Paul’s Gospel- Good News for Pagans

 Over the years, I have asked people what comes to their mind when they hear the word “Gospel.” I have had some very interesting responses. Some say that when they hear the word “Gospel” it brings to mind a choir singing a song in a church, or a message/teaching of some kind. But overall, there seems to be great confusion about this issue.

In the New Testament, the “gospel” denotes the “good tidings” of the kingdom of God and of salvation through the Messiah, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 15:7; 20:24; 1 Peter 4:17). I am well aware that the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts in the Bible.

Two predominant people groups in the New Testament are Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles (I would of been one of them) were the ones who were pagan idol-worshippers (1 Cor.12:2), who were “uncircumcised,” “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:11-13), and “without hope.”

That is why it is significant to note that Paul, who was a very competent rabbi was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ (who was a key rabbinic leader) was presenting a Gospel that was opposed to pagan mythology. So let’s look at Paul (who wrote a good majority of the New Testament) and see if we can learn some tips in how he viewed the Gospel.

Romans 1: 1-7:

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So we see that the Gospel is first and foremost a message about Jesus. Six things stand out:

1. In Jesus of Nazareth, specifically in the cross, the decisive victory has been won over all the powers of evil, including sin and death themselves.

2. In Jesus’ resurrection, a new age has dawned, inaugurating the long-awaited time when the prophecies would be fulfilled, when Israel’s exile would be over, and the whole world would be addressed by the one creator God.

3. The crucified and risen Jesus, was, all along Israel’s Messiah, her representative king:

Paul lays great emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection in other places in the NT. Through Jesus’ resurrection, He installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31).

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43).

There is no kingdom without a king. In the New Testament, Jesus is the inaugurator of the Kingdom of God. The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David,” was sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. Therefore, the fulfillment reached its completion in the Messiah, both son of David and the one greater than David ( Psalm 110:1-4). As it says in Luke 1:32-33, “He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

4. Jesus was therefore, also the Lord, the true king of the world, the one whose very knee must bow:

In the Roman Empire, pagans would have seen Caesar as their “Lord.” But for Paul there is a different “Lord” and his name is Jesus. Hence, the willingness to do call Jesus “Lord” is to place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation. For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

5. The God of Israel is the one true God, and pagan deities are mere idols:

This sounds alot like 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6: “For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

If we look at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord.

In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

6. The God of Israel is now made known in and through Jesus himself. (1)

Sources:

1. These six points were made in N.T Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 1997), 60. I have added some of my own thoughts after each point as well.

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