The Christian Gospel – What is it?

The word “Gospel” means “Good News”. The Christian Gospel is therefore the Christian Good News.

[If you have already read the Bible and consider yourself to be reasonably familiar with God’s Word please click here to move to the next section.]

The Christian Gospel

The first four books of the New Testament (also known as the Christian scriptures) are usually referred to as the Gospels or the Christian Gospels. These are accounts by four different writers about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Therefore in order to make an investigation into what the Christian Gospel actually is, your very best place to start (if you haven’t already done so) would be to read the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In fact a reading of the entire New Testament is encouraged, which in turn cannot be completely understood without a reading of the Old Testament also. So in brief, read all of God’s Word the Bible if you can. If you simply read commentaries on the Bible or check out websites which claim to teach the true meaning of the Gospel, then you will find yourself at the whims of reasoning by fellow humans only. Some of that reasoning is very helpful. Some of it is wrong. And much of it is plain confusing. That’s the reality.


So at this point my advice would be to leave this and any other website on the topic and:

Option 1) Read the whole of the Bible (this can easily be done within a year if you read a few pages each and every day).

If option 1 is not practical then:

Option 2) Read all of the New Testament i.e. the Bible books of Matthew through Revelation.

If option 2 is not practical for you then at least:

Option 3) Read all of the Gospel accounts, i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Then return and continue your research.

If you don’t have a Bible of your own then either buy a mainstream translation like the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV), or simply read it online. Our list of resources includes some websites where you can find that.


Now let’s attempt to answer the question as to what the Christian Gospel actually is.

“The Gospel about Christ” or “The Gospel of Christ”?

This is a fundamental question about the Christian Gospel. Is it the narrative of Jesus Christ in terms of what happened to him, or is it a message that Jesus Christ himself taught to others? Many commentators have become hung up on this point as if it is an either/or situation. But is that really so?

Let’s consider each possibility and what the Bible has to say.

The Gospel About Christ

The Magi Visit JesusAs noted above, in calling the Bible books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “the gospels”, the implication is that the Christian Gospel is the narrative about Jesus Christ.

This is borne out by much of what is written within these books. For example:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Luke 2:10

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

So the Christian Gospel is most certainly good news about Jesus Christ who came and took away the sin of the world (John 1:29)

The Gospel of Christ

At the same time Jesus himself brought a message of good news to mankind, and taught his followers to spread that message.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “… proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
John 1:14

This is far from an isolated scripture. In fact if you were to only read the accounts written by Matthew, Mark and Luke 1 then you would likely come away having a firm impression of the gospel being predominantly the message that Jesus, along with his apostles and disciples preached during his lifetime, i.e. the drawing near of the kingdom of God, also referred to as the kingdom of heaven. 2

However there is a major factor to consider. The apostles and disciples did not fully understand the Good News during Jesus’ own human lifetime. It might initially seem strange that this should be so. But there was good reason for it. When Jesus Christ came onto the scene in the first century, the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah who would be a conquering king to deliver them from the oppression of the Roman empire. Jesus used perfect discretion in revealing to his followers what they needed to know, when they needed to know it. To immediately reveal the details of his prophesied death before he had even developed a close relationship with his apostles would probably have been more than they could bear at the time (compare John 16:12).

The ministry 3 of Jesus Christ lasted for about three and a half years, following his baptism at around the age of thirty years old (Luke 3:23). We don’t know the exact dates of Jesus’ birth and death, but this period of ministry would have likely fallen somewhere between the years 27 and 36 AD. 4 It is during this period that Jesus selected apostles, attracted disciples, and sent some of these out selectively to preach a message that he gave them (Matt 10:1-11:1; Luke 10:1-16). But what exactly was that message?

Knowledge of the Gospel Was Limited Until After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

In one of the passages cited above, Jesus is recorded as having instructed his followers to spread the word that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). This is consistent with the message that Jesus himself was proclaiming throughout his entire ministry according to Matt 4:17.

