The Gospel Is Not 1 Corinthians 15
August 7, 2012, 11:00 am
Filed under: 1 Corinthians 15, Gospel

by David Bishop

1 Corinthians 15:1-7  Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the world I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.   For I delivered to you as of first important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of who are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

It is sometimes argued that 1 Corinthians 15 contains all the essential core doctrines of the gospel.  From this notion it is maintained that a believer is someone who agrees with the eyewitness account of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, while everything else is just icing on the cake.

Those who maintain such a notion often ignore the context of Paul’s fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians.  Some within the Corinthian community had been arguing that there will be no resurrection.  Paul wrote his fifteenth chapter to remind the Corinthians of those elements of his gospel that contradict this argument.   His aim in the fifteenth chapter was not to put the core entirety of his gospel message down on paper.  Consider, for instance, Acts 26.

In Acts 26, Paul is brought before King Agrippa and Festus, governor of Caesarea, in order to present his defense against the Jews who had sought to kill him.   Paul begins his defense by recounting his former manner of life, how he once believed his righteousness was found in his Jewish birth and in his works, and how he once persecuted Christians because of this.  He then next recounts the story of how, while on the road to Damascus, Christ arrested him with a ray of light from heaven brighter than the noon day sun.  He informs Agrippa and Festus that while cowering on his knees within the brilliance of that light, he heard the Lord Christ say to him,

“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen Me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes, so that  they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:16-18)

Paul then concludes his defense by saying:

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to the God performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.  To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass, that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise form the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:19-23)

Although the eyewitness account of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection are essential gospel doctrine, Acts 26 makes clear that they are but three essential parts rather than the whole.   The “light” that Paul says Christ would proclaim was not only resurrection from the dead, but rather also forgiveness of sins and the promise of a place among the saints who are sanctified by faith in God.

And let us make no mistake.   The message that Paul related to Agrippa and Festus in Acts 26 is indeed the gospel that Paul preached, for Agrippa himself asked Paul, “In short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28), to which Paul answered, “I would to God not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29)  1 Corinthians 15 contains no message of the forgiveness of sin.  Rather, it contains only a message of resurrection.  And while the resurrection is important, can anyone say the gospel is still the gospel without the message of the forgiveness of sin?!

It should be noted at this point that every Roman Catholic and Arminian the world over can say they believe the message of 1 Corinthians 15.   Even the folks at TBN say they believe the eyewitness account of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  If that is what we are going to use to judge someone’s gospel by, then we are not judging by the Scriptures.

To demonstrate just how ridiculous the argument is, consider the fact that it cannot be answered from 1 Corinthians 15 alone just which Christ was eyewitnessed.  Was it the Christ of the Mormons?  After all, they too say their Christ had eyewitnesses.   What about the Christ of Scientology?  They don’t deny the eyewitness account.   Or perhaps it was the Christ of the Catholics who died, was buried and rose again.  What about Billy Graham’s Christ?  Joel Osteen’s Christ? Or even Marilyn Manson’s?

Without additional doctrine – doctrine that is not found in 1 Corinthians 15 – the question cannot be answered.  So straight away,  in order to explain who the Christ was that died, rose and was seen, we have to use additional doctrine found elsewhere in Scripture rather than 1 Corinthians 15 alone.  So much for 1 Corinthians 15 containing the gospel.

It’s the same for Acts 26.  We need more than Acts 26 to explain the gospel to someone.  We need more than Acts 26 to judge someone’s doctrine as biblical.  If we want something by which judge someone’s gospel, then we ought to consider all sixteen chapters of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, rather than the last chapter of his epistle to the Corinthians.  I am not suggesting we must all become Biblical scholars.  But if we are to “test the prophets” according to Scripture, then we’d better be ready to test by more than just an eyewitness account of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.   We’d better also know who this Christ is that died and rose, why He came to die and rise, and what He accomplished by doing so.   Those things we cannot discover by adhering to 1 Corinthians 15 alone.

11 Comments so far
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Romans 10 tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. It does not say faith comes by hearing 1 Corinthians 15. is part of God’s word, but it is not the entirety of God’s word.

The gospel speaks of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.

True biblical faith in the gospel will not find itself rejecting the propositions revealed in I Corinthians 15, but true biblical faith does not have to be an assent to a fully systematized and exhaustive list of propositional statements in order to be biblical faith. The seeing and hearing, while not rejecting what they saw and heard yesterday, do indeed see and hear more than they saw and heard the day before.

