Chapter 4 - The Apostolic Gospel of Paul
Scot begins his exposition of “the gospel” where many people would, 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul lays out his gospel. For many, this is a springboard to their version of the gospel, Scot thinks it is the outline of the gospel of the apostles. I enjoyed this chapter because it stuck firmly to the text. This chapter will prove pivotal throughout several of the next chapters. This outlined form of the gospel is the basis for the creeds, the four "gospels" and the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts.
The Apostolic Gospel Tradition
Scholars think that this may be the earliest link to the oral tradition of the apostles, before the NT, before any letters, before the Four Gospels, the gospel was outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Scot makes eight observations about this passage and its connection to the oral tradition of the apostles. Of those observations, Scot remarks that Paul is passing on the authorized tradition of the apostles which Paul received (15.3). The gospel is the authentic, reliable gospel of the apostles – he both received that gospel and passed it on. It concerns these four events: that Christ died, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised, and that Christ appeared. So as far as “good news” the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.
The gospel story of Jesus also resolves or brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures (thus, the events of Jesus story occurred “according to the Scriptures”. The Story of Jesus Christ only makes sense as it follows and completes the Story of Israel. The gospel is the resolution and fulfillment of Israel’s Story and promises. The good news of this gospel is that Israel’s Story has now reached its resolution in Jesus Christ. It is not the gospel if we extract a “Plan of Salvation” from this completed Story.
Here is where I think Scot is the clearest and rightest. The salvation that God provides is the intended result of the gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the Story of Israel in the OT. The gospel needs to tell the story about how Jesus saves us from our sins. We need to go back through all of the Scriptures and pointing to the sacrificial system before we leap ahead to Isaiah 52-53.
The gospel was more than just a story about Good Friday (although that is a huge part of the story). It is a complete story. If we pick the story up in 1 Corinthians 15.20-28 we see that the gospel included the ascension of Jesus, the second coming of Christ and the final consummation of the kingdom when God becomes all in all.
The gospel Story of Jesus Christ is a story about Jesus as messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Savior, and Jesus as Son. These titles give weight to the fact that Jesus was the anointed King of Israel. The gospel must include Jesus’ triumphal victory over “all dominion, authority and power.” Jesus is the king who saved us from our sins.
End of all Ends
In looking at 1 Cor. 15.28, we see that the story will end with God the Father being God for all and in all and through all, and his Son will be glorified as the One through whom God is glorified. When we go back to Creation, we see that Humans were given just one command, to govern this world as God’s representatives. In 1 Cor. 15.28, when we are finally connected to God in this eternal union with God through his Son, humans will be doing exactly what God intended for his creation.
Scot defers to NT Wright here and his discussion of the Plan of Salvation versus the Gospel of the Kingdom. And similar to McKnight, Wright lays out what he hears in the gospel as plan of salvation: a description of how people get saved; of the theology whereby in some people’s language, Christ takes our sin and we take his righteousness; in other people’s language, Jesus becomes my personal savior, in other language, I admit to my sin, believe that he died for me, and commit my life to him. Wright doesn’t deny any of these things (or claim they are awful or wrong) they are just mislabed as the gospel.
To Wright, the word gospel in Paul is connected to the Story of Israel/Bible in his Roman context. The word gospel in the first century context was an announcement: “To announce that YHWH was king was to announce that Caesar is not.” The gospel is not a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people getting saved…it is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus.”
Greg Gilbert and his take on gospel: he gets his understanding of gospel from Romans 1-4 (but it really boils down to the plan of salvation again). For Gilbert, first humans are accountable to God (Romans 1). Second, the problem humans have is that we have rebelled against God (1.23; 2.1; 3.9, 19 and 3.22). Third, the solution to humanity’s rebellion problem is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 3.21-26). Fourth, humans can be included in this salvation by faith alone (3.22). Four points: God, man, Christ, response. It is the plan of salvation, but not the apostolic gospel.
McKnight believes that Gilbert has not giving enough attention to the Story of Israel as yearning for resolution in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord as the framing story for resolution in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord as the framing story for how to understand gospel; and this Story of Israel is the driving focus of the book of Acts’ sermons and 1 Corinthians 15. McKnight thinks that the problem in Romans is that Paul is showing how God joins together Jewish believers and Gentile believers into one church of Jesus Christ (not simply providing the plan of personal salvation). Where Gilbert errs, according to McKnight, is that he does not see the fundamental gospel to be a declaration about Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s story. (Scot sees that 1 Cor. 15 processes the gospel through the lens of Israel’s story, finding its resting place in Jesus Christ, but is Scot seeing too much in that one phrase “according to the Scriptures”?)
SummaryTo “gospel” is to declare this story, and it is a story that saves people from their sins (the absolute key to McKnight and to the gospel). The one holy and apostolic story is the Story of Israel. The gospel cannot be limited to or equated with the Plan of Salvation. The gospel of Paul is four lines and they are about the Story of Jesus (75 times). When he mentions his gospel he always means this: the gospel of the full, saving Story of Jesus resolving the Story of Israel. When the plan gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We turn it into a system.