28 Jul 2017

The Gospel According to Paul: God Has Kept his Promises in the Messiah

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Corinthians, Acts, Jesus, Romans

What is THE Gospel? Whatever THE Gospel is it is Good News.

This is an important question.

There are numerous answers to the question, “what is the Gospel” given.

The “Gospel Coalition” group of disciples (i.e. John Piper, Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, etc students from whom I have learned much) say the Gospel is the doctrine of Justification by faith, especially as articulated by Martin Luther or John Calvin (also students I have learned deeply from).

Some, many in fact, in Churches of Christ will say that the Gospel is the “plan of salvation” that Jesus died to give us, by which we can be saved by our precision obedience. This plan ranges from Five Fingers to including the identity marks of the one true church. Others, closer to the biblical mark say it is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel is not justification by faith.
The Gospel is not what the “planners” say.
The Gospel is not even only that Jesus died.

The Gospel certainly tells us what God has done to save God’s beloved creation, don’t misunderstand me.

But in First Corinthians 15 where we find how Paul summarizes both his, and the Jerusalem Church’s, statement of the gospel, but when people quote it they often “edit” it, even if unconsciously.

For I handed on to you as of first importance
what I in turn had received:

that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.

Hearing Paul in His First Jewish Century Context

Paul’s Gospel, the one he received is more than Jesus died, was buried, and raised. In fact is is significant that Paul does not say that “Jesus” died (we are not denying he did).  Rather, Paul uses the word Christ intentionally (and if he is quoting an early confession then this is even more emphatic). Christ has a boatload of Jewish meaning (it is a title not a name) … the closest semantic equivalent in English for this word is “King.” Paul says The KING died.  In fact it is more, it is The King of the Jews, died, and rose in the body according to the Scriptures.  These Scriptures in this creedal statement are not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, nor Acts and the Letter to the Romans.  The Scriptures are nothing but Genesis through Malachi.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul states that the Gospel is a JEWISH story about a JEWISH King, in fact that is the Son of David. The Gospel is “according to,” that is in line with what the Scriptures have always said was going to happen.  These means considerably more than the death of Jesus was predicted. It means the message of the Gospel, is about the “Messiah” who is Israel’s King … and the world’s rightful Lord.

Romans is where we get the clearest declaration, or exposition, of what the “gospel” means to Paul. It is a “special providence,”  as James A. Harding would point out, perhaps that Romans 1 is on the very next page from Acts 28 in our English Bibles. As Acts closes, Paul languishes in prison and declares the Gospel in Rome. The next page we read of the Jewish King being proclaimed in, and to, the Romans in the Imperial Capital.

So why is Paul in chains?
Why has Paul been beaten?
Why has Paul been shipwrecked?
Why has Paul faced the beasts?

Why the Gospel of course!

But let Luke and Paul tell us what this means. Paul tells us point blank in Acts 28.20 that it is,

for the sake of THE HOPE OF ISRAEL that I am bound with this chain.

Jesus and the kingdom of God are about the “hope of Israel” (v.23).

BTW, Luke’s quotation of Paul mirrors how the Doctor began his story of the Jewish King way back in Luke chapter 1 and he never left the theme.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to
our ancestors, to Abraham and to
his descendants forever” (Lk 1.52-55)

The Gospel of Luke and Acts begin and end on the same “note.” Mary’s Song is thematically expressed in Paul’s statement that he is in chains for the “hope of Israel.”  I invite you to examine Mary’s Song in some detail and her hope that God remembers the promises to the God of Israel.  See my article Mary’s Song, Jesus’s Mission: Exploring the Matrix of Jesus’s Personal Faith.

Now, when we turn the page to Romans 1, just a column away from Acts 28, what we just heard from Paul’s mouth, about the “hope of Israel” is how Paul defines the Gospel. It is how he begins the most complicated Epistle in the New Testament that he entrusted to that indefatigable Deacon from Corinth, Phoebe (16.1-2).

Paul … set apart for the gospel of God, which he PROMISED beforehand in the HOLY SCRIPTURES, the gospel CONCERNING HIS SON, who was DESCENDED FROM DAVID according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Messiah [i.e. King] our Lord … to bring the obedience of faith among the gentiles for the sake of his name …”

This is a different conception of “gospel,” than many are accustomed, though Paul essentially says the same thing again in 2 Timothy 2.8.

Remember Jesus Messiah [i.e. King], raised from the dead, a descendant of David
this is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship.

This articulation fits quite well with the accusation that was made against Paul in Thessalonica.

They [Paul & Silas and company] are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying there is another KING named Jesus” (Acts 17.7; cf. 16.25).