Consider an incident recorded in Matthew chapter 16. The dating of this event is likely within the final year before Jesus’ death. The aforementioned accounts of him sending his apostles and disciples out to preach took place well before this. Let’s pick up the narrative in Matthew 16:13.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This significant exchange indicates that Jesus appointed the Apostle Peter with particular authority to further the interests of the Kingdom. Note what follows in verse 21:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

It is therefore clear that the message that the followers were spreading earlier did not include the detailed facts as to how mankind would be saved.

Think about how the apostles must have felt on hearing Jesus start to explain that he would suffer and die. What would your reaction be to such news? We can sympathize with Peter who responded this way:

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

It was necessary for Jesus to rebuke Peter in order to make the strong point that it was indeed God’s will that these things should take place, despite the high cost involved. But notice that Jesus had also said that on the third day he would be raised. Did Peter miss this piece of the puzzle or fail to understand its meaning? It’s certainly possible that he was so overwhelmed by the news that the Lord should die that this was his only focus at that moment. Later on however, he and the rest of Jesus’ apostles would have a different and more complete perspective.

How Could the Death of the Messiah be Good News?

The Bible teaches that Jesus’ voluntary death paid the price for our sins.

[Christ Jesus] gave himself as a ransom for all
1 Tim 2:6a

[Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Rom 4:25

Since it is our sins that condemn us to death, the sacrifice that Jesus made gives us the opportunity to avoid eternal death even though we sin 5.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 6:23

This is the incredible Good News, or Gospel, of Jesus Christ. It involves both what he himself taught, and the actions that he took to redeem mankind from sin and death.

The Phrase – The Christian Gospel

It should also be noted that no such thing as “a Christian Gospel” could be identified as such, until the term “Christian” itself was in use. God’s Word tells us that this didn’t happen until the disciples were called “Christian” by divine providence sometime after after Jesus had returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit later came upon them (Acts 11:26)

[This article will be updated with further content soon …]

Notes:

  1. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often called the “synoptic Gospels” due to the amount of content they have in common as compared to the Gospel of John.
  2. An more specific explanation of this Kingdom message will be dealt with in a future article.
  3. By ministry we are referring to the key works of preaching, along with healing and other miracles, performed by Jesus.
  4. Contrary to any natural assumption that the pivotal year that moved our modern calendar from BC (before Christ) to AD (Anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord) marked Jesus’ birth, historians generally accept that he was born around the year 2 BC. This is based upon the historical record of certain key events that are recorded in the gospel accounts – most notably perhaps the census decreed by Caesar Augustus referenced by the historian Luke (Luke 2:1-3).
  5. The specifics of how the sacrifice that Jesus made achieves this will be the subject of another article.

Why do animals suffer?

From a theological perspective I consider this to be a tougher question than “why do humans suffer“.

I believe that we have to return to the premise that God purposes to create a world within which humans become his reflection in exercising free will in a perfect way. What we currently observe is a “work in progress” towards that objective. Once we come to grips with the realization that such a world seems almost paradoxically impossible then we also realize that there are probably some parameters which are incomprehensible to us at present. Since God by definition would always take the best option in to achieve his purpose, we can only work on the basis that what we see around us is indeed the best option, even if some elements of it seem out of place to us.

The reality is that suffering is subjective in the first place, and we simply have no idea what level of suffering animals experience – both physically and psychologically. However I personally would not hide behind some sort of pretence that animals don’t really suffer at all. I am a firm believer from personal observation that animals reflect emotions of fear and experience pain similar to our own.

Lion Hunt
The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal – British Museum
Of course a great deal of animal suffering can be attributed to humans who abuse the natural environment. Man was originally assigned the task of care taking the earth (Gen 1:28). Had they done so perfectly then we can imagine quite a different scenario to what we see now. That said, it would certainly appear that animal suffering precedes the appearance of humanity on the scene. We can infer from evidence of predation and disease in the fossil records that animals probably suffered to some degree even during the creation process.

One important factor to consider is that, if humanity is to reflect God’s quality of love at all times, even with perfect free will, then it is plausible that man could not conceive of love without observing an environment which simultaneously demonstrates God’s love AND pure free will as exercised by creatures acting on instinct alone.

The food chain is clearly a practical creation, but along with disease and decay, may also be intended to serve a demonstrative purpose.

