ARE THERE TWO GOSPELS in the NEW TESTAMENT?

In understanding the contribution of Saint Paul to the New Testament and to the Christian Faith, one of the questions that gets raised is this very issue. Because it has been raised by so many and so often, it can not be ignored nor dismissed. The truth is, at first glance, what Christ began does seem to take a major change in emphasis with the introduction in the biblical narrative of the ministry of the Apostle to the Gentiles, that even good Bible scholars have been confused. Just one example will hopefully make the point and this among christians who are called “bible believing” conservatives.

One very well defined “system” of interpreting the New Testament and dealing with this perceived difference is that which in essence says, “Jesus proclaimed to Israel the gospel of the Kingdom; when Israel rejected his gospel, it was withdrawn, and with the call of Saint Paul, another gospel, the gospel of grace, was then instituted for the gentiles”.

Did Paul preach another gospel, other than the one Jesus preached?

Well, what does the narrative of Scripture say? A very good example of Jesus’ gospel message which can be chosen as representative, is what John records in his gospel (chapter 6) as the discourse on the Bread of Life or the Bread from Heaven, which Jesus taught the Jews in the syagogue in Capernaum. There is much detail in this message of our Lord that is instructive for us, but in order to keep this brief (and wet your desire to study the text for yourself) I want to only focus on one clear statement.  Near the begining, Jesus exhorts his hearers to “labor not for the food which perishes, but for the food that endures to everlasting life…”. Then in answer to their question, “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God”, Jesus answers them and says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent”!

I don’t believe there is any danger of mistaking this emphasis of Jesus by saying that this is the single emphasis in what I would call Part I of the gospel in the New Testament. It was the major purpose behind the Apostles, Peter and John, following the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The purpose was to proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah promised by God, the fulfillment of all that had gone before and that he had died on the cross as a necessary part of God’s redemptive purpose for Him, and to set his seal upon his perfect work on the cross, God had raised him as the first-fruits of the Resurrection and poured out His Spirit upon His followers, just as He said He would do. This is the basic message that still confronts every person in the world: it is about what God has done once-for-all in the history of humanity which becomes the decisive event until the end of time. The proclamation of what God has done is always for the purpose of eliciting the one thing God now demands of all, repentance towards God and belief in the Savior announced in the Gospel.

Did Paul preach this gospel? He most certainly did! Check out I CORINTHIANS 15 and the earlier post on his sermon in Athens on Mar’s Hill. As you can see hopefully, these are not isolated texts but are at the heart of Paul’s preaching as well as his pastoral letters. One more example is what he reminded the Roman believers about in chapter 10 of that letter: everything begins with the sinner calling out to God for salvation. It is always “near” or at hand but he does have to know some objective truth about Jesus as the Savior God has sent into the world for the purpose of redeeming lost sinners. Paul asks a very logical question: How are they going to call on Him in whom they have not believed? This calling is not some kind of “magical” formula that you mouth after someone has instructed you to “repeat after Me” as “the sinners prayer” that does the trick every time. The calling out to God is filled with the faith that is produced  by being convinced that Jesus is the only Savior, because of his being sent by the Father and by virtue of his agonizing and perfect atonement for sin worked out on a cross outside Jerusalem. Jesus, as he is proclaimed in the authorized and certified gospel is what must be heard before the sinner can call and Paul was acutely aware of that fact.

So what’s all the confusion about? Well, the truth is that there’s a lot more to the gospel of Jesus Christ than just this first part or emphasis that has the purpose of bringing sinners to Jesus as Savior and reconciliation with His Father. This is where the contribution of the Apostle Paul becomes so central. It is not as though the other Apostles did not know the additional part, there is much in Peter’s letters and those of the Apostle John to indicate otherwise. But Paul by far is the one who more thoroughly works out for believers what the consequences are of Christ saving work, the new creation God has initiated in Him and how His Life as the True Vine now flows into and through the branches joined to Him as His Spirit and His Word constitute this whole new way of living under the New Covenant. Believe me, it is radically different from anything in the old order which for the most part, the first Apostles and Jewish disciples continued to live under as the transition from one order to the other took place.

Paul was adamant in maintaining that this part of the gospel he had personally received directly from  the risen Christ himself, and not from the original Apostles (see the letter to the Galatians). I have called this part II of the gospel simply for reasons of showing that there was a definite difference of emphasis and if we are to fully appreciate the advance of the gospel in the New Testament as represented in the ministry of Paul, its helpful to keep this in mind. A whole list of problems in the churches come as a result of not handling these as they are presented in Scripture. One of the gravest of all is what I call “old testament believers in the new testament church”. Sooner or later I will post about what I mean.

Perhaps it will help to remind you that I am an heir to the “radical” wing of the Reformation. I personally look forward to the special emphasis on St.Paul by the Roman Catholics because of a working “thesis” I have been considering for some time: that the Roman Church has largely been built on the foundation of the first part of the gospel-the Jewish Church, if you please, with Saint Peter as their “main man”. One of the main characteristics of the Reformation churches was the rediscovery of the “other” part of the gospel emphasized by Saint Paul. At least the Roman Church has never suggested (as far as I know) that Paul preached another gospel. Let me know what you think.

2010UPDATE: Related post on Jesus & Paul

 

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