The Gospel According to Paul
Let us see how Paul describes the gospel. We'll proceed book by book.
1. Paul begins his letter to the Romans by saying that he was commissioned to preach the gospel (Rom. 1:1). Was this gospel predicted in the Old Testament? Verse 2. What does Paul say the gospel is about? Verse 3. What other points are part of the message? Verse 4.
2. What does the gospel message accomplish for people who believe? Verse 16. What does the gospel reveal? Verse 17. What else does the gospel include? Rom. 2:16.
3. We saw above that the gospel brings salvation to everyone who believes. How else does Paul describe those who will be saved? Rom. 10:13. Is it necessary to believe in a person? Verse 14. Would the message therefore have to include information about this person? Verses 15-17.
4. Near the end of his letter, Paul again mentions that he has a commission to preach the gospel (Rom. 15:15-16). What was the focus of his message? Verse 18. As a pioneer, he wanted to preach where the gospel was not previously known. How did he describe this in verses 20-21? How did Paul describe his proclamation? Rom. 16:25.
5. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he also described the gospel. Who gave him his commission? 1 Cor. 1:17. How did he describe the message he preached? Verse 18. The message of the cross is the power of God for salvation. What did Paul preach about? Verse 23. Did he preach anything else? 1 Cor. 2:2.
6. Paul defines his gospel in chapter 15. Is this the message he preached and the Corinthians had believed? Verse 1. Was it effective for their salvation? Verse 2. What was the message that he had given them? Verses 3-5. Was this a minor part of the message, or was it the most important part? Same verses. Was it predicted in the Old Testament? Verses 3-4. What or who is the central theme? Was the resurrection part of the message? Verse 12. Whose resurrection is he talking about?
7. Paul talks about the gospel message again in the next letter. What did he preach about? 2 Cor. 1:19. How does he describe the gospel? 2 Cor. 4:4. Again, what did he say that he preached about? Verse 5. In chapter 11, he again uses the word gospel and in the same verse tells us the center of his preaching. What did he preach? 2 Cor. 11:4.
8. In the first chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul again points out that he has a commission to preach. What is it that he should preach? Gal. 1:16. How does he describe his message in his letter to the church at Ephesus? Eph. 3:8.
9. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul has a more personal note. He is in prison, but he looks at the bright side. Even though other preachers seem to be taking advantage of Paul's imprisonment, he is not troubled. His stay in prison has helped advance the gospel, he says (Phil. 1:12).
What is the message communicated to the palace guard and others? Verse 13. What were the "competitor" preachers preaching about? Verses 15, 17. Were all of these competitors bad, or were some good? Verses 15-16. But what was the most important thing for Paul? Verse 18. Did Paul like what his competitors were preaching? Verse 18.
10. Paul gives another brief definition of the gospel in his letter to the Colossians. He says that believers are reconciled to God if they continue in their faith. He then says, "This is the gospel that you heard" (Col. 1:23). But what is "this"? Where in the context does Paul define the gospel? Are verses 24-25 a description of Paul's message, or are verses 21-22 the gospel he is describing?
11. Paul told Timothy about the gospel, too. How did he describe what was being preached? 1 Tim. 3:16. "Join with me in suffering for the gospel," he wrote (2 Tim. 1:8). What had he just encouraged Timothy to preach about? Verse 8, first part. Do verses 9-11 further describe what Paul's gospel is about? What really concise definition of the gospel does he give in 2 Tim. 2:8?
For Further Reading
We look at many scriptures in this study. We just skim the surface, looking primarily at verses that use the Greek word for gospel or for preaching. A more thorough study would lead to the same conclusion: The gospel that Paul preached was about Jesus Christ, specifically his death and resurrection, and the good news that we can be saved through what he has done. Whether we look at the sermons of Paul, or in his letters, we see a consistent focus on Jesus Christ.
The disciples originally did not understand everything Jesus taught, especially about his death and resurrection. Although he told them, they did not accept or understand this part of the message. His crucifixion was a tremendous shock to them. His resurrection was also a tremendous surprise.
Since Jesus was not able to teach his disciples about even the fact of his death and resurrection, he could not teach them about the significance of these events. But after Jesus rose, and after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples understood. They saw that Jesus' death and resurrection were necessary for people to have the salvation that Jesus had taught about. His death and resurrection were the key to the kingdom of God.
Jesus preached about salvation, repentance and faith. He taught that he was the key to eternal life, and he taught about his own death and resurrection. In all these things Paul preached essentially the same thing as Jesus did.
After his resurrection, Jesus reminded his disciples what he had taught them about himself: "This is what I told you while I was still with you: `Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'... This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day" (Luke 24:44, 46).
And Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach this message about salvation through him: "Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (verses 47-48).
The message of Paul "is essentially the same as that of Jesus: that in the person and mission of Jesus, God has visited human beings to bring them the messianic salvation. But there is one great difference. Paul stands on the other side of the cross and resurrection and is able to see ... that what was being accomplished in Jesus' life was incomplete apart from the cross and empty tomb. While the blessings of the Kingdom of God were present in Jesus' words and deeds, the greatest blessing of God's Kingdom was the conquest of death and the gift of life; and this was accomplished only by Jesus' death and resurrection" (G.E. Ladd,Theology of the New Testament, 1993, page 453).
The apostles also saw that, to bring this good news to the world, they did not have to use the word kingdom. That word was only one of several legitimate pictures of the good news of what God is doing. The apostles were free to use other descriptions of the salvation that Jesus makes possible through his death and resurrection.
Paul occasionally used the term "kingdom of God," but it was not his most common term for describing the gospel. He was not preaching about a future geographic territory. He was talking about an eternal kingdom that we may enter in this age (Col. 1:13). He was talking about a King who is already ruling—a Lord who is alive and may be accepted as Lord even in this age. We do not have to wait for Jesus to return before we experience blessings in the gospel.
If we assume that God's kingdom is like human kingdoms, with a geographical base, as many first century Jews did, then we will find it difficult to understand some of Jesus' parables about the kingdom. The kingdom Jesus described doesn't fit well into a message about a territory-based kingdom, and neither does the preaching of the early church and of the apostle Paul.
And if we assume that the kingdom is exclusively future, we will also find it hard to understand some of the things Jesus and Paul said. But when we understand the kingdom of God to be God's rule, not dependent on territory, then we can see how the kingdom can exist in this age as well as in the future. People who accept Jesus as Lord accept his rule over their lives, and they thereby enter his kingdom. They come willingly under his rule now, and they await the gift of immortality at the resurrection. This is what Jesus talked about—and Paul is talking about the same thing, albeit with more details.
Why the change? Because in terms of God's kingdom and salvation, the most significant event of all time happened between Jesus and Paul. That event was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That event brought the old covenant to an end. It marked a dramatic change in the way God deals with his people.
That event marked a dramatic shift in the understanding of the apostles and of the message God inspired them to preach. That event was the key to the kingdom, the key to salvation, and it has become key to the message we preach: salvation has been made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
2Co 1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes."
2Co 4:4 ...the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
2Co 11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
Gal 1:16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,
Eph 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ
Phil 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.
Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. 24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
1Ti 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
2Ti 1:8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher
2Ti 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel