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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.
Current day, most Rabbis will say that this passage speaks of Israel.
If one studies the ancient Rabbinical literature (Midrash) one will find a wealth of fascinating Messianic Rabbinic Commentary that discusses Isaiah 53 speaking of Messiah. I wish there would be a full volume of this literature in English online; unfortunately there does not appear to be. Here are some excerpts.
Babylonian Talmud: “The Messiah –what is his name?…The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted…'” (Sanhedrin 98b)
Midrash Ruth Rabbah:“Another explanation (of Ruth ii.14): — He is speaking of king Messiah; `Come hither,’ draw near to the throne; `and eat of the bread,’ that is, the bread of the kingdom; `and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,’ this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, `But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities'”
Targum Jonathan: “Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high and increase and be exceedingly strong…”
Zohar: “`He was wounded for our transgressions,’ etc….There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the Sons of Sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law: and this is that which is written, `Surely our sicknesses he hath carried.'”
Rabbi Moses Maimonides:“What is the manner of Messiah’s advent….there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty, where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, `Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zech. 6:12). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc….in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which kings will harken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.” (From the Letter to the South (Yemen), quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 374-5)
Rabbi Mosheh Kohen Ibn Crispin:This rabbi described those who interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel as those: “having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the `stubbornness of their own hearts,’ and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah….This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come and deliver Israel, and his life from the day when he arrives at discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here; if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.” (From his commentary on Isaiah, quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 99-114.)
Why Isaiah 53 Most Definitely Speaks of The Messiah and Not Israel
1) The consistent use of pronouns in the passage makes it clear that the suffering servant is an individual separate from the Jewish people as a whole to whom Isaiah was speaking. The suffering servant is always referred to in the singular (he, him, himself, and his) while the people of Israel are referred to in the plural (we, us, and our or my people).
2) Israel observed the suffering of the righteous servant.
3) The suffering servant died for the transgressions, or sins, of the “my” people. Clearly, “my people” is Isaiah’s people, the people of Israel. The passage would make no sense if the suffering servant were Israel. In that case, Israel would die for Israel’s sins. In other words, Israel would have gotten what she deserved, which makes no sense. The entire passage speaks of the suffering servant suffering and dying for, on behalf of, or in place of Israel.
4) In verse 10, the suffering servant is offered as an “asham,” or guilt offering. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the guilt offering was never Israel, nor could it ever have been Israel. The guilt offering, or “asham,” was always offered on behalf of or in place of the one who had committed the trespass or sin. It was never offered for or on behalf of the asham itself. (No one could ever be an “asham” for his or her own sins.) An asham offering was always offered by an individual and never by the nation of Israel. In addition, the offering had to be without blemish, or sinless. Because the offering was without blemish, it was always offered for the sins of someone other than the asham itself. For all of these reasons, Israel cannot be the suffering servant who offers himself as an asham offering.
5) The “asham” always had to die. The suffering servant clearly died. He was “cut off out of the land of the living,” he had a grave; he was with the rich “in his death;” and he “poured out his soul unto death.” However, Israel never died. In fact, it is impossible for Israel to ever die, because God promised Israel that she would live forever.
6) The suffering servant suffered a vicarious and substitutionary death. He suffers for the sins of others, so they need not suffer for their own sins. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible nor in Jewish history do we ever see Israel suffering for, on behalf of, or in place of the Gentiles, so that the Gentiles do not have to suffer. The suffering servant bore the sins of the people, so they would not have to bear their own sins or be judged for them. If the servant is Israel and the people are the Gentiles, then the Gentiles would not need to be punished for their sins, as they would have been vicariously borne by Israel. This has never been the case. The Gentiles were never deemed innocent after Jews suffered at their hands. Instead, they were judged for mistreating Jewish people.
7) The suffering servant has qualities that were never true of Israel: The suffering servant is depicted as being innocent. He did no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Israel is never told she would suffer for being innocent. And, Israel is never depicted as being innocent. That was why so many sacrifices were needed. Israel was never righteous, or even close to being righteous. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel is pictured as continually rejecting God and being repeatedly judged for her sins. This is in sharp contrast to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who is portrayed as an innocent sufferer. The suffering servant is the most righteous person described in Scripture. In Isaiah 53:11, he is called “Tsadeek ahvdee”, or “My righteous servant.” This is the only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where this phrase is used. It certainly is never used of Israel. In addition, neither Abraham, Moses, David, nor any other prophet or ruler was ever called “Tsadeek ahvdee”, or “My righteous servant” in the Hebrew Bible, except for the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Only one righteous or without any blemish could die as a sacrifice for sin. However, no normal human was ever considered righteous on his or her own. (See Psalm 14:2-3 and Psalm 53:2-3.) This suffering servant must, therefore, be someone greater than Abraham, Moses, or David.
8) The suffering servant is depicted as being a silent sufferer, in that, like a lamb, he did not protest his execution nor did he defend himself. He, instead, suffered willingly and voluntarily. While Israel has suffered immeasurable persecution, she has never done so willingly or voluntarily. Israel has always cried out against the inhumanity of people against her.
9) Israel was promised that if they obeyed God, they would be greatly blessed. Only if they were disobedient would they be cursed. If Israel were the righteous servant of Isaiah 53, it would have been impossible for her to have suffered and died under the conditions and in the manner described in this passage.
10) Isaiah 53:1 refers to the suffering servant as “the Arm of the Lord.” There are thirty seven references to the Arm of the Lord in the Tanakh. Never does that phrase refer to Israel. The Arm of the Lord acts on behalf of Israel, but is never Israel. Among other things, the Arm of the Lord redeems and delivers Israel when Israel is not able to deliver herself. (See, Exodus 6:6, Exodus 15:16, Deuteronomy 4:34, 5:14, 9:29, 26:8, II Kings 17:36, Psalm 44:4, and Ezekiel 20:33-34.) Therefore the suffering servant, the Arm of the Lord, cannot be Israel.
Please, examine and analyze this block of scripture for yourself Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53, not based on what is written here or what others may have written or told you. It is truly an incredible journey of discovery!