This article is based upon:
Some editing has been done and all scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise stated.
It is a puzzling fact that many who read the Bible abandon the simple rules of interpretation which they successfully apply to all other documents. They seem to forget the basic laws of communication which govern all written and spoken material. One of the most fundamental of these laws, which under normal circumstances we all apply unconsciously, is the “law of synonymous terms.” A narrative which introduces the word “automobile” may continue to refer to the same subject under varied terms. When the word “car” appears, or even “vehicle” or perhaps even “jalopy,” readers are not confused. They understand that these are words to describe the same thing. A synonymous expression may be simply an abbreviation. “The United States of America” may appear as “the United States,” “the States,” “the U.S.” or “America.” No one is disturbed by such use of alternative terms for the same thing. A letter which introduced its subject as “the wedding of Tom and Jenny” will later refer to the same event as “the wedding.” These are just plain, easy facts about all communication. If I say, “Tomorrow is my birthday, and when we go on our picnic...” you have no difficulty in seeing that the picnic is a birthday outing.
When it comes to the Bible, however, many forget these primary laws of language. An amazing miracle of misunderstanding occurs, affecting the heart of the Christian faith. Readers of Scripture seem unable to make the connection between different expressions for the same object. This failure to connect synonymous terms causes them to lose track of vital, revealing information about the Gospel itself. Let us illustrate our point.
The Primary Definitions of the Gospel
In Matthew 13:19, the Gospel Message brought by Jesus is
defined as “the word of the Kingdom,” i.e.,
“the Kingdom of God,” since that is the full title of
the Gospel as Matthew had earlier told us in 4:17 (Note: 'Kingdom of Heaven'
and Kingdom of God' mean the very same thing!). In the very next verses
(Matt. 13:20-23) this “the word of the Kingdom” is abbreviated
to “the word.” (i.e. “the message.”) This happens five times in
the four following verses. The original phrase “word of the
Kingdom” is shortened to simply “the word” (or “the
message.”) But we are expected to make the connection correctly. It would be
very foolish to deny that “the word of the Kingdom” of Matthew 13:19
is something different when it is described as “the word” in the next
Clearly “the word” is “the word about the Kingdom.”
This simple piece of information has a dramatic effect on how we read the rest of the New Testament. The same Gospel Message appears under different “labels,” all of which, however, should be referred back to the basic definition of the Gospel provided by Jesus himself. When these interlocking connections are disregarded, the Gospel easily becomes detached from Jesus, the author (as God’s representative) of the Gospel Message. Detachment of the Gospel from Jesus’ own preaching is a theological disaster everywhere evident in contemporary invitations to salvation.
Here again is Jesus’ description of the Gospel Message, recorded by Matthew. We have no difficulty equating “the word of the Kingdom” with “the word.” The word is simply a “shorthand” version of “the word about the Kingdom”:
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matt. 13:19-23).
When Luke records the same parable he employs exactly the same “shorthand” technique. In Luke 8:11 “the seed [sown by the sower] is the word of God,” but in verses 12, 13, 15 it appears as “the word.” No one, however, would argue that it was no longer “the word of God.” Nor should we forget what Matthew taught us: that it is “the word/message about the Kingdom of God.”
If we extend our examination of Gospel synonyms over a wider span, we shall find that the law of equivalent phrases works to clarify and expand our understanding. Thus Matthew’s “word of the Kingdom” (Matt. 13:19) reappears in a later chapter as “the Gospel of the Kingdom” which is to be “preached in the whole world” (Matt. 24:14). This variant expression allows us immediately to make another connection. “The Gospel of the Kingdom” is the same exactly as “the word of the Kingdom.” But both expressions often appear, in the gospels as well as the rest of the New Testament, abbreviated as simply “the word” or “the Gospel.”
The Christian Message may alternatively be called the “Gospel of God.” This expression tells us something vitally important about the origin of the Gospel. It comes from God and so it is a divine word. Mark introduces the Gospel as the “the Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14) and in the next breath he defines what he means. It is “the Gospel about the Kingdom.” We make the obvious connection as we read Mark 1:14, 15: “... Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’” What Gospel? The Gospel of God. And what is that Gospel about? It is “the Gospel about the Kingdom of God.”
We have already discovered the same truth in Matthew’s account. Further confirmation about the content of the Gospel appears earlier in Matthew. He reported Jesus’ ministry in these words: “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
Jesus and the Gospel writers, being excellent teachers and
wanting to be sure that we do not fail to grasp the saving Message, keep telling
us what the Gospel is. They carefully introduce us to the basic Christian
vocabulary, just as we introduce children to the words they need to use as the
basic tools of communication. Matthew says that Jesus went about
“proclaiming/preaching the Gospel about the Kingdom.” Mark
summarizes the content of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom as the “the
Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14, 15). In his version of the parable we examined
above, Mark later abbreviates “the Gospel of the Kingdom” and
calls it, like Luke, “the word” (Mark 2:2; 4:14-20, 33). Matthew, as we
saw, gives the same “shorthand” expression, calling the Gospel “the
word.” In this way the narratives of the life of Jesus set up a network of
interconnected synonyms, equivalent phrases all pointing to the same central
the Gospel concerning the Kingdom of God.
