Today we conclude my series on – What is the Gospel? We will be running through the steps I have taken and I will briefly comment on the categories I defined in my method.
- Results of Step 1)
- Results of Step 2)
- Results of Step 3)
- Results of Step 4)
- Results of Step 5)
- Categories for understanding the gospel
My method has taken us through these steps;
Results of Step 1)
We’ve looked at the context where ‘gospel’ and other synonymous expressions are used in the Scriptures. In each location I’ve made an explicit distinction instances where the gospel is shared with non-believers with instances where the gospel is referred to with believers.
As a general rule the Biographies / Gospels and Acts present a forward looking gospel approach because their listeners are non-believers. On the other hand the Epistles are presented to believing church communities and therefore present a backward looking approach to viewing the gospel.
As I stepped through we discovered various themes and I’ve sorted these through the categories tabulated below;
|Bibliographies / Gospels||Acts||Epistles|
|Covenant Promises and Prophecies||Covenant Promises and Prophecies||Covenant Promises and Prophecies|
|The Person of Jesus||Hope of Resurrection||The Person of Jesus|
|Story of Jesus||Repentance and Forgiveness||United in Christ|
|Scope||God as Creator||Power for Salvation|
Results of Step 2)
We’ve looked for definitions of the ‘gospel’ (from results of 2) and discovered 1 Corinthians 15.1-5,22-24 to be the clearest outline of the gospel message in the New Testament.
We have examined the passage and found the content of the gospel reflects a sequence of events in the narrative of Jesus’ life.
At its core are the non-negotiable elements of the death, burial and resurrection and appearances of Jesus who is named in Christ.
Results of Step 3)
We’ve looked for examples described as someone proclaiming the gospel (from results of 2) and discovered the passages described as the gospel are short. They reflect varied content and different types of good news. Overall there is not much consistency with 1 Cor 15.3-5. None refer to Christ’s death and resurrection. However one example does declare Jesus, Christ the Lord (Lk 2.11).
Results of Step 4)
We’ve looked at the evangelistic sermons in Acts to see if is common content and patterns in what they say and we’ve also examined most of the summaries of evangelistic ministry.
The majority of the summaries of evangelistic preaching in Acts (with one exception) depict gospel ministry in terms of declaring or proving Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
After realising 1 Corinthians 15.1-5,22-24 describes the summarised form of the gospel we have examined most of the sermons in Acts and found the following;
- Every evangelistic sermon to people educated in Judaism refers to Jesus fulfilling Old Testament promises and prophecies. 1 Corinthians 15.1-5 refers to these Old Testament promises and prophecies when it says ‘according to the scriptures’.
- The clear majority of evangelistic sermons emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus as does 1 Cor 15.3-5.
- The clear majority of evangelistic sermons declare Jesus the Christ or the Son of God as does 1 Cor 15.3-5.
- Almost half of the evangelistic sermons emphasise the other elements mentioned in 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-24.
- Every evangelistic sermon in some way includes references to the some effects and benefits associated with believing. Generally, these effects and benefits are mentioned at the end of the message.
- Only the Jews involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are explicitly condemned of sin. Evangelistic sermons explicitly convicting the hearers of sin are notably absent from the evangelistic sermons in Acts.
Results of Step 5)
I listed a series of significant passages that refer to the gospel in the New Testament. From these I concluded.
- Gal 1.6-9; There is a minimum set of features which is explicit and common to all gospel messages. Preach something else as the gospel at your own risk.
- Mark 1.1; Mt 24.14; 26.6-13; Rom 2.16; The whole story of Jesus is the gospel (birth, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, appearances, return and judgment).
- 1 Cor 15; The more truncated the story of Jesus in the message is, the less likely the message will adhere what the scriptures say the gospel is.
- 1 Cor 15; Mk 1.1; Rom 1.1-4; In the gospel Jesus is declared the Christ. King, Lord or Judge will do.
- 1 Cor 15; Rom 1.1-4; Mk 1.14-15; 2 Tim 2.8; The gospel is connected to the Old Testament scriptures. The story of creation through to the story of Israel and the promises and prophecies therein (e.g. promised Christ, Kingdom of God).
