I’ve just taken down my copy of the Good News Bible, prepared in ‘standard, everyday, natural English’ and published in 1976, over forty years ago. It was given to me by my mother for Christmas that year; I would have just completed my first term in the Sixth Form.
I remember the excitement of the sales pitch that the word translated since Anglo-Saxon times as ‘Go(d’s)spel’ was here directly rendered ‘Good News’ and being intrigued by just how much more could be opened up in the same way (as, for example ‘repent’ becomes ‘turn away from your sins’).
Three years later, in my first term at University, I was trying to come to terms with the vocabulary of New Testament Greek myself, words like logos (word), phone (sound) and thanatos (death). I found that the prefix eu- (nice) turned each of these into English words I recognised: eulogos (nice words) gave me eulogy (a spoken tribute); euphone (nice sound) gave me euphonious (pleasant to hear); euthanatos (nice death) gave me euthanasia (mercy killing).
So I found exactly where the sales pitch of the Good News Bible was grounded: an angel is a messenger, and thus euangelion (nice message) gives us evangelist (a writer or proclaimer of what at different stages of the development of English has been rendered gospel, glad tidings and good news).
It was only much later that I found that the New Testament writers who wrote the word ‘euangelion’ were also reading it as a word in their own Bibles – the standard Greek translation in their own time of what we call the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament. And here, as often as not, euangelion was being used for the announcement of a victory, almost as if it was in fact a technical term for a joyful despatch from a battlefield.
So, on Sunday, as the opening words of Mark’s Gospel came round once more and we began to proclaim ‘This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God... I will send my messenger ahead of you to clear the way for you... someone is shouting... make a straight path for him to travel’, I was put in mind of Rowan Williams’ reminder that this has the force of an announcement of regime change.
Not Good News as in ‘settle down children and let us hear some of the lovely stories about Jesus – and then we can have a hot drink and go to bed and have sweet dreams’.
But Good News as in ‘dance in the streets because the word abroad is that the despot who has been in charge for far too long is under house arrest and the longed for successor is now actually in the country - and then align yourselves urgently with the new possibilities opening up in front of you lest either he’ll find you colluding with the old corruption or, worse still, we’ll all miss the chance and the new cabinet will simply get filled up with the same people as the old one ’.
The picture is the result of an apprentice at Airedale Springs in the parish practicing programming a machine to twist single pieces of wire consistently into a carefully specified shape.