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Why Foreign Missions? 20j. The Gospel According to Paul—A Summary of the Content of the Gospel

Why Foreign Missions? 20j. The Gospel According to Paul—A Summary of the Content of the Gospel

These studies on the content of the Gospel according to Paul (numbers 20 a-i) began by noting C. H. Dodd’s list of points that constituted the early Church’s Gospel.  My word study approach has yielded similar results, showing that the Gospel was centred on Jesus Christ.  However, these studies have also yielded some richer facts about the Gospel.  In light of these studies, I might offer a summary of the content of the Gospel.[1]

The Content of the Gospel: Jesus Christ

The following elements of the Gospel's content can be highlighted from passages in Paul's letters from word studies of ‘Gospel,’ ‘Proclamation,’ ‘Word,’ ‘Witness,’ ‘Mystery,’ and ‘Truth.’  The first point emphasises Paul’s view that the Gospel is continuous with the Old Testament.  The second point emphasises that Paul understood the Gospel as a truth revealed by God.  Several points show that the Gospel is centred on Jesus Christ, and the final points show how the apostles and believers are related to the Gospel.

            Promise/Fulfilment:  Rom. 1.1ff; 1 Cor. 15.3ff.
            Revelation:  Rom. 1.1ff; 1.16f; 1 Cor. 2.1; 2 Cor. 4.3ff; Gal. 1.8; Eph. 1.8; 3. 3‑6; 6.19; 2
                        Tim. 1.8.
            Seed of David: incarnate Son of God; promised Messiah: Rom. 1.1ff; 2 Tim. 2.8.
            Son of God in power, through the holy spirit by virtue of his resurrection:
                        Rom. 1.1ff.
            Lord: Rom. 1.1ff; 2 Cor. 4.4
            Grace accomplished through Jesus (forgiveness of sins, salvation; reconciliation 
                        to God by Jesus’ death):[2]
Rom. 1.1ff; 1 Cor. 15.3ff; Eph. 1.13; Col. 1.5, 23; 2 Th. 2.14; 2 Tim. 1.10.
            Jesus was buried: 1 Cor. 15.3ff; (1 Cor. 11.26).
            Jesus was raised on the third day: 1 Cor. 15.3ff; 2 Ti.2.8.
            Jesus was seen after the resurrection: 1 Cor. 15.3ff.
Apostleship, commissioned to proclaim this good news: Rom. 1.1ff; 1.9; 15.16;
1 Cor. 1.17; (4.15); 9.16, 18; 2 Cor. 4.3ff; 11.7; Gal. 2.2, 5, 7; Eph. 3.2ff; 6.19; Phl. 1.7; 2.22; 4.3; Col. 1.23; 1 Th. 2.4, 8f; 3.2; 2 Tim. 1.10.
            Obedience of faith demanded as response to Gospel (belief, hearing, reception): 
               Rom. 1.1ff, 16f; 10.16; 1 Cor. 15.1f; 2 Cor. 9.13; Eph. 1.13; (Phl.1.27); Col. 1.5, 23; 2 Th. 1.8.
Universal, the Gentiles now included in God's plan: Rom.1.1ff; 1.16f; 15.16, 19, 20; 2                                 Cor.10.16; Gal. 1.16; 2.2, 7; Eph. 2.16f; 3.2‑6; Col. 1.23.
Accompanied with power, Spirit, signs and wonders: 1 Th. 1.5; (2 Cor. 11.4: preach another Jesus, receive another Spirit, accept another gospel); Eph. 1.13 (in which also believing you were sealed by the holy spirit of promise).
            Opposed: Rom. 10.16; 11.28; 2. Cor. 4.3ff; Gal. 1.7; Phl. 1.12, 16; 1 Th. 2.4; 2 Tim. 2.8;
                 Philemon 13.

Five Comments on This Data

Some comments might be made regarding the content of the Gospel.[3]

a. There is One, True Gospel

In Galatians Paul argues strongly that there is only one Gospel, (1.6ff) which is opposed by those wanting Gentile Christians to be circumcised and come under the Mosaic Law (2.13‑5).  This threat to freedom in Christ was seen as a threat to the truth of the Gospel (2.4f) by those not keeping in step with the truth of the Gospel (2.14).  Although there may be other "gospels," there is only one true Gospel (2 Cor. 11.4; Gal. 1.6ff).

