Word Study #71 — Pleasure / Pleasing

September 29, 2010

The impetus for this study was one of my favorites among “contemporary” Scripture-based songs of praise, “Thou Art Worthy!” It quotes the traditional translation of Rv.4:11, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created!” I love the concept: all of creation –including us! – existing solely for the pleasure of its Creator!
I was startled to discover, however, that the translation itself is incorrect. The quoted passage uses none of the words usually rendered “pleasure”, but is the only place in the New Testament where thelema, “will”, is translated that way. A correct translation would substitute the “means” or “agency” understanding of the preposition dia (through) for the commonly assumed “purpose” construction. Either of these can be valid on occasion. Please see similar uses of dia in Heb.2:10, and the translation notes associated there. The result would read, “through your will they exist, and were created.”
I still like the song and its message, though!

Even though it doesn’t occur where I expected / wanted it, there are nevertheless helpful things to be gained from the study of the word “pleasure.” It includes three basic “families” of words: one, eudokeo, which is usually positive in its associations; one, aresko, often negative, but occasionally positive, and entirely positive in its prefixed form, euaresteo / euarestos; and one uniformly negative, hedone; along with two more, spatalao and truphao, which are used only once each, both describing wanton, irresponsible indulgence in luxury (I Tim.5:6 and Jas.5:5).

Eudokeo usually expresses the perspective of the person or group that is pleased, content, happy, or in agreement with a situation or decision. It combines the prefix eu- (well, good, or favorable) with the common verb dokeo (to think, to seem, to have an opinion). It is used in quoting the voice of God’s approval of the Lord Jesus on the occasions of his baptism (Mt.3:17, Mk.1:11, Lk.3:22) and his transfiguration (Mt.17:5 and II Pet.1:17), although it is also used (with a negative) of God’s disapproval of those who complained in the desert (I Cor.10:5) and of the offerings under the old covenant (Heb.10:6,8,38).
Paul uses it to express his own desire to share with the Thessalonian group not only the Christian message, but his own life as well (I Thes.2:8), and his wish “to depart and be with Christ” (II Cor.5:8), as well as II Cor.12:10, where he speaks of “taking pleasure” even in his own weakness, because of the opportunity thus provided to experience the power of God. He applies the same term to the Macedonian and Asian congregations’ decision to send famine relief to Judea (Rom.15:26,27), and also to God’s pleasure (I Cor.1:21) to redeem the faithful by his message, (Gal.1:5) to reveal the Lord Jesus to Paul, and (Col.1:19) that all of God’s own completeness should have its permanent residence in the person of Jesus!
Jesus himself spoke of the Father’s pleasure (Lk.12:32) in giving his own Kingdom to his worried but faithful followers!
The noun form, eudokia, equates God’s pleasure with his will (Eph.1:5,9; Phil.2:13, II Thes.1:11). When the prefix sun- (with) is added, the resulting word means simple consent or agreement, whether for good (I Cor.7:12,13) or ill (Lk.11:48, Ac.8:1, 22:20, Rom.1:32).

Aresko, on the other hand, is much more mixed, frequently expressing the perspective of the one trying to please another. It ranges from Salome “pleasing” Herod (Mt.14:6, Mk.6:22) and Herod’s brutality “pleasing” the Jews (Ac.12:3) to admonitions toward “pleasing” the Lord (I Cor.7:33, I Thes.2:4,4:1; Col.1:10, II Tim.2:4, I Jn.3:22, Jn.8:29). “Pleasing people” can be either an effort to bring them to faithfulness (Rom.15:2, I Cor.10:33) or evidence of unfaithfulness (Rom.15:1, 15:3; Gal.1:10, I Thes.2:4, 2:15).
A similar, slightly related word, arkeo, refers more to contentment arising from sufficiency or satisfaction, especially in the passive voice, which occurs in half of its New Testament uses (Lk.3:14, I Tim.6:8, Heb.13:5, III Jn.10). This is not nearly as strong a word as aresko, but carries a similar idea.

