What is the Gospel? That may appear to be a simple question, or perhaps you think it’s a loaded question. Regardless, the question remains and is ever relevant. While someone studying theology may give a more defined answer than a layperson would, the probability is that the answer may not coincide with what others believe. The idea of the Gospel has become quite muddled over the last years; in fact, I would suggest that what we have come to share is really “the gospel of conversion” rather than the actual Gospel of Christ.
While I’m not going to speak to every possible issue in this article, in reality, this could be numerous articles; I do want to address what Paul understood to be the Gospel. There are two significant Scriptures that are relevant to the issue. Romans 1:2-4 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 and 20-27.
One of the first things that we need to note is that Paul acknowledges the Gospel as was promised before through God’s prophets in the Scripture. Romans 1:2 states, “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (NIV84). Therefore, Paul’s Gospel is based in the Old Testament; it is based on what God promised through His prophets. This is not a new invention. In fact, this text begs the question, “what Scripture is Paul talking about?” So many times, someone reads this text and assumes he is talking about the New Testament because he is reading the New Testament; however, we know that is impossible because it did not exist. Paul was speaking of the Jewish Scriptures that we now know of as the Old Testament. This in itself is an important piece of information.
Paul continues in verse three, “regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David” (NIV84, Ro 1:3). Once again, Paul acknowledges the Old Testament basis of the Gospel. Here he references the Davidic covenant that can be read of in 2 Samuel 7, specifically verse 16. God made the promise to David that “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (NIV84, 2 Sa 7:16). Paul, of course, knew these Scriptures well. We can start to see the Gospel that Paul has in mind through these texts.
Paul continues, “and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (NIV84, Ro 1:4). Paul moves on past the Old Testament prophesies and promises to more current events. This Gospel included the crucifixion, as promised through the Scriptures, but it also is proven through the resurrection. Only God could have resurrected Jesus from the dead through His limitless power. But, this action also proves that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be, the Son of God. Surely an omnipotent and omniscient God would not have raised Jesus from the dead if he was lying.
1 Corinthians provides a similar perspective, except Paul summarizes much of the history in his statement, “according to the Scriptures.” However, in verses 20 through 27, he does add some details that we should be aware of. In verses 21 and 22, Paul states, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive” (NIV84, 1 Co 1:21-22). Here, Paul takes his Gospel all the way back to Adam. He links Adam’s trespass and the entry of sin into the world with salvation through Jesus.
Paul’s view of the Gospel includes the very creation of man and the history of Israel. Perhaps we would do well to step back and evaluate our Gospel. Is it just the simple Gospel of conversion? Or, does it include the full story of Jesus?
The Scripture tells us to believe and confess. However, if we have been sharing less than the full Gospel, I wonder what it is that people are believing in!