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The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

I heard a sermon once that claimed the word evangelion (good news, gospel) as used in Mark 1:1 was meant to specifically refer to a military campaign. Supposedly, a new king or emperor in ancient times would normally be expected to go out to war during the spring, to conquer new lands, win tribute, etc. Good news (and treasure, and slaves) would be brought back to the capital city from the war front by a messenger. This was the claim.

Is there any ancient work, or reputable history author, that documents such a political norm in the ancient world? It is clear from answers to Is "Gospel", or "Good News of Military Victory" what "Evangelion" means in Greek? that the word evangelion can be used in a military context. But is the specific parallel between the risen Christ and a newly crowned king going to war plausible given the known history?

Such a parallel is significant, if it can be established, because it would indicate that the phrase "the beginning of the evangelion" in Mark 1:1 is not merely a preamble/introduction to the text, but Mark's statement that the gospel itself is only "the beginning" of the story and that Mark intends us to read his gospel with a military mindset. I find this to be an attractive idea, but without a strong historical case for this specific meaning of an "evangelical campaign", I feel I cannot insist on this specific meaning.

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    It seems highly unlikely, to me, that a 'blessed message' could have any kind of military context or origin. This is typical of many religious leaders who seem to be able to get away with all kinds of fanciful suppositions without question by their audiences. Did the sermoniser not supply any academic substantiation for their assertion ? Mark references Isaiah and Malachi - particularly Malachi, regarding the Messenger of Preparation and the Messenger of the Covenant. Did the sermoniser not mention these, spiritually historic, references ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 27, 2023 at 3:57
  • "without a strong historical case for this..., I feel I cannot insist on this specific meaning" I wish all questions here came with this safeguard.
    – fumanchu
    Nov 27, 2023 at 14:35
  • @NigelJ I don't see why not. Especially as an analogy. Prophecy is clear that Messiah will re-establish David's dynasty and the "kingdom of God". His dominion will be an ever-lasting dominion and his kingdom shall never be destroyed. - Daniel. Jesus' closest disciples expected him to literally overthrow Rome, even after the resurrection. Why would an analogy to military conquest be ruled out?
    – wberry
    Nov 28, 2023 at 18:23
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    @wberry Well, ye-e-es, sort of. But there is no evidence in the text, that is to say in the entirety of the context of Mark's book. Rather, Jesus makes very clear that his purpose, his method, his teaching and his commandments are all . . . . peaceful. There is no shred of military or political motivation anywhere in the gospels or the epistles. The Gospel is decidedly not military and not political. Angelic power, yes. Spiritual power, yes. Revelation is chock a block full of that. But not as you suggest.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 28, 2023 at 19:53
  • @ wberry - Has the restraining of the disciples by Jesus, when they wished to call fire down on the Samaritan village, been considered? Or the statement "My kingdom is not of this world," (that is, spiritual, not physical) been given full weight by this discussion? Or the declaration by Paul that, "We fight not against flesh and blood..." been taken into account by this question? Also, that the common usage of a word often has a meaning different than its original etymology?
    – ray grant
    Dec 22, 2023 at 21:09

3 Answers 3

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It is wrong to think that the word specifically referred to military victory or campaign, though it was one of its common usage. The Isaiah and other OT references of this word refers to the reign of God and his victory, justice and vengeance over evil (Isa 52:7 61:1-2). The claim about some custom about a new king going for new military campaigns in connection to this term, and distribution of the war booty, are just wrong and imaginary. The messenger bringing the good news may receive gifts in return, not the other way round. Thus, that sermon preacher must be naive in narrowing the theological term of the NT. We can be sure about the context of the term good news, that it would be naturally used in context of victory in politics, justice, sports or wars, where people expects a favourable outcome. There are various ancient references of this word euangelion used as the good news of victory. Michael Bird writes in The Gospel of the Lord How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (2014), p. 6-7 a rough quote:

In the Greco-Roman world, the noun euayyéliov was primarily associated with positive news in general and news of military victory in particular, while the verb euggelizomai described the specific act of declaring the good news. In some cases euaggéliov was associated with the gifts that one received for bringing the good news."

While the Roman general Pompey and his army were en route to Petra, he was met with the “good news” of the death of his adversary, King Mithridates of Pontus: “For when he came within a short distance of Petra... news-bearers rode up from Pontus bringing good news. Plutarch also describes a situation where allies of Pompey had, presumptuously it turned out, declared Pompey's victory over Julius Caesar as “a number of people sailed for Lesbos, wishing to announce to Cornelia the good news that the war was over”. Elsewhere we find much the same. In a surviving private letter, an author refers to “a slave coming to bring, the good news of victory and success from the early second century.