There is nothing ambiguous, however, about hedone (English cognate – hedonism). Luke (8:14) lists it along with “cares and riches” as a deterrent to faithful living; Paul warns Titus (3:3) against serving “lusts [unwholesome longings] and pleasures”. Peter describes (II Pet.2:13) markedly unholy behavior. James (4:1,3) pinpoints it as a basic cause of warfare and strife.
Perhaps the greatest clarity may be seen in yet another word, only used twice in the New Testament: apolausis – pleasure, enjoyment, advantage, benefit. (English cognate, “applause”!) In I Tim.6:17, Paul reminds his young assistant to focus not on “uncertain riches” (see next post), but “on God, who richly provides us with everything for our benefit [enjoyment]!”
In contrast, the writer to the Hebrews (11:25) commends Moses for refusing “to temporarily have [enjoy] the benefit of copping out” (traditionally, “to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.”) Both the gracious provision of God and the careless denial of his ways are represented by the same word. The difference is one’s focus.

Careful attention to focus can enable discernment whether “pleasure / enjoyment” is a gift to be gratefully received or a trap to be avoided. Ascetic renunciation of all things deemed “pleasurable” is as much a denial of the graciousness of God as is mindless pursuit of “pleasure”. The pertinent question is, whose pleasure?
Any loving father (heavenly or earthly!) takes pleasure in seeing his children enjoy his good gifts. And that pleasure is multiplied when the gift is received with wide-eyed wonder and a delighted hug of thanks, and treasured precisely because it came from the father!  Such “pleasure” – on either side – need cause no apprehension regarding faithfulness.
The “pleasure” which is severely critiqued by James (4:1,3; 5:5) , Paul (I Tim.5:6, Tit.3:3), and Peter (II Pet.2:13), as well as the Lord Jesus himself (Lk.8:14), is self-centered, self-gratifying, and certainly to be avoided.
But, as always, the remedy is prescribed just as clearly as the problem: seeking the “good pleasure” (eudokia) of the will of the loving Father (Eph.1:5, 1:9; II Thes.1:11), who has himself provided both the motivation and the ability to do so (Phil.2:13) : “For God is the one who is working among you all, (to enable you) both to desire and to work for his pleasure!”
As brother Paul put it, (Rom.5:11), “Not only that (speaking of our reconciliation), but we are also thoroughly enjoying God, because of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Thanks be to God!


Word Study #70 — Peace

September 23, 2010

Of all the aphorisms glibly quoted about what “Peace is…..”, I have never heard the one that would best describe its contribution to the New Testament message: Peace is practical! A faithful person does not stop at “wishing” someone “peace”: he is obligated to DO something about it (Jas.2:16)!
I have chosen to focus this study upon the primary word, eirene, and not the six other less frequently used words also sometimes translated “peace”, which refer only to “silence” or “quietness (considered in #139).Although a plurality of the appearances of eirene in the New Testament are found in simple greetings or leave-takings (33 times), almost as many (27) occur in direct admonitions for the life, corporately or individually, of the faithful brotherhood!

This is a marked departure from the classical uses of the word, in which the cessation of armed conflict by a treaty predominates. In the New Testament, this aspect is seen overtly only in Lk.14:22, Ac.12:20, Ac.24:2, and perhaps Rom.3:17 and Rv.6:4, although John the Baptist’s admonition to soldiers to “do violence to no one” (Lk.3:14) certainly would carry that idea (and have interesting and salutary effects on military activity!), as would Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:18 to “live peaceably with all people.”

Lexicographers uniformly note the LXX usage, and its correspondence to the Hebrew greeting, “shalom”, wishing safety, security, health, and general well-being to the person or group addressed. This usage, of course, is seen in most of the epistles, often in closings as well as greetings, and also in Jesus’ dismissal of people he had healed, and in his instructions to the disciples whom he was sending away to preach. It is interesting that in this latter setting, the greeting of peace is to be offered quite indiscriminately (Lk.10:5,6). Jesus reassures them that it just won’t “take” if the person or household is not capable of receiving it. This seems to assume some degree of power in the greeting – perhaps a prayer? or at least a blessing.   In any case, the disciple is not to pass such a judgment prematurely. Later, however, John (II Jn.10) excludes from those instructions people who are clearly known to have deliberately distorted the message.

Seven times “peace” is listed as an attribute of God (Rom.15:33, 16:20; I Cor.14:33, II Cor.13:11, Phil.4:9, I Thes.5:23, Heb.13:20), and three times as a primary component of the Gospel (Rom.10:15, Eph.6:15, Ac.10:36). (see also W.S.#67) Interestingly, though, the much-touted phrase, “peace with God”, appears only once (Rom.5:1)! This is yet another instance where common “evangelical” focus has been skewed by a “generally accepted doctrine” that totally lacks New Testament derivation. The vast majority of New Testament references relate to the peace that the Lord Jesus has created – and required!– among his people!

“Peace / security / well-being” was widely anticipated as a characteristic of the Messianic Kingdom (Lk.1:79, 2:14, 19:38,42), and this is probably at least one reason for Jesus’ teaching on the subject in his final instructions to the disciples (Jn.14:27 and 16:33), bequeathing to his followers not just the “peace” of the common greeting, but “my peace”, which holds firm even under the anticipated persecution, rather than enabling them to escape it.
Although Luke mentions in Ac.9:31 that the young church enjoyed a period of peace (traditional translators used “rest”, but the word is eirene) from persecution after Saul’s conversion, most of the “peace” is experienced in the midst of or in spite of the hostility of opponents. It is often focused within the group, between brethren of diverse backgrounds (Mk.9:50, II Cor.3:11, Eph.2:14-17, 4:3; Col.1:20, 3:15; I Thes.5:13, II Tim.2:22, I Pet.3:11, Jas.3:17).
Peace is represented as the goal toward which the faithful are encouraged to strive (Jn.16:33, Rom.14:19, I Cor.7:15, II Tim.2:22, Heb.12:14), both among themselves and toward those outside (Rom.12:18, Heb.12:14, Jas.3:8, Ac.10:36).
It is also intended to become characteristic of the personality of a faithful person, being listed among the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal.5:22), and described as a result of fixing one’s attention upon the affairs of the Spirit (Rom.8:6). The peace offered to the faithful is paired with “doing good” (Rom.2:10), “joy” (Rom.15:13), the opposite of confusion (I Cor.14:33), love (II Cor.13:11 and Eph.6:23), the unity of the Spirit (Eph.4:3), God’s act of setting his people apart in holiness (I Thes.5:23),wisdom and justice (Jas.3:17,18), the protection of their / our hearts and minds (Phil.4:7), and the very presence of God (Phil.4:9)! The result of reconciliation (see last post), in repeated instances, is described as making, or having “made peace” among formerly alienated people and groups.

Peace is represented as the creation and the gift of the Lord Jesus, and attributed (also only once) to the giving of his life (Col.1:20). The Biblical writers go into much less explanatory detail regarding that provision than do most of their subsequent interpreters! Here, it is stated as a simple fact.
The gift also requires concerted effort on the part of recipients! Note the instructions that follow the promise of peace in Phil.4:8-9, where the focus is upon deliberately paying attention to things that contribute to peace, and upon continual practice!
Actualization of the gift of peace is not automatic! It requires concerted efforts on behalf of justice (Jas.3:18). Yes, I know the traditional translators said “righteousness” – but please see W.S.#3. It is the same word, only separated by the “doctrines” of folks who prefer to privatize their “faith”, keeping it sanitized and theoretical, and to avoid the often messy responsibility of faithfulness (W.S.#1).
The more accurate understanding is available from II Cor.13:11, “…be [live] in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you all.” The present active imperative, eireneuete, indicates constant effort in that regard. It would be equally valid to render it “keep making peace.”
Peace is not a “reward” to be passively received, or a blissful state in which to luxuriate with “no troubles”, but an assignment to be faithfully fulfilled!

Paul states rather bluntly in Rom.2:10 that God’s offer of “peace”, whether to Jew or Gentile, is to “all who are doing good,” and urges his readers (Rom.14:19) to “earnestly pursue matters of peace, and the things that build each other up.” He elaborates on this theme in Eph.2:14-22. Be careful not to carve this beautiful description of the peace that Jesus has created into tiny, isolated phrases to “prove” some obscure point of “theology.” Allow the whole picture to soak into your consciousness, and to transform your perception of the brotherhood that the Lord has created for his Kingdom! It is glorious!

Yes, that sort of a combination of diverse people is bound to make some sparks. But the remedy lies precisely in the peace that Jesus has created! Peace is not only the atmosphere in which the Kingdom survives and thrives, but the “umpire” or “referee” (Col.3:15) whose skill can sort out any resulting friction! That the “rules of the game” (Col.3:12-17) often need mediation should come as no surprise. It is evidence of life and growth – not failure!

