The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms defines it as “something that is unquestionably true.”
That the sun rises everyday is something that is unquestionably true. It is gospel truth.
What’s counterintuitive is that rather than reference truth to a common, mundane and uncontroversial fact, like the daily sunrise, this idiom ascribes truth to a supernatural event.
So, what is the word gospel?
American Heritage explains further that the word gospel comes from the Old English god spel, which simply means “good news” or “good story.” Specifically, that good news pertains to the biblical narrative which, generally proclaims:
“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Now, I know that the Bible is chock-full of extraordinary, eye-popping events, among them, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But while many may be quick to dismiss the Bible as a mere narration of events dipped with legends and tall tales, it would be interesting to see how this book – in consideration of the idiom – actually deals with truth.
Truth in the Bible
Specifically, in the passage previously quoted, the writer adds in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8:
“and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
While the claim maybe extraordinary, the Resurrection of the Christ was witnessed by many people on multiple occasions. And, at the time of the writing of the letter, it even challenged skeptics to ask the witnesses themselves, as most of them were still alive and could attest to the veracity of the news, firsthand, just like the writer.
This particular writer of the letter to the Corinthians, Paul, was also not just a mere witness. He was formerly hostile to Christians, as he points out later on:
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9)
Hundreds of witnesses.
The witness of a former hostile.
Just by these very passages (1 Corinthians 15:3-9), we see a very strong case being put in front of us regarding the extraordinary claim of Jesus coming back to life.
Sealed by blood
The point of the Crucifixion is to nip the work of Jesus in the bud, and disperse his followers. It worked. With their front-runner dead, the Christians went into hiding, well, until the third day, when the heavily-guarded tomb of Jesus was suddenly missing a corpse, and a risen Jesus started making appearances to people. And what the apostles and the early Christians testified that they had seen with their own eyes, they even affirmed with their own blood.
Theologian Sean McDowell, who has done extensive study on the apostles (preview the book, The Fate of the Apostles, here), says that there is very good evidence in the martyrdoms of apostles such as Peter, Paul and James the brother of John (and probably Thomas and Andrew), and the lack of a contrary story that any of them recanted.
While this does not directly prove the Resurrection, it shows the depth of the apostles’ convictions. “They were not liars. They truly believed Jesus rose from the grave and they were willing to give their lives for it,” McDowell points out.
“Liars make poor martyrs,” goes the famous adage.
A more in-depth investigation of the Resurrection is provided by Reasonable Faith in a two-part video beginning here:
Reasonable Faith’s “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part One: The Facts”
Reasonable Faith’s “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part Two: The Explanation”
With (1) the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb, (2) the appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and (3) the disciples’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead, it can be established that “the simple fact is that there is just no plausible naturalistic explanation” of the events after Jesus’ Crucifixion.”
“If it’s even possible that God exists, then miracles are possible,” and the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead cannot be ruled out, the video concludes.
Ammer, C. “Gospel Truth.” The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997.
McDowell, S. “Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for their Faith?”
Reasonable Faith, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part One: The Facts
Reasonable Faith, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part Two: The Explanation