What is the Gospel? – 04 – Step 1 Gospel in the Acts and the Epistles

104 question markWhen the apostles went around preaching the gospel what did they say? Are their any summary texts describing their gospel ministry? What about the epistles? The audiences the epistles were written to already believe the gospel. In this post we will have a look at summary texts describing the apostles sermons in Acts and how the apostles speak of the gospel to believers.

Today we continue my series on – What is the Gospel? The series has several posts and it forms the biblical basis for my Gospel page. The first post has all the links for the series.


Looking in the Acts of the Apostles

Jesus was crucified. He died and God raised him from the dead. We should expect any Gospel proclamation after these events should reflect these events.

104 Gospel-Back&Forward

The Acts of the Apostles also describe historical situations where the gospel is mainly proclaimed to people who do not follow Jesus. We can locate these people in the C1 ‘Sinner’ category above. We should also expect references to the gospel will adopt a forward looking perspective (C1 to C2, etc) in these historical situations. Proclamations of the gospel in this context are to people who are not yet saved or have received any of the benefits and effects associated with believing the gospel.

I have already noted the prominence in Acts of the expressions ‘word of God’ (Acts 4.31; 6.2,7; 8.14; 11.1; 12.24; 13.5,7,46; 17.13; 18.11) and ‘word of the Lord.’ (Acts 8.25; 10.36; 13.44,48,49; 14.03; 15.35,36; 16.32; 19.10,20) In Acts these expressions are synonymous with proclamation of the gospel.

The bulk of my analysis of Acts is in Point 4 – ‘Look at the evangelistic preaching in Acts and see if there are repeated patterns’. But the remainder of Acts merits attention.

Summaries of Apostolic Preaching

A product of the above investigation yielded a whole set of verses describing evangelistic preaching. I have tabulated the results below.

104 Acts Summaries
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A very clear majority of these verses describe evangelistic ministry as declaring or proving Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

For example, Luke describes Peter and the apostles ministry;

[42] And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5.42)

Luke describing Paul’s ministry;

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 9:20-22)

[2] And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)

[5] When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:5)

Some other texts of interest.

4 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4.1-4)

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. (Acts 8.4-6)

36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: (Acts 10.36-37)

She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16.17)

And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18.27-28)

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. (Acts 28.23-24; cf. 28.28-30)

This seems to be a consistent theme through Acts. The disciples showing from the scriptures that Jesus is the promised Christ.

20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20.20-21)

You may remember from my first post Michael Bird likes this one. But it doesn’t say calling people to repentance is the gospel.

Look at the table. The majority of texts describing gospel proclamation in Acts say it is about declaring, proving and testifying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

If the intention is to declare and prove Jesus is the Christ, what do you think that says about how they crafted the content of the gospel message?

Looking at the passages above suggests the content of the gospel included a description of the death and resurrection of the Jesus. Articulation of these facts in comparison with Old Testament promises and prophecies was used to prove Jesus was the Christ. The intent of the apostolic gospel was to prove Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

104 Gospel Proof

The second most common description is declaring the Kingdom of God (Acts 8.12; 20.25; 28.23,31).

The minority groups are as follows. A single passage describes evangelistic preaching as ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead’ (Acts 4.1-4). One describes it as ‘proclaiming the way of salvation’ (Acts 16.17) and another, ‘testifying to both Jews and to Greeks.of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20.21).

Covenant Promises and Prophecies

104 Promises and Prophecies

As we have seen before the covenant promises and prophecies of God describe the background to the gospel message.

Again the basic questions asked by people in the first century were;

  • ‘When is God going to fulfill his promises and prophecies?’ and
  • ‘Who is the Christ who will bring about their fulfillment?’

This pattern is continued in Acts. Philip links the promised kingdom of God with Jesus’ identity as its Christ in his gospel message. He preaches the ‘good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8.12). In one instance of Philips ministry, the prophecy about Christ in Isaiah 53 led to his telling the good news (Acts 8.32-33). Philip was asked,

“About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8.34-35).

Philip obviously identifies Jesus with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. We can assume from here Philip would also have associated the suffering servant themes and applied them to Jesus. Themes such as his atoning death on the cross, forgiveness of sins, the accounting of righteousness and perhaps even resurrection (MSS Isa 53.11).

