We obsess about new things, don’t we? It’s not enough to have an iPhone. We want the new iPhone. We want the new gadget, new car, and new shoes. We want to dress in the new fashion, listen to the new music. We prioritize newness, relevance, and modernity. So do our children. They coined new phrases like “so last year” and “so yesterday” to describe what is antiquated in their minds. My son once told someone I was born in the 1900’s, which is technically accurate but was meant to sound archaic. We prefer new.
It may surprise us that the gospel is an antiquitous message dating back to the beginning of time. It is the good news, but not the new news. It is totally relevant, but not fashionable. It is good-for-today, but not today’s news. The gospel is the once-for-all message of salvation. It was promised long ago, developed over history, and sealed for eternity.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 1:1-7
While introducing himself in Romans 1:1-6, Paul is enveloped by the gospel of God. The mere mention of it causes him to drift into a parenthetical explanation of the gospel’s timelessness. The main idea is bound up in the Greek verb translated “promised beforehand” (Rom. 1:2). It tells us that the gospel is not a theological novelty of our time, but a perpetual truth anchored in the Old Testament. It is a once-for-all message of salvation.
The Meaning of the Gospel
I’m not an expert in baseball, but I do know that you can’t run to first base without making the right contact with the ball from home plate. Similarly, we can’t run the bases of this verse without making the right contact with the home word, “which” (Rom. 1:2). It is a determinative pronoun referring to “the gospel” in the prior verse. The word “gospel” means “good news,” which is translated from the Greek word euanglion.
The word itself is not a religious term. In fact, it was often used in ancient times to refer to a report from the battlefield. A kingdom at war would wait with anticipation for someone to return, bearing a palm branch or wreath on his head, announcing the news that the war was over and victory was won. Seeing him, the kingdom would erupt with joy knowing that they were now safe. Their enemy was conquered. The battle was won. The danger was eliminated.
This is what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness” (Is. 52:7). It is also what Paul had in mind when he described the message of God’s righteousness applied to those who believed in Christ—victory is won, sin has been defeated, salvation has come.
Since sin is our worst enemy, Christ is our greatest victor. The gospel is good news because it announces to us that God has been triumphant over sin. All who put their trust in Him—enroll in His kingdom by submitting to His rule—are saved from the destruction that sin causes. In other words, the gospel is that Christ went to war with sin and returned triumphant for all who believe in Him.
The Source of the Gospel
The next word is also a determinative pronoun, “he” (Rom. 1:2). It refers to “of God” in the prior verse (Rom. 1:1-2) denoting possession and origin. It means that the gospel comes from God. He is the author, the source, the master architect of the gospel. It comes down from heaven, not up from man.
This is a wildly underestimated truth. A gospel originating with man would look far different. Man desires to be the hero of his story, not the one in distress. He wants to achieve his salvation by his own ingenuity and wisdom, not by the foolishness of an ancient electric chair. Crucifixion was a shameful death and inappropriate for a self-centered man. Man wants to win by own work. He wants to climb his own ladder, hold fast to his own dignity. He isn’t interested in humility.
Therefore, man would never imagine a substitutionary death as a means for which the guilty would be set free. The good news contradicts the very fiber of man. A wretched man makes a wretched gospel, which is altogether different from what we find in Scripture. Islam came from a man. Buddhism came from a man. Mormonism came from a man. The gospel of man is a man-centered gospel that cannot rise above the problems of man in order to save him from himself.
Praise the Lord for this little preposition. The gospel is “of God” (Rom. 1:1). It is God’s gospel, God’s plan, God’s design, God’s creation. It comes from God. It is God-centered, God-engineered, and God-glorifying. It is the only gospel that saves. It is God’s victory announcement to a man who is perishing in his sin and unable to save himself. Relief has come to man from God.
The Conception of the Gospel
We have a large amount of redundant phrases in our English language. For instance, we might say “twelve midnight” to refer to midnight. The word “twelve” is redundant, but added for emphasis. Likewise, we say things like “added bonus” or “consensus of opinion” or “end result” or my favorite, “new innovations.” These are all forms of redundancies meant to further emphasize their respective points.
