What does the word Gospel mean? The Answer is Complicated


Written by Keith Long, MDiv

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Date written: 18 Sep 2022


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

What does the word Gospel mean?

“I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.”  Have you ever said this or been on the receiving end of a statement like this?

I sure have and I’m the type of person who typically likes to hear the bad news first in hopes that the good news will cancel out or help me endure the bad news more easily. The method hasn’t failed me yet.

The word gospel means good news – but it’s a complicated word with a deep history. So let’s explore it now for greater understanding. 

What does the word gospel mean

Good News Never Goes Out of Style 

All of this talk of good news resurfaced an interesting memory from 2020. As we all know this 12-month period was a disaster. The bad news was torturously ubiquitous because of covid and the quarantine. Yet in the shadows of this negativity, a YouTube show called “Some Good Newsgarnered over 72 million views and 2,500,000 subscribers in just two months’ time!

Actor John Krasinski hosted the show from his home in Brooklyn and blew people out of the water with his unexpected success. 

While Krasinski’s show may have demonstrated that “good news” never goes out of style – there was a much bigger success story involving good news….and that’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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There’s no denying Krasinski’s numbers were remarkable but his success pales in comparison to sales of the Bible. Did you know over 5 billion copies have been sold worldwide? Countless people have turned to “The Gospel” for inspiration and comfort in tough times for millennia…

….and the pandemic didn’t reduce interest in the good news of the bible.

“In all 181 million Americans opened their Bible in the past year—up 7.1% from the 169 million adults who did so in 2020, according to @americanbible.” 

But what did “good news” mean in the ancient world of the Bible? Let’s unpack the basics behind the religious word “Gospel”.

What Does the Word Gospel Mean In Greek?

Let’s check out the Gospel Etymology. In the Bible, Good News = Gospel. Gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion, which is a compound word made up of the Greek eu meaning “good” and angelia meaning “message.”

The “Good Message” according to the ancient Greek writers was that God acted decisively and permanently for the well-being of humankind through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and “raised” in the early part of the first century in Israel.

What Are the Gospels?

The story and message of Jesus are what Christians the world over refer to as “The Gospel” or “The Good News.”

This message was composed by four different authors who go by the first names: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first 4 books or documents, found in that order, make up the New Testament.

So how many gospels are there? 

There are four-fold testimonials that illustrate the importance of Jesus and his:

  • birth narrative
  • rise to prominence as a beloved rabbi
  • controversial teaching, and
  • resistance to the rabbinic law of his day

They also provide a detailed account of his last week alive, including his arrest, torture, and execution, plus various vignettes of him interacting with his followers after his miraculous resurrection post-crucifixion.

The Gospels tell the story of a child born around 4 BCE named Jesus, who lived in the Israeli village of Nazareth, which was roughly ninety miles north of Jerusalem.

These four accounts provide readers with insight into Jesus’s alleged actions, both the miraculous and the mundane. They also impart details about things he spoke into existence by way of his conversations, sermons, and prayers. 

Finally, the Gospels provide a guide to the events leading up to his tragic death by crucifixion and his wondrous resurrection and bodily reappearances to his closest followers three days after he was placed into a sealed tomb.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John cover a remarkably brief but transformative three-year record of the sayings and doing’s of Jesus and his followers. Moreover, for many Christians, the Good News is not limited to the words about Jesus in the Bible. For them, Jesus has become The Good News himself for he is Christ, or the “The Good News” in bodily form. 

As you can see gospel meaning is very important for Christians.

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Who was Jesus, really? Was he the Good News in bodily form or was he merely a special person? I think Jesus certainly qualified as Good News and is definitively a step or three above “special.”

According to each of the four Gospel writers, Jesus was Christ. The Greek translation of Christ is the Messiah. If you have any connection to Judaism whatsoever, then you know that messiah isn’t a word you ought to use flippantly.

This is no ordinary rags to riches or underdog tale. The Gospels are to Jesus what Moses is to the Torah.  A religious figurehead coming-out party gone viral, a highlight reel to end all highlight reels, a profound literary revelation.

For readers, the Gospels deftly “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”.  Accomplishing a total upheaval to Judaism, which was the religious system of Jesus’s day. The Gospels forge a new way of understanding the meaning of life and death, beginning with the man of the hour, Jesus the Christ.

Conclusion: WHAT DOES THE WORD GOSPEL MEAN?

Regardless of your experience with the New Testament’s stories of Jesus as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this ancient four-fold account is the kind of good news you expect when you hear those two words put side-by-side.

It is gracious and kind, generous and uplifting. But the longer I am a pastor, the more evident it becomes that The Gospels are so much more than what meets the eye when read only at face value. If one wants to truly experience the Good…Better…Best News – then pick up your mental shovel and start digging below the surface.

There, in the depths of historical criticism, authorship, intended audience, archaeology, etc, one just might discover what The Gospel has been holding back all these years. Revelatory and disruptive truths are intended to inspire deep, thought-provoking transformation. 

Real Transformation lies below the Surface

If you’re cool with a Gospel on par with the happy-go-lucky sunshine-inducing warm-blanket that made Krasinki’s YouTube show a sensation, then keep reading it on a level surface.

But if you’re here because you’re ready for something else, then enlist the guidance of a world-renown scholar such as Bart Ehrman. The bad news is that you will be filled with more knowledge than you think your brain can contain. The good news is that you won’t regret trying!  

Keith Long, MDiv

About the author

Keith Long has an MDiv from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and is the author of two books including "Doubting Faithfully: Confessions of a Skeptical Pastor." As a pastor and author, Keith pours his writing into messages intended to inform, inspire, and cultivate critical thinking among those interested in Jesus, the Bible, and early Christianity. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

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