So again we see the answers to the first century questions above. The good news is they have been fulfilled by Jesus.

See Point 4 – ‘Look at the evangelistic preaching in Acts and see if there are repeated patterns’ for many passages describing the covenant promises and prophecies of God.

Hope of Resurrection

Hope and resurrection are themes occasionally intertwined and are a significant part of ‘gospel hope’, that is hope of future resurrection. When Paul was before the Jewish council he cried out,

‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’ (Acts 23.6)

Resurrection is a core element in Paul’s gospel.

Note also Rom 8.23-24. Paul says, ‘we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ Paul says it was in the ‘hope of resurrection’ that they were saved!

Paul’s gospel encouraged people to want and desire their own resurrection. Speaking before Felix Paul mentions his ‘hope in God’ ‘that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust’. With this in mind he takes ‘pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.’ (Acts 24.15-16) Paul’s hope in resurrection fuels his desire to keep a clear conscience (cf. 2 Cor 5.1-10; Phil 3.10-14).

Before Agrippa, Paul reflects a similar emphasis on the resurrection of Christ and his intention to persuade people to Christ. Paul says,

‘And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?’ (Acts 26.6-8)

At the end of Paul’s he asks, ‘King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.’ And Agrippa responded, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26.27-28) Agrippa understands that Paul is trying to convert him. Paul’s references to Christ’s resurrection and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies is key to that message.

Looking in the Epistles

Definition of the Gospel

Paul gives a clear and summarised outline of the gospel message in 1 Cor 15.1-5.

[15:1] Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you,

which you received,

in which you stand, [2] and

by which you are being saved,

if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.[3]

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4]

that he was buried,

that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

This is the closest we will get to a ‘definition’ of the gospel. So I will discuss this passage in Step 3 as it provides a clearest outline of the content gospel in the New Testament. For now the core elements seem to be Jesus being named Christ, his death for our sins, his burial, his resurrection and later appearances.

Paul’s Application of 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-24

Why has Paul quoted the gospel and how is he using it here? Lets see how and why Paul applies the gospel here.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor 15.12)

Paul’s statement here reflects he has quoted the gospel in 1 Cor 15.3-5 in order to defend the truth. There will be a resurrection of the dead. Some of the Corinthians seem to be denying this.

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15.12-20)

Paul has quoted the gospel in order to reinforce a particular implication of the gospel. People will be raised from the dead. ‘If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised’.

Paul is not here convicting his audience of sin and showing them how they need Jesus’ death on the cross. He is not trying to convert them or save them. These are already accomplished (1 Cor 15.1-2). Rather,

Paul has quoted the gospel with the intention of defending an article of faith, not to make them Christians.

This article of faith is a core element of the gospel message. Resurrection. If there is no resurrection from the dead, the gospel is not true.

I have amended the drawing below to reflect some of these core elements in the gospel. Remember again, the Epistles were written to existing saints – believers.

104 Gospel-Back&Forward2

Now, unlike the gospels and Acts. This locates the audience of these writings in the C3 saints category above. We should expect references to the gospel to assume they already know what the gospel is.

They may well note their past experiences in hearing and believing the gospel.

The passages should adopt a backward looking perspective (C3 to C1 or C2).

Reminders of the gospel will assume the audience are already saved and have received some of the effects and benefits associated with believing the gospel. Quite often in the epistles, the audiences are given assurance and responsibility. Assurance of the benefits and effects they have received for believing the gospel. Responsibility to live worthy of the gospel in the light of what God has done for them.

So if I resume discussion on how the story of Jesus relates to the gospel. To Timothy, Paul exhorts,

‘do not to be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord’ (2 Tim 1.8).

This is equivalent to ‘don’t be ashamed of the gospel’ (cf Rom 1.16). A testimony provides a witness of events in someones life, about who they are and what they have done. Paul and Timothy’s salvation has been manifested through the

‘appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,’ (2 Tim 1.9-10).

Paul occasionally refers to Christ’s appearing. At times he uses the word to describe the second coming of Christ. (1 Tim 6.14; 2 Tim 4.1; Tit 2.13) In 2 Tim 4.8, those who will be rewarded will have loved his appearing. At other times he refers to his first coming, his life on earth before his ascension, his death on the cross and his resurrection. Referring to Christ’s first appearing is another way of quickly referring to his life, death and resurrection. Why? Because that’s what happened to Jesus when he first appeared. The references ‘testimony about our Lord’ and his ‘appearing’ suggest Paul in both cases is referring to the content of the gospel as the story of Jesus’ life.

