Pieter Bruegel, “The Suicide of Saul”. The Philistines are approaching, and Saul and his armorbearer decide to take their fate into their own hands. The armies are contemporized by Bruegel and represented with 16th-century armor.

Introduction to ‘Gospel’ | The Historical Books

Defining the Gospel, Pt 1

A Gospel or the Gospel?

At the beginning of this undertaking, it is important to realize that not every ‘gospel’ in the Bible concerns the gospel of Jesus Christ. By the time of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the gospel of Jesus had become so prominent in his thinking that he could refer to it as the (only true) gospel and even say: “not that there is another one, of course…” (see Gal. 1:7). But it’s not as if there was only one gospel existent in the world of Paul. The gospel of Jesus the Messiah was a subtype of the broader genre of gospels that existed in the Greco-Roman world of Paul (not to be confused with the literary genre of ‘gospel’ as developed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — we’ll come to that later). So, to understand the meaning of the specific gospel of Jesus, we first need to understand what the broader category of ‘gospel’ meant. To do that, we need to start in the Septuagint.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint (LXX) is a general term for the Greek translation(s) of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Apocrypha, produced by Hellenistic Jews before the New Testament arrived at the scene. It’s important to understand that, when they used the word group of euaggelion to translate certain Hebrew terms, they didn’t do so ‘objectively’ as if it were mathematics. Many words do not have direct equivalents in other languages since meaning is not so simple as etymology. Meaning is acquired in the web of associations, symbols, values, stories, practices, and the like, which together constitute ‘worldview’. [3] So, when the translators used the word euaggelion, they did so consciously of its meaning in their own world, often centuries after the writing of the texts they’re translating. We’ll come back later to their world and the Greco-Roman context of euaggelion.

‘Gospel’ in the Historical Books

In this first article, I will cover all the texts which use the word group euaggelion in the Septuagint of the Historical Books. [4] In the next articles, I will cover the rest of the references in the Old Testament, namely in the Psalms and the Prophets. Throughout this analysis, I want to focus on two questions:

  • What is the content of this particular euaggelion?
  • For whom is it ‘good’ news?

Saul and the Philistines

1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 1:20; 1 Chronicles 10:9

Saul and David

2 Samuel 4:10

David and Absalom

2 Samuel 18:19 etc, 31–33

Giovanni Battista Viola, “Landscape with Absalom Wounded by Joab’s Spear”

Solomon and Adonijah

1 Kings 1:42

The Lepers and the Syrians

2 Kings 7:9


To sum up, a gospel in the Historical Books is not a generic message with ‘good’ content but a message about the king with positive implications for his people. Such a royal message often involved deliverance from enemies or the ascension to the throne. Because of its national implications, a gospel must be heralded to the people.

Figure 1: The three operative levels of ‘gospel’


[1] Such as Rom. 1:16–17, often nicely taken out of context to the neglect of verses 2–4, which are actually more to the point. Or 1 Cor. 15:1–4, often separated from the rest of the chapter which is all about the resurrection of the Messiah and his people.



Thoughts on Pauline theology and the Christian life

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