When we think of the word ‘Gospel’ we most likely refer to the writings of the Apostles or Christ’s disciples which tell us of the most important news in human history: the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which brings with it the redemption of humanity.
The word ‘Gospel’ comes from the language of the Roman Empire. The Emperors considered themselves to be the saviours and redeemers of the world. Therefore it follows that their proclamations assumed the value of the ‘Gospel’, ‘good news’ or a ‘salvific message’ able to bring salvation and redemption to the world. An inscription in Priene, a city in Turkey, talks of the ‘gospel’ – or evangelion of Caesar Augustus which is the good news of the Emperor. Paolo Fabio Massimo, Pro Councillor of Asia, proposed that the birthday of the ‘Divine Caesar’ would be considered a new year in every Roman province. It was to be considered as the day on which everything had its origin, the start of life and of man’s happy existence. It was the divine Augustus that put to an end war and established peace in the empire. He therefore guaranteed the existence of man, and that is the reason that his birthday became the principle and bearer of ‘good news’ and the hope of the entire world.
St Mark’s Gospel starts with the following verse: ‘The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (Mk 1:1) St Mark’s Gospel is the oldest of the four Gospels and was written just before 70 AD, just a few years after the martyrdom of St Peter in Rome in 64AD.
St Mark, the Evangelist, intentionally used the word ‘good news’ or ‘Gospel’ and attributed it to Jesus Christ, Son of God the only bearer of the message of salvation and redemption to men. Jesus Christ, God made man, was the one who has truly changed the life of men making them free and full of hope.
It is a pretence that the Emperors are able to bring ‘good news’. The Emperor was only a man with human power and cannot bring any form of salvation to men. Only the Word of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ, has the real power to redeem the world.
For Christians in the third millennium, the responsibility to bear witness to this ‘good news’ passes to us!