Tag Archives: gospel

Exploring the gospel – Pope Benedict XVI Definition

6 Jun


Over the past few weeks and months I’ve realised how little I understand the gospel. The natural and simple question that came to mind this week is ‘what is the gospel?’

The word is used so often in Christian, and even non Christian circles that it’s true essence and meaning is deprived, leaving our understanding a little malnourished.

So, I have begun a voyage to explore the gospel somewhat further and therefore feed my malnourished understanding, hopefully making it a bit healthier.

Interestingly, after a little research, I found out that the word gospel in English originally derives its etymology from the Anglo-Saxon translation ‘godespell’ or ‘godspell’ being a compound of two differing words: god (God) and spell (tidings or story). Godspell was later translated to gospel and meant ‘the story concerning god’.

How fascinating? Well, I found it interesting anyway. The word gospel seems to have been lost in translation, and I wonder how much we really understand its meaning to be ‘the story of God’. When I think of the word ‘gospel’ I often imagine an evangelist preaching on a street corner ‘hell fire’ and ‘brimstone’, condemning people to the eternal bottomless pit of endless suffering. Or people shoving leaflets in my hand, bribing and blackmailing me with strange information about a God that doesn’t seem in touch with reality. How about the classic alter call? That surly connects in my mind to the word gospel – ‘put your hand up and receive Jesus into your heart’. I wonder if this is the gospel we hear about in Matthew’s writings, or the good news we read from Paul.

After a quick Google search for the word gospel (cheating I know), I found that Trevin Wax from the gospel coalition had compiled a long list of Christian definitions by persons such as N T Wright and John Piper.  After reading several excellent definitions, I came across, in my opinion, a fantastic elucidation of the gospel, unexpectedly through my naivety, written by Pope Benedict XVI:

“The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.

“When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.

“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

– Pope Benedict XVI, from Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47.

There is so much to comment on in this quotation; however I will try to keep it brief and point out a few misnomers concerning the current understanding of the gospel in contrast to the gospel the Pope describes:

1/ We have lost the magnitude of what is meant by the Greek word evangelion – the meaning of the word gospel has become so dull in our understanding that we know little of its power, being reduced to the ‘hellfire’ message we often hear in the street today. The magnitude and the audaciousness of the message led many to be persecuted and martyred. To defiantly declare to emperors someone else other than them was Lord and Saviour was most certainly not attractive. I wonder if I declare in God’s story through me that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the world.

2/ The gospel isn’t just information, its transformation – the gospel isn’t solely information giving, compelling leaflets and attractive church youth groups. The gospel is the power of salvation to those who believe. It is action, not through self righteousness but through the transforming act of the life, death and resurrection of the son of God.

3/ The gospel announces that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the world – though not wrong, the gospel is so much more than a commitment to Jesus at a meeting. It’s a declaration that Jesus is Lord, which the current rulers, leaders and governments who promise ‘peace and safety’, who announce the ‘hope of justice’, and guarantee ‘blessings for the poor’ can’t perform. Only in the story of Christ is there hope for the world.

A bit much for a Thursday evening, but suffice to say, I will continue on the journey to explore this gospel of which I haven’t even touched the surface. Come and join me in submitting to the word, and ask ‘what is the gospel?’