Pre-Christian Uses Of “Gospel”

Koine Greek
some random Greek

In English, the word gospel is laden with religious meaning, but when Jesus and the apostles used the word euangelion (good news/gospel) they were using a nonreligious word from their culture.

There’s a good listing of ancient uses of the word at the Perseus Digital Library, and by combining that list with some other resources I’ve created summary useful for those who don’t know Greek. When I could, I’ve put the Greek word in brackets so you can see the form that is used. This is pretty much just a listing of data without interpretation – I’m merely trying to share some of my research to save time for others who are walking down the same road as me.

This is close to every pre-Christian use of the noun euangelion (I did not investigate the verbal form euangelizomai – click the verb to launch your own research). You will note that the word (which looks like εὐαγγέλιον) is relatively rare in ancient Greek, but common in the New Testament. Also of note, the New Testament often talks of the gospel in the singular (to euangelion), but in pre-Christian literature the form used is almost always different (it is usually plural and often does not have the definite article attached). Even though Jesus and the first Christians used a word from their culture, they clearly invested it with new meaning and placed an unprecedented emphasis upon it.

I have arranged the references into two groups: the first group is from the second-century BC through contemporaries of the New Testament authors, and the second group contains older uses which are less important for demonstrating current usage.

One final disclaimer: this post might make me look like some sort of Greek language guru. I am not. I am about as conversant with the Biblical languages as are most seminary graduates ten years out of their programs… which is to say, not nearly as conversant as I should be.

The Most Important Pre-Christian Uses of the Word Euangelion

The Septuagint (LXX) – 2nd century BC

The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the word in 2 Sam 4:10

when a man told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news [εὐαγγέλια], I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag” (view the Greek)

Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) – Library 15.74

[1b] Now Dionysius had produced a tragedy at the Lenaea at Athens and had won the victory, and one of those who sang in the chorus, supposing that he would be rewarded handsomely if he were the first to give news of the victory, set sail to Corinth. There, finding a ship bound for Sicily, he transferred to it, and obtaining favouring winds, speedily landed at Syracuse and gave the tyrant news of the victory. [2] Dionysius did reward him, and was himself so overjoyed that he sacrificed to the gods for the good tidings [εὐαγγέλια] and instituted a drinking bout and great feasts. (view the Greek)

Cicero (1st century BC)

Cicero (writing in Latin) uses the Greek word twice in his Letters to Atticus. I don’t know if that was considered pretentious or not, but I know that I love seeing the Greek mixed in with the Latin (which tells you just how much of a geek I am).

Letters to Atticus 2.3.1 (around 60 B.C.)

First, a trifle please for good news [εὐαγγέλια]. Valerius has been acquitted with Hortensius as his advocate. (view the Latin)

Letters to Atticus 13.40.1 (around 45 B.C.)

Is that so? Does Brutus really say that Caesar is going over to the right party? That is good news [εὐαγγέλια]. (view the Latin)

The Priene Inscription (9 B.C.)

The most famous pre-Christian use of the word is in The Priene Inscription. This is a letter from the Proconsul Paulus Fabius Maximus engraved in stone (picture) in Priene, a city in modern-day Turkey. Other fragmentary inscriptions of this letter have been found in Apamea, Maeonia, Eumenia, and Dorylaeum. This text is tagged OGIS 458 / SEG IV no 490, which means that you can see more about it in Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae (a 1905 compilation by Wilhelmus Dittenberger usually abbreviated as OGIS, available online) or in Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (SEG) volume 4. The letter is pretty long, but only the part below is relevant to the gospel.

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 [σωτήρ], both 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 [τοῦ θεοῦ] Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings [εὐαγγέλιον] for the world that came by reason of him…

It’s so famous because it brings the idea of Caesar as a god and savior to the world together with the notion that this was good news to be celebrated.

Josephus (1st century A.D.)

Jewish Wars 2.420

Now this terrible message [that a rebellion was brewing] was good news [εὐαγγέλιον] to Florus; and because his design was to have a war kindled, he gave the ambassadors no answer at all [to their request for assistance in stopping the sedition before it grew]. (see the Greek)

Jewish Wars 4.618

fame carried [the news about Vespatian] abroad more suddenly than one could have thought, that he was emperor over the east, upon which every city kept festivals, and celebrated sacrifices and oblations for such good news [εὐαγγέλια] (see the Greek)

Jewish Wars 4.656

And now, as Vespasian was come to Alexandria, this good news [εὐαγγέλια] came from Rome, and at the same time came embassies from all his own habitable earth, to congratulate him upon his advancement; and though this Alexandria was the greatest of all cities next to Rome, it proved too narrow to contain the multitude that then came to it.  (see the Greek)