Jewish authors of the first century similarly wrote about the good news of imperial power. Philo, in his Embassy to Gaius, described how the news of Gaius Caligula’s accession to the throne was received in Jerusalem, noting that it was “from our city that rumor to carry the good news (evayyehiovuévn) sped to others". Josephus refers to the report about Vespasians accession to the imperial throne, narrating how “every city celebrated the good news (euangelia) and offered sacrifices on his behalf. Then later, Josephus adds, “On reaching Alexandria Vespasian was greeted by the good news (euayyéia) from Rome and embassies of congratulation from every quarter of the world now his own... the whole empire being now secured and the Roman state saved beyond expectation”. The accession of Vespasian to imperial power was not just political headlines. His accession was reported and celebrated as the socio-political salvation of the Roman Empire from the disastrous year of 68-69 CE that had seen three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) all quickly rise and fall in the wake of Nero's suicide. It was also a religious event, which implied that Vespasian was supported by the gods and served now as a priestly mediator for the Roman people.

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  • This evangelion of Vespasian is a bulls-eye. Thanks.
    – wberry
    Dec 22, 2023 at 17:50
  • read more from that book on the google link, it's a lot there.
    – Michael16
    Dec 22, 2023 at 17:56
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According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the term gospel (literally ‘glad tidings’) was a technical term for “news of victory,” especially in military battles (Meyers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 123). A victorious new ruler in Mark’s era was celebrated and “glad tidings” were mediated throughout the provinces. Meyers goes on to say that the Roman empire associated the term with political propaganda. This propaganda would disseminate throughout the empire promoting the myth that Caesar was a “divine man.” [We see this kind of propaganda produced by coinage in Caesarea-Philippi. This is where Jesus asks the disciples the pivotal question “Who do you say that I am?” in Mark 8.] Wengst has this to say about the emperor:

[Deification of the emperor] gives euangelion (glad tidings) its significance and power. . . .Because the emperor is more than a common man, his ordinances are glad messages and his commands are sacred writings. . . .He proclaims euangelia through his appearance . . . the first euangelium is the news of his birth (TDNT, 2:724).

Mark isn't concerned with the birth narrative, though. Mark is concerned with the euangelion about Christ's victory over the evil that animates the Judean/Roman condominium from Jerusalem (And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Mark 3:22-27). Why frame Jesus if Jesus isn't a political threat?

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    This is great. One question remains. How do this author Meyers, and the TDNT, come to this conclusion? Based on what original, and necessarily ancient, sources?
    – wberry
    Dec 22, 2023 at 4:05
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The word "euangelion" comes from the root word, "angelos" = "message" with the prefix "eu" = "good". Thus, good message, or good news.

According to BDAG, the word originally meant simply a reward for good news, and then good news itself. In non-Biblical sources, it was used to describe:

  • good news from sacral sources, eg, Dionusios
  • good news associated with the appearance of Apollon

(See BDAG for more details.) That is, it was not often used for military purposes but was capable of describing good news from any source.

In the NT it is used ONLY in the sense of "God's action in Jesus Christ". (BDAG)

Thus, there is no historical evidence that evangelion has a military origin - quite the contrary, it often described a sacred sacrifice associated with ritual worship in some contexts.

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  • The question I linked already explains the etymology of the Greek word. That's not what I'm asking about, and I think, not relevant anyway. I'm asking a history question. Did newly crowned kings normally go on 'evangelical' military campaigns in the first year of their rule, and were those campaigns described that way in Greek by contemporaries or the oldest available historians? If such campaigns were often done, and if they were described as 'evangelical' campaigns, then it turns Mark's gospel into a great analogy.
    – wberry
    Nov 27, 2023 at 23:02
  • @wberry - I answered that question as well. See the last paragraph.
    – Dottard
    Nov 28, 2023 at 9:48
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    Your use of 'thus' indicates that you deduce the lack of historical evidence from the word analysis. That would not be correct. Etymology does not always correspond to history.
    – wberry
    Nov 28, 2023 at 15:04
  • @wberry - I quoted all the historic evidence available and thus there is no military history in the word!
    – Dottard
    Nov 28, 2023 at 20:39

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