One thing is for sure – we do not know exactly how things will be ordered in the “new heavens and new earth” that we await according to God’s promise (2 Peter 3:13). Will animal suffering continue in that environment. There are certain prophetic scriptures that indicate peace in the animal realm as well as the human one.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
Isaiah 11:6

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Isaiah 65:25

Whether these promise are literal or not, temporary or not, only time will tell.

Who Made God?

Is this really a difficult question? I suppose it is reasonable to ask it of those believers who hinge their whole argument on “every effect must have a cause and therefore the universe must have had a cause”. In this framework the question of where the universe comes from simply backs up one stage, and the question of who made God comes into play.

On the other hand if we work on the perfectly logical basis that an almighty God is exterior to our universe and not subjected to the physical laws on which we base our natural presuppositions of “cause and effect” then the question is void of meaning.

Now that by no means that it is a bad or illogical question to ask. It’s just that certain questions are only valid provided that they rest on solid premises. In this case the premises for the question depend on God being contingent on the same laws as we are. But as the creator of all things including the laws, the premise in this case cannot stand.

We cannot even state any premises to replace them, which in the minds of some people is just a way to avoid the question. But the reality is that things are what they are. If the laws governing God’s existence are different from ours, or indeed God is not governed by any laws that would be comprehensible to us, then that’s just the way it is.

One thing I will say is that nobody had to explain a timeless God to me. When I was a very young person I recall that I reached the conclusion that if God created all things then he must have created time. If God created time then he most likely is not constrained by time as we know it. Therefore the eternal nature of God, and his lack of contingency, was not severely problematic for me to grasp. I’m not saying I was bright or right. I’m simply saying that some people can accept these facts and comprehend that the problem is not solvable in terms that can be described in general physical terms. I actually still struggle to see why very smart people sometimes make a great deal out of this question rather than acknowledge that the premise of an almighty God outside of space and time means that the question is inherently likely to lead to paradoxical responses.

It’s not a case of avoiding a valid question. It’s a case of not wasting time over attempting to answer an an invalid question.

Why Do Humans Suffer?

The human condition is simultaneously marvellous and dreadful. We could write so much about how existence can be wonderful, and indeed on balance is wonderful for many people. Yet it must be acknowledged that for many people life is mostly full of misery. Even God’s Word teaches this reality.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:10

Even worse is the reality that some lives are short and painful. Children are abused and killed. Some are used as soldiers and made to kill others. So why do humans suffer so much?

The real question is – who is responsible for such things?

It’s an easy thing to blame God, or to view suffering as an argument against His existence. But is that a rational response?

The Bible is often written in poetic language, but clearly presents the following facts:

  1. God was responsible for the production of all things, including human beings as creatures with the capability to reflect his own qualities (Gen 1:27).
  2. Human beings were endowed with the gift of free will – the ability to make free moral choices, for better or for worse. For a reason, or reasons, not fully explained, a creature from the spirit realm – identified as Satan the Devil – was permitted to influence humans into making bad choices, and has been doing so over a long period of time. (Gen 3:4)
  3. Despite this influence humans often exercise their free will in overwhelmingly positive ways.
  4. The end in view is that the human race will eventually exercise free will only in positive ways. At that point God will have achieved the seemingly impossible – the production of creatures in His image that just like Him make free choices, but always for the common good.

Difficult Questions for Christians

Difficult questions for ChristiansDid anyone say it would be easy? Do atheists, or does anyone at all for that matter, sit in any ivory tower of knowledge, with the ability to answer every question that comes their way? Far from it. And nobody really expects it. But putting a heavy “burden of proof” on those with whom you do not agree is a common tactic when debating life’s big questions.

The Christian is encouraged to “always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). There certainly are difficult questions for Christians and we need to face up to them. However that does not mean that the Christian hope is invalidated if a single difficult question cannot be easily answered. It is no more fair to expect a Christian to be able to comprehensively answer any and every question than for any individual to answer every question applicable to their framework of belief.