To proclaim Jesus as “messiah” meant to proclaim him as KING, the promised king, the “son of David.” It is here we learn what “according to the scriptures” means to Paul (and Mary as in the linked article above).

Through the phrase “son of David,” Paul connects Jesus to the promise that was made to the legendary King of Israel. The Gospel is “according” to the Scriptures. God is keeping his promise to David in the Gospel. God’s promise to David is God’s promise to Israel. The fate of Israel rests with the fate of the Son of David. The Promises are the basis of the Hope of Israel.

The New Testament Gospel simply does not exist apart from the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be minimized, it cannot be divorced from, it cannot be taught apart from those Scriptures … that is what Paul states in Romans 1, 1 Cor 15 and 2 Tim 2.8 and other places.

The Promises

The Gospel is about the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, Israel, David and all the descendants of the Patriarchs. It is not simply about a man who died, even on a cross. Thousands of people died on crosses. It is about the promised son of David (=king), and through that King, God rescues the world from the mess we have made of it. God has kept his word to Israel. Paul calls this “the hope of Israel” in Acts 28.

The Hope of Israel is actually the hope of the whole world! And that is why Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles … to tell the nations that Jewish King has come and he has inherited them.

The Gospel is the culmination, not the repudiation, of the story of the promises of God to Israel.

Jesus is King and Caesar is not.
Israel is the Kingdom of God, the Roman Empire is not.

Paul has been appointed to tell the nations that Psalm 2 has come true in the person of the Jewish King. That King’s name is Jesus (notice how the nations are the “inheritance” of the anointed King of Israel in Psalm 2.7-8).  For a much more detailed look at these promises see my The Promise(s): The New Testament Gospel is the Old Testament Promise.

The Book of Romans

Paul’s concern for these promises frames the Epistle to the Romans. We have already quoted the opening way Paul defines his Gospel in 1.2-4 above. Note how he concludes the book in chapter 15, he states about the King,

I tell you that Messiah [=King] has become a servant of the Jews {the circumcised} on behalf of the truth of God IN ORDER THAT HE MIGHT CONFIRM THE PROMISES GIVEN TO THE PATRIARCHS, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (15.8-9).

At the very closing of the book Paul again ties what he writes with his statement of the Gospel in 1.2-4,

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to MY GOSPEL and the proclamation of Jesus MESSIAH {King} … now disclosed and through the prophetic writings [=the Scriptures] is make known to all the Gentiles …” (16.25-26).

Paul refers to these promises in between his opening and closing of Romans. In chapter 4 he mentions the promises that Abraham “and his descendants” were to “inherit THE WORLD” (4.13) etc.

The Gospel is message that the God of Israel has kept his promises to Israel. They are no one else’s promises apart from the Jewish King. God has sent the Messiah and he is King. Through the Jewish King, the servant of Israel, the Gentiles are commanded to come and serve the God of Israel and share in the promises themselves. The sins of the world are dealt with through the Jewish King who has been raised from the dead by power of God in the Spirit.

The Messiah reigns. The King’s name is Jesus, who is the “son of David.”  Jesus is the King of the Jews and thus the Lord of all Creation. The world is put back together by God through him. Jews and Gentiles together are brought together as the renewed Israel in the world as the portrait of the new creation … in accordance with the Promises, in accordance with the Scriptures.

For in him [Messiah/King Jesus] every one of God’s promises are a ‘Yes.’” (2 Cor 1.20).

God keeping his promises … no wonder the Gospel is seen as the “power of God …” The Power of God to save the world.

3 Responses to “The Gospel According to Paul: God Has Kept his Promises in the Messiah”

  1. Robert Limb Says:


    I’m working on “Hope”

  2. Dwight Says:

    I know many who argue that the Gospel is the coming of Jesus and the new laws put forth under Jesus, but in the gospels we read, “gospel of the Kingdom”, a lot.
    The gospel has little do with the New Law/Laws, for laws condemn, but rather the deliverance of God to all nations and freedom from the law of sin through Jesus.
    Most of the moral Laws of the NT are the same moral Laws of the OT. Only the terms for worship has changed from ceremonial to personal. We no longer go through the Temple to God, but through God’s own Son.

    Paul does say that he “came to preach Christ crucified”, but then again that is what Peter taught in Acts 1 and it entailed much more than just Jesus dying. Using the OT Peter taught the Messiah who came to man to liberate man. It was a message of mercy and of grace.

  3. Jenny Priceman Says:

    I know this is tangential to your point, but the “Gospel” Coalition and the churches of Christ add a whole lot of other stuff that is not good news to the gospel. Especially for women and POC.

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