I strongly suspect that most of you will be as surprised as I was, to discover that the word “evangelist” – euaggelistes – exists only three times in the whole New Testament! It is applied to Philip (Ac.21:8) who is identified as having been “one of the seven” (who were also called diakonoi – see w.s. #40); it appears on the list of service-gifts to the church mentioned previously (Eph.4:11-12); and is part of Paul’s final admonition to Timothy (II Tim.4:5). This discovery, while startling, in conjunction with the 51 uses of the verb form euaggelizo, serves to confirm the principle that the New Testament focus, as we have seen before, is upon function, and not upon the individuals who perform it, or any titles, or positions of status ascribed to them. So it makes sense that we must look at the activity of these folks, and the content of their message, in order to understand the concept.
Liddell/Scott has relatively little to say about this family of words. Euaggelistes was used of any bearer of welcome news or a favorable oracular message. It was often used of a priestess of Hera (Juno). Euaggelios, not used in the NT at all, had a similar meaning, but was usually used of Zeus or Hermes. Euaggelion – the message so borne, and traditionally translated “gospel”, also could refer to a reward given to the messenger. The verb, euaggelizo (from the earlier euaggeleo), or the middle voice form euaggelizomai, referred to the act of delivering the message. It is often translated “preach the gospel”, but there are eight other words also rendered “to preach”, which will be considered later. Here we will only deal with this one.
In the gospels, Jesus is the only subject of the verb, except in the Luke 2 announcement of his birth, and the Lk.3:18 account of John the Baptist’s introduction of his ministry. The disciples sometimes “preach,” as do some of the healed individuals, but other words are used on those occasions. Therefore, since Jesus seems to have “invented” the idea of “preaching the gospel”, he is the logical one to consult about what that entails.
Out of the 17 times that Jesus is said to be “preaching the gospel”, or making direct reference to it, six are specifically identified as “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Lk.4:43, 16:16; Mt.4:23, 9:35, 24:14; and Mk.1:14). Please refer to Word Studies 19-20-21 for this subject. In three instances, the recipients of the gospel/ “good news” are the poor (Mt.11:5, Lk.4:18, 7:22). Elsewhere, it is combined with healing (Lk.9:6), teaching (Lk.20:1), changing one’s life orientation in favor of faithfulness to the Kingdom (Mk.1:15) – see w.s.#6 , the “loss” of one’s self-centered life or possessions (Mt.8:35, 10:29), the permanent inclusion of the incident of the extravagant gift of perfume in any future “gospel” narrative (Mt.26:13, Mk.14:9), and Jesus’ post-resurrection mandate that it be preached to “every creature” (Mk.16:15) – interesting that Mark says “creature” instead of “person”. Does this have implications for other creatures as well?
Most of these incidents may be seen as simply manifestations of Jesus’ Kingdom – solid evidence for his opening statement, “The time has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has arrived (Mk.1:15). Note that both of these verbs are perfect tenses (see appendix to Translation Notes). This is not a prediction, but an announcement!
Modern day “evangelists” or “preachers of the gospel” will search in vain for their strident accusations of “sinfulness” and guilt, or purported demands for human sacrifice. Jesus never said that, folks! He simply graciously invited all who would, to become a part of the Kingdom that he had come to establish.
In Acts and the epistles, the list of people doing the “evangelizing” broadens considerably. It includes Peter and John (Ac.5:42), Philip (see discussion in w.s. #41, and adds his identifying “label” in Ac.21:8), Paul (most of his letters, but especially numerous references in Romans, Galatians Ephesians, and Thessalonians), “all those scattered after the martyrdom of Stephen” (Ac.8:4), and many others.
It is worthy of note that while Paul asserts several times (note especially the extensive discussion in I Cor.9) that it is reasonable to expect that people carrying the Word to places “where Christ is not known” be supported by other brethren, he is so deeply concerned that the gospel message be offered without charge, that he considers self-support to be a matter of integrity.
The more significant question concerns the content of their message, which is easily identifiable by the phrase, “the gospel of —”. By far the most common is “the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Christ, the gospel of Jesus Christ, or of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I counted 21, but may have missed a few). It is reasonable to assume, especially in light of the accusations leveled against apostles on several occasions, that this involved a reporting upon Jesus’ life, activity, and teaching; at least 3 or 4 times, the phrase “Jesus and the resurrection” is noted (see the centrality of this event in the gospel message in w.s.#35). “The gospel of God” to which Paul refers in I Cor.11:7, Rom.1:1, and I Thes.2:2, 2:8-9, may sound a bit more generic, but is probably little different, since that notably verbose brother seldom fails to expound on distinctions when he thinks elaboration is required!
“The word of the gospel” or “the word of the Lord” (Ac.8:4, 15:7, 15:35) would appear to refer more directly to Jesus’ teachings. “The word of truth of the gospel” (Col.1:5) stands in sharp contrast to the competing philosophies and cosmologies that Paul is trying to counteract, as does his reference to the “truth of the gospel” in Gal.2:5.
Another phrase used multiple times, “the gospel of peace” (Ac.10:36, Rom.10:15, Eph.2:17, 6:15) usually appears in the context of the bringing together of Jewish and Gentile believers. Please see chapter 2 of Citizens of the Kingdom on “unity”, and chapter 7 for discussion of Eph.2 and its effect on the Body of believers. Ever since the announcement by the heavenly hosts in Lk.2, It is no gospel which does not include the creation of peace among formerly hostile people who join the Kingdom.
Paul also makes reference to competitors seeking to impose “another gospel” (Gal.1:6-9,2:14; I Cor.9:18, 15:12-18; Phil.1:12-18, Col.1:23), as does Peter (I Pet.4:17). Most of these are individuals seeking either to impose legal regulations as a condition of acceptance (Col.2:16), or, conversely, to revert to pagan licentiousness (Col.2:8, I Pet.4:4).
It is one thing to hear the proclamation of a new Kingdom – a completely new way of living – and quite another to adopt it as one’s own: to become a citizen of that Kingdom. Jesus spoke of it as a complete re-orientation of life – metanoia– (See w.s.#6), and urged “becoming faithful to (others translate it merely “believe”) the gospel” (See w.s.#1). His later followers spoke of “obeying the gospel” (Rom.10:16, II Thess.1:8, 3:14; Heb.4:9, I Pet.4:17).
Paul also wrote of people “serving together in the gospel” (I Thes.3:2, Phil. 1:7, 1:17, 1:27, 2:22, 4:3.), and sharing in the hassles occasioned by that service (II Tim.1:8).
The familiar advertising of “fire insurance” and rhetoric about a “free one-way ticket to glory” did not come from the New Testament! The genuine gospel message is far more beautiful, and more far-reaching, than that. Paul hearkens back to the original “good news” announced even before Jesus’ birth (Mt.1:23), of “Emmanuel – God with us”– when he characterizes the “mystery of the gospel” (Col.1:27) as “Christ among [in] you all: your hope [expectation] of glory!”
A true “evangelist”, at his Master’s command, extends “to every creature” (Mk.16:15) the gracious invitation to become a part of the Body – a citizen of the Kingdom – of the Lord of Glory!
May that tribe increase!