Monday, March 6, 2017

Thinking About The Word "Gospel" (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 here.

AP: Since Adolf von Harnack, the renowned scholar of theology, history, and literature of early Christianity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was little doubt that Christians had borrowed the word "gospel" from emperor worship. They began to use it in reference to the good news of the message of Jesus. But we have already pointed out that rather than taking it as a simple loan word, what the Christians did was to take the vocabulary to use it to expose the opposite. The system was simple: Everything that was offered in this area (as expressed by words) is best offered by Christianity and with greater facility.

However, from the philological point of view, one must also be cautious with the use of the word "loan," because there is a certain innovation in Christianity. The absolute use of the word εὐαγγέλιον in the singular is not witnessed––unless I am mistaken––in Hellenistic Greek: It only appears in the plural, as "good news." This makes sense because the Hellenistic "gospel" lacked a message similar to the Judeo-Christian a message of salvation with its great eschatological and apocalyptic components.

Therefore, in addition to the idea of ​​the "competence of messages of salvation," we are probably dealing with a case in which both Judeo-Christian religiosity, which proceeds largely from the Old Testament, and the Hellenistic world around the Mediterranean spontaneously converged during a "time of anguish" for salvation: A savior was expected everywhere . . . so much so that for a message of salvation the same word that means "good news" could be used.

Scholars who emphasize the Semitic origin of the concept and word "gospel" from the point of view of the history of the tradition accept that the testimonies of the use of this term in the cult of the emperor as savior had prepared the soil for how Christians would come to employ the word. We can therefore subscribe to the cautious judgment of Georg Strecker who said:
"We cannot present a clear genealogy of the word "gospel" from the Old Testament or from the Hellenistic world. The New Testament proclamation of the gospel could contain in itself both traditional elements of the Old Testament Jewish faith as well as Hellenistic elements. But in this respect the connection between the noun "gospel" and the Hellenistic tradition is evident. In this way, the new understanding that Christian preaching intends to proclaim is articulated in an understandable way for its environment." (Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, 180)
Otto Betz pointed out long ago (in a book that is now a classic, and unfortunately untranslated [Das Evangelium und die Evangelien, trans. "The Gospel and the Gospels," Tübingen 1983 // chapter "Jesu Evangelium vom Gottesreich" = "The Gospel of Jesus on the Kingdom of God"]) that it would not be unlikely that Jesus himself would have occasionally used the Aramaic word besortáh, "good news" to designate his announcement of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. Remains of this denomination could be found in the Matthean phrase "gospel of the Kingdom" (Matt. 4:23; 9:35), or in Mark 1:15: "Repent and believe in the good news."

If this were so, the primitive community of followers of Jesus would not have done more than follow a few established by the Master himself, who would have considered himself a mebasser (in Hebrew, announcer or prophet of the Kingdom) in the style of Third-Isaiah, as the passages of Luke 4:16–18 and 7:22 suggest ("according to his custom he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and rose up to do the reading. They handed him the volume of the prophet Isaiah and he unrolled the volume , finding the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . ." "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the good news is announced to the poor . . .").

It seems to me, however, that this theory is doubtful, for the passages of Matthew and Luke, to which I have alluded above, are editorial. In other words, they proceed directly from the hand of the author of the Gospel, so we have no assurance whatsoever that they can be traced back to the historical Jesus. Nor can we say with any certainty that the word "gospel" (in Aramaic) was used by him.

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