All this is not to say that Paul could recite a special wording of his creed, but it is to say that he had a very clear understanding of the one true Gospel.

                       b.  The Gospel is Centred on Jesus

*He is Christ (Rom. 1.1ff).
*He is our Lord (Rom. 1.1ff; 2 Cor. 4.3ff).
*The Gospel may be called the Gospel of God (Rom. 1.1; 15.16; 2 Cor.
11.7; 1 Th. 2.8, 9) or the Gospel of his son, Jesus, Christ (Rom. 1.9; 15.19; 1 Cor. 9.12; 2 Cor. 2.12; 4.4; 9.13; 10.14; Gal. 1.7; Phl. 1.27; 2 Th. 1.8).  As the Gospel of God it is that which God commissions (1 Th. 2.2, 4).  Timothy is called Paul's fellow worker of God in the Gospel of Christ (1 Th. 3.2).  Here God is the one commissioning this ministry and the content is Christ.  The Gospel is God's message of what God has done in Christ.
*Paul cares nothing for circumstances and little for motive, as long as the Gospel is advanced (Phl. 1.12), that is, as long as Christ is preached (Phl. 1.16).  The Gospel                     is the preaching of Christ.
*Sometimes more specific content of the Gospel is presented. 
**In Rom. 1.1ff Paul says of the Gospel that it was
            1. promised by God's prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his son,
2. that he was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,
3. determined son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness from resurrection of the dead,
4. that Jesus Christ is our Lord,
5. through whom we received grace and apostleship;
6. for obedience of faith, in all the nations on behalf of his name.
**1 Cor. 15.1ff affirms
            1. Christ's death on behalf of our sins,
            2. his burial;
            3. that he was raised on the third day;
4. that he was seen after the resurrection (by Cephas, then the Twelve, then 500 brothers at once, then James, then all the apostles, and last of all Paul).

                   c.  The Gospel brings salvation. 
            As Christ is savior, so the Gospel brings salvation (Rom. 1.16f: it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe).  It is not believed by those being destroyed, whose eyes the god of this age has blinded (2 Cor. 4.3).  Eph. 1.13 calls the word of truth ‘the Gospel of your salvation, in which also believing you were sealed by the holy spirit of promise.’  It is called the Gospel of truth (Col. 1.5; Eph. 6.15).  It is to be obeyed (Rom. 10.16; 2 Th. 1.8), or it results in obedience (2 Cor. 9.13).  God establishes the Romans ‘according to my Gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 16.25).  The Colossians are reconciled ‘in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblemished and blameless before God, if indeed you remain in the faith, founded and established and not moved from the hope of the Gospel to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, have become a servant’ (Col. 1.22f).  As such, it will also be opposed and disobeyed and needs to be defended (Phl. 1.16: apologia; 1 Th. 2.2, 4).
            Addendum: Joseph Fitzmyer discusses the Gospel as the power of God (Rom. 1.16):[4] He says, 'In other words, it not only proclaims the redemptive event of Christ's death and resurrection but is itself a force that spreads it to men.  In a sense, it is a redemptive event whenever it makes its appeal to men.  Strikingly, Paul calls it 'the power of God,' just as he referred to Christ himself (1 Cor. 1.24).  This is why to 'preach Christ crucified' is to 'preach the gospel.'  Both Christ and the gospel bring the Father's salvific bounty to men.  The gospel is the Father's means of accosting men, soliciting from them the responses of faith and love.  That is why it is 'God's gospel' (1 Thes. 2.2, 8, 9; 2 Cor. 11.7; Rom. 1.1; 15.16); it is also his 'gift,' his 'favor' (2 Cor. 9.14-15).  So Paul can write to the Thessalonians that his 'gospel was not preached to them in words only, but with power and the holy Spirit and full conviction; (1 Th. 1.5; cf. 1 Cor. 4.20).  For as the 'power of God,' the gospel is not proclaimed without the assistance of the Spirit of God.  Indeed, through this 'good news of salvation' believers are sealed with the promised holy Spirit, 'the pledge of our inheritance' (Eph. 1.13).  Through it men are already saved (1 Cor. 15.2).’
d.  The Gospel is all‑important for Paul.
The message is urgent and must reach everywhere.  The messenger is completely expendable, as a clay jar carrying a treasure (2 Cor. 4.7).  Paul goes where the door opens for evangelism (2 Cor. 2.12).  He avoids any appearance of wrongdoing in proclaiming this Gospel so as not to become an obstacle for anyone.  Thus he preaches the Gospel free of charge, even though his apostolic authority and the words of Jesus would allow him financial remuneration (1 Cor. 9 ; 2 Cor. 11.7;).  Chains are irrelevant, as long as the Gospel is preached (Phl. 1.12; Eph. 6.19).  Anyone helping in the Gospel proclamation is reckoned as participating in the fellowship of the Gospel (Phl. 1.5).  And it is a fellowship of ones united in battle, for the Philippians are to stand firm with one common purpose and to contend for the Gospel faith, believing in him and suffering for him just as is the case with Paul (Phl. 1.27‑30).  Timothy serves with Paul in the Gospel (Phl. 2.22; 1 Th. 3.2; cf. Pastoral Epistles), as also Euodia and Syntyche, Clement and others (Phl. 4.3), Titus and an unnamed brother (2 Cor. 8.16‑24).

e.  Paul sees his calling tied up with his own salvation (1 Cor. 9.23; Phl. 3.10ff; 1 Tim. 1.15f). 
His encounter with the risen Lord was at once a saving and calling, and the two distinct notions were seen together in Paul’s case.  Salvation can be designated in many ways (reconciliation, redemption, salvation, sanctification, justification/righteousness, dying and rising with Christ, atonement, liberation, forgiveness), but it is also understood by Paul to be God’s grace that included his calling as an apostle.  Paul was called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God (Rom. 1.1).  Believers are also "called" by God.  Their salvation overlaps with the community’s calling to be a holy people (cf. Exod. 19.5-6): Rom. 1.7; 1 Cor. 1.2; Eph. 1.4; 4.1; 2 Ti. 1.9; Gal. 5.13f (freedom); 1 Th. 4.7; 5.23f; 2 Th. 2.13f.  Election (calling) is not to be equated with salvation: it reflects God’s purpose in His plan to work salvation on the earth, and both calling and salvation are by God’s grace.

[1] This material originally appeared in my dissertation.  Cf. Rollin G. Grams, ‘Gospel and Mission in Paul’s Ethics’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, Duke University, 1989).
[2] Morna Hooker's (Not Ashamed of the Gospel: New Testament Interpretations of the Death of Christ (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004; orig. pub. 1994), pp. 20-46) discussion of the Gospel in Paul emphasises the idea of participation in Christ, that is, a reciprocity in which Jesus stands in our place and we in His.  This goes beyond the idea of substitution: Christ does not die instead of us; His death means our death, His life our life.  E.g., 1 Th. 4.9: ' For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.'  Hooker finds this notion of participation in the other Pauline letters.  Her discussion of Galatians is over several pages (31-34), but the following quote captures the point: In Gal. 3.14, e.g., 'we are reminded of those words in 1 Thess. 5.10--Christ died, in order that we might live with him; if blessing comes to us, it is because we are in him; if we receive the Spirit, it is because we share in his life--and [in Gal. 4] … the Spirit we receive is in fact the Spirit of the Son.  It is not, then, a case of Christ and the believer changing places, but of the believer sharing in Christ's life.  If Christ has been vindicated and raised from the dead, the same must be true of those who are united with him' (33).  Cf. Gal. 2.20; 1 Cor. 1.30 with 6.11 (what Christ is we become); 2 Cor. 5.14 (where 'huper' means 'as representative,' not 'instead of'); 5.21; 8.9; Rom. 5.6, 8, 12-21; 6; 8.1-17; Phl. 2.1-11; 3.7-11, 21.  In addition to these verses are those in which Paul describes his own suffering: e.g., Gal. 6.17; 2 Cor. 1.3-7; 4.7-12; 6.4-10; etc.
[3] See Rollin G. Grams, Gospel and Mission in Paul's Ethics, (Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 1989), pp. 183-185—with some slight modification.
 [4] Joseph Fitzmyer, 'Pauline Theology', Jerome Biblical Commentary, Section 79, eds. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Roland Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 807.