Grow IN does not mean grow INTO. They are two related but different ideas.

Comment by mark mcculley

We are told by advocates of ECT (Timothy George) that we cannot insist on forensic justification as gospel because to do so would call into question the salvation of all those people before the Reformation.

In part I agree: if we say that you must believe in Christ as the
justifier of the ungodly to believe the gospel, then we certainly ARE calling into question the Christian status of those who condition grace on something they do.

If the Reformation should have never happened, then it is clear that we should stop using Reformation language to describe our relation to God. If Reformation language is only a situation gospel, or only an “application of the gospel”, then we must ask if the gospel needs to be applied in our day the way it was in that day.

Comment by mark mcculley

“ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES” is the portion of the text which can never be discounted. It is there in which the other essential doctrines of grace are explained.

Gods Holy Character
Mans depravity and inability to please God through ANY deeds
Christ’s Propititory work
Christ’s person
Christ as Gods

Paul stated he was delivering what he had received and he received it from Christ himself!

I will believe Paul and the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing.

Comment by Bam

If you want to read Paul’s phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” as pertaining to the other essential doctrines of grace, Bam, then that is your prerogative. I think your argument is weak, very weak, but at least you do understand that the mere historical fact of Christ’s death and resurrection do not in themselves alone constitute the gospel, and that is good. The problem I see with your argument is twofold. First, there is nothing in the immediate text to indicate that the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” should not be understood as pertaining to prophetic promise, such as in, according to what the prophets prophesied would happen. Second, however, and even worse for your argument, there is nothing about the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 15. How do you explain regeneration, faith, the Spirit’s power to enable the elect to see and understand, if all you have to work from is 1 Corinthians 15?

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

I’m not suprised you would say that my argument is weak but it is not my argument. Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so you are calling God’s argument weak.

Believers have been granted the understanding to know the doctrines of Grace and understand that Paul was quite astute in his ability to use the Old Testament scriptures to preach the Gospel message. Believers who have been granted true faith/repentance and a love for the truth also have been given understanding to take the Old Testament scriptures and preach Christ who is indeed THE GOSPEL.

Christ was the Father’s chosen righteous servant and only son who was promised to come into the world as the God-Man to die for the sins of his people and satisfy the Father by keeping the Law via perfect obedience.

This was testified to by the prophets and ratified by the John the baptist, Christ himself and the apostles.

The “Doctrines of Grace” flow like a scarlet thread from Genesis to Revelation. Christ Person, Election, regeneration, repentance, faith, the work of the spirit, etc. are couched in these very 66 books which make up the whole of the biblical text.

All of the doctrines of God’s Grace in saving sinners is not divulged one-by-one in 1 Cor. 15 neither are they divulged one-by-one in some of Paul’s other epistles but God reveals HIS Gospel to HIS Elect people according to HIS will.

This is why Paul added “According to the Scriptures” twice in his proclamation of the Gospel he received from the Lord himself.

“According to the Scriptures” means that the Messiah who was prophisied in the Old Testament scriptures to come into the world as the seed of Abraham,for one purpose and that being to save HIS people, indeed did just that!

Therefore, a believer has been graced to read the story of David and Goliath and know this story wasn’t a fable to induce life improvement but is a Gospel shadow. It pictures Salvation of God’s Elect people by ONE man.

This is what Paul means when he says “According to the Scriptures.”

Recognizing that Moses represented the Law and therefore could not take God’s people into the promise land but had to give way to Joshua (who shadows Christ).

The Old Testament is replete with these types of types and shadows of Christ’s work and can only be seen and understood by the quickened mind/heart.

I am proud to be placed in the same boat as Paul in having a weak argument but as I stated prior, I will believe Paul and HE who inspired him to write.

Therefore, I say Thank you for the compliment!

Comment by Bam

I noticed that Scott Price is a contributor to this site so I did some perusing and came across some photos he has attached on a particular website.

One of his friends is a man named Bill Parker.

Therefore, I would assume Scott would agree with Bill on what the Gospel is.

I am attaching several sermons Bill preached in which he used the very text you used to discount what the bible teaches.

