In the Greek New Testament, the noun euangelion (“gospel”) appears over seventy times and in many contexts. In one sense, the gospel is about the whole New Testament message, but there are other more specialized uses of the word among the New Testament writers. The apostle Paul uses the word more than three times as often as all the other New Testament authors combined, and most of the other occurrences are found in Matthew and Mark, with a few instances elsewhere.
The first four books of the New Testament show us that the gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus by stating that it is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV), or as the NIV translates it, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” This clearly shows that a major focus of the gospel is the complete story of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection.
But Mark also shows that there is more to the gospel. Later is his first chapter he tells us that Jesus himself began “proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14) – and we are told specifically what that gospel was: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 NIV) or, as the ESV has it, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” So the gospel – as preached by Jesus himself – involved the good news about the kingdom of God and also the admonition to repent and believe.
When we turn to the epistles of Paul, we find other definitions of the gospel. In his letter to the Romans Paul introduced himself as: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-4). Here, Paul stresses the fact that Jesus is the Son of God through his resurrection, but he also looks backward in time and includes the Old Testament prophecies about the Son of David that were to be fulfilled by Jesus. In his first letter to Timothy Paul looks at the gospel a different way, as “the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted,” and he specifies what that gospel is: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …” (1 Timothy 1:11, 15).
Many today claim that Paul changed the gospel of the kingdom of God, as taught by Jesus, to a gospel about Jesus. If we were to read some of the things Paul says in isolation, we might think that, but Paul did not change the gospel, as we have shown in another of our articles (which you can read here). We need only turn, for example, to 2 Corinthians 11:4 where Paul specifically warned against those who taught another Jesus or another gospel – proving that for Paul the gospel was not only about Jesus, but also included additional material.
And Paul is not the final biblical writer to speak about the gospel. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John tells us: “Then I saw another angel flying overhead, with the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. And he said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the One who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and the springs of waters’” (Revelation 14:6–7). Here we see the gospel being defined as a message to fear and worship God.
Putting these separate strands together, we see that during his ministry Jesus preached the part of the gospel that focused on the kingdom of God, and that he largely kept his own identity hidden, except to his disciples (Matthew 16:20; etc). After his resurrection, however, we find “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), but he also stressed to them that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8). In other words, after the resurrection of Jesus, and according to Jesus himself – the gospel was both the good news about the kingdom of God and also the good news about Jesus himself and how he had instituted the fulfillment of the kingdom and made it possible for people to be a part of it.
In conclusion we can see that the word gospel can refer to a lot of things in the Bible. Sometimes it refers broadly to all the New Testament fulfillment of what was promised in the Old Testament. Sometimes it refers to the details of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes it focuses on the saving work of Jesus, while at other times it looks more specifically at the kingdom of God and how Jesus both instituted and made the kingdom possible. Finally, it can be a general message from God to humankind reminding us to fear and worship him for our own benefit and blessing. But either directly or indirectly Jesus Christ plays a role in all these forms of the gospel message, and in every case – however the word is used – the gospel is, indeed, good news!