myself asking, "Are the words that are coming out of my mouth really the power of God for salvation?" My mind wants to see the term differently in this sentence than it does in the first. I want to interpret the word in way that is more substantial (for lack of a better term) than a combination of fleeting vocalizations that are exiting from my face. When I say "substantial" I am referring to a meaning that points more toward the brute fact of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ; a fact that is the power of God for the salvation of those who would believe.

So I ask you, in verse 16, is Paul still referring to a simple telling of the gospel or is he talking about the concrete reality of God's plan of salvation as executed through Himself, Christ, and the Spirit? Perhaps I have created a false dilemma. Are there other options? What about other usages in Scripture? Your thoughts on this matter are welcome!


Lew A said...


Perhaps I am missing your question/dilemma. I see the words being used in the same way.

I do not think Paul is saying that the words coming out of his mouth is the power, but that the account is the power and that is why he reproduces the account in varying forms (including preaching).

God's Glory,

Skwirl said...

It's almost like you're saying that teaching math and math are two separate things. I would say that they are pointing to the same thing, but one is qualified as being a verbal expression by another word.

Gary Harris said...

Lew and Skwirl,

Both of you have made excellent points. They are so good in fact, that they have caused me to really look at this situation a different way. I believe that I am in agreement with you both on the notion that the words are being used in the same way in both places. I'm not sure that I agree with Lew's comment that "the account is the power," and I think this is where I've been struggling all along. I believe that a great many of us feel that the account is the power, but I'm thinking at this point that the account is just that, an account. It may be in one language or another; it may be more or less brief or accurate; but it's still a simple account with no power at all. I'm thinking that the gospel event is where the power lies. God's power to save comes through the reality that is Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. I'm referring to the temporal event, the very act of the God-man dieing on the cross, being buried in the tomb, and rising on the third day.

Suppose that the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ never actually occurred, and that someone made up a story very similar to, if not the same as, the one we tell when we evangelize. Would it have any power? No. The power does not come from the account but from the actuality or reality behind the account. I'm trying to say that I think that Paul may be using the word "gospel" in a much more concrete way than we normally use it. He may not be annexing it to a verbal account, but to the very act of atonement itself.

Now I'm wondering what difference it makes to recognize such a distinction.

What do you think?


Alan Knox said...


You said: "I'm thinking that the gospel event is where the power lies. God's power to save comes through the reality that is Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. I'm referring to the temporal event, the very act of the God-man dieing on the cross, being buried in the tomb, and rising on the third day."

I heard something similar recently when someone said that Paul was changed by the death, burial, and resurrection event. However, there is one problem. The temporal event itself happened before Paul was converted or changed. The temporal event itself cannot be the power, otherwise that power should be effectual to all. There is something else related to the temporal event that is actually the power.

Certainly, proclamation of the event is important as well. But, again, the power is not in the proclamation of the event either. Otherwise, all who heard the procalmation would be converted. This does not happen either.

It seems that the power is the Spirit working through the proclamation of the temporal event. I think Paul uses "power" in a similar sense in 1 Cor. 2:4-5 - "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

And, perhaps more in the context of Romans 1:16, I think Paul also uses "power" in the sense of the working of the Spirit in Romans 1:4-5 - "[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace..."

Perhaps this is obvious... but I've been thinking about this and wanted to add this to the discussion.


Lew A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lew A said...


I agree. I do not know what I was thinking when I wrote that comment, but before I had fully read your reply I instantly thought to myself that I did not at all mean the recounting of the account but the actual event itself.


I'm not sure that I agree - I still have to think about it. But if you think of power as a battery, the battery by itself does not do anything. You have to put the battery inside of say a remote control for the battery to provide power to the remote. Similarly one could say that the event is power - but it did not convert everyone at that moment because the power was not being used in that way at that time for that person.

This is obviously turning into much conjecture, but I think it may be plausible.

God's Glory,