How could I possibly ask such a dumb question? Here I am, writing what are supposed to be intelligent articles on the "New Testament Gospel" yet I am asking what the word gospel means. "Everybody" knows that the gospel is the good news!
I have a habit, though, of asking questions about things that "everybody" knows, especially things that "everybody" knows about the Bible. Anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to ask where the word "gospel" came from. So I asked Mr. W. E. Vine about it. Mr. G. Kittel and Mr. G. Friedrich were also reputed to know a great deal on such matters, so I consulted with them and some others also.
The actual Greek word from which we get "gospel" is εὐαγγέλιον - euangelion (pronounced yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on).
But how do we get from euangelion to "gospel"? Actually we get there via Northern Europe. The word "gospel" is of Anglo-Saxon origin, as is English. I was quite surprised and somewhat perplexed to learn that the literal Anglo-Saxon would originally have been "God's Spell" or "Good Spell". This is not of tremendous help in answering our question about the meaning of the word gospel.
The full meaning of euangelion in the original Greek is a reward given to one who brings good news of victory. In the ancient world, including Rome, messengers from victorious battle were honored - as heroes of the victory - with garlands, wreaths and even crowns. These honors were their euangelion for participating in the victorious battle or campaign.
W. E. Vine states that the word "originally denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward dropped, and the word stood for the news itself". One cannot help wonder how much later the idea of reward was dropped and why it was dropped. I suspect what we have here is a reflection of popular theological thinking as it has evolved through the centuries.
A look at the basic ideas included in a complete understanding of the word "gospel".
Again, the complete meaning of euangelion was a reward given to one who brings good news of victory.
Without good news there would be no euangelion. This establishes good news as the central idea here and no one can deny that there is an abundance of good news in Christ's gospel. But to think that good news is the entire meaning of the word gospel is incorrect. This understanding is good so far as it goes but does not go far enough to capture the complete idea.
In addition to the idea of good news euangelion involves a reward. We reflect for a moment on Mr. Vine's comment above; that this part of the original meaning was dropped. It is not difficult to guess why. The entire faith-only culture of Christendom is outraged at the idea that salvation is in any sense earned. And the idea of the gospel as a reward might be thought to imply this. Even so, Christ spoke of our reward at Mt 5:12, 6:4 and 10:41-42. Paul speaks of our reward at Co 3:24. Assurance that we will be rewarded for our faithfulness to the Lord - especially in times of trial - is good news.
Finally, the original meaning of euangelion instructs us concerning who this reward we have just spoken of is for. The reward is for those who bring the news of Christ's victory. To embrace the gospel is to share it. The New Testament scriptures know nothing of incognito Christians. As a matter of fact, Christ warned quite sternly that those who would not speak out for Him would forfeit all hope of any reward - Mt 10:32-33 & Mk 8:38.
Does the word "gospel" mean "good news"?
Yes, but this is only a part of the correct definition. There is more to say on this subject but that is enough for now.
I am, by God's Grace,
Rich In Christ