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Why Foreign Missions? 20b. The Gospel According to Paul in the Corinthian Correspondence, Gordon Fee

Why Foreign Missions?  20b. The Gospel According to Paul in the Corinthian Correspondence, Gordon Fee

The previous study offered two ways to explore the content of the Gospel in the early Church: by examining confessional formulae and the speeches of Acts.  In this study, a third approach to identifying the Gospel will be presented through an essay by +Gordon D. Fee.[1]  His method is to examine Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church.  While his method again demonstrates that the Gospel is focussed on Jesus, it identifies several dimensions to the Gospel that expand points noted in the previous study.

The Gospel has Content
First, Fee points out that the Gospel has a content (pp. 112f).  Existentialist eisegesis of the 20th century attempted to argue that, originally, the Church spoke of the act of believing rather than what was to be believed.  While such a distinction is surely ludicrous in its own right, one might, nevertheless, point out that Paul does indeed speak as though there is a content to the Gospel (Gal. 2.2, 5, 14).  I would add that Paul speaks of 'truth' 55 times in 52 verses, and he uses the phrase 'truth of the Gospel' in the following places:

*Galatians 2:5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.

*Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

*Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

*Colossians 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel.

The Content of the Gospel in 1 and 2 Corinthians

Paul offers, Fee continues, some (minimal) content to the gospel on two occasions: 1 Cor. 15.3-5; Rom. 1.16-17.  As with the previous study, Fee also identifies some other semi-creedal statements in Paul: 1 Th. 1.9f; 5.9f; 2 Th. 2.13f; 1 Cor. 6.11; 2 Cor. 1.21f; 13.13; Gal. 4.4-7; Rom. 5.1-5; 8.3f; 8.15-17; Eph. 1.13f; 4.4-6; Tit. 3.5-7.  Fee suggests that these texts might be built upon by other, related texts in Paul, such as: 1 Cor. 1.4-7; 2.4-5; 6.19f; 12.4-6; 2 Cor. 3.16-18; Gal. 3.1-5; Rom. 8.9-11; 15.16; 15.18f; 15.30; Col. 3.16; Eph. 1.3; 1.17-20; 2.17-18; 2.19-22; 3.16-19; 5.18-19; Phil. 1.19f; 3.3.

From these texts, three things might be stated:

1. No one text is identical with another.  If Paul were drawing from a ‘pre-formed pool’ of tradition, one would expect otherwise (Fee, p. 113, n. 8).  Fee concludes by this that Paul is responsible for most of these formulations.

2. Most of these are expressed not for their own sake but to support another concern (p. 113).

3. Almost always there is ‘an experiential dimension to what is affirmed theologically (the experience of salvation obviously transcends mere theologizing about it)’ (p. 113).

As Fee focusses on 1 and 2 Corinthians, he particularly emphasises that Paul’s Gospel emphasises the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and that there is a trinitarian substructure to the Gospel (p. 114).  Thus:

*God is the initiator of salvation in Christ;

*Christ is the content of the gospel, and

*The Spirit is the one by whom the historical reality of Christ’s redemption is made personal and corporate in believers’ lives (p. 114).[2]

Fee demonstrates these points from 1 and 2 Corinthians in his comments on the following texts.

*2 Cor. 11.4: For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.

