Why Certain Evangelical Churches Might Defeat Racism: Part 4

Jarvis Williams

If evangelicals embrace a bigger understanding of the gospel in comparison to the one they’ve traditionally embraced, churches might defeat racism in their Christian spaces. In both popular and scholarly discussions about the concept of the gospel, many interpreters wrongly reduce the definition of gospel to entry vocabulary. They describe it as justification by faith, or repentance and believing. Others define gospel as the message about the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Although these are certainly aspects of Paul’s gospel, they do not exhaust what the bible means by gospel.

This post focuses simply on the meaning of the Greek terms often translated into English as “gospel” or “announce the good news.” Because of space constraints, I limit my discussion to the words euaggelion (“gospel/good news”) and euaggelizō (“I announce the gospel/good news”) in selected texts in the Greek translation of the OT and in Galatians.

Gospel in Selected Places in the Greek Translation of the Old Testament

The noun euaggelion occurs in pagan literature to refer to the Emperor cult. The birth of a new Emperor was euaggelion (“gospel”), because it ushered in a new era when the new heir to the throne was announced. That announcement was euaggelion (“gospel/good news”). A form of this noun (euaggelia) occurs only once in the Septuagint (=LXX) in 2 Kgs. 4:10 (Hebrew and English 2 Sam. 4:10). There it refers to the good report that a messenger thought he was giving to David about Saul’s death, until David seized and killed the messenger. Euaggelion occurs in numerous places in Galatians referring to the announcement about Jesus (Gal. 1:6-7, 11; 2:2, 5, 7, 14).

The verb occurs in numerous places in the LXX, but I limit my comments to selected occurrences in Isaiah. LXX Isaiah is especially helpful for Paul’s use of euaggelizō in Galatians since he either directly quotes or alludes to Isaiah throughout the letter. In LXX Isaiah, euaggelizō refers to the announcement of Israel’s salvation in the midst of the Lord’s judgment. In LXX Isa. 40:9, 52:7; 60:6, and 61:1, the verb refers to the announcement of the Lord’s salvation of Israel.

In LXX Isa. 60:6, the nations announce Israel’s salvation. In LXX Isa. 61:1, the Lord anoints someone with his Spirit to announce the good news of salvation (cf. Luke 4:18-19). This announcement comes as the prophet Isaiah pronounces Israel’s imminent judgment in exile. Alongside of the announcement of a future exile, the Lord gives the nation good news of salvation.

Gospel in Galatians

The verb and the noun in Galatians convey the idea of announcement as in the LXX—the only difference is, of course, euaggelizō is a verb and euaggelion is a noun. In Galatians, euaggelion refers to the report/announcement about Jesus: he is the Lord and Messiah who fulfills God’s promises of salvation. These promises include new creation and the ushering in of the age of the Spirit, along with the gospel truths of justification by faith and the cross and resurrection (e.g. Gal. 1:1-6:15).

The noun euaggelion occurs seven times in Galatians (1:6-7, 11; 2:2, 5, 7, 14). The verb euaggelizō occurs six times in Galatians (1:8-9, 11, 16, 23; 4:13). The way Paul uses euaggelion and euaggelizō depends both on Isaiah 40-66, since Paul alludes to or quotes Isaiah throughout the letter, and on the context of his argument in Galatians. Paul links the gospel-vocabulary in Galatians with the themes of cosmological salvation from Isaiah 40-66.

For example, Paul and Isaiah mention the deliverance of sinners from the present evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4 and 3:13with Isa. 44:21; 53:1-12). Paul and Isaiah mention new creation (cf. Gal. 6:15 with Isa. 65:17-25). Paul and Isaiah discuss righteous living/righteousness in the new covenant by means of the power of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16-24 with Isa. 56:1-5; 60:1-22). Paul and Isaiah mention the promise of a spiritualized Jerusalem who will be set free from spiritual slavery in the messianic age versus a physical Jerusalem that will be a slave under Torah during the messianic age (cf. Gal. 4:21-27 with Isa. 54:1-17). Paul and Isaiah affirm the promise of universal salvation of Jews and Gentiles, who have faith, by means of the Messiah/Servant (cf. Gal. 2:11-3:29 with Isa. 49:1-26; 52:13-53:12). Paul and Isaiah speak to the importance of hearing the report/message about salvation and the importance of receiving it by faith (cf. Gal. 3:2-3 with Isa. 52:7; 53:1).

