The “Good News” of the New Testament by C. Clifton Black

Q. How would you explain in a scholarly fashion what is meant when we speak of "the good news"?

A. “The good news” (or “gospel” = “good spiel”) is a literal translation of the Greek word euangelion. New Testament authors use this term to mean the news of salvation, or liberation from sin, brokenness, and estrangement from God. God reveals this good news through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection (Mark 1:1; Rom 1:1-4), as in Matt 11:4-5: “Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’”

New Testament use of euangelion was likely derived from at least two cultural traditions. The term had acquired religious significance in the Roman Empire, chiefly in the cult of the emperor Augustus, whose appearance, accession to the throne, and decrees were propagandized as “glad tidings” or “gospels”: “[T]hrough his appearance Caesar has exceeded the hopes of all former good messages [euangelia]….for the world the birthday of the god [Caesar] was the beginning of his good messages [euangelion]” (excerpt from an inscription at the ancient Greek city of Priene, 9 B.C.E.).

Although none of the New Testament writers placed Jesus in direct opposition to Caesar, they remembered Jesus as preserving Jewish monotheism by differentiating Caesar from God (see Matt 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26). By adopting the imperial term euangelion, early Christians may have tacitly challenged Augustus’ claim to be a “savior” (Greek soter) whose divine providence had brought wars to an end. Instead they identified Jesus, even at his birth, as “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11; see also Luke 1:68-69, Luke 2:29-32).

Also underlying “the good news” in the New Testament is the tradition of the Septuagint, an early translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. There the term’s basic meaning is “glad tidings” (2Sam 18:27). “The good news” acquires a religious connotation for the sixth-century B.C.E. prophet Deutero-Isaiah, who proclaims “glad tidings” of Israel’s freedom from Babylonian captivity:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger

who announces peace,

who brings good news,

who announces salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

(Isa 52:7, also Isa 40:9)

 

Luke 4:16-19 quotes an abbreviated version of Isaiah 61:1-2a:

 

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

The text then presents its realization in Jesus: “Then [Jesus] began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:21; see also Acts 13:32).

Paul refers to the “good news” or “gospel” as something orally transmitted, typically “preached” (for example, Rom 1:15, Rom 10:15, Rom 15:20; 1Cor 1:17, 1Cor 9:16, 1Cor 15:1-2). At its simplest “the good news” is identified with “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (2Tim 2:8; see also Rom 15:16; 1Cor 1:17; Eph 3:6-7). Sometimes Paul refers to “the good news” as a dynamic event, the exercise of God’s power for human and cosmic restoration: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom 1:16; see also 1Thess 1:5; 2Tim 1:10). Early Christians believed that this “good news” is a norm for proper conduct (Gal 2:14; Phil 1:27), eliciting courage amid suffering (Mark 8:35; 1Thess 2:2) and requiring obedience (Heb 4:6; 1Pet 4:17). Its proclamation transcends time and space (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; 1Pet 1:12; Rev 14:6).

The New Testament narratives about Jesus are traditionally called “Gospels.” By the mid-second century C.E., Justin Martyr clearly uses the term euangelion to designate a literary genre: the form in which the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is narrated (1 Apology 55).

C. Clifton Black, "Good News of the New Testament", n.p. [cited 26 Mar 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/good-news-of-the-nt

Contributors

C. Clifton Black

C. Clifton Black
Professor, Princeton Theological Seminary

C. Clifton Black is the Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church. His books include Anatomy of the New Testament (7th ed., Fortress, 2013), Mark (Abingdon, 2011), and Reading Scripture with the Saints (Wipf & Stock, 2014).

The word “gospel” means “the good news” and is used throughout the New Testament and other early Christian writings to refer to the news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

Title designating an emperor of the Roman Empire.

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

Isaiah 40-66, or "Second Isaiah," so called because the author is different from and later than the author of Isaiah 1-39; sometimes also subdivided into Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55) and Trito-Isaiah ("Third Isaiah," chapters 56-66).

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A category or type, often of literary work.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Of or related to the written word, especially that which is considered literature; literary criticism is a interpretative method that has been adapted to biblical analysis.

Service or a religious vocation to help others.

A religious system characterized by belief in the existence of a single deity.

Mark 1:1

The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Rom 1:1-4

Salutation
1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the ... View more

Matt 11:4-5

4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead ar ... View more

Matt 22:15-22

The Question about Paying Taxes
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodi ... View more

Mark 12:13-17

The Question about Paying Taxes
13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.14And they came and said to him, “Teacher, ... View more

Luke 20:20-26

The Question about Paying Taxes
20So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to ... View more

Luke 2:11

11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Luke 1:68-69

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his ... View more

Luke 2:29-32

29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;30for my eyes have seen your salvation,31which you have prepared in the presence ... View more

2Sam 18:27

27The sentinel said, “I think the running of the first one is like the running of Ahimaaz son of Zadok.” The king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good t ... View more

Luke 4:21

21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Acts 13:32

32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors

Rom 1:15

15—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Rom 10:15

15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Rom 15:20

20Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else's foundation,

1Cor 1:17

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

1Cor 9:16

16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!

1Cor 15:1-2

The Resurrection of Christ
1Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also y ... View more

2Tim 2:8

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel,

Rom 15:16

16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctif ... View more

1Cor 1:17

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Eph 3:6-7

6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.7Of this gospel I have ... View more

Rom 1:16

The Power of the Gospel
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the G ... View more

1Thess 1:5

5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind o ... View more

2Tim 1:10

10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospe ... View more

Gal 2:14

14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Genti ... View more

Phil 1:27

27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are ... View more

Mark 8:35

35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

1Thess 2:2

2but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in sp ... View more

Heb 4:6

6Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,

1Pet 4:17

17For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Eph 1:13

13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy S ... View more

Col 1:5

5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel

1Pet 1:12

12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought y ... View more

Rev 14:6

The Messages of the Three Angels
6Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every natio ... View more

Rev 14:6

The Messages of the Three Angels
6Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every natio ... View more

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