The word evangelical has its etymological roots in the Greek word for "gospel" or "good news": εὐαγγέλιον euangelion, from eu "good", angel- the stem of, among other words, angelos "messenger, angel", and the neuter suffix -ion. By the English Middle Ages, the term had expanded semantically to include not only the message, but also the New Testament which contained the message, as well as more specifically the Gospels, which portray the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The first published use of evangelical in English was in 1531, when William Tyndale wrote "He exhorteth them to proceed constantly in the evangelical truth." One year later, Thomas More wrote the earliest recorded use in reference to a theological distinction when he spoke of "Tyndale [and] his evangelical brother Barns".
During the Reformation, Protestant theologians embraced the term as referring to "gospel truth". Martin Luther referred to the evangelische Kirche ("evangelical church") to distinguish Protestants from Catholics in the Catholic Church. Into the 21st century, evangelical has continued in use as a synonym for (mainline) Protestant in continental Europe, and elsewhere. This usage is reflected in the names of Protestant denominations, such as the Evangelical Church in Germany (a union of Lutheran and Reformed churches) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In the English-speaking world, evangelical was commonly applied to describe the series of revival movements that occurred in Britain and North America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Christian historian David W. Bebbington writes that, "Although 'evangelical', with a lower-case initial, is occasionally used to mean 'of the gospel', the term 'Evangelical', with a capital letter, is applied to any aspect of the movement beginning in the 1730s." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, evangelicalism was first used in 1831.
The term may also be used outside any religious context to characterize a generic missionary, reforming, or redeeming impulse or purpose. For example, The Times Literary Supplement refers to "the rise and fall of evangelical fervor within the Socialist movement".