The word gospel is a modernization of the Old English gospel (or God-spell) meaning “good news.” The original Greek word is eu-angellos (Latin, evangelium), meaning “good message.”
Two unique facts about Christianity emerge from this word:
- Christianity is news: concrete facts, specific miraculous events that really happened and were seen in this spacetime world of ours. All other religions (except Judaism) are essentially universal truths, philosophies, moralities, laws, mysticisms, psychologies, rituals, or social systems – something abstract rather than concrete events.
- It’s good news. rightly understood, it is “tidings of great joy.” But in the modern world it’s often seen as bad news: as pessimistic, negative, threatening, and dehumanizing. That says a lot about the modern mind, but not Christianity.
We need to understand that the “gospel” refers to the news, the real events in which God’s plan of salvation was fulfilled, reported by the four books we know as the Gospels. This “gospel” was preached, believed, and lived for years before these books were written. This simple fact refutes the claim that Christianity essentially rests on the Bible (Sola Scriptura).
All four Gospels share common features in their structure:
- They center totally on Christ.
- They present Him as both human (Son of Man) and divine (Son of God).
- They present His work as both words (teachings) and deeds (miracles).
- They present Him as “Jesus”, that is, the Savior from sin, and “Christ” or Messiah (“promised one”).
- They begin no later than John the Baptist and end no earlier than the Resurrection.
- They are written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, John) or those who interviewed eyewitnesses (Mark, Luke).
How can we use the Gospels?
We can use the Gospels as the data for enquiring skeptics, providing historical evidence for the faith.
We can also use the Gospels are the primary devotional, meditational reading to deepen our faith as Christians. They are the place where we meet Christ.
Third, they are literary masterpieces. They take their rightful place among the classics of world literature. They need to be read with imagination and human sympathy and wonder as well as faith.
All three ways are legitimate, but not to be confused with each other.