You will notice the titles of his messages are:

What is the Gospel

The True Gospel Part 1(2012 Spring Conference)

The True Gospel Part 2 (2012 Spring Conference)

These are fresh sermons so I think it is fair to say that Bill hasn’t changed his mind!

Here is one preached by Scott Richardson who was a friend of Tim James (I say was because I believe Scott has passed).

Tim James was also photo’d with Scott and I have to believe is a friend of Scott and probably knows Bill as well.

So you are going to have to clear up Tim’s ignorance to boot.

Since you took the time to write your opinion regarding 1 Corinthians 15, you may want to clear up Scott, Bill and Tim’s ignorance because they obviously disagree with you.

Though they may not say it, the proof is in the words spoken by Bill himself in his sermons and the fact Scott has aligned himself with Bill via the photos and preaching collarboration.

If I am wrong and my argument is “weak” as you say then they too must be wrong and their argument is “weak” and if that is the case then there needs to be a meeting of the minds in your camp because you guys are definitely not on the same page.

Scott Price needs to contact Bill and have Bill retract his sermons and clarify his opinion to fit your camp or people could find themselves totally confused.

I also notice photos of Mark McCulley as well and I assume it is the same Mark attached to this site.

If so, you guys really have some issues you need to address before you do any more posting!

You know the bible is a snare to those who do not believe because they find themselves attempting to use the bible to discount the bible.

Our God is of one uniform mind, and the Spirit of Truth speaks one and the same thing, in the same ministry, through all ages, without contradiction.

Comment by Bam

I noticed my last post has been deleted but I’m not suprised at all!

Your inital ignorant and heretical commentary should have been rebuked by those in your camp but what I have noticed is in the religious blogging community is that doctrinal ignorance and heresy is always tolerated in private camps.

Outsiders who disagree or write unapproved books, articles, etc are denegrated and criticized ad nauseam.

Therefore, don’t be a coward and only delete the post which made you look like the unbelieving bible heretic you are but delete ALL my comments!

I am now acutely aware that TRUTH is not what this site is about.

Rather than repent and erase your foolish commentary you choose to delete what was posted to refute your non-sense.

That is the actions of a coward and a biblical fool!

You have allies in your own camp who disagree with this foolish commentary and yet they say nothing.

I shouldn’t have been the person to show you how nonsensical this commentary was and is!

Bill Parker disagrees.
Scott Price disagrees.
Mark McCulley disagrees
Tim James disagrees

Paul the Apostle disagrees

And more importantly, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST disagrees.

You don’t have to worry about me visiting or posting any more comments because this site has proved to be just as ungogdly as many of the others.

As Christ stated you truly need to cast the beam out of your own eye before you begin to attempt to cast the mote out of other people’s eyes.

Pray God truly reveals what the Gospel is to you and gives you spiritual eyes to see and understand the Scriptures!!!

Then perhaps, just maybe the LORD will give you enough understanding to commentate on HIS WORD.

Your article was suppose to clear up the ignorance of your readers but merely showed you are the ignorant one!

The fact that you even thought you were smart enough to cast aspersion in the direction of God’s Truth clearly indicates how blind you are.

Your refusal to remove it but remove post from those who disagree is what has people so confused when perusing these type of sites.

You are part of the group of people who believe they are wiser than God!

The type of people who believe their call is to clear up everyone’s ignorance by challenging biblical Truth!

There are other ignorant articles on this site but I now see it would be a waste of time to comment on those!

You’re writers have no desire for TRUTH but only seek to comfort one another with demonic earthly wisdom brewed in the kitchen of satan himself.

May God help you because only opposers of TRUTH would write something so foolish and then rather than repent when clearly shown the error, hide behind the word “weak” and then delete the evidence the blogging world would see that shows your foolishness.

I’m sure you will delete this as well but the LORD himself will know you have been openly and sharply rebuked “ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES” (Proverbs 27:5) (Titus 1:10-13)and you and your comrades will know as well!

I Will NEVER visit this site again so you don’t have to worry about me posting again.

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition REJECT..(Titus 3:10)

Continue doing what you have been doing.

One of you write a article and let the others ones be the only one to post a glowing comment.

That should produce growth, albeit non-spiritual growth but growth none-the-less!

Comment by Bam

Why are you appealing to Bill Parker, as though Bill Parker is the grand poobah of all that is gospel. Funny thing, I thought Scripture was.

I don’t know why you are taking my comments personally. You have not yet demonstrated a logical argument that proves me wrong.

