by Mark Horne
Recently there has been some surprising debate in some circles over where Paul summarizes his Gospel. I say “surprising” because many Evangelical Bible scholars have held, for quite some time, that Paul’s Gospel is encapsulated in chapter 1, verse 3 and 4. Here is the passage in context:
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 (Romans 1.1-5).
As I’ve written and preached elsewhere, we have here a summary of a two-stage life of Christ, his first life leading up to his death and then a second life when he was raised up in glory by God’s Spirit. The content of Paul’s Gospel is Jesus as Messiah (“Christ”: God’s promised king and savior) who has risen from the dead.
That’s how we find Paul summarizing his Gospel in other letters that he wrote. For example, consider First Corinthians 15.1-4:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Or also Paul’s short statement to Timothy in his second letter to him (2.8): “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel…”
Thus, the conservative Biblical scholar, John Murray wrote of this passage in Romans:
These two verses [Romans 1.3-4] inform us of that which the promise had been concerned. But since that which had been promised is the gospel of God we must infer that these verses also define for us the subject matter of the gospel unto which the apostle had been separated; the gospel concerned with the Son of God.
Before him one of the leading champions of the inerrancy of Scripture in the early twentieth century said much the same thing. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield wrote that in this passage Paul was “led to describe briefly the Gospel which had been committed to him, and that particularly with regard to its contents.” He claimed that this passage was “one of the chief sources of our knowledge of Paul’s conception of Christ.” And that nowhere else “do we get a more direct description of specifically the Christ that Paul preached.”
Of course, for Paul, preaching the Gospel was synonymous with preaching Christ (see First Corinthians 15.1, 12; Galatians 1.11, 26).
Strangely, lately however, some are insisting that Romans 1.16-17 also encapsulates Paul’s Gospel. The passage is an unquestionably crucial to Paul’s argument, but it obviously tells us not what the Gospel is, but what the Gospel does:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous one shall live by faith.”
Anyone who believes the proclamation of the Gospel, who believes that God raised Jesus and confesses him as Lord is promised the power of God for his salvation from God’s wrath for his sins. This is a great and precious promise. All believers are saved by God irrespective of their racial, social, national, or any other background–and irrespective of any sin they have committed! If they believe the Gospel they will be saved.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10.9).
Obviously, Romans 1.1-5 (which proclaims Jesus as resurrected Lord) and Romans 1.16-17 (which proclaims what happens to those who acknowledge Christ as Lord when they hear the gospel, the good news, of his resurrection and exaltation over all) fit together like hand and glove. There should be no tension between them. But it is helpful to notice how they fit together. Putting it roughly, Romans 1.1-5 tells us the content of the Gospel and Romans 1.16, 17 tells us the effect of believing the Gospel.
When we proclaim the Gospel, we are announcing the victory of a deliverer to whom we ought to entrust ourselves. We are proclaiming Christ himself, risen from the dead. Explaining how this all works out is important-indeed, according to Paul’s example in Romans it is a crucial aspect of basic Christians doctrine–but we should not confuse the basic Gospel message with the way the message works in those whom God effectually calls.
For more elaboration: See my article Paul’s Gospel & the Theme of Romans