Imagine asking a physicist a question about quantum physics to which there is as yet no clear answer. Is the physicist deficient if s/he simply acknowledges the limits to present knowledge? Absolutely not! So we should play by the same rules whatever field of knowledge we are dealing with. Of course that doesn’t mean that we can claim to be a physicist if we have no knowledge of the field whatsoever. Christians, like physicists, must have some knowledge of their field in order to credibly call themselves such. It would just be unreasonable to expect every physicist to answer every question in the field of physics. Some questions may be answerable but those answers simply lie outside of an individual’s current sphere of knowledge, and other questions may exist to which answers are simply unknown in general.

All that said there are certain questions that are commonly presented as arguments against the Christian faith, and we will try to build a growing list of those on this page. The difficulties involved in answering these questions will vary. We will try to present some scriptural and logical responses where possible. Yet it is always preferable for anyone to humbly admit that they do not have an answer in preference to trying to “fudge” an answer that doesn’t satisfy any standard of human reason.


Questions and Answers

Please click on a question for more information.

Isn’t a Christian an atheist with respect to all “gods” except the Judeo-Christian God?

Isn’t your religion just a game of chance based upon your place of birth?

Why do humans suffer?

Why do animals suffer?

Who made God?


Ask New Questions

Please send new questions through our contact page. We’ll try to address all reasonable questions on this page, or via a more complete article. It might take time to do this, but we’ll prioritize the more common questions.

Difficult questions for ChristiansI promise to publish any reasonable and question relevant to Christian belief on this page, or within an appropriate article. I will do my very best to be intellectually honest at all times. If I don’t know any satisfactory answer at this time I will still publish the question, and perhaps in time other people will send comments that will help me to provide answers. If you leave your email address via the contact form then I promise to give you an email reply to let you know what the status of any question is.

Questions can be from any perspective, e.g. atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Jewish, or simply from doubting Christians.

For those asking questions in order to disprove Christianity, then fair enough. There is no reason that you should not raise what you consider to be logical objections, and Christians should be able to defend their faith and respond in a logical way.

For those of us looking to bolster our Christian spirituality by raising important questions to which we do not currently have the answers it is important to know that the Bible candidly records many people who asked rational questions. They were never condemned for questioning the Almighty as if we humans are overstepping our boundaries by doing so. Rather the Creator of all things is ready and willing to fulfil our desire for satisfying answers.

Recommended reading: Proverbs 2:1-9

Isn’t your religion just a game of chance based upon your place of birth?

To some extent this is true. But what should a person infer from this? Had you been around when Christianity was first taking root in first century Palestine what would have been your chances to have been one of the relatively small group in the upper room who were first anointed with holy spirit? (Acts 2:1-21) What about your chances of being a convert to Christianity at all during that period? Pretty slim I would think. Just as the chances of Christianity itself surviving as a Jewish sect were pretty slim. But God purposed that people would gradually be drawn to himself through his Son, and so it came to pass. The point is that there are elements of probability to the outcome floor any individual, but certainty that God’s express will will be realized in any situation.

Now what does it matter if the chance is indeed greater for one human being to be born into or at least exposed to a Christian environment at some point.

The question only truly has weight if eternal salvation is dependent on becoming a baptised Christian during our present short lifespan. If this were true then it would matter a great deal. If would be unjust of God to leave the deck stacked against people based on where they are born or indeed any other variable. But such a premise is a misunderstanding on the part of many people. Once we understand what the true meaning of the Christian Gospel is then we come to an appreciation that God’s justice is beyond question in the way he has arranged things.

For a full explanation please see “What is the Christian Gospel?

Isn’t a Christian an atheist with respect to all “gods” except the Judeo-Christian God?

If you watch and/or listen to atheist vs Christian debates then you will likely hear this question frequently posed by the atheist side. It’s a reasonable question. If a Nordic time-traveller was to visit us from the past and claim that Thor and other gods within their framework of belief were real, then as Christians we would appear to be atheists in one sense to them. However the direct and true answer is that Christians are not atheist in any frame of reference because Christians believe in a God, and atheism by definition means the belief that there is not a God or any number of gods.

What the atheist is really asking is why should a person believe in the Christian God in preference to all the other gods that humans have imagined over history?

Well the God of the Bible understands that question, and addresses it head-on. Whereas many civilizations simply accepted the existence of many gods, the Bible very specifically establishes that there is only one True God that is able to bring his will to fruition.