<<<<"I’m not suprised you would say that my argument is weak but it is not my argument. Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so you are calling God’s argument weak."

Nonsense. I'm calling your argument weak. You haven't demonstrated that your argument is God's argument. Until you do, you are behaving presumptuously.

<<<< "Believers have been granted the understanding to know the doctrines of Grace and understand that Paul was quite astute in his ability to use the Old Testament scriptures to preach the Gospel message. Believers who have been granted true faith/repentance and a love for the truth also have been given understanding to take the Old Testament scriptures and preach Christ who is indeed THE GOSPEL."

Irrelevant. I never denied this.

<<<< "Christ was the Father’s chosen righteous servant and only son who was promised to come into the world as the God-Man to die for the sins of his people and satisfy the Father by keeping the Law via perfect obedience."

Actually, it was to satisfy the Father's wrath against the sins of His people by dying on a cross for their sins, but your comment is still irrelevant.

<<<<"This was testified to by the prophets and ratified by the John the baptist, Christ himself and the apostles."

Irrelevant. I never denied this.

<<<>>>> “All of the doctrines of God’s Grace in saving sinners is not divulged one-by-one in 1 Cor. 15 neither are they divulged one-by-one in some of Paul’s other epistles but God reveals HIS Gospel to HIS Elect people according to HIS will.”

Exactly! ALL OF THE DOCTRINES OF GOD’S GRACE IN SAVING SINNERS IS NOT – I REPEAT – NOT DIVULGED IN 1 CORINTHIANS 15. It does not matter they are not divulged one by one; the point is, they are not divulged! Telling someone that Jesus died according to the Scriptures does not constitute telling them the gospel.

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

No, Bam, I am going to leave your comment up. It may help others to remember why it is always better to think before you speak.

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

“What Is the Gospel?” by John W. Robbins

There are more than two thousand organizations in the United States alone in 1988 that profess to be Christian. Yet these organizations, let alone the particular individuals who compose them, differ dramatically.

Historically, for example, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Puritans claimed to be Christians. Yet will anyone deny that Roman Catholicism—with its veneration of saints; its adoration of Mary; its use of images, beads, and statues; its clerical hierarchy; and its elaborate ritual and ostentatious costumes—is a different religion from iconoclastic Puritanism? Which one, then, is Christian?

Today the contrast is equally dramatic, if not so obvious as in the seventeenth century. There are small groups of people who still believe the religion of the Protestant Reformers and the Puritans. They believe that the Bible alone is the Word of God and that it is therefore without error; that Jesus Christ was an actual figure of human history, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln; that he was God incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary; that he was crucified for the sins of his people, he rose again the third day and later ascended into Heaven, from where he will return to judge the living and the dead. They believe that Christ died to save only his people, and that he, being all-powerful, actually saved them from both sin and Hell. They believe that sinful men obtain right standing with God only on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not by any thing they have done or can do, and not by anything God has done in their lives, nor by any experiences they may have had, but simply by the work Christ did on Earth two thousand years ago.

In contrast to these few heirs of the Protestant Reformation, there is not only the 800 million member Roman Catholic Church, there are also large Protestant churches that have repudiated the Reformation with its resounding affirmations of “The Bible alone” as the source of truth, “faith alone” as the means of justification before God, “grace alone,” not human merit, as the reason for man’s salvation, and “Christ alone” as the provider of that salvation. There are also groups such as the Mormon church, which claims to be Christian; the Unification church, which claims to be Christian, the Christian Scientists, and so on indefinitely. In the twentieth century there are thousands of different groups that claim to be Christian. What then, in all this confusion, is Christianity?

The confusion that plagues the religious world is not restricted to the meaning of the word Christian. The Gospel itself, which all who call themselves Christians should agree on, has become so confused by the opinions of men as to be almost meaningless. The ancient Tower of Babel has been replaced by radio and television towers as dozens of religious leaders teach their own gospels on the airwaves every day.

Pat Robertson, like many other American religious leaders, is called an “Evangelical.” The word has its roots in the Greek New Testament, where the Gospel is called euaggelion, the Good News. At the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the word Evangelical was applied to the Reformers; for they believed and preached the Good News, the Gospel, that Christ had earned salvation for his people, that men need not and could not earn salvation by their own works and experiences, and that this Good News—this Gospel—was found in the Bible alone. The word Evangelical originally meant two things: (1) that the Bible, not church leaders, nor clergymen, nor human experience, is the sole source of truth; and (2) that a sinner received right standing before God by having Christ’s righteousness reckoned to his account through faith in the person and work of Christ. These ideas were expressed in two slogans: sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—and sola fide—faith alone.

