Skip to main content

Why Foreign Missions? 20k. The Gospel and the Old Testament

Why Foreign Missions?  20k. The Gospel and the Old Testament

The word study approach to determining the content of the Gospel according to Paul (20a-j) has highlighted the connection between the Gospel and the Old Testament; as the first point of the Gospel content shows (in 20j), the time of fulfillment (of the Old Testament) has come (with Jesus Christ).  Paul explicitly states this.  For example, he says:

1 Corinthians 15.3f: … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Romans 1.2: the Gospel He promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who....

Galatians 4:4-5: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

The essence of a Pauline theology is discovered by examining Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament.  Paul was not a theologian who merely articulated a message and worked out logical implications from that message for his churches; as a theologian he was first and foremost an interpreter of the Scriptures.  He did not adorn his message with proof-texts from the Old Testament, as though what was important to him was an ‘orthodox’ theology no matter how one derived it.  He was intently engaged with his parchments and scrolls of Scripture (cf. Acts 26.24; 2 Tim. 4.13).  Thus, for us, the right way to understand Paul is as an interpreter of the Scriptures.

The Gospel and the Old Testament in Paul

In my previous studies on words Paul used for the Gospel, I highlighted how Paul expressed the Gospel as an interpreter of the Scriptures.  Here, I will identify any Old Testament text that he cites in passages where he uses the words ‘Gospel,’ ‘Proclamation,’ ‘Word,’ ‘Witness,’ ‘Mystery,’ and ‘Truth’.[1]  (Paul also quotes Scripture to establish the problem that his Good News addresses: human sinfulness (Rom. 2.24 from Is. 52.5; 3.10‑18 from Ps. 14.1‑3; 5.9; 140.3; 10.7; Is. 59.7f; Ps.36.1.)

1.   Promise/Fulfilment:  2 Cor. 6.2 from Is. 49.8 ("in the time of my favour I heard you, in the day of salvation I helped you"‑‑now is the time of salvation)
                        2.   Revelation
1.  God's wise plan of salvation:  1 Cor. 1.19 from Is. 29.14; 1 Cor. 3.19 from Job 5.13; 1 Cor. 3.20 from Ps. 94.11
2.  Wisdom is in choosing the lowly and despised, so no one may boast:  1 Cor. 1.31 from Jer. 9.24
3.  God's wisdom is revelation:  1 Cor. 2.9 from Is. 64.4; 1 Cor. 2.16 from Is. 40.13 (spiritual truths known only by those w/ the mind of Christ)
3.  Seed of David (which is itself an Old Testament notion)
                        4.  Son of God in power:  [cf. comparison between Adam and Christ as to nature—
                        1 Cor. 15.45 from Gen. 2.7‑‑first man was earthy, second was heavenly, a life‑giving spirit]
                        5.  Lord:  1 Cor. 15.27 from Ps. 8.6
                        6.  Grace through Jesus
                                    a.  Grace‑‑Faith not works
1.      Righteous through faith (Rom. 1.17; Ga. 3.11 from
            Hab. 2.4)
2.      Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as
righteousness (Rom. 4.3, 9, 22; Ga. 3.6 from Gen. 15.6).   Abraham's descendants are those who have faith.
3.  Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven (Rom. 4.7f from Ps. 32.1f).  Righteousness credited by God apart from works.
4.  Abraham is father of many nations (so not just offspring but also father of those of the faith of Abraham; Rom. 4.17 from Gen. 17.5), "So shall be your offspring" (Rom. 4.18 from Gen. 15.5)
5.  Not all Abraham's descendants are his children (Rom. 9.7 from Gen. 21.17), but that God's purpose in election might stand, not by works but by him who calls, Jacob was chosen over Esau (Rom. 9.12 from Gen. 25.23 and 9.13 from Mal. 1.2f).  God has mercy on whom he wills (Rom. 9.15 from Ex. 33.19; e.g., God's dealing with Pharaoh, Rom. 9.17 from Ex. 33.19); only children of the promise, of the barren woman Sarah (Ga. 4.27 from Is. 54.1), who was free (Ga. 4.30 from Gen. 21.10)
6.  Righteousness by Law (Rom. 10.5 from Lev. 18.5) vs. righteous­ness by faith: not works but faith:  Rom. 10.6f from Deut. 30.12f; Rom. 10.8‑10 from Deut. 30.14; those who trust in God will never be put to shame (Rom. 10.11 from Is.28.16); eve­ryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10.13 from Joel 2.32); those who live under the Law live under a curse (Ga. 3.10 from Dt. 27.26); Law has to do not with faith, by which the righteous live, [but with works] (Ga. 3.12 from Lv. 18.5).
b.  Jesus' vicarious work: Rom. 15.3 from Ps. 69.9: the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.  Jesus became a curse for us because he was hanged upon a tree (Ga. 3.13 from Dt. 21.23).
c. God's promises to Abraham are related to Jesus in that they were
made to all mankind being blessed: to Abraham and to his descendent (singular):  Ga. 3.16 from Gen. 13.15; 15.18; 17.8; and possibly 22.18.  They stretch before and therefore after the Law.
7.  Jesus was buried: 1 Cor. 15.54‑7 from Is. 25.8; Hos. 13.14 ("where O Death is your sting...." can be said because it is removed through Christ)
8. Jesus was raised on the third day:  see "g," above.  Eph. 4.8:  "When he ascen­ded on high he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men" (Ps. 68.18)‑‑understood as reference to Jesus' descending (to earth) and ascending higher than all the heavens (resurrection/exaltation).
                        9.  Jesus was seen after the resurrection
                        10.  Commission of proclamation
                                    a.  How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News (Rom. 10.15 from Is. 52.7). 
                                    b.  Rom. 15.21 from Is. 52.15 ("those who were not told of him will see")
                                    c.  2 Cor. 4.13 from Ps. 116.10 ("I believe therefore I have spoken")
                        11.  Obedience of faith demanded as response to Gospel of grace
                                    a.  1 Cor. 10.1‑13 from Exodus.
                                    b.  2 Cor. 6.16‑7.1 from Lev. 26.11f; Is. 52.11f and possibly 2 Sam. 7.14
                        12.  Universal (Gentiles now included): 
a.  Gentiles now included:  Rom. 9.25f from Hos. 2.23 and 1.10; Rom. 10.20 from Is. 65.1; Rom. 15.9‑13 from Ps. 69.9, Ps. 18.49, Dt. 32.43, Ps. 117.1, Is. 11.10; Rom. 15.21 from Is. 52.15; Ga. 3.8 from Gen. 12.3.
b.  Israelites not all included (functions as a proof that righteousness is through faith in Christ and therefore that Gentiles are included):  Rom. 9.27f from Hos. 10.22f; 9.29 from Is. 1.9; 9.33 from Is. 8.14; 28.16; 10.16 from Is. 53.1; 10.18 from Ps. 19.4 (Israel heard, with universal notion); 10.19 from Deut. 32.21 (Israel understood, with uni­versal notion); 10.21 from Is. 65.2; 11.8 from Dt. 27.4; Is. 29.10; Rom. 11.9f from Ps. 69.22f
                                    c.  Israelites not rejected by God (Rom. 11.3f from 1 Kgs. 19.14, 18); all Israel
                                    will be saved (Rom. 11.26f from Is. 59.20f; 27.9)
13.  Accompanied with power, Holy Spirit, signs, wonders
                        14.  Opposition
This is a typical experience for God's people:  "for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (Rom. 8.36 from Ps. 44.22)