Here are some examples:

“To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35)

“Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you” (2 Samuel 7:22)

“For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” (Psalm 86:10)

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9)

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

See also: Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:39; 1 Kings 8:60; 2 Kings 5:15; 19:15; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 18:31; Isaiah 37:16,20; 43:10,11; 44:6,8; 45:21; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Zechariah 14:9; Mark 12:29-34; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2:5; James 2:19

Framing the Christian as someone who just happens to believe in one god and rejects millions of others is not a reasonable representation of the Christian faith. It implies that belief in any one or number of gods is equally as plausible or implausible as belief in any other.

However, that’s not the way it is. There is a reason why belief in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible sits perfectly well with modern science for many people, whereas a belief in the Norse god Thor does not.

Evil in the Name of Religion

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a popular book which had the byline “How Religion Poisons Everything”. Is such a sweeping condemnation justified?

If we look at the history of mankind the reality is that evil people have poisoned everything. It has been convenient for many of them to use religion to achieve their own ends, but many evil people who were atheists have managed to poison everything they’ve touched without the platform of religion. In relatively recent history alone we might think of Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, who as leaders had opportunity to cause unimaginable death and suffering to so many.

9/11 Attacks on the Twin Towers
9/11 Attacks on the Twin Towers (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Other radicals hide behind the veil of religion in carrying out their ideologies while a cursory study shows their objectives to be politically, rather than religiously, motivated.

The other side of the coin is that many religious people have accomplished great good in the world.

So what really is the common denominator at the root of evil. Is it religion? Or is it evil people, whether or not they are religious?

Jesus Christ condemned the religious leaders of his day.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Matt 23:15-28

During his famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In other words there would be people who would make false claims to follow Christ, and yet by their actions show that they really had no connection with him.

The key point to take away is that although Christianity and religion in general has been tarnished by evil people who sometimes hide behind religious ideology, we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. True Christianity – the path of following in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Pet 2:21) – is a force for good in the world. Moreover Jesus will not tolerate those who falsely profess to be Christian forever. The Bible teaches that he will remove evil people from the world when he fully establishes his kingdom on earth.

The Divine Name of God

The Divine Name of God as found in the Bible – sometimes referred to as the Tetragrammaton, meaning four letters – is essentially the Hebrew proper name attributed by God to Himself. tetragrammaton_200

The image here shows how it is written in Hebrew characters.

In the present day its pronunciation is unknown, since at some point in history the Jewish people felt that the Name was too holy to utter out loud. The Hebrew alphabet does not contain vowels, so it is now only a matter of speculation as to how it may have been spoken. Continue reading

Satan the Devil

… the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!
Charles Baudelaire, “The Generous Gambler” (1864)

Most Christian denominations officially believe in the Devil as a real malevolent spirit person. Although for individuals we find the concept going somewhat out of fashion, perhaps due to Hollywood devil overload.

It is true that at one time superstition railed against rational thought. Every bad thing was attributed to the devil or other evil spirits. Things are still like that in some parts of the world, and this undoubtedly causes a backlash among rational thinkers.

But is it really irrational to believe in the Devil?

What the Bible Says About Satan the Devil

Adam, Eve, and the DevilThere can be little doubt that God’s Word teaches the concept of a real person known at Satan the Devil. In itself the word Satan simply means “resister” and Devil means “slanderer”. This has led some (most notably the Christadelphian denomination) to treat the term as simply a concept rather than a person.

The term never actually appears in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden. The being that misled Eve into breaking the command of God is known as “nachesh” which is commonly translated as serpent or snake. That said we are not left to wonder who or what this entity was since Rev 12:9 tells us that the “original serpent” was called Devil and Satan. Jesus Christ talked of the Devil as a real person:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
John 8:44

His words here directed to the rebellious Jews would make little sense unless Jesus himself believed in the Devil. And the gospels further bear testimony that Jesus had previously been tested by Satan shortly after his baptism. (see Matt 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13)

Satan the Devil and Christians

Roaring Lion

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

This warning by Peter was directly given to Christians. We are currently in the period in which Satan is waging war with those who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17).

The spiritual warfare we thus face is something that will be written about in a later article.