THE PROTO-GOSPEL
By R.C. Sproul


If we consult Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, we will discover a fascinating study of the word evangelion. This is the Greek term that is translated "Gospel." In rudimentary form the word means simply "good news, message or announcement." The word was employed in antiquity for almost any kind of good tidings such as the good report of the outcome of a battle delivered by a marathon runner who delivered the message. Hence the allusion of Paul in Romans 10 to Isaiah's words in Isa. 52:7 "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

The reference to beautiful feet reflects the joyous anticipation of the watchman who is posted as a look-out for an approaching messenger. Without the benefit of (CNN) ancient people relied on the reception of reports by runners. The experienced watchman could discern the outcome of the message by the distant sight of the movement of the messenger's feet. If the runner appeared to be sluggard or plodding it indicated the footsteps of despair -- bad news. If the messenger's feet were flying, an obvious excitement and eagerness to complete the run, it signaled good news. Hence, the sight of the feet of the runner who brought good news was deemed "beautiful."

In the New Testament there is a progressive movement of the meaning of the term "Gospel." The Gospel is first proclaimed in the New Testament by angels. The term "angel" itself means "messenger." It comes from the same root as the word evangelism see Luke 2:10 "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."

Later with the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus the accent was on the proclamation of the "Gospel of the Kingdom." John the Baptist was the herald of this announcement. Much of Jesus' teaching, especially in His parables, focused on the announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God.

In the writings of Paul the focus changes from the kingdom (which he does not repudiate) to the person and work of Christ. Paul speaks of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This does not mean simply the Gospel that Jesus Himself announced but rather the good news about Jesus Christ.

This progressive change in emphasis does not indicate a disparity between the Gospel Jesus proclaimed and that proclaimed by Paul and the other Apostles. The Gospel was and is always about Christ. It finds its core significance in Him and in what He has accomplished in our behalf.

The Gospel is not an innovation of the New Testament. That it is called "good news" may be a bit misleading. We see the link between the words "news" and "new." We read the newspaper to find out what's new. But though there are new aspects revealed about the specific details for the Gospel found in the New Testament there is a sense in which the good news of the Gospel is in fact "old news." It is found in a multitude of places in the Old Testament as the New Testament writers are fond of pointing out.

Indeed the "news" of the Gospel is as old as the Garden of Eden. The Gospel was first preached to Adam and Eve. The Preacher who delivered the message was God Himself. This message is known in the church as the Proto-Evangelion or the "First Gospel." Technically, the Gospel was not preached to Adam and Eve directly. Presumably they were eavesdroppers or bystanders who overheard it. Indeed to the original audience it was not even a Gospel, it was bad news delivered in the form of a curse. The original recipient was an audience of one, the serpent who beguiled Adam and Eve. This malediction -- turned Gospel -- is found in Gen. 3:14-15 "And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou [art] cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
 

There is irony here. We usually understand the Gospel in terms of reconciliation. Yet the first Gospel is couched in terms of enmity and alienation. Christ proclaimed a Gospel of peace, but in Genesis the message is about conflict. As part of the curse God placed upon the serpent, He decreed that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent's seed and the woman's Seed.

The thinly veiled good news in this decree is found in the divine promise that the mortal enemy of the human race will ultimately be vanquished. It is good news to Adam and Eve and to us that the evil one who led in temptation and fall will not be the friend of fallen people in need of redemption. The enemy of the serpent will emerge as our ally, indeed as our champion in cosmic conflict.

The promise of the proto-Gospel is the promise of victory -- it is the promise of One who will come from the Seed of the woman who will be Christus Victor.

There is an ominous note contained in the proto-Gospel. The good news is that the head of the serpent will be crushed, fatally bruised by the heel of the Seed of the woman. The image is of a strong man grinding his heel into the head of a snake. It is not merely that the snake will be kicked or merely injured by the confrontation. Nor will the Seed of the woman merely step on the snake's tail, leaving him to wriggle away to safety. No, the good news is that the conflict will not end in a draw or in mild chastisement. The conflict will end by a mortal blow delivered to the serpent.

But the victory will have a price tag. It will not be accomplished without pain to the Seed of the woman. In crushing the head of the serpent, His own heel will be bruised. He must feel the fury of His enemy, the pain of bared fangs that inject venom. But His is not an Achilles' Heel by which He will Himself be destroyed by being bruised in a vulnerable point. Yes, He will die in the battle, but death will lack the power or authority to hold Him. The wound will be fatal, but not final. His triumph will be complete. The Suffering Servant of Israel will emerge as her risen, glorious King. This is The Gospel in a nutshell. 


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