Another passage illustrating Paul understands the gospel in terms of story comes from Philippians. Paul says,

‘And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.’ (Phil 4.15)

The ‘gospel’ Paul is describing here is the history he shares with the Philippian church. Paul clearly understands the gospel in terms of historical and therefore storied events.

In Peter’s second epistle, he refers to the life of Jesus saying,

‘we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ and ‘we were witnesses’.

Peter says ‘we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed’ linking the Old Testament prophecies with their fulfillment in Jesus’ ministry, his life, death and resurrection. The prophetic word he describes as

‘a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’

is a poetic way of describing the gospel. Suggesting the gospel concerns his ‘power and coming’, that is his ministry, life, death and resurrection – another reference to the narrative gospel (2 Pet 1.16-21).

United with Him

In fact, if we now understand the gospel in terms of the narrative of Jesus death and resurrection. We can also look at passages where these are mentioned and learn from what they say about the gospel.

Consider what Paul says in Rom 6;

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

[5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free [justified] from sin.

[8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

[11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6.3-11)

Paul makes the same inferences again in Col 2.11-14;

[11] In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, [12] having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. [13] And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2.11-14)

Paul is engaging with most of the narrative elements in 1 Cor 15.3-5 and relating them to the Saints in Rome;

  • Crucifixion and death (Rom 6.3,4,5,6,7,8,10,11; Col 2.13; 1 Cor 15.3)
  • Burial (Rom 6.4; Col 2.12; 1 Cor 15.4)
  • Resurrection (Rom 6.4,5,8,11; Col 2.12,13; 1 Cor 15.4)

How does Paul link Jesus’ narrative with Christians? Paul describes the link between Christ and his people very simply;

we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died (2 Cor 5:14)

Basically, what Paul is saying is that what happens to Christ, happens also to his people whom he represents. His people are those who believe he is the Christ and give him their allegiance.

So the gospel narrative compared with the Old testament promises and prophecies proves Jesus is the Christ. For unbelievers (e.g. in Acts) who are convinced by the gospel message that Jesus is the Christ.

The very same narrative that was used to prove Jesus is the Christ is then used by Paul afterwards to explain their salvation. Because Jesus as their Christ becomes their representative. The King represents his people. Therefore what happens to their representative, their king, also happens to them;

104 Gospel Perspective

  • Christ was crucified – therefore his people were crucified with him
  • Christ died – therefore his people died with him
  • Christ was buried – therefore his people were buried with him
  • Christ was raised from the dead – therefore his people were raised to new life in him.

So if we look again at Romans 6 and Colossians 2, we see Paul applying this relationship between Christ, the gospel narrative and his people. This three part relationship he applies differently to the various situations at hand. Richard Hays describes this concept in his book The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, saying;

“Paul does not, of course, simply retell the story in his letters, although he alludes to it constantly. He assumes that his readers know the gospel story, and his pervasive concern is to draw out the implications of his story for shaping the belief and practice of his infant churches. … This claim must be stated very carefully: the gospel story does not determine Paul’s discourse in the sense that the latter follows directly and inevitably from the former – indeed, Paul’s letters may be read as running arguments with opponents who draw different inferences from the same story – but the story provides the foundational substructure upon which Paul’s argumentation is constructed. It also provides, therefore, certain boundaries or constraints for the logic of Paul’s discourse. Thus the narrative structure of the gospel, while not all-determinative, is integral to Paul’s reasoning. (p6, Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11)

Lets have a look at a few passages where Paul perceives several things through the lense of the gospel narrative (the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ);

Paul understands his own experience through the lense of the gospel (Gal 2.19-20; Rom 6.3-10; 2 Cor 5.14-15)

Note the interaction between death and life. Christ’s death and life and Paul’s death and life in the following passages.

[19] For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. [20] I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2.19-20)

Paul understands Christian salvation through the lense of the gospel (Rom 5.21; Eph 2.1-6; Col 2.11-13)

Note again the references to death and resurrection, Christ’s and the Ephesians – culminating in their salvation (Eph 2.6).

