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Recently, David Williams posted his next piece in his series “What is the Gospel?” My comments and links to William’s previous posts on this topic are here and here.

I sense that some readers still feel that Williams is asking a dumb question. “What is the gospel? It’s about how you get saved, silly.” What Williams is saying, in a nutshell, is that “getting saved” (typically understood by many in a personal sense of going to heaven after you die) is not what the Gospels mean by “gospel” (though it is a result of the gospel).

Williams is right, and the point needs to be hammered home.

Here is a summary of his argument:

1. “good news” (Greek euangelion) in the Gospels is not a word picked at random, but already loaded with meaning at the time: it signals “the royal announcement of a new regime or ruler.” For example, the famous Priene Calendar Inscription speaks of Caesar Augustus in a way that should ring a bell or two for Christians familiar with the Gospels:

It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings [euangelion] for the world that came by reason of him which Asia resolved in Smyrna.

Augustus’s birth is praised, for he is the one who will give hope and peace, both now and into the ages, to benefit all humankind. He is savior. His birth signals the beginning of euangelion.

What the Gospel writers are saying is, “Yeah….about that savior and good news business. Caesar can’t deliver. Jesus does. Let us explain what we mean by that, because it’s not what you might expect. Let us unpack what ‘savior’ and ‘good news’ are all about. Let us tell you about his reign, his kingdom–and what it means for you to be a part of it.”

2. This is reinforced by Jesus’ title, Christos, messiah, which in Judaism (as in the Old Testament) referred to God’s appointed king of Israel. Messiah, in other words, is a royal title–Jesus is King (which is pretty much the point of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited).

3. Mark’s Gospel begins in 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ.” The story that Mark tells of Jesus is the gospel.

4. Mark 1 uses some telling Old Testament quotations that refer to God’s coming and final rule over Israel as  “good news,” which, again, aligns “gospel” with “kingdom of God.”

5. The exorcisms and healings that follow in Mark are the demonstration of Jesus’ royal authority, the concrete demonstration that King Jesus is here.

6. Jesus’ death and resurrection are non-negotiable features of the Son of Man’s royal mission and, therefore, “part of His own divinely appointed Messianic task.” (And take the time to read how Williams unpacks Mark 14:9 here.)

Williams ends this way:

Long story made short, if the gospel is the story of Jesus that Mark is telling, then the gospel is the good news that the God of Israel has deigned to effect His gracious rule over the world in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen King.  All of the Gospels–not just the Gospel According to Mark–more or less narrate this story in longhand.  But, short or long, it is at once the story both of the dawning of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, the crucified, who is autobasileia, the Kingdom Himself, and who demands of us far more than mere cognitive assent.  He demands we take up our crosses and follow Him so that in losing our lives, we paradoxically might just save them.

More posts will follow. Williams is doing a great job distilling an important scholarly discussion at the moment–with immense practical implications.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.