Today, however, there is a great deal of confusion about what the Gospel is, and what an Evangelical is, just as there is confusion about what a Christian is. Because of this confusion, many people are called Evangelicals who do not believe the Gospel. It might be best to begin to sort out this confusion by spelling out some of the popular religious ideas that are not the Gospel.

Counterfeit Gospels

The Gospel is not “You must be born again.”

The Gospel is not “You must be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The Gospel is not “You must be baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

The Gospel is not “You must speak in tongues.”

The Gospel is not “You can perform miracles.”

The Gospel is not “Let Jesus into your heart.”

The Gospel is not “You must have a personal relation ship (or experience or encounter) with Christ.”

The Gospel is not “Repent.”

The Gospel is not “Expect a miracle.”

The Gospel is not “Put Jesus on the throne of your life.”

The Gospel is not “Jesus set an example for us so that we may follow him to Heaven.”

The Gospel is not “Trust Jesus.”

The Gospel is not “Let go and let God.”

The Gospel is not “Draw nigh unto God.”

The Gospel is not “Christ died for all men and desires the salvation of all.”

The Gospel is not “Decide for Christ.”

The Gospel is not “Christians should take dominion over the Earth.”

The Gospel is not “Make Jesus Lord of your life.”

The Gospel is not “Jesus is coming again.”

All these messages, and presumably many more that I have neither heard nor thought of, are being preached from American pulpits and television studios as the Gospel. A few of them are commands taken from Scripture. But none of them is the Gospel. Not everything in the Bible is the Gospel. The Gospel is Good News.

But the Gospel is Good News of a particular sort. It is not good news about what Christians will enjoy in Heaven. It is not good news about what God can do in changing your life. It is not good news about the success, prosperity, health, money, and powerful living that God wants you to enjoy. Many people, like Pat Robertson, confuse the Gospel with stories about what God has done or can do in their lives. One looks in vain through Pat Robertson’s books and newsletters for a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What one finds instead are numerous accounts of miracles, speaking in tongues, and other amazing and exciting religious experiences. None of these things is the Gospel.

Robertson and the charismatics make the same mistake that seventy disciples did, as Luke reports in chapter 10. Let me repeat the story:

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before his face into every city and place where he himself was about to go…. Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.”

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. Behold, I give you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.

Unlike many religious people who falsely claim they can perform divine miracles, here were seventy men who could truly perform divine miracles. God was doing wonderful things in their lives. They had dominion even over demons. But Jesus tells them explicitly, “Do not rejoice in this.” Christ gave them a direct and explicit command not to rejoice in their own experiences—experiences that some people today would promote as “power evangelism” and “power healing.” The disciples were focusing on their own experiences rather than what God had done from all eternity and what Christ was going to accomplish on the cross. They were rejoicing in their subjective experiences. But Christ told them to rejoice in something that they had never experienced, something that God had done wholly outside of them, even before they were born. He told them to rejoice in the doctrine of election—that their names are written in Heaven. That election is permanent: Their names are written. But many, if not all, of those who are promoting healing and miracles today actually deny the doctrine of election. They believe that man is free of God’s control. Therefore, they have nothing to rejoice in but their own experiences.

Most of what are called “Evangelical” books, essays, television programs, and sermons consist of little more than stories about the wonderful things God is doing in this movie star’s life, or that football player’s life, or what he can do in your life. They do not contain even the least suggestion of the Gospel. It is impossible to over-emphasize this point. Virtually all of what is preached from the pulpits and television studios of America, in conservative as well as in liberal churches, is not the Gospel. It is a clever counterfeit, and millions of churchgoers and television viewers are being cheated.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

In contrast to Robertson’s near total reliance on his subjective religious experience, the apostle Paul tells us what the Gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

That is the Gospel, and that Gospel is preached in very few so-called Christian churches today: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

Because of contemporary religious confusion, there are several aspects of Paul’s Gospel that demand elucidation. First, the Gospel concerns history, not legend or myth. It is not, as Peter says, “cunningly devised fables.” When Paul mentions Jesus Christ, he means an actual historical character like George Washington or Julius Caesar. He is not speaking of an experiential “Christ” whom we imagine. There are many different “Christs” and “Gods” being talked about today. The words Jesus, Christ, and God have become almost meaningless in the twentieth century, as we have seen, and unless one says exactly which “Christ” he means, no one, including himself, can know. Paul does that. His Christ is an historical figure, not a voice, nor a vision, nor a dream.

