A Gospel By Any Other Name?
The gospel is well summarized by Paul in 1 Cor 15:1-8. Other New Testament passages and, very importantly, several Old Testament prophecies add detail and nuance to Paul’s summary, but in a nutshell this is how Paul described the gospel:
- Jesus died for our sins according the [Old Testament] Scriptures
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus was raised on the third day
- After Jesus’ resurrection he was seen by many witnesses
Some insist that the gospel encompasses much more than this. It is claimed that some words are used interchangeably with the gospel and are therefore synonymous with it. One writer puts it this way:
“ ...there [is] no distinction between gospel and doctrine, there are four terms frequently used to refer to the same system. They are “the gospel,” “the doctrine,” “the truth.” and “the faith.” Each term refers to the whole Christian system. They are all used interchangeably by the New Testament writers.
The Colossians, in the same verse, were admonished to continue in “the faith” and not be moved away from the hope of “the gospel” (Col. 1:23). Paul tells Timothy about things contrary to “sound doctrine according the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10, 11). Paul wrote of “the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5, 14).”
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 19 p6 October 5, 2000
Ignoring the word “system” for now (I’m not sure it’s accurate to refer to our faith as a “system”), let's break this down and see if it stands up to scrutiny.
Colossians 1:23 - “the faith”, “the gospel”
Does Col 1:23 use “the faith” and “the gospel” interchangeably? Not quite. In this passage Paul speaks of continuing in the faith. “The faith”, according to BDAG (Bauer-Danker Lexicon), is “that which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching”. So, “the faith” is the whole body of apostolic teaching that was delivered to the early church. it included everything they were taught. Certainly "the gospel" is a subset of "the faith" because the gospel is one of the many things we are taught. Consider this analogy: since an apple grows on a tree it is part of the tree. But it would be a mistake to say that the apple is the tree or that the tree is the apple.
Pay close attention; Paul admonishes them to continue in “the faith” (i.e. all they’d been taught) and goes on to warn them not to be “moved away from the hope of the gospel.” Paul isn’t talking about the gospel, but about the hope of the gospel. These are not the same things.
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. Col 1:23 NKJV
What is the hope of the gospel? Let’s look at this in context.
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight-- 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col 1:24-27 NKJV
The hope of the gospel is the hope of glory which is possible because Christ is in us. What is this hope of glory? Consider:
6 "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead? Acts 26:6-8 NKJV
But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thess 5:8 NKJV
in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began Tit 1:2 NKJV
that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Tit. 3:7 NKJV
The hope of the gospel is the resurrection, salvation, eternal life and the glory that will be revealed in us thanks to the promise of God! This is hinted at in Col 1:22, but we miss important things when we proof text. To be presented “holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” is the hope of the gospel. Clearly, Paul is NOT saying in Col 1:23 that “the faith” and “the gospel” are the same thing.
1 Timothy 1:10, 11 - “Sound doctrine”, “the glorious gospel”
Let’s begin in context this time. :-)
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. 1 Tim. 1:8-11 NKJV
And, let’s look at vs 11 from a few additional translations which will help to clarify.
based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me. 1 Tim. 1:11 HCSB
This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me. 1 Tim. 1:11 NET
that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. 1 Tim. 1:11 NIV
The word “accord” means agreement or harmony (for example, Acts 2:46, 4:24, 5:12). This passage is teaching just the opposite of what the Truth Magazine article is suggesting (that sound doctrine is exactly the same thing as the gospel). The sound teaching that Paul speaks of is based on the good news, but not the good news itself. In context, Paul is contrasting sound teaching which is harmonious with the good news, with all the sins mentioned in the passage that are contrary to sound teaching.
Now to be sure, the good news is sound teaching, but this just goes to show what we learned previously: the gospel is doctrine, but not all doctrine is the gospel.
Galatians 2:5, 14 - “the truth of the gospel”
Regardless of the assertion made in the Truth Magazine article, it should be clear to even a casual reader that Paul isn’t talking about “the truth” and “the gospel” in Gal 2 as if they were two different features of the same thing. Paul was speaking about “the truth of the gospel.” This represents a single idea. Paul has a specific truth that is a part of the good news under consideration in this chapter.
There were a number of characteristics of the gospel that were spelled out in both the Old and New Testaments. Which of those aspects, or truths, does Paul have in mind in this passage - a passage which pertains to relations between Jews and Gentiles? The quote below is from Jay Guin’s “One In Jesus” blog.
“Recall that in Gal 2, Peter has refused to eat with the Gentiles and was severely rebuked by Paul —
(Gal 2:14-16) When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
Notice carefully how Paul reasons: discriminating against Gentiles violates “the truth of the gospel.” All are “justified … by faith in Jesus” and not by observing the law. Because the law doesn’t justify us, the law doesn’t show who is saved and who is not. You see, Paul is saying, the terms on which we’ve been saved define how we are to live as saved people.
Thus, because God accepts Gentiles based on faith, not law, we Jews must accept Gentiles based on faith, not law. It’s really that simple.”
Jay Guin, OneInJesus.info
Not only did God accept the Gentiles without requiring them to keep the Law of Moses, but going all the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham, God had promised that one day all of the peoples and nations of the Earth would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring (Gen 12:3, 22:18).
If you’ll recall from Isaiah 52:7-15 one of the truths of the gospel was that “all the ends of the Earth will see the salvation of God” and that God would “sprinkle [purify, forgive] many nations.”
God promised, and the prophets foretold, that a major part of the good news included blessing the Gentiles. The truth of the good news that Paul was referring to in this chapter is that Gentiles would be grafted into Israel and under this new covenant there would be no observance of the Mosaic Law and there would be no distinction between Jew and Gentile.
So you see, when Peter discriminated against the Gentiles, he was violating “the truth of the gospel.” He was hypocritically making a distinction between Jew and Gentile which went against one of the core tenets of the gospel.
The “truth of the gospel” in Gal 2:5 is referring to the same thing. Paul did not surrender for even a moment to those who would make slaves of the Gentiles (vs 4) by requiring them to submit to the Law. Paul held his ground so that “the truth of the gospel” would not be taken away from them.
To claim that verses 5 and 14 are examples of “the truth” meaning the same thing as “the gospel” is simply wrong. In this chapter, “the truth of the gospel” is referring to the good news of God’s promise to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
“The gospel,” “the doctrine,” “the truth.” and “the faith" are not all referring to the same thing. It is a twisting of the Scripture to force other doctrines into the gospel. Both the Old and New Testaments are clear on what the good news is, and is not. This forced blending has caused great harm to the body of Christ.