Most of you would probably be familiar with the usual explanation of the meaning of the word gospel. It is commonly asserted that the Greek word translated gospel in English (euangelion) can be translated as good news. That is certainly a reasonable translation, but it is not entirely adequate. The Greek word gospel, which is used 76 times in the New Testament, is not exclusively a biblical word, but was in use in the Greek language in the first century A.D. In classical Greek the word was commonly used to denote a message of victory or some other message of great importance. The most famous pre-Christian use of the word is found in the Priene Inscription. This is a calendar ( presently kept in the Berlin Museum) that has an inscription regarding the birthday of Augustus Caesar. It reads as follows:
The Priene Inscription (9B.C.) it seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: “Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior for us and for our descendants , that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance…….. surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings (euangelion) for the world that came by reason of him…”
It will be observed that the good news about Caesar Augustus is that he was considered to be a saviour and a god, whose coming to power in Rome was ordered by Providence and the benefit of humankind. He was seen as someone whose rise to power in Rome was good tidings for all people since through him would come hope and peace. By all accounts Caesar Augustus was a very good leader, but he certainly was not a god and he did not save Rome from its final destruction in the fifth century A.D.
However, in his day, a genuine Saviour of humankind was born, whose kingdom lasts forever. There is a far better message than the Priene Inscription, delivered to certain shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem of Judea in the 14th year of Caesar Augustus. They were told of the birth of a Saviour, who is the promised Messiah of Old Testament revelation. He is a true Saviour and truly God, who came to bring forgiveness to all who believe in Him, and the hope of a better kingdom in which there is perfect peace free from sin and death, and endless joy in the presence of God.
NIV Luke 2:10-11 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you: He is the Messiah, the Lord.”