In the same way, the next word in Romans 1:2 is a Greek redundancy. The ESV translated it as “promised beforehand” (Rom. 1:2). No one promises afterward. There is no need. The word “promise” implies “beforehand.” Therefore, Paul is emphasizing the timing of the gospel promise. It was announced before it completely unfolded.
The Bible often speaks about the timeless beginning of the gospel. For instance, “God saved us and called us to a holy calling … which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9). Also, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). These and other passages teach us that God’s gospel began before anything was created. However, the context tells us that Paul had the Old Testament in mind.
One more point is worth making about this Greek word—it’s certainty. The word “promise” has lost its meaning in today’s context since we have experienced so many broken promises in our lives. This is never true of God. He always keeps His promises (1 Cor. 1:20). So, when a promise is made by God, it is as good as done. The announcement of God’s victory of sin was made long before the troops marched out to battle.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”Genesis 3:15
Jesus announced the euangelion to Adam and Eve, the first humans on earth. He will crush the enemy that separates man from God and reign as victor. In the Garden of Eden, the gospel was promised. In the Old Testament, the gospel was developed. In the life and work of Christ, the gospel was completed.
The Development of the Gospel
Scripture communicates two authors for every word, every sentence, and every book of the Bible. The primary author is God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:15). “Man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). The gospel, as we have learned already, is from the mind “of God” (Rom. 1:1). God, who delights in working through human instruments, made man the secondary author of Scripture.
Not only does God delight in using human instruments, He also delights in confounding human minds with mysteries. The mechanics by which God authored Scripture using human agents is a miracle. Instead of dictating His word, He “carried them along by the Holy Spirit” permitting their personality, research, temperament, vocabulary, intellect, culture, history, experiences, and more (2 Pet. 1:21). This is why books of the Bible read differently. They have different secondary authors. It also explains why all of the books convey the same gospel message. They all have a single primary author, who is God.
When Paul says that the gospel was promised in the Old Testament “through the prophets,” this is what he means (Rom. 1:2). They were carried along as secondary authors by the Holy Spirit to develop the promise that was first announced in Genesis 3:15. In other words, the Old Testament is one big gospel tract. It is gospel territory, gospel land. When you dwell in the Old Testament, you dwell in the development of the euangelion. The gospel is the good news, but not the new news.
The Place of the Gospel
Finally, the verse is capped by the phrase “in the holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). This is the Old Testament. When Paul wrote Romans, the only books of the Bible were the books we read in our Old Testament—Genesis through Malachi. They are holy because they are set apart from all other books. They are also holy because they are pure, infallible, and without error. God miraculously authored the perfect Scriptures using imperfect instruments.
Don’t miss this gem. God’s promise of the gospel, which was developed in the Old Testament, was not lost in the winds of time. It was recorded to withstand them. The gospel was written down to be read objectively. The words God used have meaning. They can be translated into other languages. They can be interpreted and studied. Sentences can be diagrammed and analyzed. Verses can be compared. Chapters can be memorized. The gospel was not just promised, it was written down and codified.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”Isaiah 40:8
The greatest announcement, God’s righteous victory over sin, was promised, developed, and established for all generations. Our grandparents received the same gospel that our grandchildren will receive. It is a timeless gospel. It is the good news, but not new news. It is the once-for-all message of salvation.
There is an isolated people group that inhabit the North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal in India. They have no electricity, no tractors, no watches, no books. They have very little in terms of how they can relate to anyone outside their island. Imagine sitting down with one of them and explaining the Internet. You couldn’t. They have no context for it.
The gospel, on the other hand, is a timeless truth that has spanned all generations. It is simple enough that a child can believe it and deep enough a scholar can spend his lifetime studying it. It can be carried across languages and cultures. It can be understood by the most primitive minds. Guilt and transgression are concepts all thinkers can comprehend. The ideas of consequences and death, power and authority, offense and mercy, sacrifice and forgiveness, righteousness and justice, are knowable. The gospel is a once-for-all message of salvation. What stops you from sharing it with others?