The Original Gospel
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 7 October 2019; Revised 20 June 2020
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). This article contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
In Christianity the term "gospel" is used in two ways, first, of the four apostolic narratives of the life and ministry of Yeshua, and second, the message of God's grace and salvation proclaimed by Yeshua and his apostles. Concerning the former, "gospel" was not uniformly used to describe the apostolic narratives. Matthew uses Grk. biblos, "book" (Matt 1:1) and Mark uses Grk. euangelion, "good news" (Mark 1:1). Luke uses two terms, first Grk. diēgēsis, "narrative, account, or record" (Luke 1:1) and prōtos logos, "first account" in Acts 1:1. John uses Grk. marturia, "testimony" (John 19:35; 21:24) and biblion, "book" (John 20:30) to describe his historical narrative of Yeshua. The book of Acts is actually the continuation of Luke's narrative began in the "first book" (Acts 1:1).
Concerning "gospel" as a message of salvation Christianity has historically made it essentially propositional (e.g., Apostles' Creed), relying on the appeal of logic supported by biblical proof-texts (e.g., Four Spiritual Laws; Roman Road), or even confrontational, calling for self-assessment of one's readiness for death (e.g., Evangelism Explosion). The fundamental difference in the gospel of Christianity to the message proclaimed by the apostles no doubt owes to the influence of replacement theology with its denial of the relevance of God's covenantal promises to Israel.
In order to understand the content of the original "gospel," we will examine the terminology used by Yeshua and the apostles, and then review the content of the apostolic proclamation in the context of the different audiences.
Grk. euangelion: good news and more specifically the good news of the Messiah. Christian versions translate the term as "gospel," which many Jews regard as distinctively Christian. In the LXX euangelion renders besorah, which may mean either a reward for good news (2Sam 4:10) or glad tidings (2Sam 18:20, 22). The noun refers to the message of the deeds, death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah declared to first century audiences. The term occurs 76 times in the Besekh, always in reference to the message of the Kingdom of God and of Yeshua the Messiah. The noun occurs 12 times in the Synoptic Narratives, twice in Acts and 60 times in the letters of Paul, one time in Peter's first letter (4:17) and one time in Revelation (14:6).
Grk. euangelizō: from eś, "good, well" and angellō, "announce, herald," to announce or proclaim the good news of God's beneficial concern, specifically of a proclamation with focus on God's saving action in connection with Yeshua. In the LXX euangelizō stands for Heb. basar, to publish or bring news or a report, whether good or bad (DNTT 2:108-109). The verb occurs 54 times in the Besekh, of which 11 are in the Synoptic Narratives, 15 in Acts, 24 in the letters of Paul, 2 in Peter's first letter (1:25; 4:6), and 2 in Revelation (10:7; 14:6).
The focus of this verb from its first use in the nativity narratives (Luke 1:19; 2:10-11), next in the message of Yochanan the Immerser (Luke 3:18), and then by Yeshua who proclaimed the good news to the poor (Matt 11:5; Luke 4:18) was the arrival of the Kingdom of God in the person of Yeshua (Mark 1:1). In Acts the verb is used always in reference to proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.
Grk. kērugma: an important public announcement or proclamation. The technical term derives from kērux, which in Greece denoted a man commissioned by his ruler or the state to call out with a clear voice some item of news and so to make it known (DNTT 3:48). In striking contrast to Greek literature the noun kērux occurs only four times altogether in the LXX, and in three of these instances without a Hebrew equivalent. Of these only two are in the Tanakh (Gen 41:43; Dan 3:4). This is evidence that a figure comparable to the Grk. kērux was unknown in Israel, and that it would be inappropriate to describe the prophets in this way, since they spoke for God and not the king.
Similarly, kērugma occurs only four times in the LXX, each in reference to a separate kind of proclamation: (1) the edict of Hezekiah for all Israel to celebrate Passover (2Chr 30:5); (2) the cry of Wisdom (personifying God) to seek understanding (Prov 9:3); (3) the announcement of judgment against Nineveh (Jon 3:2) and (4) a decree by Ezra for all those who returned from captivity and had unlawfully taken pagan wives to come to Jerusalem for "civil" judgment (1Esdras 9:3; cf. Ezra 10:7).
Of interest is that kērugma occurs on the lips of Yeshua only in reference to the proclamation against Nineveh (Matt 12:41; para. Luke 11:42). The remaining occurrences of kērugma in the apostolic writings occur only in the letters of Paul to refer to apostolic proclamation in general (1Cor 1:21; 15:14), and especially his own public discourses of the good news (Rom 16:25; 1Cor 2:4; 2Tim 4:17; Titus 1:3).
