In Chapter 4 of The King Jesus Gospel Scot McKnight begins to examine 1 Corinthians 15 where he believes Paul comes the closest of anyone in the New Testament to actually giving a definition of the word “gospel.” He divides the appropriate verses into three parts (after the jump).
1 Corinthians 15:1–5; 20-28 (NIV84)
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Paul here connects himself to the Corinthians by means of the gospel. This gospel is the “good news I preached to you”. The Corinthians received that message, and live in that message. It is this message that connects Paul to his audience; this is their common bond.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
This is the summary of the good news message of Paul. When Paul preached about Jesus, he told the story of Jesus, the story contained in the Gospels. Paul is not making a new gospel. He is simply repeating the story that he received from God. Jesus died, was buried, raised, and he appeared.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
McKnight asserts that what we find here is a peek into the life and teaching of the early teaching. Before the four Gospels were written down, before letters of the apostles were written, there was a core teaching being presented by the apostles. It was this core teaching that was used to convince hearers to the truth of Jesus as Messiah. Especially in Part B, but also in Part C, there is clear reference to the Old Testament and its references to the Messiah. Paul is reminding his audience that the story of Jesus is intrinsically connected to the Old Testament and acts as the completion of the Story of Israel. As a devout Jew, Paul would’ve been steeped in the Old Testament, and he cannot understand Jesus without seeing him as coming out of the Old Testament context.
“Because the “gospel” is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s Story, we dare not permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the Plan of Salvation.”
Salvation flows from the Gospel, but the gospel should not be confused with the plan of salvation, and it does deal with our sin.
“We must say something vitally important to preserving a gospel culture: Paul does not articulate how Jesus’ death did something “for our sins.” He only tells us that Jesus actually died “for our sins.” However we tell the Story of Jesus, that story must deal with “sins,” and it must deal with those “sins” as something “for which” Jesus died.”
In the 1 Corinthians story we see not only that the gospel is the story of Jesus, but is the story of the entire life of Jesus. The cross is certainly central to the plan of salvation. Without the cross, there is no salvation. The story of the cross is profound, and is a very important piece to the entire Gospel story, but it is not entire story. Jesus did not just die, but he was also buried, raised, and ascended into heaven. There is more to come in the story too. Christ will return, and there will be a resurrection for all believers. An over-focus on the death of Jesus at the price of neglecting his burial, resurrection, and ascension leaves us in a place where we don’t understand the compete gospel.
In the next post we’ll discuss the Jesus of the Gospel.