What Is “The Gospel”?

     …that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
     – Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

     …set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and 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 and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…
     – Paul, Romans 1:1-4

     Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.
          – Paul, 2 Timothy 2:8

     “The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
     – Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology (52)

     “To explain the gospel fully, it takes a combination of two perspectives—the global work of God to reconcile all things to Himself and the life, death, resurrection and future return of Jesus Christ. The combination of the two perspectives provides a more crisp, clear and lifelike expression of the story.
     The gospel is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the life, death, resurrection and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.”
     – The Village Church, What We Believe

     “Taken together we can infer from I Corinthians 15:3-5, Romans 1:1-4 and II Timothy 2:8, that the gospel is both about the person and work of Christ.
     God promised in the scriptures that He would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins, and through faith in Him and His work believers are reconciled to God.
     The new age has been launched and God has revealed His saving righteousness in the gospel so that He justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death.”

     “Rom. 1.3-4 announces the gospel, while Rom 3.21-27 unpacks how the gospel applies to the believer. So you do have two senses in which the gospel is first announced in the coordinates of redemptive-history and Jesus’ role in it, and then second how the salvation announced in the gospel is appropriated and applied to the believer.”

     “The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world. When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.”
     – N.T. Wright, The Justification Debate: A Primer
     “The idea of ‘good news,’ for which an older English word is ‘gospel,’ had two principal meanings for first-century Jews. First, with roots in Isaiah, it mean the news of YHWH’s long-awaited victory over evil and rescue of his people [see N.T. Wright’s Gospel and Theology in Galatians]. Second, it was used in the Roman world of the accession, or birthday, of the emperor. Since for Jesus and Paul the announcement of God’s inbreaking kingdom was both the fulfillment of prophecy and a challenge to the world’s present rulers, ‘gospel’ became an important shorthand for both the message of Jesus himself, and the apostolic message about him. Paul saw this message as itself the vehicle of God’s saving power (Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13).”
     – N.T. Wright, New Testament For Everyone (Glossary)

     Trevin Wax: Could you give us a brief definition of “the gospel”?
     “I could try taking a Pauline angle. When Paul talks about “the gospel,” he means “the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it.
     The reason that’s good news…In the Roman Empire, when a new emperor came to the throne, there’d obviously been a time of uncertainty. Somebody’s just died. Is there going to be chaos? Is society going to collapse? Are we going to have pirates ruling the seas? Are we going to have no food to eat? And the good news is, we have an emperor and his name is such and such. So, we’re going to have justice and peace and prosperity, and isn’t that great?!
     Now, of course, most people in the Roman Empire knew that was rubbish because it was just another old jumped-up aristocrat who was going to do the same as the other ones had done. But that was the rhetoric.
     Paul slices straight in with the Isaianic message: Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And
therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed.
     And in the middle of that, of course, it’s good news for you and me. But that’s the derivative from, or the corollary of the good news which is a message about Jesus that has a second-order effect on me and you and us. But the gospel is not itself about you are this sort of a person and this can happen to you. That’s the result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself.
     It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3-4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16-17 which says very clearly: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.” That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.
     When you announce that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the world, crucified and risen, you are simultaneously saying, “And you need to believe in him for your own present and eternal justification and salvation,” but also “this means that he is claiming the whole creation as his own and wants to renew and restore it and flood it with his justice and his love, and if you’re signing on to believe in him, you’ve got to be part of that project.” If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
     I once on a train was approached by a Japanese student who saw me reading a book about Jesus. He didn’t know much English. He said, “Can you tell me about Jesus?” I was about to get off the train. I simply told him (he didn’t know the story) that there was this man who was a Jew. He believed that God’s purposes to rescue the whole world were coming to fulfillment. He died to take the weight of evil upon himself. He rose to launch God’s project and to invite the whole world to join in with it and find it for themselves. How long did that take me? 35 seconds? That’s more or less it.”

