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I am currently preparing to teach for a trip to a ministry training college we work with in Lusaka, Zambia. In doing so, I have been thinking about 'first mentions' of particular words in Scripture. You see, there exists a rule within biblical-theological studies that, if you plan to study a particular word or theme in Scripture, the best thing to do is start where it was first mentioned.

So, specifically with the gospel, theologians usually recognise that the first reference (though not first mention) is found in Gen 3:15:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.

You see. No mention of gospel (Hebrew besorah, Greek euaggelion - but you knew that already).

This verse is usually identified as the protoevangelium, which is Latin for first gospel. Now, there is discussion as to whether this verse is actually about the gospel. Of course, the early Hebrew community, to which this was written, would not have initially recognised this as speaking of a more defined gospel message. But let's grant that it is very much worth considering this passage as protoevangelium through a new covenant lens, also noting that Paul seems to harken back to this important passage in his short statement in Rom 16:20.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

Interesting imagery, which would remind any Jew of that pronouncement in Genesis, though Paul appropriates this towards the church-ekklesia in Rome, who were 'in Christ'. And, of course, all the promises of God find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ (ala 2 Cor 1:20).

So I am comfortable to find room within the perspective that Gen 3:15 is an initial seed statement in regards to the gospel.

And what is interesting to note about this passage is that it is centred in the seed of the woman defeating the serpent. Or, stated another way, a particularly-prophesied-about seed would establish his rule by ending the rule of the serpent.

You see, what I am arguing is that gospel is centred in the proclamation that God's kingdom reign has come in God's Messiah, Jesus. And from that central acknowledgement, also seen in the Old Testament in places like Isa 52:7, everything else flows out from it.

It doesn't make the cross or resurrection or forgiveness of sin or setting captives free or healing any less significant. Rather, these things are part of the gospel announcement, even being recognised as good news themselves. Well, of course those are very good news!

And as I have made very clear, the works and preaching of Jesus, the humility of the cross (which was foolishness to the world) and the powerful victory of the resurrection were the means by which God established His kingdom rule. Well, God had reigned quite well before the Christ event. But the greatest revelation and expression of his rule had not come until God's Messiah-King became flesh and walked out the will of the Father.

Now, with Gen 3:15, I do recognise the story of sin, judgment and need for forgiveness is woven into the account. Such exists and to deny it would be foolish. But, as I have reflected on this passage, I believe that what we call the 'first gospel' is centred in the proclamation that the prophesied and promised seed would defeat the serpent, thus making very much known who was in charge, who was reigning.

This is the gospel of the kingdom. This is good news that our God has come to rule, calling sinners to repent and restoring those who heed the call.

Views: 345

Tags: evangelism, gospel, protoevangelium

Comment by Scott on January 13, 2012 at 6:55am

Daniel -

In Rom 1:16-17, Paul did not define the gospel as salvation. He said the gospel is the power for God to bring about salvation. The gospel-evangel is proclaimed and when people here it, they respond and are saved-delivered.

I did mention in the article that God was reigning quite well before Jesus became flesh. Gen 1 and the Psalms are a few places that let us know who is the sovereign, reigning one.

The problem is that, when we go into the Gospels, we see Jesus proclaiming that Israel's God has come to reign, to set captives free, release prisoners, etc. This is what Jesus, the great evangel-bearer proclaimed (see more here and here). And, so, as I have tried my best to make clear, the good news of forgiveness of sins and salvation through the work, cross and resurrection of Jesus become a reality because God has made known the good news that he is here to reign and make things right. And now he calls us to join in this new creation programme initiated through his reigning king, Jesus.

So, we can jump ahead to Paul, put we will have missed something possibly embedded in Gen 3:15 (which I think you didn't interact with) and what Jesus actually proclaimed in the Gospels.

Comment by Jason on January 13, 2012 at 7:14am

I would think that the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness are actually part of God's reigning anyway. Romans 5:20-21 declares that grace reigns through righteousness in those who are in Christ.

It would be hard to not see the kingdom as essential to the gospel message when one see that Paul's reference in Romans 10:15 is actually to Isaiah 52:17, which is about the fact that God reigns.

I have no problem whatsoever accepting that we need to present the gospel as the message of the kingdom of God. Why should men repent if God is not king? Why should men believe if Christ is not king? If there is no authority to which we should bow, why bow?