In Gal 3:8, Paul uses another word for announcement/preach the good news (proeuaggelizomai), which only appears (to my knowledge) here in any extant text. Paul uses this verb to refer to the scripture announcing the gospel beforehand to Abraham when it proclaims that all the nations would be blessed in Abraham (cf. Gal 3:8 with Gen 15:6). This blessing comes to the nations because God promised to justify the Gentiles by faith (Gal 3:8). So, with the citation of Gen. 15:6 in Galatians 3, Paul states that “gospel” and the “announcement of the good news” in Galatians includes justification by faith.

Furthermore, we see that the background behind Paul’s meaning for these terms should not be limited to Isaiah 40-66, but includes the Abrahamic promises of land, seed, and universal blessing in Genesis 12-50. Paul understands these promises to Abraham, which were gospel promises, to be reiterated in Isaiah 40-66 and to be fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah/Servant and the promised seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). These observations are supported by the parallel themes of salvation in Isaiah and Galatians, by the connections between Isaiah 40-66 and Genesis 12-50 (e.g. universal salvation, divine blessing to the nations, etc.), and by Paul’s reference to Jesus as the true descendant of Abraham, as the one in whom the Abrahamic promises find their fulfillment, and as the one in whom the promises of salvation in Isaiah 40-66 find their fulfillment (cf. Gal. 3:1-6:15).

Based on the evidence in Galatians, we can perhaps define euaggelion and euaggelizō in Galatians as the announcement of God’s promises of salvation revealed in the OT and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. A more technical way of saying this would be to say the gospel in Galatians is the announcement of God’s redemptive work in and through Christ for the salvation of sinners in fulfillment of God’s OT promises of salvation for the nations. This redemptive work in Galatians includes at least the following: (1) the substitutionary death of Jesus, who died representatively and as a substitute to deliver Jews and Gentiles from the present evil age and from the curse of the law (1:4; 3:13), (2) God’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1:1), (3) Jesus’ deliverance of sinners from the present evil age (1:4), (4) justification by faith alone in Christ alone apart from living in a Jewish manner of life (2:15-21), (5) the abolishment of the Mosaic Law as the badge of covenant membership by means of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant through Jesus, Abraham’s promised descendant (3:1-29), (6) the distribution of the Spirit by faith because of Jesus’ death and resurrection (3:2-5, 10-14), (7) adopted within Abrahamic sonship (3:6-4:7), (8) the ability and freedom to live in pursuit of love in the power of the Spirit to thereby fulfill the entire law (4:21-5:26), (9) new creation (6:15), and (10) membership into God’s new Israel for Jews and Gentiles who have identified with Jesus Christ by faith (6:10, 16).

Of course, one needs to analyze Genesis to Revelation in order to offer a complete understanding of the gospel. But the above analysis at least shows that many evangelical definitions of gospel are often incomplete and myopic. This inevitably entails that evangelicals who embrace half-cooked definitions of the gospel will continue to exclude anti-racist work from gospel work and reduce it to social work. However, the gospel actually has within it the work of reconciliation and unity in Christ. Christ, says Paul, delivered us from the present evil age (Gal. 1:4). One aspect of the present evil age is racism. And the gospel announces deliverance from it. If evangelicals will begin to embrace how the whole bible defines the gospel, then maybe their churches will experience more victory over racism.

1 Comment

  1. george canady

    Thank you Dr Williams. I have all along thought that the true “power unto salvation” spoken of in Romans Chapter 1 had to do with the whole council of God, not just a truncated three minute version. It explains to me why so many fall away from that version after they learn more of the whole. I have also learn what “the power” is in so many that remain after they learn the whole.

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