Grk. kērussō: to make a public announcement in the manner of a herald, to proclaim. Christian versions often translate the verb as "preach." The verb occurs 65 times in the Besekh, almost always of a message calling people to repentance, preparation for the Kingdom of God, and trust in the saving deeds of Yeshua the Messiah.
The Good News for Different Audiences
Good News for Jews and Proselytes
The besorah ("good news") was first proclaimed to descendants of Jacob in Judea and Galilee by Yeshua himself (Matt 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:18; 4:18; 9:6). Yeshua presented his message of salvation and the Kingdom of God exclusively to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 10:6; 15:24). Before Yeshua ascended to heaven he directed his apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth where Jews dwelled. The apostles were faithful to this commission and proclaimed the Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people, whether traditional or Hellenistic, as well as proselytes, Gentile converts to Judaism. Elements of the Jewish besorah may be found in Peter's early sermons and testimonies in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-36; 3:11-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32) and Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41).
The promises of the Messiah God made to the fathers have now been fulfilled with the coming of Yeshua (Acts 2:30; 3:19, 24; 13:23, 32-33; 26:6-7, 22).
Yeshua conducted a ministry of doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God (Acts 2:22).
Yeshua was rejected by Israel's leaders (Acts 2:23; 3:13; 4:11; 7:52; 13:27-28).
Yeshua was crucified according to the purpose of God (Acts 2:23; 3:13-15, 18; 4:11; 13:28-29; 26:23).
God raised Yeshua from the dead and he appeared afterwards to his disciples (Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15, 26; 13:30-31; 26:23).
Yeshua was exalted to the right hand of God and given the name "Lord" (Acts 2:25-29, 33-36; 3:13; 5:31).
Yeshua gave the promised Holy Spirit to cleanse and empower his disciples (Acts 1:8; 2:14-18, 33, 38-39; 5:32; 15:8).
Yeshua will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21).
There is salvation in no one else, so all who hear the message should repent for the forgiveness of sins and be immersed (Acts 2:21, 38; 3:19; 5:31; 13:38; 26:18, 20).
Good News for God-Fearing Gentiles
The "God-fearer" was a Gentile who attached himself to Judaism but chose not to become a proselyte by circumcision and public immersion. The God-fearer loved the Jewish people, believed in and prayed to the God of Israel, attended synagogue worship, kept at least the moral code and other Jewish traditions in varying degrees, and gave aid in various forms to the Jews. The elements of the Good news for God-fearing Gentiles is set forth in Peter's sermon to Cornelius, the Roman centurion and his household. In the his case Peter's sermon indicates prior knowledge of Yeshua by Cornelius. See my commentary on Acts 10:34-43. These are Peter's key points:
● God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
● God proclaimed peace to the sons of Israel through Yeshua the Messiah, who is Lord of all.
● After the immersion ministry of John God anointed Yeshua of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
● The Jewish leaders condemned Yeshua and the Roman governor put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God resurrected Yeshua on the third day and granted that he become visible to witnesses chosen beforehand by God.
● Yeshua ordered us to proclaim the good news to the people, and to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.
● Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Yeshua receives forgiveness of sins.
● The one who believes and receives forgiveness must be immersed in the name of Yeshua.
Good News for Pagan Gentiles
Pagan Gentiles were people with no knowledge of the God of Israel and no knowledge of Judaism. Skarsaune calls them "raw Gentiles" (172). These Gentiles would be aware of Jews but would have had no interest in them. Yet, God intended that the good news of salvation through Yeshua be a light to non-Jews in the nations (Luke 2:32; Acts 9:15; 13:47). The good news for pagan Gentiles is set forth in Acts 14:15-17 and 17:22-31:
● The God who made the heavens and the earth and all things in them does not dwell in temples made with hands.
● The living God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.
● The living God has given to all people life and breath and all good things, including rains from heaven and fruitful seasons.
● The living God has always desired for people to seek Him, since He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist.
● The living God overlooked the past times of ignorance, but is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent.
● The living God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man, Yeshua of Nazareth, whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
For those who believed this message and wanted to know more the apostles would then provide background information on Yeshua as proclaimed to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Skarsaune: Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
For Further Study
Edith Schaeffer, Christianity is Jewish. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1977.
David Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians. Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1988, 2010.
Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989.
Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Brad H. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian. Hendrickson Pub., 1997.
Copyright © 2019-2020 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.