Just thinking. Obviously I'm not as articulate as you, ScottL; just thinkin'...

Comment by Scott on January 13, 2012 at 7:21am

Jason, I think those are good thoughts. The blessings of salvation become a reality in God's reign and rule in the life of the church, or anyone who calls upon the name of the king.

Comment by Jason on January 13, 2012 at 8:05am

Of all of the things that I dislike about modern evangelicalism, I do like the fact that there are some who push us to have a more holistic view of Scripture and theology.

Many times it is not either/or in Scripture, but both/and, because the parts form the whole.

The justification debate is one instance of that kind of thing. Justification is part of the scheme of redemption. Sanctification is not justification, but it cannot be separated; only distinguished. This is because both are part of God's work in redeeming us.

Just thinkin' again.

Comment by Marv on January 14, 2012 at 5:06am

Scott, you say "Of course, the early Hebrew community, to which this was written, would not have initially recognised this as speaking of a more defined gospel message."

Certainly this occurs in the text of the Torah (some book called Genesis) though if we are talking about first mention, this is somewhat late, being first mentioned orally in the presence of Adam and Eve. The words are in fact addressed to the serpent. I think A&E would have found some good news in it, though it was a bad day all around for them. I get the idea they clung to it.

Now how shall we understand what your main point is here? More about the SMcK contention that the Jesus is Lord part of the good news is predominant over the cross? I'm sure I misstate that. But of course the victory of the cross is exactly what we have here in seminal form (if you'll excuse the pun) in the serpent's striking of the seed's heel while being crushed by the seed's foot.

Christ's achieving His victory (and establishing Kingdom reign) through His death is an appropriation and reworking of the very death penalty that A&E had just incurred.

You don't happen to mention it, but the imagery occurs in Revelation too, of course.

Comment by Jason on January 14, 2012 at 9:29am


I think what you're saying is what I was heading toward with the holistic view. We too often get focused on one thing to the exclusion of others.

If all we focus on is kingdom, we certainly miss much that is important.

In the end, it's the glory of God as revealed in Christ that is the theme which permeates all of Scripture. I think we should view all other truths as subservient to that, and then work from there.

Sadly, I don't think I've reached the point that I've conquered my myopia.

Comment by Marv on January 14, 2012 at 9:57am

Listening to SMck's interview with Michael Horton I was encouraged. Ultimately I came away thinking he is aiming at a holistic view. He is taking a certain rhetorical tack to do it, he basically says. I'd've preferred a different tack. One that says lets explore the wealth of good theology on the subject and fill our picture out. I think it would reach his ends much better, because he is really only reacting to a poorly taught populace, not a poorly formulated theology.

Comment by Jason on January 14, 2012 at 9:59am

Have you ever read Daniel Fuller's "The Unity of The Bible?" It has been about 10 years for me, but it set me to thinking, for sure.

Comment by Jason on January 17, 2012 at 2:35pm


I'm confused, because your comment gives me the idea that you think that there is a divide between you and me, yet you seem to agree with my assessment that we should view the Scriptures holistically; and then you arrive at essentially the same point I did.


Comment by Marv on January 19, 2012 at 12:21pm

Hah, hear Darrel Bock on SMcK's TJG and see if someone you know hasn't made the same point, perhaps in this very thread...


My only concern is that the opposition Scot makes between the gospel being about salvation and about a more comprehensive goal may risk turning off the very people who need to hear his message most. If the gospel includes a message about coming to the kingdom and knowing the promised Christ as the giver of life in that kingdom (salvation), even though the gospel deals with more than this, then we need not make so much of an either or choice out of this message. Although much of what Scot says shows he has a place, even an key one, for salvation in the discussion of the biblical gospel, his framing as a contrast of what really is a relationship between kingdom, life, and salvation may cause some not to hear the important points he is making. Our public conversation about the gospel needs to step back, in my view, from such contrastive framing, and step more into being clear what the connection is between the parts. Scot's discussions of the text do this, but his framework does not. So pick up this book. It will engage you on the topic of the gospel in a helpful way that will help you appreciate its scope. And don't be caught off guard by how the question is framed. Hang in there with the book and see if you can get the whole story.


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