The intensity of effort required in this regard is evident in the frequency with which we are urged to “pursue” it (Rom.14:19, II Tim.2:22, Heb.12:14, I Pet.3:11). Dioko is the same word that is used of persecution! Are we that relentless in pursuit of the characteristics of the Kingdom?
Only the “God of peace” (I Thes.5:23) can make us fully his – but (v.24) he is perfectly capable of doing the job. We are simply expected to co-operate!

“(May) God’s peace, which greatly exceeds all understanding, protect (our) hearts and (our) minds, in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:7)!
“May the Lord of Peace himself give you all peace – through everything [every situation], in every way!” (II Thes.3:16.)


Word Study #69 — Reconcile / Reconciliation

September 16, 2010

Although the English word, “reconcile”, has varied implications, all the way from “what you do with a bank statement” to “to render no longer opposed, to bring to acquiescence, to win over to friendliness, to bring into agreement or harmony, to settle a quarrel, or to make compatible”, when applied to “religious” matters, it becomes a concept for which common understanding has been skewed by almost exclusive focus on only one of the ten New Testament appearances of its related words.
Complicated theological treatises have been created, adding intricate and ominous details to Paul’s simple statement, in a subordinate, conditional clause (Rom.5:10), “IF, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” and totally ignoring the main clause, “much rather, now that we have been reconciled, shall we be kept safe [“saved”] in his life!” Paul himself says nothing whatever about the rationale, the need, or the process of that reconciliation, although involved and fanciful technical explanations have become a favorite playground for people who enjoy thundering judgment at others. For Paul, it is subordinate to his encouraging message of safety!

The very basic linguistic principle of looking at the way words are used is especially helpful in a situation like this, where a root word, allasso, used six times and exclusively translated, in traditional versions, as “change”, appears with three different prefixes, all traditionally translated “reconcile”. These include apo, “away from, usually connoting avoidance or departure, but also derivation or origin”; dia, “through, thoroughly , and occasionally causation”; and kata, “down, concerning, near, about, or direction toward.” These prefixed forms are themselves narrowly used: apokatalasso in Eph.2:16 and Col.1:20,21; diallasso in Mt.5:24, and katallasso in Rom.5:10 (twice), and II Cor.5:18, 19, 20, as well as I Cor.7:11, where it simply refers to an estranged marital relationship.
Lexically, there is little difference noted in any of the lexicons, except that Bauer restricts apokatallasso to Christian writers, and diallasso to disputes between individuals.

The very use of the term “reconcile” does, of course, require the assumption of a former condition of, if not overt enmity, at least some sort of alienation or substantial disagreement. Hence the need, whether as a condition of the reconciliation or as its goal, for acknowledging the situation, in order for it to be remedied (see previous post on homologeo, “saying the same thing”), is obvious. Once reconciled, however, (almost always an aorist tense), the relationship of the parties involved is permanently altered.
Keep in mind that the root word, alasso, “change”, (seen in isolation in Ac.6:14, Rom.1:23, I Cor.15:51, 52; Gal.4:20, and Heb.1:12), remains integral to the understanding of all of its forms. These are practical words, not merely records in a ledger. Change is expected.

When Jesus directed his followers to “make things right” (diallagethi) with an offended brother before making an offering (Mt.5:25), he expected observable results: a transformed relationship. (This is the only appearance of any of these terms in the gospel accounts).
Likewise, the context (Eph.2:13-22) of Paul’s use of
apokatallasso combines the creation of a new relationship with God “in Christ Jesus” with the contemporaneous destruction of barriers between people, who are themselves being re-created into one Body, “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (v.19). The same theme is prominent in the Colossian passage (1:19-22): extending, here, not only to formerly alienated people, but to “things on earth and things in the heavens!”
The same situation is described in II Cor.5:17-21, where
katallasso appears three times, and the noun form katallage twice. All creation has been made new! Not only for “us” (v.18), but for “the world” (v.19) is the “message of reconciliation” offered (v.20). And it is immediately paired with an assignment (see diakonia in W.S. #40): God has “made us responsible for the message of reconciliation!” A clear mandate for “show and tell”!

There is one unrelated word that is once translated “make reconciliation” (Heb.2:17), and once “be merciful” (Lk.18:13): hilaskomai, used only these two times in the entire New Testament. Homer used it of sacrifices in efforts to appease the gods of Olympus, in his stories of their often capricious manipulation of human affairs.Plato occasionally applied it to interpersonal conflict. Significantly, even the two New Testament references also seem to assume that more pagan notion of negotiating a temporary truce with God, in contrast with all the previous passages, where the initiative comes from God’s side, and results in a total, permanent transformation. The Hebrews reference, even though it describes the Lord Jesus, does so in the context of a parallel with the duties of the Jewish high priest under the old system (which, the writer asserts repeatedly, did not work!) The publican [tax collector] in Jesus’ parable quoted by Luke exhibits a similar attitude, of a desire to appease a God whose displeasure he feared. He is commended only because of being compared with the Pharisee, whose self-congratulatory attitude was even worse!

Notable in all of these words is the preponderance of aorist tenses, which signify either punctiliar past or decisive, singular action. The reconciliation offered in the New Testament is an accomplished fact. Only once is the verb in the present (progressive or continuous) tense: when speaking of what God was in the process of doing, in the person of Christ (II Cor.5:19). Reconciliation is a “done deal,” although its message (II Cor.5) still needs to be delivered and received.

We would do well to consider whether this accomplished fact is evident in the message we proclaim, and in the fellowships that claim to represent its Author.
Reconciliation is one of the primary components in the building (Eph.2:20-22) of “God’s permanent dwelling place”, for which his people are deliberately being “built together”
Any purported “reconciliation with God” that does not include the reconciliation of former human enemies into one Body, one brotherhood, one Kingdom, is not only patently false, but diabolically fraudulent!

May we build – and be built – in faithfulness!


Word Study #68 — “Confess” and “Deny”

September 9, 2010

These are words for which the most common misunderstanding results from the extreme narrowing of their application in modern English. Today, they are usually used in a legal, or quasi-legal context, and deal with admitting or concealing criminal – or at least unsavory – conduct. This, however, comprises only a very minor part of classical and New Testament uses of the terms.
Homologeo, and its prefixed form, exomologeo, traditionally translated “confess, profess, promise, and thank”, had a much broader classical domain. The literal meaning, from “homos”, “the same”, and “lego” , “to speak or to say”, was “to say the same thing, to agree.” It was used mathematically of correspondence or coordination, socially of a promise or agreement to do something, logically or philosophically of admitting ignorance and of granting or conceding a proposition, and of common consent or consensus in a group discussion.
Some of these aspects appear in New Testament usage. By far the most frequent – at least a dozen times – refers to acknowledging one’s identification with Jesus (Mt.10:32, Lk.12:8, Jn.9:22, Rom.4:11, 10:9, 10:10, 15:9; Ac.24:14, Phil.2:11, Heb.4:14, 13:15; I Jn.4:2, 4:15), and his reciprocal acknowledgment of those who do so (Mt.10:32, Lk.12:8, Rv.3:5).

The more frequently “preached” association with “sins” occurs only five times, two of which involve John the Baptist and not Jesus (Mt.3:6, Mk.1:5). It is significant that every one of these, including also Ac.19:18, Jas.5:16, and I Jn.1:19, uses the term hamartia, (failure, shortcoming, error). Paraptoma (deliberate transgression) is never mentioned at all (see W.S. #7). James, in particular, links “confession” within the brotherhood to mutual prayer for one another’s strength and healing. And in Ac.19, it is the result, not the condition, of the conversion of the magic practitioners. Even in these few references, there is nothing to suggest that one is asked, (much less required) to sift repeatedly through a list of “no-no’s” to find items to “confess”, or to apologize for some sort of vague, unknown offenses (just in case you missed one!). It is simply an acknowledgment that one has not perfectly measured up to the Lord’s – and our own – goal.
Other references raise puzzling questions. Why did the traditional translators choose to depart from the usual rendition, “confess”, and choose “thank” in Mt.11:25 and Lk.10:21 – the only time they did so? Did they reject the idea of Jesus simply “agreeing” with the Father?

Denial, on the other hand, represents three different words.
Antilego, literally “to speak against, to dispute or question, to declare opposition, to contradict,” concerns factual disputes (Ac.28:19, 22; Lk.20:7, Jn.19:12), back-talk(Tit.2:9), or overt contradiction (Ac.13:45, Lk.2:34).
Arneomai, and its prefixed (stronger) form, exarneomai, refers to people: “to deny, to disown, to utterly reject, or to refuse any association.” They occur in contrast to homologeo in Mt.10:23 and parallel Lk.12:9, and II Tim.2:12,13; and repeatedly in the scene with Peter before Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt.26, Mk.14, Lk.22, Jn.18). This is the charge leveled against the Jewish leadership (Ac.3:13,14) and against unfaithful former brethren (I Tim.5:8, II Tim.3:5, Tit.1:16, II Pet.2:1, I Jn.2:22,23, Jude 4).
Once, arneomai has nothing whatever to do with faithfulness, Lk.8:45, the “not me” response to Jesus asking who touched him in the crowd.
One aspect that does not occur in classical usage appears in I Tim.5:8, II Tim.3:5, Tit.1:16, Rv.2:13 and 3:8, where one’s profession of faithfulness is evaluated (or negated) by his behavior. Likewise, its usefulness in determining the reliability of both human and spiritual “messengers” (II Pet.2:1, I Jn.2:22) goes beyond classical parameters, although the idea of “self– denial” is not entirely unique to the Christian message.

The two concepts are frequently used together, by way of contrast, usually either between acknowledging the truth of a statement of fact and opposing or rejecting it (Ac.23:8, I Jn.2:22, 4:2), or making similar statements about one’s relationships: not very complicated at all.
The very same word that describes Peter’s “denial” of association with Jesus, and the behavior that negates one’s “profession of faith” (I Tim.3:5, II Pet.2:1, Tit.1:16), is used in Jesus’ admonition to self-denial in all three parallels, and Paul’s similar message in Titus 2:12.
But were the traditional translators unaware that John the Baptist was simply acknowledging, and not contradicting, the reality of his own status (Jn.1:20) under cross-examination?

Homologeo is not always positive: it is used of Judas’ “promise” to the chief priests to betray Jesus (Lk.22:6), of Jesus’ warning to impostors (Mt.7:23), and Herod’s promise to Salome (Mt.14:7)!
Likewise, arneomai is not always negative. It may be simple honesty, as in (Heb.11:24) Moses’ refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, or the temple authorities’ recognizing that they could not deny the miraculous healing of the lame beggar (Ac.4:16). Paul echoes Jesus’ own statement (Mt.10:33) when he reminds Timothy (II Tim.2:12) of that warning, but quickly adds (v.13) that this does not in any way inhibit or deny Jesus’ own faithfulness.
The congregations that Jesus commends, in the messages to Pergamon and Philadelphia, are cited for (Rv.2:13) “not denyinghis (Jesus’) faithfulness, even under brutal persecution, and despite their minimal power, (Rv.3:8) having “kept my word, and not denied my name (see W.S.# 66 and 24).

Used in a manner consistent with the New Testament, both of these terms/concepts are an integral part of faithful living.
Like most “abused words,” they need simply to be restored to their intended understanding.
A good start would be to revise and re-define the practice of “confession” and restore it to the joyful acknowledgment of belonging to the Lord Jesus – a celebration, rather than a mournful duty – looking forward to the day when “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”


Word Study #67 –The Gospel

September 2, 2010

We have dealt with this group of words before, in the study of “evangelists” (W.S.#43). However, the primary focus there was on the people so designated, and their activities. Due to the ubiquity of abuses of the English word, “gospel”, it may be useful also to concentrate more specifically upon the message itself.
There is a sense in which every one of these studies is a “gospel” message, since they are all offered as “good news” of the graciousness, power, and provision offered to all of us who choose to identify with the Kingdom of the King of Kings, in sharp contrast to the “bad news” so often mistakenly perpetrated under the label of “gospel,” in efforts to compel submission.
As we shall see, distortion of God’s message and intentions is not a modern problem. Jesus himself had to deal with “establishment-types” who resisted his message of welcome and transformation so adamantly that they eventually felt it necessary to get rid of him, and carefully plotted his demise.

The Good News is that their schemes failed! In the power of his resurrection, “He destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (I Tim.1:10)! In the process, “Through death, he destroyed the one who had the power of death, – that is, the devil – and rescued those who, by fear of death, were held in slavery all their lives(Heb.2:14,15)! “He (God) rescued us from the [power] authority of the darkness, and transported us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love (Col.1:13)! Folks, This is good news – a news-flash that has been transforming people’s lives and relationships for more than 2000 years!

Euaggelion, literally, means “a good (or favorable) message.” Historically, it was usually used of the report of a military victory. The word appears a few times in the LXX, as a verb, mostly referring to victories, but also in the prophesies of Isaiah which are familiar from “The Messiah” – Is.40:10, 52:7, 60:6 – and the passage (Is.61:1) that Jesus quoted in Nazareth (Lk.4:18) as he introduced his Kingdom. It only occurs three times as a noun (I Sam.4:10, 18:22, 25). It also referred, classically, to a reward given to a messenger who delivered good news, or a sacrifice offered in gratitude.

In the New Testament, Mark opens his account clearly labeling it (1:1) “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus himself began his ministry with the triumphant announcement (Mk.1:14), “The time has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has arrived!” Both verbs are in the perfect tense, which refers to past action with present effects/implications! The requisite response is cast in the present imperative (indicating progressive, continuous action): “Change your ways [re-orient your lives] (see “repent”, W.S.#6), and become faithful (W.S.#1) to the gospel [good news]!” There is not a word about assenting to a list of “doctrines”, or groveling in one’s supposed “unworthiness” or “sinfulness”. It is a simple, gracious invitation to become loyal to the King and his Kingdom! (Please see the introduction to Citizens of the Kingdom.)

As his disciples walked together with Jesus, and observed/assisted with his teaching and healing, it became clear that this was no “free ride.” Jesus soon began to speak of “losing one’s life for my sake and the gospel’s(Mk.8:35), and the adoption of a new set of priorities that could involve the leaving of family and property (Mk.10:29), but also the creation of new relationships that would be even closer – along with persecutions (v.30).

Early on, too, Jesus made clear that this “gospel” is intended to be available to all nations [Gentiles] (Mk.13:10) – see also W.S.#62 – an aspect that took his followers a bit longer to assimilate.
One can almost hear the wonder in Peter’s voice as he recounted his unprecedented visit to Cornelius. It is helpful to observe the elements included in his message on that occasion (Ac.10:34-43), which he later characterized as “the gospel” (Ac.15:7-8):
v.35 – “in every nation, one who respects him (God) and does justice” is acceptable to him.
v.36 – “The good news of peace, through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all”
v.38 – a brief summary of Jesus’ earthly activity
v.39 – “they” did away with him
v.40 – “God raised him!”
v.41 – “We saw him!”
v.42 – God made him judge of the living and the dead
v.43 – he takes away (W.S.#7) the failures of all who are faithful to him!

Paul provides a similar summary definition of the gospel in Rom.1:1-6, adding
v.4 – that Jesus was “certified” as the Son of God by his resurrection
v.5-6 – the purpose of all this was to enable all who belong to him to learn faithful obedience.
“Its source and goal are faithfulness!” (Rom.1:17)
To the folks at Ephesus, he also emphasized the inclusion of Gentiles as “fellow heirs, joint members of the Body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:6), which he later (6:19) equated with “the mystery of God (W.S. #57).
In I Thes.1:5, he reminded them that the “gospel that you all have received” is not a matter of theoretical debate, but of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, and is expected to result in faithful living. Notice, please, that the rare reference to the destruction of the opponents of the Gospel (II Thes.1:9) is intended as encouragement to the beleaguered faithful. It is NOT part of a “sermon” to threaten prospective converts!

To be sure, the faithful are sternly warned against people who advocate “another gospel” (II Cor.11:4, Gal.1:6), who “pervert the gospel” (Gal.1:7), or refuse to “obey the gospel” (I Pet.4:17, II Thes.1:8, Rom.10:16), terms which usually apply to those who tried to impose the strictures of the Jewish law upon Gentile converts, as if it represented some sort of superior “spirituality”. But these admonitions are aimed at the faithful, who may be in danger of being deceived by such teachings, and not at the perpetrators of the error, who are left in the Lord’s hands.

There is nothing complicated or obscure about “the truth of the gospel” (Gal.2:5, 2:14, Col.1:5). It is hidden (II Cor.4:3,4) only from those who are willfully disobedient. Paul admonished his co-workers in Philippi (1:27) to “continue acting like citizens worthy of the gospel … standing firmly in one spirit, with a single identity, working faithfully as a team for the gospel.” That is by far the best insurance against error!
“Healthy teaching” (I Tim.1:11) is “patterned after the good news of the blessed God!”
This is the gospel message that we, his followers, are expected to acknowledge, to incarnate, and to share:
“The Kingdom has arrived, because the King is alive and active among us!
Come and see!
Learn together to follow his instructions – and to live!”