Author: Rachel Kidd
As an American Studies major, I read quite a few biographies of great people in college. I was inspired by the people who pioneered before, who left profound legacies of courage, creativity, passion, and leadership. Yet, each biography is different and is written from a perspective as distinct as the person who wrote it, even when the subject stays the same.
When researching one person, any good professor will tell you to read multiple biographies by different authors, maybe even written at different points in history for a more complete perspective. We all have biases and our own voice that comes across in writing, and the authors of the Gospel were no different. To better understand someone and their life’s work, it is best to have a complete picture from multiple perspectives. And this is what the Gospels provide, from the perspective of four of Jesus’ disciples, each with their own viewpoints and memories of the savior.
But unlike a biography we might read about say Abraham Lincoln, the Gospels are not so concerned with the early life of Jesus. They are centered around the final three years of His life and the good news that Jesus came and died for our sins. And this is the magnificent obsession, the root of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.
What are the Gospels?
During the era of the great early Christian philosopher Justin Martyr, circa 155 AD, the four books were referred to as the Gospels, plural rather than singular. They were as they are today, the first four books of the New Testament, consisting of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They have been trimmed and compiled according to their differing needs and theological emphases, but dedicated to the words and ministry of Jesus.
The Gospels are a distinct genre that separates them from other books of the bible. They are biographical accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, written by those who not only were eye-witnesses, but those who were closest to Him during his time on earth.
We find all of the teachings and words of Jesus in the four Gospels, each book with its differences and perspective depending on its author. There are 89 chapters in the four books of the Gospels, with 85 of these chapters dedicated to the last three years of the life of Jesus. Only a few center on His birth or the first 30 years of His life. Why is that so? Because the emphasis is on the good news, the fact that Jesus came to provide forgiveness for our sin and to reconcile us to God with his death and resurrection.
The word gospel is derived from the early Anglo-Saxon word godspell or “good story.” Translated from the original Greek, godspell was first the word euangelion, meaning “good tidings” or “good news.2”
Used throughout the bible from Old to New Testament, gospel or euangelion can vary in meaning depending on context. Within the Roman culture surrounding the glorification of emperors, euangelion took on a reverent, worshipful tone. Used often in the context of announcing the arrival of the emperor or succession of the throne, the word became associated with religion. In the New Testament world, the term often appeared in announcements of a victorious battle, or concerning a Roman emperor.
The inscription below is an example of such a use, describing Roman emperor Caesar Augustus as a savior, heralding his birth as the beginning of “good news [euangelia] to the world!” around 9 BC. Even his name references his divinity within Roman culture, meaning “revered one” and he was often called the “son of God.”
It eventually became a term for the good news about Jesus Christ, used throughout the Gospels. Mark alludes to the Roman cultural context in chapter 1 verse 1, opening the book with “the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Verses on the Gospel or Good News
In the Old Testament, “good news” sometimes referred to God’s deliverance of his people from the hands of their enemies, whether human or spiritual.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news . . . who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7 NIV
You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” Isaiah 40:9 NIV
Paul often used “good news” or euangelion in his letters to the church to describe the verbal proclamation of faith.
Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. 1 Thessalonians 1:5
The word is important, and demonstrates to us today how early Christians viewed the Gospel. By explicitly linking the birth and life of Jesus Christ to the reverence their peers had for Roman emperors like Caesar Augustus, the authors of the Gospels enumerate the significance of the text. They are telling us that the good news of Jesus is greater than any other story ever told, one that deserves the greatest reverence and bears shouting from the rooftops. They spend the Gospel focused, obsessed even on this good news, declaring that Jesus is the savior of the world.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”