     As I spent a good bit of my doctoral work focusing on Paul’s gospel in particular and the New Testament language of “gospel” in general…here are a few conclusions I came to:
     – The New Testament language of “gospel” (euangelion) most likely has its background in two settings: 1) the literary setting of Isaiah, in particular what scholars today call deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40:9-1152:7-1061:1-3), where “gospel” language refers to the “good news” of God’s coming reign on earth, bringing deliverance for God’s oppressed people and judgment on God’s enemies; and 2) the historical setting of first-century Roman Imperial propaganda, in which “gospel” language refers to the “good news” of the various emperors’ births, conquests, and the like (see e.g. Graham Stanton). When the New Testament authors refer to the “gospel” they are claiming that what God has done in Jesus is in continuity with the “gospel” promises of Isaiah and in contrast with the “gospel” claims of Rome.
     – While we need a “whole-NT theology” approach to describing the apostolic gospel, the first place we should look in determining what was the gospel of the earliest Christians is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Why start here? Because Paul here claims that this basic “gospel,” which is effective for salvation and is “of first importance,” is not just his gospel but is in fact the gospel preached by Peter, James, and all the apostles (see e.g. Jeffrey Peterson). What is this apostolic gospel? “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by Cephas and the Twelve.” This is surely just a summary and would have been expanded in various ways by Paul and other gospel preachers, but the most essential elements of the gospel are here: 1) Jesus, the “Christ” or Messiah who is the Davidic king who brings in God’s kingdom on earth (cf. Isaiah above); 2) Jesus’ death for human sins, bringing “atonement” or dealing with the problem of our sin; and 3) Jesus’ resurrection as a vindication by God and eschatological renewal—all in continuity with the Jewish Scriptures. Given Paul’s claims here regarding this gospel, I would suggest that, while these elements can certainly be explained further, if we subtract from them we will be denying the gospel, and if we add to them we risk distorting the gospel.
     – The rest of the New Testament confirms this basic portrait of the gospel. Everywhere you look, from the four Gospels to the Acts speeches to the various gospel summaries in the rest of the New Testament, the gospel is presented with these elements. The gospel is God’s Scripture-attested good news about 1) Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God, the one who brings about God’s reign of justice, peace, and life on earth, who 2) died to deal with the most basic enemy of God and humanity, our sin with its wide-ranging experience of death, and who 3) was vindicated by God through resurrection and exaltation to God’s presence.
     Saved by Jesus—in a creation-encompassing, Church-embodying, good news-ringing, sin- and death-defeating work of God by his Spirit through his crucified and resurrected Messiah.
     – Michael Pahl, Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?

     “I have suggested…that the similarity between the gospel according to Paul and the gospel according to the evangelists lies not in the equivalence of certain terms, such as ‘righteousness of God’ in Paul = ‘kingdom of God’ in the Synoptics. Similarly, I have not taken the approach of harmonizing Paul and the Gospels by, for example, arguing that Paul’s use of the language of ‘kingdom of God’ is much more significant in his though than is implied by the small number of references. Rather, the unity of their presentations of the gospel can be seen in the broad outlines of these three key themes: (1) the identity of Jesus as Messiah, (2) his work of atoning sacrifice and justification, and (3) his inauguration of a new dominion. These lie at the heart of the apostolic gospel.”

     “If someone asked me to define “the gospel” the way Paul would define the gospel, I would be inclined to state very simply that the gospel is this: “Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified for our sins, has been raised from the dead, and is the Lord of the world.”
     If someone asked me to share “the gospel,” then I would tell a longer story. Put quite simply, “the gospel” is not good news or bad news (or anything but puzzling news at all) unless it comes within an overarching narrative.
     I would start at Creation. I would mention the Fall of humans into sin and slavery to evil. I would tell the story of God’s chosen people Israel and the promises for deliverance and restoration. I would briefly tell the story of Jesus – culminating in his death and resurrection. I would proclaim “the gospel” of Jesus’ resurrection and lordship within this overarching narrative. Then, I would bring in the doctrine of justification, urging the person to trust solely in Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins and to become part of God’s people, people who are saved from God’s wrath and called to be agents for new creation in the world we live in.”
     – Trevin Wax, The Future of Justification Series (10)

     The Gospel Proper (The Announcement)
     The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).
     The Gospel’s Context (The Story of Scripture)
     The Bible tells us about God’s creation of a good world which was subjected to futility because of human sin. God gave the Law to reveal His holiness and our need for a perfect sacrifice, which is provided by the death of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus will one day return to this earth to judge the living and the dead and thus renew all things. The gospel story is the Scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and resurrection of Jesus at the center.
     The Gospel’s Purpose (The Community)
     The gospel births the church. We are shaped by the gospel into the kind of people who herald the grace of God and spread the news of Jesus Christ. God has commissioned the church to be the community that embodies the message of the gospel. Through our corporate life together, we “obey the gospel” by living according to the truth of the message that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of the world.
     All Together Now
     Put these three things together and we have a gospel-focused summary of the entire Bible (which we used for The Gospel Project):
     In the beginning, the all-powerful, personal God created the universe. This God created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence, in humble submission to His gracious authority. But all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, must suffer the punishment of our rebellion: physical death and the wrath of God.
     Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, which began with His choosing the nation of Israel to display His glory in a fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But God’s people – like all of us – failed to rightly reflect the glory of God.
     Then, in the fullness of time, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself came to renew the world and restore His people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the law given to Israel. Though innocent, He suffered the consequences of human rebellion by His death on a cross. But three days later, God raised Him from the dead.
     Now the church of Jesus Christ has been commissioned by God to take the news of Christ’s work to the world. Empowered by God’s Spirit, the church calls all people everywhere to repent of sin and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. Repentance and faith restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.
     The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return to this earth as the conquering King. Only those who live in repentant faith in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same to all of us: repent and believe, before it is too late. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.
     – Trevin Wax, Gospel Definitions: Trevin Wax
     – Trevin Wax, The Gospel as a Three-Legged Stool
     – Trevin Wax, Don’t Replace the “Substitute”
     – Trevin Wax, 3 Ways of Defining the Gospel
     – Trevin Wax, Holy Subversion

     – Trevin Wax, Gospel Definitions

     – Justin Taylor, What is the Gospel?
     – Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?
     – D.A. Carson, Eight Summarizing Words on the Gospel