Re-defining the Gospel
How do we define the gospel? In the modern Western world there is an assumption that the gospel is a religious term, probably invented by Christians. But it turns out that the word “gospel”, which means “good news”, was used in the early Roman Empire. In fact, prior to the birth of Jesus, the term involved a specific vision of reality. In an age without the internet or TV, one way to propagate this vision was through monuments and inscriptions. The Romans constructed numerous impressively massive structures and posted inscriptions in public spaces. One insightful artifact from 9 BC is the Priene Calendar Inscription, which commemorated the birth of Caesar:
“The providence which has ordered the whole of our life…has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Caesar Augustus, by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere…the birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning of the gospel for the world that came by him.”
By coming into the world, Jesus re-defined this imperial gospel. When Mark announces “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” and when Paul speaks of the “the true message of the gospel” in Col 1:5, they are making revolutionary statements. The gospel of Jesus declares that Caesar is not savior and god; that he is not the beginning of the good news for the world. Jesus alone is savior. The Gospel is a counter-story to the script being forced upon people by the Roman Empire. Paul presents an alternate vision of reality, a gospel defined by Jesus:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
Through his birth, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ re-defined the gospel. Ultimately, humans do not define the gospel. It is we who are defined by the good news of Jesus Christ, this revolutionary reality.