- 1 Cor 15; Mt 26.6-13; Rom 1.16-17; 2 Tim 2.8; The gospel can be used in varying ways to achieve different ends for its listeners (e.g. Salvation, Teaching, Remembering people involved, Encouraging those who suffer).
- Rom 1.16-17; The gospel saves Gentiles who believe as well as Jews.
Categories for understanding the gospel
I have described the gospel with respect to the four categories. These categories are; background, common form and application.
The BACKGROUND to the Gospel message
Remember the drawing below and the OT passages we’ve been looking at?
The basic questions the Jews were asking right up to the first century were;
- ‘When is God going to fulfill his promises and prophecies?’ and
- ‘Who is the one who will bring about their fulfillment?’
The answers to these questions are;
Jesus is the one who brought about their fulfillment, he is the promised Christ, the Son of God.
When Jesus came, he fulfilled the scriptural promises and prophecies. The gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mt 4.23; 9.35; 24.14; Mk 1.15; Lk 4.43; 8.1; 16.16) proclaims Jesus as the Christ and rightful Davidic king (2 Sam 7.12-16; Ps 2.1-12; 89.3-4; cf. Rom 1.1-3; 2 Tim 2.8). The promised salvation and blessings of God (Gal 3.8) have their ‘yes’ in Him (2 Cor 1.20). The suffering servant of Isaiah is Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (Isa 53; cf. Rom 4.25). The promised one David spoke of is Jesus (Ps 110.1-4). God has raised from the dead, he saw light (Isa 53.11) and did not see corruption (Ps 16.10).
The gospel is ‘good news’ because it announces the long wait has ended, the Christ has come. Paul sums the ‘good news’ up nicely;
 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers,
 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus. (Acts 13:32-33)
The good news promised to the fathers, God has fulfilled by raising Jesus.
Augustine argues for the significance of the Old Testament prophecies in relation to the gospel saying;
No Gentile, therefore, it he were not perverse and obstinate, would despise these books [the Old Testament] merely because be is not subject to the law of the Hebrews, to whom the books belong; but would think highly of the books, no matter whose they were, on finding in them prophecies of such ancient date, and of what he sees now taking place.
Instead of despising Christ Jesus because He is foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, he would conclude that one thought worthy of being the subject of prophetic description, whoever the writers might be, for so many ages before His coming into the world,—sometimes in plain announcements, sometimes in figure by symbolic actions and utterances,—must claim to be regarded with profound admiration and reverence, and to be followed with implicit reliance.
Thus the facts of Christian history would prove the truth of the prophecy, and the prophecy would prove the claims of Christ. Call this fancy, if it is not actually the case that men all over the world have been led, and are now led, to believe in Christ by reading these books [the Old Testament]. (Augustine of Hippo. (1887). Reply to Faustus the Manichæan. In P. Schaff (Ed.), R. Stothert (Trans.), St. Augustin: The Writings against the Manichaeans and against the Donatists (Vol. 4, p. 227). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)
The kingdom of God they have been waiting for has come,
- The Christ they have been waiting for is here,
- The covenant promises and prophecies of God they have been waiting for have been fulfilled.
All in Jesus.
The COMMON FORM of the Gospel message
The common form of the gospel message is directed by the intention of proclaiming the gospel message.
The primary intention of the gospel is to establish the identity of Jesus as Christ and Lord, bringing people to the obedience of faith.
How does this determine the common form of the gospel message?
This excursus revealed several kinds of gospel proclamation. We have distinguished these before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Before the death and resurrection of Jesus; the dominant message proclaimed by Jesus and his disciples was;
- the coming Kingdom of God (Mt 4.23; 9.35; 24.14; Mk 1.15; Lk 4.43; 8.1; 16.16) and
- Jesus as its King (Mt 22.42; 26.63; Mk 14.61; Lk 2.26; 3.15; 22.67; 23.39; Jn 1.19-20,41; 4.29; 7.27,31,41-42; 10.24; Jn 4.26; 6.35,48,51; 8.12,28,58; 9.5; 10.7,9,11,14,36; 11.25; 13.13,19; 14.6; 15.1,5).