Plutarch (1st century AD)

Agesilaus 33.4

even after the battle at Mantinea, which Thucydides has described, the one who first announced the victory had no other reward for his glad tidings [singular] than a piece of meat sent by the magistrates from the public mess. (see the English context)

Demetrius 17.5

Accordingly, when [Aristodemus] had come near, he stretched out his hand and cried with a loud voice: “Hail, King Antigonus, we have conquered Ptolemy in a sea-fight, and now hold Cyprus, with twelve thousand eight hundred soldiers as prisoners of war.” To this Antigonus replied: “Hail to thee also, by Heaven! but for torturing us in this way, thou shalt undergo punishment; the reward for thy good tidings [plural] thou shalt be some time in getting. (see the English context)

Moralia (Glory of Athens) 347d (and e)

Why, as we are told, the Spartans merely sent meat from the public commons to the man who brought glad tidings [εὐαγγέλιον] of the victory in Mantineia which Thucydides describes! And indeed the compilers of histories are, as it were, reporters of great exploits who are gifted with the faculty of felicitous speech, and achieve success in their writing through the beauty and force of their narration; and to them those who first encountered and recorded the events [εὐαγγέλιον] are indebted for a pleasing retelling of them. (see the Greek, English)

Other (Older) References

Aristophanes (5th century BC)

You can see the plural of the word used by Aristophanes in The Knights (Equites) lines 647 and 656, both references are plural. This translation is from Translator at Work.

“You!  You… Councillors!  I’ve got good news [εὐαγγέλια – see the Greek] for you!” I said to them.  “News that are so good, I want to make sure that I’m the first to announce them to you.  It’s the price of sardines, folks!  It’s the best it’s ever been since the outbreak of the war!”

Well, you should have seen their faces then! Turned nice and happy right there and then. They wanted to give me a hero’s garland for telling the good news. So I gave them my advice. I said to them that if they wanted to get their fair share for the price of an obol, they should rush down the market and buy themselves all the plates they can. Corner the market.  And keep it all a secret.

They applauded me loudly then and gawked at me awestruck.

But then, that bastard, Paphlagon, who knew how to press the Councillors’ buttons, got up and said, “Men, these auspicious news [εὐαγγέλια – see the Greek] should move us to make a sacrifice to our goddess! I suggest we should slaughter one hundred cows!”

And also in his play Wealth (Plutus) line 765 – (this translation is also from Translator at Work)

So, come on, now, folks! Dance! Come on, all together now: dance and sing and march and be happy because the day will never come again when you come home and find your flour sack empty!  Dance!


By the goddess Hekate! What wonderful news! [εὐαγγέλιά – see the Greek] Just for that I’m going to hang a long necklace of bread rolls around your neck!

Aeschines (4th century BC) Against Ctesiphon section 160

But when Philip was dead and Alexander had come to the throne, Demosthenes again put on prodigious airs and caused a shrine to he dedicated to Pausanias and involved the senate in the charge of having offered sacrifice of thanksgiving as for good news [εὐαγγελίων] (namely that Philip of Macedon had been assassinated by Pausanias) (see the Greek)

Isocrates, Areopagiticus (4th Century BC) section 10.

As if this were not enough, we have been compelled to save the friends of the Thebans at the cost of losing our own allies; and yet to celebrate the good news [εὐαγγέλια] of such accomplishments we have twice now offered grateful sacrifices to the gods, and we deliberate about our affairs more complaisantly than men whose actions leave nothing to be desired! (see the Greek)

Xenophon (4th century BC)

Hellenica 1.6.37

This they proceeded to do; and when they were sailing in, Eteonicus began to offer sacrifices for the good news [τὰ εὐαγγέλια], and gave orders that the soldiers should take their dinner, that the traders should put their goods into their boats in silence and sail off to Chios (for the wind was favourable), and that the triremes also should sail thither with all speed. (Glen’s note: this good news was, in this case, fake. Eteonicus was pretending that the dead Callicratidas had instead won a great victory over the Athenians). (see the Greek)

Hellencia 4.3.14

Now Agesilaus, on learning these things, at first was overcome with sorrow; but when he had considered that the most of his troops were the sort of men to share gladly in good fortune if good fortune came, but that if they saw anything unpleasant, they were under no compulsion to share in it,—thereupon, changing the report, he said that word had come that Peisander was dead, but victorious in the naval battle. [14] And at the moment of saying these things he offered sacrifice as if for good news [εὐαγγέλια], and sent around to many people portions of the victims which had been offered; so that when a skirmish with the enemy took place, the troops of Agesilaus won the day in consequence of the report that the Lacedaemonians were victorious in the naval battle. (see the Greek)


Supposedly the word is used by Menander (Peric. 993), (4th century BC), but I can’t find the Greek text online anywhere to verify that.