            c. Conclusion:
The above points have to do with the content of the Gospel and statements about the Gospel.  Where possible, since the Gospel is a fulfillment of the Old Testament, texts from the Old Testament have been matched with these points.  Two conclusions are worth noting.

1. Much of the Gospel is supported by OT texts in Paul.  It is, indeed, a fulfillment of the
Old Testament.
            2. Christology is given little support.  Rather, the means of salvation (through faith
            not works) and the plan of salva­tion (as including the Gentiles) receive major support.  When Christology is the focus in Paul’s ad hoc letters, it is addressed in letters written to churches with a strong Gentile component:  Colosse, Thessalonica, Philippi.[2]  These letters make less use of the Old Testament in general.  Perhaps Paul argued Christology from Scripture too to those who knew the Old Testament and to those who needed convincing (Jews) (Acts 28.23), but Christology is not the major issue in letters in which Paul uses Scripture most (such as Romans, Galatians, and the Corinthian correspondence).

James D. G. Dunn on Paul, the Gospel, and the Old Testament

James D. G. Dunn has also explored Paul’s use of the Old Testament in relation to his Gospel.[3]  Dunn observes that there are some key Old Testament texts for Paul's understanding of the Gospel.

*Rom. 1.1 states that the Gospel was promised beforehand by the prophets.
*The Gospel is by faith (Hab. 2.4; Rom. 1.16f)
*The righteousness of God is attested by the law and the prophets (Rom. 3.21)
*Abraham's faith (Gen. 15.6) establishes that righteousness is by faith (Rom. 4)
*Rom. 9-11 is full of Scriptural references to show that the word of God had not failed (Rom.
            *The catena of quotations in Rom. 15.9-12 concludes the argument of the epistle.

Dunn further notes that, in Galatians and Romans, three texts in particular stand at the heart of the Gospel:
*Gen. 15.6 (Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness);
*Lev. 18.5 (You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the
*Hab. 2.4.

Moreover, Dunn locates the source of Paul's term 'Gospel' in Isaiah.[4]  Isaiah uses only the verbal form: 40.9 (the preacher of good news declares, ‘Behold your God!’); 52.7 (‘who preaches the good news of peace, who preaches good things, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'’), 60.6 (the returned exiles preach good news of ‘the LORD's salvation’), and especially 61.1-2 (the promise of restoring exiled Israel (the poor, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners; the year of the LORD's favour--is good news).[5]


For Paul, the Gospel is not a new lens by which one might choose to read the Old Testament.  Nor is the Gospel an addendum to the Old Testament.  The Gospel is already present in the Old Testament.  The new lens for reading the Old Testament was, rather, Christ himself.  Through him, one clearly sees the Gospel in the Old Testament.  By him, the promise and hope of the Gospel in the Old Testament is fulfilled.  The Gospel is accomplished in Christ Jesus, who is the Good News itself.

[1] See Rollin G. Grams, Gospel and Mission in Paul's Ethics (unpublished PhD dissertation, Duke University, 1989).
[2] Cf. Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 112.
[3] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 169f.
[4] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 167.
[5] Dunn also notes that 'this Isaianic theme [of proclaiming good news] was influential in Jewish theological reflection around the time of Jesus': Pss. Sol. 11.1 (echoing Is. 52.7); use of Is. 61.1 to refer to the community in the Qumran scrolls (11Qmelch 2.15-24, an exposition of Is. 52.7 and 61.1-3; 1QH 18.14; 4Q521.12; cf. CD 2.12; possibly 1QH 18.14 (in reference to Is. 61)).