Second, the Gospel concerns the past, neither the present nor the future. It is history. The Gospel does not describe any present or future action that God or man might take. The Gospel is news about actions God in Christ took 2,000 years ago to save his people, actions that are wholly outside of our experience. Just as all men are condemned by Adam’s sin, which was wholly outside of us, so are all of God’s chosen people saved by Christ’s obedience unto death, which is wholly outside of their experience. Just as the Gospel is history, not legend; and just as the Gospel concerns the past, not the present nor the future; so the Gospel is about something that God did, not something that we must do or can do. Christ is both the author and the finisher of our salvation. We do not complete what he began; Christ said, “It is finished.”

Third, the Gospel concerns what Christ did for his people: Christ died for our sins, not for the sins of everyone in the world, but for the sins of his people only. He did not die for the sins of Judas, for example, for Judas went to Hell. If Christ had died for Judas’s sins, why was Judas sent to Hell? Was it for his unbelief, his failure to “let Jesus into his heart”? But unbelief and failure to “accept” Christ admittedly are sins, and Christ, according to this false but popular gospel, died for all of Judas’s sins. So the question remains unanswered: If Christ died for all men, why are some men punished in Hell?

The Scriptures teach that Christ did not die for all men. He came to Earth to save some men, whom the Bible calls “his people,” “the sheep,” “friends,” and “the church,” among other names, and he actually earned salvation for them. He did not come merely to offer salvation to all men and hope that some men would accept his offer. He came to save his people, and he did so.

The Gospel is an objective and historical message. It does not concern our experiences at all. It does not concern our works, but God’s works. It does not concern our alleged miracles, but Christ’s death and Resurrection. Regeneration—sometimes called the new birth—sanctification, faith, and the Second Coming—are all consequences of what Christ accomplished 2,000 years ago in Judea. They must not be confused with the Gospel, for effects should not be confused with causes.

The Whole Counsel of God

But there is more in Paul’s account of the Gospel than might appear in a superficial reading. What we have discovered so far is totally different from what passes for the Gospel in this decadent age. But there is a great deal more. Paul uses the phrase “according to the Scriptures” twice in this concise account of the Gospel. His whole summary of the Gospel takes only twenty-seven words in the New King James translation (and fewer in the Greek), and eight of those words are “according to the Scriptures … according to the Scriptures.” The phrase is obviously very important. Why does Paul repeat it? What does it mean?

The Gospel, according to Paul, is embedded in some thing much larger: It is embedded in all the Scriptures. Not only are the Scriptures the only reliable source of information we have about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but the Scriptures alone explain those events. The Gospel is not merely that Christ died; so did Paul. The Gospel is not merely that he was buried; so was Abraham. The Gospel is not merely that Christ rose again, so did Lazarus. The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. And that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. The Gospel is in accord with and explained by the Scriptures, all sixty-six books of them. When Christ explained his resurrection to the disciples, he did so by explaining the Scriptures:

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He ex pounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him: and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? … And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

By emphasizing the phrase “according to the Scriptures,” Paul is emphasizing the fact that the Gospel is part of a system of truth given to us in the Bible. All of the parts of this system fit together. All the statements in the Bible are logically consistent with one another. To give but one ex ample of this, Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection fulfilled specific prophecies given centuries earlier. The exact town where he would be born was predicted hundreds of years before his birth; the fact that his birth would be unusual, for his mother would be a virgin, was predicted centuries before his birth; his death among the wicked and his burial among the rich were predicted; and Christ himself predicted his resurrection. The specific propositions that Paul calls the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 do not stand alone. They imply and are implied by many others. The choosing by God the Father of those that should be saved, the suffering of the punishment due them for their sins by Jesus Christ at Calvary, and the gift of faith to the elect people by God the Holy Spirit are all part of the system of truth taught in the Bible. They are the three great aspects of redemption: election, atonement, and faith. And the Gospel, the doctrine of the atonement, is the central theme. It is impossible to defend the Gospel, or even to preach the Gospel, without defending and explaining the system of truth of which it is a part.

