The word “gospel” is an interesting but misunderstood word. In fact, in Bob Wilkin’s book, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible (you can get this great book at the GES website), Bob picks it as one of the ten. The reason it is misunderstood is because when most Christians hear the word “gospel,” they automatically assume it means what a person must believe to be eternally saved (or how to go to heaven).
But many Christians also know the word itself simply means “good news.” Certainly, how to be eternally saved is good news! But it should be obvious that there are other types of good news. For example, if I say that Jesus is coming again, that is good news. If the dentist says you don’t have any cavities, that is good news as well. The word, then, can have a very broad range of meaning.
When we see the word “gospel” in the Bible, we should always look at the context to see what kind of good news is being discussed. In this blog, I want to discuss how the word is used in the Book of Romans.
The noun occurs 10 times in the book (1:1, 9, 16; 2:16; 10:16; 11:28; 15:16, 19, 29; 16:25). The reader should be aware that there are some manuscript issues here. If you look in most Bible translations, there are some differences. For example, the word does not occur in the NASB (and most other translations) in 15:29. Also, some manuscripts put 16:25 at 14:24. I wonder if the reason some scribes excluded the word “gospel” in 15:29 is because they realized the word did not mean what they thought it meant (i.e. it didn’t mean what a person had to believe to be spiritually saved.)
A blog is not long enough to discuss each of the occurrences of the word in Romans. But this can be a good exercise. In my opinion, even a quick look at almost half of these occurrences will show that the word does not mean being saved from hell in these verses. If a person reads 2:16; 10:16; 15:16, 29 and 16:25, a little reflection immediately indicates that the word “gospel” refers to something else in these verses. Notice, for example, that in 10:16, Paul speaks of “obeying” the good news, which includes calling upon and confessing the Lord with one’s mouth (vv 8-10). This is something a person does after he has been saved from hell. Such an exercise as this will help teach us to look at the context and not automatically assume that a word always means the same thing.
The other times the word occurs in Romans are not as clear upon a quick reading. But I would like to comment on Rom 1:16. It is almost universally agreed that this verse is part of the theme statement of the book. The word “gospel” is found in it. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the “gospel.” The reason for this is that it (the gospel) has the power of salvation in it.
In Romans, the word “salvation” does not refer to salvation from hell. Instead, it refers to being saved from the consequences of sin here and now (in this life). God’s wrath is demonstrated against mankind’s sin (1:18). The way believers can avoid this wrath is to walk by the Spirit. The Spirit gives us the power to live righteously and experience the positive benefits of godliness instead of the negative consequences of sin.
Paul preached “good news” that involved more than how to go to heaven. He also proclaimed the good news that the Spirit lives in the believer and the believer has the power to live godly. This reality means that Christ desires to live through the believer through His Spirit, and such a life will result in great rewards in the world to come. All of this is the gospel—good news!
I would suggest that most of the times the word “gospel” occurs in the Book of Romans this is what it means. It refers to ALL the good news Paul taught. This, after all, is the meaning of the word in the theme statement of the book. Not only did God save the believer from hell, He has given us the power that raised Jesus from the dead as we live our lives before we see Him face to face. As Paul says, the good news is the power of God. We have that power now.
If this is the first time you have heard this, it is unlikely that this short blog will convince you. I would challenge you to read the verses in which the word “gospel” is found in Romans. Meditate on them and see if this meaning of the word doesn’t make sense. Perhaps you will see that it makes more sense than what we traditionally think the word means.