[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2.1-6)

104 Eph 2 C3 to C1C2 L1-3

Paul is describing the salvation of the Ephesians, moving from the ‘dead in sins’ C1 state to the ‘alive in Christ’ C3 state. The death and resurrection of Christ colours Paul’s understanding of the Ephesians past tense salvation. That is, from the viewpoint of C3, Paul is talking about the narrative transition in Christ of the Ephesians from C1 to C3.

Paul understands Christian identity through the lense of the gospel (Rom 6.11; 2 Cor 5.17)

Note again the references to death and then life.

[11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6.11)

[14] For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; [15] and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. [16] From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. [17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5.14-17)

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Paul instructs Christians to consider one another as ‘new creations’ in light of their union in the death and resurrection of Christ. The old (C1 Sinner) has passed away, the new (C3 Saint) has come.

Paul understands the world through the lense of the gospel (Gal 6.14-15)

[14] But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. [15] For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal 6.14-15)

The world has been crucified to me, what counts now is new creation. Death and resurrection continue to describe how Paul perceives the world. When Paul preached the gospel to Christians, he ascribes them with all the benefits and effects of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. So should gospel proclamation in churches today.

Looking Forwards and Backwards to the Gospel

I’ve now established two different ways of looking at the narrative of Jesus’ life.

  • Forward – From C1 to C2 and
  • Backward – From C3 to C2.

The gospel I have now included into the picture below; Jesus Died, Jesus is Raised and Jesus is Christ.

104 Gospel-Back&Forward2

Gospel looking forward

When the gospel message is proclaimed to C1 Sinners in the gospels and Acts. The message looks forward. In the gospels it announces the coming kingdom of God and we may included Jesus is declared its king. In Acts the message about Jesus life, death, burial and resurrection, proves and declares Jesus is the Christ or judge of the living and the dead. If the preacher is aware of a particular outstanding sin or behaviour that needs to be corrected the audience is convicted of sin and a call is made for repentance. Either way the listeners are called to allegiance to the risen Christ.

104 Gospel Proof

Gospel looking backward

When the gospel is proclaimed or alluded to C3 Saints in the epistles who have believed that Jesus is Lord and received him (Col 2.6). The message looks backward and speaks about all the effects of salvation stemming from the key events in Jesus’ narrative. Namely his death, burial and resurrection.

For example in Eph 2.1-10 Paul associates the death and resurrection of Christ with the Ephesian believers. The main intention in doing this is to educate his listeners in what Christ has done to them and what he has planned for them. The main product of this is assurance and a depiction of what their life in Christ should look like.

Another example is in Rom 6.1-13 where Paul uses the similar theme of what Christ has done to them to urge them not to continue in sin, rather to live in righteousness.

When the gospel narrative of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is alluded to in the epistles (to believers). Paul in particular uses it to assure and exhort his listeners.

Looking at both directions of view; when the gospel is preached to C1 Sinners, the narrative of Jesus which fulfills the Old Testament scriptures proves Jesus is the Christ. The message calls for repentance and allegiance (loyalty towards) of the listeners to Christ. When the gospel is alluded to in the epistles to C3 Saints, the gospel narrative is used to explain the salvation it has brought.

Covenant Promises and Prophecies

104 Promises and Prophecies

Paul in the New Testament strongly links the promises of God with the gospel. Paul begins Romans describing his apostolic ministry saying,

‘Set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, [3] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh [4] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom 1.1-4).

God promised the gospel. In Galatians, Paul describes the giving of the promise as gospel.

‘The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. Preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed”’ (Gal 3.8; cf Gen 12.3).

The promise ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ is presented here by Paul as gospel. In Ephesians, Paul says all believers have become partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel (Eph 3.6). ‘For all the promises of God find their Yes in him’ (2 Cor 1.20).

Peter says,

‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises.’ (1 Pet 1.3-4)

‘The knowledge of him’ is another way of referring to the gospel. Peter links the gospel to appropriating the promises of God. Then just a little later Peter says.

[10] Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, [11] inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. [12] It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Pet 1:10-12)

Peter talks about the prediction of the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. No doubt alluding to the death and resurrection of Christ. The fulfilment of these things is announced to them as good news.