Paul’s emphatic phrases in 1 Corinthians 15 indicate that those who wish to separate the Gospel from the system of truth found in the Bible cannot do so. The Gospel, while a distinct part of the Biblical system, is nevertheless a part of the system. This system is fully expressed in the Scriptures. The propositions that Paul calls the Gospel are some of the propositions of Scripture. Because the Gospel is part of the Scriptural system of truth, it is impossible to defend the Gospel without defending the whole system. An exclusive emphasis on the “fundamentals” of the faith, rather than the “whole counsel of God,” which is the phrase the Bible uses, is futile. Six or eight unconnected truths, even if they be major doctrines of Christianity, are not the whole of Christianity, and cannot be defended effectively. Fundamentalism poses no serious threat to secular philosophies because it is logically unsystematic and disjointed, a mere shadow of the robust Christianity we find in the Bible.

Paul emphasized the Scriptures, but this emphasis upon the writings is not unique to Paul. When explaining and defending Christianity, Christ always appealed to Scripture, and never to his own experience. During his temptation in the wilderness, Christ quoted Scripture in reply to each of the Devil’s temptations: “It is written,” “It is written,” “It is written.” What makes this appeal more significant is the context in which it occurred. Christ had just been baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. He had heard a voice from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased.” The Holy Spirit had descended on him in the form of a dove. Talk about religious experiences! No one else, before or since, has ever had such an astonishing experience. Yet Christ did not tell the Devil what had happened to him, the voice from Heaven and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Why not? Why did Christ ignore all this and quote what many today call the dead letter of the Bible? Why does Christ answer the Devil by quoting Scripture rather than recounting his recent and unique spiritual experiences? Because the Scriptures are the objective written word of God. The Bible, not our experience, is authoritative. If Christ did not appeal to his experience, and it was a far greater experience than any mere man could ever hope to have, there is absolutely no justification for our appealing to our miserable and possibly deceptive experiences.

It was, in fact, the Devil who wanted Christ to appeal to his personal experiences: He wanted Christ to perform a miracle; Christ refused. He wanted Christ to take a leap of faith off the pinnacle of the temple, presuming God the Father would perform a miracle; Christ refused. He wanted Christ to worship him, avoid the hellish suffering of the cross, and thereby gain dominion over all the kingdoms of the world; again Christ refused.

The Devil used the same appeal to experience in the Garden when he tempted Eve: He promised Eve that she would become godlike when she ate the forbidden fruit. And Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise.” Relying upon her experience, and seeking a still more wonderful experience, Eve abandoned the Word of God. The secret of Christ’s intransigent resistance to diabolical temptation was precisely the fact that he did not prefer his own experiences to the Word of God.

The apostle Peter also emphasizes the written Word of God. He climaxes his account of the testimony concerning the truth of the Christian faith by mentioning Scripture. In his second letter, Peter says,

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to him from the Excellent Glory: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from Heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

A few verses earlier Peter had written that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us.” Please notice the phrase “all things.” Later in the same chapter Peter again says that Scripture is the only way we have of getting this knowledge: Scripture, the prophetic word made more sure, is the light that shines in a dark place—not a brightly lit place, nor even a dimly lit place, but a dark place. There is no other source for this knowledge, including knowledge of the Gospel, than the Scriptures. The Bible claims to have a monopoly on truth. The charismatics, like all other cults and false religions, deny that monopoly. They denigrate the Bible and base their religion on their personal experiences.

But the Gospel is neither accounts of our personal experiences nor commands that we are to obey. The Gospel is the Good News of what Christ did for his people 2,000 years ago. It is not about the new birth, nor the Second Coming, nor the activities of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The Gospel is propositions about historical events that happened wholly outside of us. It has consequences and implications for us today, to be sure, but these consequences are effects of the Gospel, and must not be confused with the Gospel itself. The fatal error of the Dark Ages was to confuse God’s work for us with God’s work in us, and so pervert the Gospel. The same error is widespread among so-called Evangelicals today who do not distinguish between what Christ has done for us and what the Holy Spirit can do in us. We are rapidly re-entering the Dark Ages because the light and clarity of the Gospel has been lost.

March/April 1988

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Comment by Hugh McCann

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