The three accounts of Jesus’ parable of
the sower furnish us with an indispensable key to understanding the Christian
faith. What Matthew calls “the word of the Kingdom” (Matt. 13:19),
Luke calls “the word of God” (Luke 8:11) and Mark simply “the
word” (Mark 4:14). These are interchangeable names for the one saving
Gospel — the Gospel about the Kingdom of God, the Christian
“Word” (“message”) and “Gospel” are synonymous terms, giving “the Word/Message about the Kingdom,” “the Gospel about the Kingdom, “the Word of God, “the Gospel of God,” “the Word/Message” and “the Gospel.”
Throughout the accounts of Jesus’ ministry we find confirmation of the “law of synonymous expression.” Thus, for example, Matthew reports Jesus as saying: “This Gospel of the Kingdom of God shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony (or witness)” (Matt. 24:14). Mark records the same saying by writing that “the Gospel must first be preached” (Mark 13:10). Later Matthew refers to the Gospel as simply “this Gospel” (Matt. 26:13) and Mark writes “the Gospel” (Mark 14:9).
Our study reveals that the Christian Gospel has a name: It is the Gospel (or Message) about the Kingdom of God, known alternatively as God’s Gospel or simply the Gospel (or Message).
A major confusion arises in the minds of Bible readers when
they encounter yet another name for the Gospel:
“The Gospel of Christ.”
Does this mean the Gospel preached by Christ or the Message preached about Christ? Many instinctively opt for the second alternative only, forgetting that the Gospel of the Kingdom, Christ’s Gospel, is the foundation of all biblical preaching (Heb. 2:3). A major error of interpretation occurs when the primary definition of the Gospel from the lips of Jesus is forgotten. When the proper connections are made, however, there can be no doubt what the Gospel of Christ is: It is “the Word/Message/Gospel about the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 13:19; 4:23; 9:35; 24:14), the Word/Message preached by Christ. This is not to deny that the Gospel is also about Christ — his death and his resurrection. However, the foundation of the Gospel was laid by Jesus in his preaching about the Kingdom, long before he said a word about his death and resurrection.
Christ’s Gospel, according to the
documents describing his ministry, was the Gospel about the Kingdom, which is
also God’s Gospel/Message. God is the originator of the Gospel Message
(the Gospel of God); Christ is the one who preached it
(the Gospel of Christ). The subject matter of the Gospel is the
Kingdom of God (the Gospel of the Kingdom).
These phrases may be compressed as “the Gospel,” but we must never forget its full title as:
God’s and Christ’s Gospel Message about the Kingdom of God.
Every time “the word” is preached or received in the
book of Acts, it is essential that we remind ourselves of the content of that
Word/Message. Otherwise we are in danger of failing to connect synonymous
phrases and precious information is thrown away. Luke is careful to maintain in
the book of Acts the same basic gospel terminology he established in his first
book (the gospel of Luke). Thus in Acts 6:4, the Apostles devote themselves “to
prayer and the ministry of the word.” “Those who had
been scattered went about preaching the word” (8:4), which is
exactly the same as “preaching Christ” (8:5). What was involved in this
activity? The answer appears in Acts 8:12: “When they believed Philip preaching
the Good News [Gospel] about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus
Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Luke then reports
that those who so believed had “received the word of God” (Acts 8:14).
The Word/Message about the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus.
The pattern of preaching is exactly what we saw demonstrated by Jesus’ own ministry as preacher of the Kingdom. Jesus, in fact, after his resurrection, continued the proclamation of ‘the Kingdom of God’ Gospel through his Apostles. The new facts about his death and resurrection were incorporated into the Gospel of the Kingdom. This confirmed the hope that the Kingdom of God would eventually appear.
Let us summarize what we have found so far. The Gospel which Jesus preached for our salvation is the Gospel about the Kingdom of God. Jesus stated that the entire reason why God commissioned him was to preach the Kingdom: “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43). In the very next verse (Luke 5:1) we learn that people crowded round Jesus to hear “the word (message) of God.” The following equations are crystal clear:
The Gospel about the Kingdom of God = the Gospel of God = the Word/Message of the Kingdom = the Word/Message of God = the Word/Message.