In 2 Cor. 11.4, salvation is clearly said to be found in Jesus.  Righteousness comes not through the Torah but through Jesus.  The third item in the verse (‘a different gospel from the one you accepted’) interprets the first two (Jesus and the Spirit).  By re-introducing the old covenant (cf. 2 Cor. 3.1-18), Paul’s opponents end up with a different Jesus from the one Paul preached, and this too involves a different Spirit—a faith with no role for the Spirit (pp. 117-122).
*1 Cor. 1.17-2.16:
In this longer passage, Fee again argues that the issue he is facing with the Corinthian church is not about what the church understood of Jesus—christology.  Rather, the conflict is over what the church believes about salvation (soteriology).  What Jesus has done to accomplish salvation is the content of the Gospel that gives unity to the contingent theology of 1 and 2 Corinthians.
At issue is Paul’s contention that the content of the gospel is not wisdom (sophia) but a crucified Messiah (1.18-25).  This alters the understanding of the church’s identity, as many in the church are not wise, influential, or well-born (1.26-31).  This also alters the understanding of the nature of preaching, which is in weakness and not with rhetorical skill or wisdom, and it is through the Spirit’s power, 2.1-5 (122f).
Furthermore, Paul again has a trinitarian substructure to his argument.  First, he speaks of God’s wisdom and power.  Second, God’s gospel is all about Christ, the cross, and redemption through him.  Third, all this is experienced through the Spirit (2.4f).

*1 Cor. 6.11: And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified [or better, ‘made righteous’] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Here again, Fee avers, one can find a trinitarian substructure to the Gospel: God is the assumed subject of the verbs,[3] Christ is the name by which this salvation is accomplished, and salvation is realised through the Spirit (125f).

Other aspects of the Gospel already noted can be found here too.  The focus on salvation can be seen in the rich metaphors of ‘washed,’ ‘sanctified,’ and ‘made righteous’ (cf. 1 Cor. 1.30).  The experiential dimension can be seen in the term ‘washed’ and the role of the Spirit (p. 126).

*2 Corinthians 1:18-20  18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been "Yes and No."  19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes."  20 For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God.

In these verses, where Paul defends his integrity, he first appeals to God’s character.  God is trustworthy, and all his promises have been realized in Jesus Christ.  Second, Paul makes note of God’s saving activity.  As Fee states, God’s saving activity

is but an outflow of his character.  Thus, as always in Paul, God’s own character stands as both the ground and initiative of his saving activity, which was effected historically by his Son and appropriated in the lives of believers by his Spirit, who is also the present guarantor of the final eschatological glory (p. 128).

*2 Cor. 2.14-4.6

In these verses, the crucified Messiah is hinted at (‘triumphal procession’—see 1 Cor. 4.9 and therefore 1.18-25), and elsewhere in the epistle.  But here the central role is played by the Spirit.  The Spirit brings freedom from the veil of Torah observance, and so has to do with a salvation in Christ made real through the Spirit, transforming ‘God’s new covenant people into Christ’s likeness’ (p. 130).  Once again, the trinitarian substructure and the experienced nature of theology is in view.

*2 Corinthians 13:13  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

In this benediction to 2 Corinthians, we once again observe Paul’s association of the Gospel with the trinity, his focus on salvation (grace), his understanding that the Gospel is initiated in God’s character (his love), and his understanding that the Gospel is experienced through fellowship with the Spirit.

Finally, two of Paul’s concerns in 2 Corinthians are rooted in the Gospel: Paul’s apostleship (e.g., 2 Cor. 2.14-7.4 and chs. 10-12) and the Corinthian’s participation in the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8-9—note 8.9) (pp. 132f).


Fee’s examination of Paul’s Gospel apart from the speeches in Acts or the creedal formulae in the epistles involves taking a look at particular texts in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  These texts address the content of the Gospel more discursively.  As with the previous study (20a), Fee finds that the Gospel is focussed (1) on Jesus Christ and (2) the salvation that he brings.  Moreover, his study of 1 and 2 Corinthians shows that the Gospel is (3) rooted in the character of God, (4) is more than a ‘content’ to be believed but should also be experienced, and (5) has a Trinitarian substructure.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, ‘Another Gospel Which you did not Embrace: 2 Corinthians 11.4 and the Theology of 1 and 2 Corinthians,’ in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, JSNTS 108, eds. L. Ann Jervis and Peter Richardson (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), pp. 111-133.
[2] Cf. Gal. 4.4-6.
[3] The passive verbs lack a subject.  This usage of the passive in Greek is called a ‘divine passive,’ and it means that God is the assumed subject.