Homer used the term twice in The Odyssey (8th century BC) in 14.152 and 14.166, but The Odyssey was so ancient by New Testament times that I don’t think of it as much help in determining contemporary usage. I’m stretching it to include 4th and 5th century references. Homer was as ancient to them as Chaucer is to us. Which, in case you’ve forgotten Chaucer, reads like this: “Whilom, as olde stories tellen us, Ther was a duc that highte Theseus; Of Atthenes he was lord and governour, And in his tyme swich a conquerour…” – not much help to a scholar from the year 4,000 in determining how a word is used in 2010. Bringing in stuff from the 4th century BC is about as ancient as I care to get.

If I learn of more references (or if I have any mistakes pointed out to me) I’ll update this post.

Group Text Messaging

7001 New Messages?
For a few years, Facebook was one of the best ways to connect with college students. Not any more. It’s still useful, but not nearly as useful as it used to be. The novelty has worn off and so students aren’t as responsive on it.

So like Steve Lutz I’ve been thinking about text messaging lately. My younger students (frosh and sophomores) seem to be much more likely to have unlimited texting plans than my upperclassmen and grad students.

In the past I’ve just texted people individually, but now I’m experimenting with group text messaging services.

I considered using Twitter and telling people to subscribe via text. A few problems:
a) College students don’t use twitter.
b) It centralizes the communication too much.
c) I don’t feel confident in twitter’s reliability.
d) The verb “tweet”.

So I’ve been looking into other services. So far I’m drawn to txtBlaster. The thing I like best is that I can deputize as many of the subscribers as I want and allow them to text the entire group, so I can make this a student-driven thing. It’s a free (ad-supported) service. They claim to screen their ads carefully and to target them based on the type of group you set up. So far so good on that front.

Do you have
a) any thoughts on using text messaging effectively as a ministry tool?
b) another service to recommend (such as TextMarks or txtSignal or even the maligned Twitter)?

P.S. If you want to see txtBlaster in action, feel free to text xastanford to 25278. I’ll be playing around with it for the next few days.

College Ministry and Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is unique among search engines. It doesn’t find websites – it finds facts.

And I just realized that it has unexpected utility for those of us who think about college ministry.

For example, you can compare UC Berkeley with UC Davis

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(or Harvard with CBC).

Or you can get a surprising amount of information on UC Berkeley.

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Create a Facebook Friend List for Chi Alpha

I just sent this email to the students in my ministry. If you find it helpful, feel free to adapt it for your own church/ministry.

Hope you’re doing well in the aftermath of finals.

Quick suggestion: take a bit of your free time over spring break to do a very simple task that will help strengthen our community.

If you use Facebook, make a friend list for Chi Alpha.

  1. Go to
  2. Click the blue “Make A New List” button on the left side of the screen and call the new list “Chi Alpha”.
  3. On the next screen, add everyone in Chi Alpha. Use the phone list as a guide (I’ve enclosed the list of names below – just cut and paste them one at a time into the “add to list” box).
  4. Now every time you log in, you’ve got a simple way to quickly check in with our community. There will be a “Chi Alpha” link on the left sidebar of the main Facebook page that will show you the most recent status updates/shared links/whatever from the people in our group.
  5. Now add two or three people you are sharing your faith with to the list. Whenever you see their status updates pop up on the XA list you just made, remember to pray for them and invite them to join us the next time you see them.
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It’s hardly going to revolutionize your life, but if all or even a lot of us do it then it will make our community that much tighter. Facebook is a great tool for enhancing real life friendships – maximize it for the Kingdom!

Hope it helps. We’re all in this together. car accident lawyers ny download basic instinct 2 free

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Digital Discipleship

In one of the first conversations I remember having with Scott Aughtmon, he tried to sell me on the advantages of using sequential autoresponders download evil under the sun

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in ministry. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I smiled and nodded.

Turns out they’re awesome. I wish I had listened to him sooner.

Consider the case of Dick Schroeder. He speaks at retreats and frequently prays with people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Over the years, he has put together a series of emails that he sends to people afterwards to coach them from a distance.

One day he asked me if there was a way to automate the process. My mind flashed back to Scott’s enthusiasm for these autoresponder things, so I downloaded a free PHP script called Infinite Responder

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and set up

Now if someone signs up, they begin receiving coaching emails from Dick once a week. Since the messages appear to come from his email address, students can just hit “reply” and ask Dick about anything they found confusing or that they need special advice about. It’s very low-maintenance for him, and Chi Alpha students nationwide get a year’s worth of Dick’s expertise.

Since rolling this out at the World Missions Summit (Jan 1st), we’ve had just over 200 people subscribe to these updates. That works out to about 7 signups a day. I have no idea where the total will cap out, but momentum is building and I don’t even feel that the resource has been thoroughly publicized yet.

Things I like about the tool:

  • Low-tech. geronimo download

    It’s just email. No one has to install a special plugin, put headphones in their computer, or have some insanely fast connection.

  • Personal. The emails come from an actual human being to whom you can respond.
  • Low-maintenance. Once the email is in the database, it’s just there. Neither Dick nor I need to do anything special to send them out. And Dick only gets replies from people who have specific questions, which is only a fraction of the people who receive any given email.

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Pretty cool, eh?

Lately I’ve been wondering what other opportunities are out there. Some ideas that I’ve had:

  • Emails for new believers
  • A “40 days” type campaign for Chi Alpha with daily emails where each campus that chooses to participate picks its own start and stop times and the script takes care of all those details.
  • A first two weeks of school devotional to get students fired up when they return from summer break
  • Coaching emails for people who are called to ministry
  • Monthly emails for Chi Alpha grads to help them make the transition out of college gracefully
  • A term’s worth of weekly emails for people pioneering new Chi Alpha ministries
  • etc,etc

It’s just a matter of finding a person with the right expertise and hooking them up. So if you’ve got an idea, I’d love to hear about it. I’d especially love to hear if you’re a Chi Alpha leader who has content ready to go. I can just run it past Dennis and get that stuff online faster than you can imagine. 😉

Expecting An Email From Me? Check Your Spam Folder.

If you haven’t heard from me and you’ve been expecting to, I apologize. For some reason a lot of my very normal emails (particularly to students) have been labeled as spam. Here’s an example of an email that gets labeled as spam:

Student’s email to me: “Glen, can I get a ride to church on Sunday?”
My reply to the student: “Sure, I’ll pick you up at 10am. See you then!”

Result – automatically deleted as SPAM! The poor girl thought I was ignoring her and almost biked to church before we got it straightened out.

I had a student send me a copy of one of the unfortunate emails, and digging through the headers I found this entry from Stanford’s spam filter:

X-Spam: Probability=82%, Report='URI_CLASS_ABS_DOMAIN 8

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I’ve googled for URI_CLASS_ABS_DOMAIN, but I haven’t been able to figure out what it means. I’m sending my emails from gmail, so I don’t think there’s any weirdness there. Something about the content of my email seems fishy to the spam filter. My best guess is that it’s my footer (which I intend to disable as a test), but any insight is appreciated.

The footer, in case you’re curious, is an innocuous

Glen Davis:
Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship @ Stanford University:

Bottom line: if you expected an email from me and you haven’t seen it, check your spam folder. A happy surprise might be waiting for you.

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Scanning a Directory For PHP Errors

My fellow web geeks might find this script, php-check download home on the range movie , useful. It recursively scans a directory checking PHP files for syntax errors.

Just copy it somewhere in your path (like /usr/local/bin) and chmod it to 755.

I wrote the script because I edit PHP using Notepad++, so it’s easy for small typos to enter my scripts. I needed a quick way to scan a directory after uploading revised files.
I wrote it in PHP so that those who need it will also know how to customize it.

?php // php-check version 1.0 // recursively scans a directory for .php files and runs php -l on // them (php -l checks for PHP syntax errors) // revisions at if (php_sapi_name()!='cli') { die("This utility can only be run from the command line.\n"); } $counter=0; $errors=false; function scan_dir($dir) { $counter=0; $dh=opendir($dir); while ($file=readdir($dh)) { if ($file=='.' || $file=='..') continue; if (is_dir($dir.'/'.$file)) { $counter+=scan_dir($dir.'/'.$file); } else { if (substr($file, strlen($file) - 4) == '.php') { $counter++; $output=shell_exec("/usr/bin/php -l $dir/$file 2>&1″);
if (substr($output,0,2)!=’No’) { // skips the “No syntax errors in …” message
echo $output;

return $counter;
if ($argc!=2) {
die(“Usage: php-check dirname (usually php-check .)\n”);

if (!is_dir($argv[1])) {
die(“Argument must be a directory. The most common usage is php-check .\n”);


echo “$counter files checked\n”;

This is a quick and dirty script – there are probably some bugs in it. User beware.

If you find it helpful, you might also want to check out scripts like PHP CodeSniffer

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