In Paul’s letters the vocabulary is the same. In his earliest writing Paul represents his converts as “imitators of us and of the Lord” because they had “received the word” (1 Thess. 1:6); that “God was calling them into His own Kingdom” (1 Thess. 2:12). He urged his converts to be “worthy of the Kingdom of God” (2 Thess. 1:5). Paul never deviated from his practice of presenting the Word/Message about the Kingdom. Nearing his death, he urged Timothy to continue to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2) in view of “Jesus’ appearing and Kingdom” (v. 1). Once again the Word/Message and the Kingdom are inseparably linked. Paul has faithfully preached the same Gospel as Jesus.
Across the pages of the New Testament one word unites Jesus’ and the Apostles’ preaching: It is the Word/Message/Gospel about the Kingdom of God. This is the “Gospel of God.” As we have seen, Jesus opened his ministry with this Message (Mark 1:14, 15). “The Gospel of God” is the name of the Message proclaimed also by Paul (Rom. 1:1; 15:16, 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thess. 2:2, 8, 9) and equally by Peter (1 Pet. 4:17). The same Word/Message came from the lips of Jesus (Luke 8:11) and later from the Apostles: “they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
Other synonymous terms describe the same Gospel Message is “the word of hearing” (1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:2), emphasizing the method of communication by which the Gospel was spread and the critical need for us to hear and understand. It is “the word of (the) truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). In Ephesians 1:13 the saving Message is called “the message/word of (the) truth, the Gospel of your salvation,” because of its ability to dispel all the lying, counterfeit gospels of the Devil. The same Message is “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16) because by receiving it we may gain life and immortality from God in the coming Kingdom. “Life” is itself a synonym for the Kingdom of God (Matt. 19:17, 23; Rom. 5:17).
It is “the message/word of this salvation” (Acts 13:26), because it alone is able to rescue us from death. And it is also “the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19) because it brings about a reconciliation between God and man. It is the “Gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) because God’s plan to set up the Kingdom (v. 25) is His gracious act in favor of those who obey Him. Finally it includes “the word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18) because the death of Jesus for mankind ratifies the New Contract (Covenant) and makes possible his future establishment of the Kingdom. The fundamental content of this Message/Word is “the Good News about the Kingdom” (Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 11, 60; Matt. 3:2; 4:17, 23; 9:35; 24:14; Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). This is Christ’s own Gospel, the Gospel of Christ, the special revelation of grace (Acts 20:24) granted by God who declares His purpose to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. As Paul preached the Gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) he was preaching/proclaiming the Kingdom (v. 25). There is no difference whatever between the Gospel of grace and the proclamation of the Kingdom (Acts 20:24, 25). In the book of Revelation the Gospel is called “the Gospel of the coming age,” mistranslated in our versions as “the eternal Gospel” (Rev. 14:6).
A moment’s reflection reveals that the Bible’s constant name for the Gospel is “the Gospel about the Kingdom.” All the other synonymous titles for the Gospel should be referred back to the “parent texts” in Mark 1:14, 15, Matthew 4:23 and Luke 4:43, the key to the definition of God’s saving Message.
“... Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’” (Mark 1:14, 15).
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
“I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43).
There is an urgent need for the biblical label for the Gospel to be taught everywhere since the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” amazingly, is a phrase seldom, if ever, now heard on the lips of modern evangelists. In this they betray their departure from the preaching of Jesus. The absence of the phrase “Gospel about the Kingdom” is all the more alarming since Jesus’ first command to the potential convert was “Repent and believe in the Gospel about the Kingdom of God” (see Mark 1:14, 15). That’s where Christian conversion, rebirth and discipleship begin.
New Testament Christianity is based on Christ’s teaching.
This is a simple fact frequently overlooked. John considered this lesson one of the most important to be driven home to his disciples. He warned that “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; ...” (2 John 9). Christ’s teaching is summarized under the heading the Gospel Message about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:19; Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43, etc.). It is that Message which, according to Jesus, must take firm root as the seed of immortality sown in the heart of the believer. The devil understands this (perhaps better than many contemporary preachers).
Luke’s warning is clear: Whenever anyone hears the word [about the Kingdom, Matt. 13:19], the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart, so that he may not believe and be saved (see Luke 8:12).
In Christianity salvation depends on hearing, understanding and acting upon the Gospel about the Kingdom of God — hearing, believing and obeying it. Christians according to Jesus’ definition are “disciples of the Kingdom” (Matt. 13:52) and “sons (children) of the Kingdom” (Matt. 13:38). ...
Once they have understood the Kingdom, Christians are meant to pass on the Gospel about the Kingdom to others far and wide (see the urgency of the task in Luke 9:60). They are committed to following the Church’s “marching orders” to go into the whole world and preach and teach everything Jesus taught, summarized as the Gospel of the Kingdom. The practice of Jesus and Paul is identical when it comes to their evangelistic activity:
“... welcoming them, he [Jesus] began speaking to them about the Kingdom of God ...” (Luke 9:11).
“And he [Paul] stayed two full years ... and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ ...” (Acts 28:30, 31).
How well are you complying with Jesus’ orders?