When Paul preached the gospel, he describes Jesus Christ as a descendant of King David. In doing so he emphasises the messianic line of Jesus. The promise for a future messiah has been given in 2 Sam 7.12-16; Ps 2.1-12 and Ps 89.3-4. So Paul refers to this promise in Romans describing himself as;

‘set apart for the gospel of God … concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh’ (Rom 1.1-3).

To Timothy he says,

‘Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel’  (2 Tim 2.8).

Have you ever heard the gospel proclaimed where Jesus is identified as the ‘offspring of David’?

The content of Paul’s gospel message must have made it clear that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the kingly line of David. This also says something about the goal or intention of presenting the gospel. Paul says Jesus is the ‘offspring of David’ in order to prove he is the Christ, the Son of God.

The themes of the covenant promises and the Davidic ancestry discussed in Paul’s gospel demonstrate the Old Testament background of the gospel. They prove that when the apostles proclaimed the gospel they did it to people who were awaiting the fulfillment of many covenant promises and prophecies from the Old Testament. The good news is – in Christ, the Old Testament promises and prophecies of God have found their fulfilment. Hence Paul later says;

‘For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed’ (Rom 1.17)  

The gospel (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) reveals God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and prophecies. The good news is – the promised Lord and Christ has arrived and rules forever.

The Person of Jesus

As we have seen before John proclaims Jesus as the gospel. In 1 John he says;

‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.’ (1 Jn 1.1-2)

When John says, ‘What we have heard’, ‘which we have seen and looked upon’, ‘and have touched’, he is talking about Jesus. He then says, ‘that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you’, John links the person of Jesus with the gospel. John proclaims the person of Jesus as the gospel. He does this ‘so that people may have fellowship with them and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ (1 Jn 1.3) John’s intention for proclaiming Jesus is so they may have fellowship together with the Father and the Son.

John in the same Letter will state that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (1 Jn 5.1,5). Remembering the conclusion of his gospel (Jn 20.31), this statement suggests again the intent of proclaiming the gospel is to prove Jesus is the Christ.

Paul also equates preaching Christ with preaching the gospel in his letter to the Philippians. We can see this when he uses the expressions; ‘advance the gospel’ (Phil 1.12), ‘speak the word’ (Phil 1.14), ‘preach Christ’ (Phil 1.15), ‘defense of the gospel’ (Phil 1.16), and ‘proclaim Christ’ (Phil 1.17, 18) all to describe the gospel ministry of proclaiming Jesus Christ.

Power for salvation

Paul says in Romans,

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1.16-17)

The gospel is God’s power for salvation. I want to be careful here distinguishing between my categories. The text does not indicate Paul is describing the content of the gospel message. Paul is explaining why he is not ashamed of the gospel. He does this by describing the effects of believing the gospel message. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it saves Jews and Gentiles. These verses however do not state that what follows (Rom 1.18f) is a description of the gospel.

Later elements in my project on Romans will go into greater detail on Romans 1-4. But as a summary of Romans 1-4 we find the text is a dialogue between Paul and an imaginary Jew containing;

  • Paul’s initial statement for why he is not ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1.16-17),
  • The imaginary Jews condemnation of the Greeks (Rom 1.18-32),
  • Paul’s response to the imaginary Jew highlighting the deficiencies of the Jewish system of salvation (Rom 2.1-3.20)
  • And that believing and obedient Gentiles will be saved without having to adopt Judaism (various),
  • God’s covenant righteousness to his promises is revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (Rom 3.21-22),
  • through which sinners are made righteous by the redemption in Christ (contra Judaism; Rom 3.23-25),
  • And then describing the true means of identifying God’s people by faith in Christ (contra Judaism; Rom 3.26-4.23).

Basically the majority of Romans 1-4 is quite different from what we’ve been seeing in our excursus on the gospel here. There is one cryptic expression I believe which is short-hand for the gospel and it is encapsulated in a description of the saving benefits of the gospel.

  1. the righteousness of God [Background; God’s faithfulness to his saving promises]
  2. through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ [Content; Jesus obedience unto death; cf. Phil 2.8]
  3. for all who believe. (Rom 3:22) [Effects; Believers benefit from God’s saving promises]

The majority of Romans 1-4 however is in dialogue form between Paul and the imaginary Jew and focuses on the deficiencies of the Jewish system of salvation and the inclusion of the non – Jewish law observing Gentile believers into the community of the saved.

