The Kergma of the Early Church and Historical Aspects of the Life of Jesus

As I have said before, the Kergma of the early church can be summarized as follows:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2: 30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22; Rom 1;2-4;1 Tim:3:16;Heb. 1:1-2;1 Peter 1:10-12;2 Peter 1:18-19).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. He conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God (Mark 10:45; Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; Acts 2:23; 3;13-15; 10:39;26:23; Rom 8;34;Gal 1;4;Heb1:3; 1 Peter 1:2; 19, 3:18; 1 John 4:10).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23;Rom 8:34;10:9;1 Cor.15:4-7;1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim 3:16;1 Peter 1:2;21;3:18;21).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36;Rom 8:34;10:9;1 Tim 3:16;Heb 1:3;1 Peter 3:22).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47; 1 Peter 1;12).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31;1 Cor. 15:20-28; 1 Thess: 1:10).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20; Rom 1:17;10:9;1 Peter 3:21).


Given Paul’s Letters are not biographies and they are predominately dealing with the needs of the community (e.g., doctrinal issues), we shouldn’t expect Paul to provide an abundance of biographical details about Jesus. In other words, since he is writing the believing communities and addressing the doctrinal issues of each community there is no need to establish historical evidence for the life of Jesus. However, we can note  Paul also recorded the following earthly features about Jesus:

1. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham the patriarch (Gal 3:16).

2. Jesus was a direct descendant of King David. This is critical to the belief that he was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Rom 1:3; 9:5;15:8; cf. 1Cor 15:3).

3. The mention of Jesus being “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4-5) suggests that Paul knew of and confirmed the virginal conception of Jesus. Paul’s words are in agreement with Matthew’s:

4. “Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt 1a6). Jesus was born of the woman, Mary, not of her husband Joseph. 4. Jesus was born and lived in “poverty” (2 Cor 8:9).

5. Jesus was “born under” and lived under Jewish law (Gal 4:4).

6. Jesus had a brother named James and other brothers, unnamed.

7. Jesus had twelve disciples, to whom the risen Lord “appeared” (i Cor 15:5; cf. Mark 3:14 pars.).

8. Peter was the spokesman of the Twelve (e.g., Mark 8:27-30 pars.), a role that developed, post resurrection, into his leadership of the mission (apostole) to the circumcised in Israel (Gal 2:7-8).

9. Jesus’ manner was one of humility and meekness, agreeing with his words recorded in the Gospel, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (2 Cor. 10:1; Matt 11:29).

10. He was externally “transfigured” on a mountain (Mark 9:2; Matt 17:2), as Paul expects believers to be “transformed” inwardly (2 Co.r 3:18; cf. Rom 12:2).

11. Jesus called God “abba” (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15).

12. He ministered primarily to Israel/Jews (Rom 15:8).

13. He instituted a memorial meal on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

14. He was cruelly treated at that time (Rom 15:3).

15. He was killed by the Jews of Judea (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

16. He testified before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim 6×3).

17. His “death on a cross” (Phil 2:8) implies execution at Roman hands for treason (cf. Gal 3:1; 6:17).

18. He was buried (1 Cor. 15:4).

19. He was raised on the third day and was seen alive on a number of occasions by many witnesses, most of whom were still alive, able to confirm this (1 Cor. 15:5-7).-See Paul Barnett. Paul, Missionary of Jesus: After Jesus, Vol. 2.

Note that Michael Bird also says:

“A central purpose of the Jesus tradition was to provide content to the faith of the early church. The kerygmatic formula “Jesus died and rose” is one of the most basic and well attested beliefs of the early Christians (1 Thess 4:14; 1 Cor 15:3-8; 2 Cor 5:15; Rom 4:25). Yet this creedal formula presupposes or at least raises the further question of the identity of the one who is proclaimed as the crucified and risen Lord. Jesus’ passion and his exaltation to the Father’s right hand cannot be separated from his earthly vocation since the prophetic career, messianic task, and redemptive death of Jesus are all intertwined in the New Testament. Samuel Byrskog writes, “the kerygma, the story of the present Lord, remains, after all, intrinsically linked with the Jesus of the past.” In which case, it is presumptuous to assert that the early church had an entirely kerygmatic faith focused exclusively on the death and resurrection of Jesus, entirely divorced from any interest in his earthly life. Without the narration of the Jesus tradition, the kerygma of Jesus’ redemptive death would have been incomprehensible to the church from the beginning.”- The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird