Monday, March 23, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and the Definition of the Gospel

In many discussions of the “Gospel” when reference is made to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the actual context is nearly overlooked and often ignored. This ignorance is most evident in that the text quoted is usually cut off at verse 4:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .

Given the context and point of the chapter, it seems to me that this is a significant error since it is in these latter verses 5-8 that Paul speaks of the resurrection appearances:
. . . and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
 
Here then Paul is not attempting to define the Gospel in all its complexity, but to assert the reality of the resurrection. His brief summary statement of the Gospel’s content (vv. 3-4) is in service to his primary argument. To claim that this passage is Paul’s “statement” of the Gospel’s full content is inappropriate at best. 

3 comments:

Peter Gurry said...

Joel, how do you feel about stating it this way: "Here Paul is attempting to define the major points of the Gospel on his way to asserting the reality of the resurrection"?

I think I'm with it in wanting to let the thrust of 1 Cor. 15 hold more sway in reading vv. 1-3, but I don't see how the later context mitigates reading vv. 1-3 as the central tenets of Paul's Gospel.

Maybe you can give some examples of of misuse of these verses? or, if I can put you on the spot even more, where would you go to find the clearest statement of Paul's Gospel in all its complexity?

Joel Willitts said...

Peter:

I'm happy agreeing with you that these verses contain important elements of Paul's Gospel. But it leaves much out as well, things say like the "obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5). Interestingly, Paul nowhere spells out a point by point Gospel track so to speak. We don't have "Paul's four, five, or six or more spiritual laws".

While I prefer not to name names, I have seen it stated recently that the Gospel is not more than the points of 1 Cor 15:3-4. That is really the position I have a problem with given the contextual contingencies of the 1 Cor 15.

Sean LeRoy said...

joel,
interesting post...on your point above about "limiting" the gospel - which I agree with - I'd love to hear your thoughts on Paul in Gal where he says that the gospel was announced to Abraham and in Hebrews where the good news was preached to the wilderness generation.