Resuming our discussion on the gospel as power for salvation, to the Corinthians Paul says,

‘For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Cor 1.17).

Firstly as a note before, Paul never preached a dead Christ. He preached a resurrected Christ. A fact many today who use these passages don’t seem to think is important in their gospel presentations.

Jesus Christ whom he preached had risen from the dead. Rom 10.9-10 and Acts 4.1-4 are both similar in this respect – but in reverse. They both suggest belief in the resurrection as part of the gospel to the exclusion of Christ’s death. For a more balanced understanding of the gospel I suggest both the death and resurrection of Christ should be part of the content of the gospel message.

Why has he mentioned the death of Christ without his resurrection? Answer, the death of Christ was potentially an embarrassing element in the story of Jesus for Jews and Gentiles. In 1 Cor 15.1-5 for example, Paul adds ‘for our sins’ after he mentioned Christ’s death (1 Cor 15.3). He does so because he wants the Corinthians to know there are important reasons for his death. We can assume from the context of 1 Corinthians some in the church were embarrassed with the fact that Jesus the messiah was crucified. Consequently the initial chapters of 1 Corinthians have a particular emphasis on the value and power of Christ’s death, omitting the victory of his resurrection.

So continuing on, Paul says,

‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Cor 1.18).

And later,

‘we [the apostles] preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1.22-24).

Again at length,

‘And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God [the gospel] with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ (1 Cor 2.1-5)

Paul tells the Corinthians he preaches Jesus Christ, the Christ who was crucified. The death of Christ on the cross has power to;

  • change lives,
  • reorienting those who have never known God to live for him,
  • bringing about forgiveness of sins, and
  • enabling those people to live in obedience and resist sin from then onwards.

Paul emphasises the power of God working through the cross to those embarrassed by the death of Christ.

Finally, in 1 Thessalonians Paul says, ‘because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thes 1.5). The gospel is powerful.

The gospel saves.

Another significant intention for proclaiming the gospel is the salvation of the listening audience. Speaking generally about gospel ministry Paul says;

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1.21)

Paul preaches to save. Speaking about God’s motivation in Paul’s ministry;

[3] This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. [7] For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Tim 2.3-7)

Speaking about the Jews, Paul says;

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Rom 10.1)

and just later;

[13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [14] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10.13-15)

Speaking about Jewish resistance, but exposing his motivation for speaking Paul says;

“by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved” (1 Thes 2.16)

The gospel is the power of salvation – Paul preaches the gospel to save his listeners.

Assorted References

Jesus’ call to follow him refers to the gospel;

[34] And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. [36] For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? [37] For what can a man give in return for his soul? [38] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

The parallel Jesus draws between himself and the gospel (Mk 8.35) with himself and his words (Mk 8.37) suggests Jesus thinks of his words as gospel. The things Jesus said, his teachings, instructions and rebukes are seen as gospel. Clearly these are envisioned within the larger narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry which we have in the biographies of Jesus.

Paul refers to the allegiance required of the gospel at the start and end of Romans. He calls this allegiance to Christ the ‘obedience of faith’ (Rom 1.1-5; 16.25-26). Paul says;

[1:1] Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, [2] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, [3] concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh [4] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, [5] through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (Rom 1.1-5)

When the apostles went about preaching the gospel they received mixed responses to the message (2 Cor 2.12-17). The apostles are ‘the aroma of Christ to God’ (2 Cor 2.16). For the saved they are the ‘fragrance from life to life.’ (2 Cor 2.16) For the perishing ‘a fragrance from death to death.’ (2 Cor 2.16)

Gospel ministry was often accompanied with ‘signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.’ (Rom 15.19; Gal 3.1,5; cf. Mk 16.20).

When the gospel is believed by people, they have ‘obeyed the gospel’ (Rom 10.16; 2 Thes 1.8; 1 Pet 4.17).

According to Paul’s gospel, ‘God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus’ (Rom 2.16). This is an allusion to the narrative of Jesus’ life. When Jesus returns he will come to judge.

Saints have ‘partnership’ in the gospel (Phil 1.5). Which possibly refers to their shared evangelistic ministry (Phil 1.27; 2.22; 4.3; 1 Thes 3.2). It could also refer to their shared history (Phil 4.15).

