What is a Gospel?

What is a Gospel, and how does the meaning of the word prove that there’s more than one Gospel referred to in Scripture? As you may know, I was on AK Richardson’s YouTube show last month, and the introduction to the topic I gave near the beginning of the program explains this very well, so I thought I should share that with you here in order to help those who might need a refresher or who simply might not know the answer. The following is a slightly edited version of the introduction I gave on the show:

My belief is that there is more than one Gospel recorded in Scripture, and the first thing that’s helpful to understand about this topic is what it means to “rightly divide the word of truth.” If you look up each time the phrase “the word of truth” or “the word of the truth” is used in the Greek Scriptures, you’ll discover it’s actually a phrase that refers specifically to Good News about salvation rather than to the Bible as a whole, and this means it’s actually the Good News, or “the Gospel,” which has to be rightly divided. This also means that, while the word Gospel can be used in a more generic sense, to simply refer to “Good News” in a more general manner, the “Good News” as it relates to salvation still has to be rightly divided into a minimum of two Gospels, according to Paul.

Before I get into the details of that, however, we do need to understand what, exactly, the word “Gospel” even means. This might seem unnecessary, but it’s important to really look into the meaning of the word in order to truly understand what Scripture says about the topic. As many of you likely already know, the Greek word euaggelion, which is often translated as “Gospel,” literally means “Good News,” “Glad Tidings,” or “Well Message.” What some of you might not have considered, however, is just what this tells us. Knowing that a Gospel is Good News, or a Well Message, is all well and good, but what does Good News, or Well Message, really even mean? Well, the first part is pretty self-evident: it simply means that the message, or news, is positive in nature. But what about the meaning of the word “message,” or “news,” itself? This is also important to consider. So “news,” or “a message,” at least when spoken or written down, is simply a series of specific words which, when laid out in a specific order, conveys specific information about a specific subject, and so Good News, aka a Well Message, aka a Gospel, would be specific information about a subject which is positive in nature, made up of specific words laid out in a specific order. This means that, if you have another set of specific words which, when laid out in their own specific order, convey some other sort of specific information about that subject, you can’t say that you have the same message or news, even if both sets of news are positive in nature. Because they’re conveying different pieces of information about a subject, it means they are, by definition, different messages, which means they’re different Gospels, since a Gospel is simply “a message” (the fact that it also happens to be positive being less relevant to this particular discussion than the fact that it’s a message is, since just because two different messages are both good, or even about the same Person, doesn’t automatically make them the same message).

Now, just as an example we can all relate to, let’s say we have a pizza that’s half pepperoni and half vegetarian. As a whole, it’s called a pizza, and yet, if you divide it in half, while each half is still called pizza, each half is now also its own pizza in its own right, with one half now being called the pepperoni pizza and the other half now being called the vegetarian pizza, and the fact that the two resulting pizzas have a number of different ingredients from one another is extremely important. Especially if you happen to be a vegetarian.

Likewise, when you rightly divide the Gospel, each portion is still a Gospel, but they’ll each have distinct names and ingredients, so to speak, from one another, just like the two pizzas we ended up with do. And, just as someone who eats the vegetarian pizza will experience somewhat different biological results from someone who eats the pepperoni pizza, someone who “eats” — or follows — one of these specific messages will experience somewhat different spiritual results from what the results that someone who “eats” — or follows — the other half will experience as well.

But what are these two Gospels? Well, the first is the message which Jesus and His disciples preached while He walked the earth, and is often called the Gospel of the Kingdom. This particular message consisted of specific words, and those word were, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” And, had Israel as a whole done what was required of them, meaning repented and believed what this message meant — which was that Jesus is the Messiah Israel had been waiting for, as well as that He’s the Son of God, as John 20:31 explains — the kingdom would indeed have come fully into effect on earth shortly thereafter. And while this message had to be believed by basically all of Israel in order for the kingdom to come fully into effect on earth at that time, which will happen at some point in the future, one could still be saved as an individual and get to live — and possibly even reign — in Israel during the impending eons when the kingdom finally does come fully into effect on earth, if they happened to believe what the words in this particular message meant, and then followed that faith up with water baptism and other good works if possible — which, to put things extremely simply, is what salvation under this Gospel primarily referred to. But all this is to say, this specific message was about the identity of Jesus, as the Messiah and as the Son of God.

And while Paul did preach the Kingdom message at times, as we see in the books of Acts, he also preached a second message, which he called “my Gospel,” which is why we now often refer to this message as “Paul’s Gospel,” and he explained in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 that this specific message, which he said is the specific message that his audience was saved by when they believed it, was simply a series of specific words which explained that, “Christ died for our sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day.” And, just as with the Kingdom message, if someone truly understands and believes what the specific order of specific words in this particular message means, they’ll get that special salvation Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 4:10, which includes experiencing the salvation this Gospel is connected with earlier than everyone else will, as well as reigning among the celestials in the heavens during the impending eons.

Of course, the salvation those who believe these specific messages get to experience is referring to salvation from a relative perspective, since salvation from an absolute perspective involves the salvation — meaning the eventual immortality and sinlessness — of all humanity because of what Paul’s specific message means (which is basically that, even as, because of what Adam did, all humans are mortal, thus also, because of what Christ did, all humans will be made immortal, although each in their own order — 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 23), but that’s a whole other discussion for another time. In the meantime, the important difference to note here, aside from the difference between the terrestrial destiny of the Israel of God and the celestial destiny of the body of Christ, is that this specific message is about the work of Jesus, meaning about what He accomplished through His death, entombment, and resurrection, rather than about His identity, as the first message was about.

Now, to wrap this up, yes, these two distinct messages can be said to be a part of a more general “Good News about Jesus Christ,” as Mark 1 may have been referring to it as, and perhaps even as “the Good News of God,” as Paul might have been referring to it in Romans 1 as — depending on what the best interpretation of those passages happens to be — but at the end of the day, while both messages involve believing specific information about Jesus, because the specific words in the two different messages that were preached were laid out in two different orders, and both conveyed different sets of specific information about Him, because of the definition of the word “message,” we just can’t say they’re the same message, which means we can’t say they’re the same Gospel, since a Gospel is simply a message. And this is okay, because the more general “Good News” that includes everything good about Jesus still has to be rightly divided, and we know that people got saved when they believed what just the specific words in the specific message they heard meant anyway, particularly the first group, since they didn’t even understand that Jesus was going to die before it happened, as the audience of Paul’s message had to believe.

I should also point out that, even if we were to ignore everything I just said altogether, anyone who studies Scripture carefully actually already believe there’s more than one Gospel in Scripture — even if they don’t realize they do. I say this because, in Luke 1, we’re told that the message Gabriel gave Zacharias about the birth of John the Baptist was called a Gospel, and unless that’s a part of the larger, all-encompassing Gospel which those who disagree with my position believe we can be saved by believing, I’m assuming they don’t think we have to believe anything about, or even know about, John the Baptist’s birth in order to be saved, so right off the bat we already have multiple Gospels in the Bible even before we get to the Gospels that one believes when they’re saved. So, with that in mind, not only do we know there is more than one Gospel in the Bible, we also know that there are at least two distinct sets of information that two different sets of audiences heard and were saved by when they believed what those specific orders of words meant, meaning when they believed the specific message, or Gospel, they’d been told.