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The English word “gospel” comes from two old English words, “god spell” meaning “good news“, or, as it is sometimes used, “glad tidings“. This is the translation of the Greek word “enaggelion” or “evangelion“.
In the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh [Tanach], Old Testament), the word “besorah” is used, and in English is translated as, yes, the same as “gospel”… “good news” or “tidings.”
Gospel is a proclamation of good news, either oral or written, typically announcing a positive event of public importance, such as victory in battle, the accession of a king, the death of an enemy.
Interesting to note that the Hebrew Bible includes small portions in Aramaic, written and printed in Aramaic square-script, which was adopted as the Hebrew alphabet after the Babylonian exile. Also, by the time of the New Testament, many Jews didn’t even speak Hebrew anymore. Rome had conquered Greece, and the influence of Greek culture had saturated the empire.
Now, before you assert that the word “gospel” (again, which means “good news”) has connotations from the New Testament that are NOT for Jews, let us take a look in our Hebrew Bible at the usage of the word “besorah”(which again, also means “good news”.)
Originally, the word “besorah” was used to describe the report of victory in battle ( 2 Samuel 4:10.) As the Israelites believed God was actively involved in their lives (including battles and wars) it evolved in it’s connotation. To proclaim the good news of Israel’s success in battle was to proclaim God’s triumph over God’s enemies. Believing credit for the victory belonged to God, the Israelites’ proclamation of the good news of victory was, in fact, proclamation about God.
The transition from the use of “besorah” in a military setting, to its use in a personal context, is pretty basic. If Israel proclaimed good news when God delivered the nation from its enemies, individuals would also want to proclaim good news when God delivered them from personal distress (Psalm 40:10.) The nation’s victories in war and a person’s individual victories both called for the announcement of what God had done.
The Book of Isaiah marks the full development of the term within the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh [Tanach], Old Testament). By this time the word is most often used to describe the anticipated deliverance and salvation which would come from the hand of God when the long awaited Messiah appeared to deliver Israel (Isaiah 52:7.) The military-political and personal connotations of the word were fully united in the hope of a Deliverer who would both triumph over the earthly enemies of God’s people and usher in a new age of salvation. The arrival of this Messiah would be good news.
In the Hebrew Bible, the verb form of “besorah” dominates in usage. A noun derived from the verb does appear on occasion, but the vast majority of references are to the verb itself.
Besorah or good news/tidings is made in the following places (please note, this list is for the usage of the word, not necessarily to imply that the news was actually good for the Israelites): 1 Samuel 4:17, 1 Samuel 31:9, 2 Samuel 4:10, 2 Samuel 18:19-20, 26, 31, 1 Kings 1:42, 1 Chronicles 10:9, 1 Chronicles 16:23, Psalm 40:10 Tanakh; 40:9 OT, Psalm 68:12 Tanakh; 68:11 OT, Psalm 96:2, Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 41:27, Isaiah 52:7, Isaiah 60:6, Isaiah 61:1, Jeremiah 20:15, Nahum 2:1 Tanakh, 1:15 OT.
Delving even deeper “besorah” is from the root “basar”. The intensive form “bissier” means to bring (good) news. (In grammar, an intensive word form is one which denotes stronger, more forceful, or more concentrated action relative to the root on which the intensive is built).
“Basar” means “to bear tidings” and “basar” also means “flesh.” “Basar” meaning “flesh” occurs before Adam sinned. Adam already was flesh and bone. (Genesis 2:21.)
Then in Genesis 2:23-24 “And man said, ‘This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man). Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’”
English “Gospel”; Greek “enaggelion” or “evangelion”; Hebrew “besorah.” Word study is so fascinating!
Let us consider for a moment that the English word “Gospel” states that the proclamation of good news is “they shall be one flesh.” God’s Gospel states the very way that we become connected with Him, with nothing separating us, ever. That is Good News!
The Bible is a love story. It is a huge, continuous story through 66 books describing who God is, what God created, and why. It is the love story of God meeting us where we are at; rebellious, sinful, failing, guilty, striving yet never reaching. God meets us with His rescue, His salvation, His favor, His grace, His mercy, His goodness.
The main character is God and He can be found on every page. When we read and study the Bible, while it may certainly help us, it is there for us to hear from God. Through His word God teaches, challenges, encourages, and yes also rebukes us, to better equip us to do whatever tasks He has specifically designed us to do.
The Bible contains the only true, stable, unchangeable standard of behavior; the one set by God. We learn about His standards in the Bible. Many people accept that as truth, and many ridicule it and decide to set their own standard for behavior.
However, while many like to coin the Bible “the blueprint for living”, it is not. To suggest that it is, diminishes it’s power and love to a rules manual, an operational book.
Let us look at it this way, if the Bible is the “manual for life” it makes me (or you) the center of life. The whole reason for going to the Bible then is so that “I” or “you” can know how to live. Yes, sounds noble because our default seems to be “what do I have to do?”
In this scenario however, the Bible becomes a means to an end, us striving to make ourselves better. Again, sounds noble, however the story of “me, me, all about me” is NOT what the Bible is about. When life becomes me centered and me powered, even when we give lip service and verbal credit to God and His power, it is legalism. Ouch!
Well, what exactly is legalism? Following God and His ways becomes reduced to principles or rules that we apply. In the end, God and His Grace, God and His life changing power, along with the love relationship between God and His human creation, is taken out of the picture.
The Bible tells us of the perfect standard that God is (which also helps us to realize that while we learn God’s will for us in how He would like us to behave, we will not in this life down here on earth be able to reach His standard as His standard is nothing less than absolute perfection). However, every book in the Bible is love filled, mercy filled, grace filled, as it contains His gospel (besorah, good news) message. The deeper this message seeps and sinks into us, the more we will reflect just who God designed us to reflect, Him!
When the Bible tells me to work out my salvation, it does not mean to go out and get what I do not have; get more patience, get more strength, get more joy, get more love. Growth happens by working out of me what God has already placed in me; living out the reality of what I do have. I become more spiritually mature when I focus more on all that God has already done for me, and less on what I need to do for God.
This is how we are called to work out our salvation: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.“ Philippians 2:12-13
The litmus test is this; if you are thinking more about what you need to do, than what God has already done, your focus is on yourself, and not on God.
So, what has God already done? All this talk about the gospel, what does it all mean? So glad you asked! I will send you over here to bring you deeper into this material.