There are ‘blessings’ of the gospel (1 Cor 9.23). The gospel contains ‘mystery’ (Eph 6.19). ‘Hope’ is a theme associated with the gospel (Col 1.5,23; 2 Thes 2.13-17).

Judgment (Special consideration)

There are a few scattered passages connecting the future judgment with the gospel.

According to Paul’s gospel,

‘God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus’ (Rom 2.16).

What Paul says here to IJ is potentially ambiguous. It could be interpreted in different ways. Note as well, Peter says something similar in Acts 10.42.

37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:

38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,

40 but God raised him on the third day and

made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.

43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”(Acts 10.37-43)

(See also Acts 17.31. Although there is less evidence in Acts 17 indicating Paul’s message is the gospel.)

Now we know the gospel includes an outline of elements in the story of Jesus’ life. 1 Cor 15 connects the death, burial, resurrection and appearances of Christ with the future judgment all in narrative form. This is what Peter has done in Acts 10 above. He tells the story of Jesus. At the end of the story he fortells the coming judgment by Jesus. Then he relates aspects of salvation (‘everyone who believes receives forgiveness of sins through his name’), implicitly exhorting his audience to believe.

We can add the element of the coming judgment to the gospel narrative. Jesus will come again and when he returns he will judge.

Belief (Special consideration)

In the synoptic gospels, very rarely do the references to gospel (and the other synonyms) also contain an exhortation to believe. The gospel according to Mark records the only explicit exhortation to believe something in the synoptics in association with the gospel (Mk 1.14-15).

John’s gospel is different from the synoptics. Belief is a dominant theme in John’s gospel. Yet there are no instances where belief is mentioned that are explicitly labelled as the gospel. But, John does depict Jesus as the ‘word of God’, the gospel and the bibliography is permeated with references to the benefits of believing Jesus is the Christ. So while the synoptic gospels do not really associate the gospel with explicit or implicit references to belief. John’s gospel is quite different in this regard.

As a general rule the passages which associate the gospel with belief in Acts primarily identify people who have responded positively to the gospel.

Within Paul’s corpus there are some instances which associated the gospel with faith in a way as to make an implicit exhortation to belief (1 Cor 1.21; 2 Tim 1.8-12; Phil 1.27). Others provide assurance to existing believers (Rom 10.9-10; Gal 3.22; Eph 1.19; Col 1.21-23). Paul does occasionally exhort his believing audiences to remain in the faith (1 Cor 16.13; 1 Thes 3.2-3).

I could not find any associations between the gospel and pisteōs in a manner which explicitly exhorted belief, faith or trust in order to gain some sort of benefit. At least in the ESV translation. Importantly belief, faith or trust are not explicitly or implicitly referred to in the content of the gospel as described in 1 Cor 15.3-5.

The majority of associations between the gospel and belief in the Pauline corpus uses belief to identify those who have responded positively to the gospel message (Rom 1.16-17; 3.22,26; 4.5,11-12,24-25; 1 Thess 3:2,6; 4.14; 2 Thes 1.10; 2 Cor 4.4,13;5.7; Gal 2.16; 3.5,7-9,22,26;1 Tim 1.16; 4.3,10; 2 Tim 1.8-12; Eph 1.13; Phil 1.27,29).

The fact that Paul regularly associates belief with the gospel in order to identify Saints or ‘the righteous’, supports one of my arguments in my excursus on Justification. Paul’s use of the expression ‘justified by faith’, is very similar in meaning to James’ ‘justified by works’.

Both faith in the gospel and good works are means of identifying the righteous. Rarely is faith exhorted explicitly. Paul never explicitly exhorts his non-Christian audiences to believe or trust when he is sharing the gospel with them. We will see this below when we look at his sermons in Acts.

John’s epistles continue to retain the theme of belief through his writings as we have seen in his gospel. One significant reference associates the ‘testimony of God’ (the gospel) with belief. That is 1 Jn 5.9-13. Even here the manner it is referred to is implicit. John’s statements John can either make an implicit exhortation to believe in the Son of God or more likely provide assurance for his readers who already believe (1 Jn 5.10). He then later describes his audience as believers (1 Jn 5.13). He identifies them this way.

This finishes todays post. In the next we have a closer look at 1 Cor 15. The best passage on the gospel in the scriptures.

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