After the death and resurrection of Jesus; The apostles in Acts proclaimed a gospel which reflects the significant events of Jesus death and resurrection. From these examples we can derive the gospel message which we can use today.
Every gospel message following the death and resurrection of Jesus has content;
- common and therefore necessary to every gospel message, and
- unique and therefore optional to proclaiming the gospel.
Its very important to distinguish between these two in order that we may know what the key and non-negotiable elements of the apostolic gospel are, be able to tell whether a given message contains the gospel or not, and know give people enough flexibility to suit the gospel to a given biblical text or audience.
Necessary content – There is only one gospel
The apostles have preached a common message. From this common message we should take direction regarding the necessary content of the gospel the apostles preached and what we should preach as the gospel today.
The common message we have seen is in;
- Paul’s clear summary of the gospel message given to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-24,
- the sermons in Acts (Acts 2.22-36;3.13-20;10.36-42;13.27-33) which are consistent with 1 Cor 15.3-5,22-24,
- the the bibliographies of Jesus which are traditionally named ‘the gospel according to…’ (cf . Mk 1.1), and
- the descriptions of the gospel and apostolic ministry given by the early church again which are consistent with 1 Cor 15.3-5 (see below).
There is only one gospel (Gal 1.6-9). This content must be in a message in some form in order for it to be the gospel.
These four indicators show the content of the gospel the apostles preached is Jesus Christ.
If Jesus Christ is not preached the gospel is not preached.
The gospel message is broadened to describe the narrative of Jesus’ life and summarised in the core events of his death, burial, resurrection and appearance to witnesses. If the story of Jesus Christ has not been related to listening audiences, then the gospel has not been preached.
The triangle diagram below describes the progressive broadening of ways the content of the gospel as described in the New Testament.
Jesus the Christ
I have argued from John’s gospel, Jesus the Word of God is the Gospel. Jesus’ ‘I am’ statements reflect the same idea. When Jesus proclaims himself, he is proclaiming the gospel.
The outline and summary of the gospel as described by Paul is in 1 Cor 15.3-5. These reflect the naming of Jesus as the Christ, the narrative of his death, burial, resurrection, appearances, future return and judgement. This story is according to the scriptures – it has fulfilled the scriptural promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. For a quick gospel summary, 1 Cor 15.1-5 is the place to go.
Gospel Narrative of Jesus
Still broader are the bibliographies of Jesus which are named the gospel. The biographies of Jesus describe much about his unique birth, miracles, powerful ministry, teachings, crucifixion, death and resurrection.
The biographies give much greater exposure to Jesus and describe many aspects of salvation throughout (e.g. Mk 2.5; Lk 2.11; 24.47; Jn 3.16; 4.22). A reading of the whole gospel will constantly expose readers and listeners to varied applications of the gospel.
The significant amounts of teachings help people mature and grow in their faith. Hence this level of gospel promotes not only the initial salvation of sinners by believing Jesus is the Christ, but also matures existing Christians in the faith.
The APPLICATION of the Gospel message
The gospel is commonly assumed today to be a message about ‘how people get saved’. This assumption has a strong focus on salvation which I think in many cases moves the focus away from Jesus. Its not grounded in what the scriptures record as the gospel.
In the scriptures the gospel is more about Jesus than it is about salvation.
That sinners get saved when the word and the Spirit work together is a wonderful truth and critical for evangelism. We also need to remember the gospel in the scriptures is applied in a number of different ways. Our desire to see sinners saved is no excuse to redefine what the scripture says the gospel is and teach another gospel.
The gospel saves (Rom 1.16-17). It also teaches (1 Cor 15), it remembers people involved (Mt 26.6-13), and it encourages those who suffer (2 Tim 2.8). We should be able to apply the gospel is lots of ways to suit the needs of our audiences as Jesus and the apostles do.
This concludes my series on what is the gospel. My intention was to help its readers to engage with scripture in an objective way. Hopefully I’ve done that to some degree.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.