Christ and THE Gospel: Part 2

After posting this last night, I realized that it would be most beneficial for us to look at how the Apostle Paul himself speaks about the Gospel in this letter. I'm not sure that there's a comprehensive creedal form of the Gospel anywhere in the NT (someone enlighten me if you are aware of one), but upon examination of all of the instances of "gospel", "good news", "the message that was preached" and so forth, we can distill what it is that the Apostles agreed upon...

A commenter (the commenter) on the previous post mentioned not looking for answers to Paul's questions (i.e. the questions arising out of his discourse, such as this passage we're discussing) outside of Paul, but we really need not do so to find out what “the gospel they received” was.  F. F. Bruce comments that Paul’s opening salutation is derived very closely from an early Christian confession of faith (formulated as a reinterpretation of the Jewish “doctrine of the two ages”), which is essentially an abbreviated statement of the gospel they accepted ("The Truth of the Gospel: Galatians and the Primitive Message,” Epistle to the Galatians). It could be summarized as such:
  1. “Christ gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4; 3:13; cf. also Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:3)
  2. The purpose of doing so was “to deliver us from the present evil age” (v. 4)
  3. God raised Jesus from the dead (Gal 1: 1; cf. also Rom 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 2 Cor 4:14; 1 Pet 1:21)
Obviously this requires significant interpretation in order to be meaningful (i.e. understandable, both to us and to the original readers, which is why Paul did not end the letter after his opening salutation): What does it mean that Christ gave himself for our sins? Substitutionary atonement is certainly in view. However, how does one appropriate Christ’s atoning death for oneself? Does it atone for all in that it justifies all of humankind irrespective of faith in Him? And what is significant about the resurrection? Paul must answer these questions in this letter which he raised for the Galatians (and for us). Does he do so? He does.

Marius Victorinus, the earliest Latin commentator on the letter, states:
The sum of the letter is as follows: The Galatians are going astray because they are adding Judaism to the gospel of faith in Christ, observing in a material sense the sabbath and circumcision, together with the other works which they received in accordance with the law. Disturbed by these tendencies Paul writes this letter, wishing to put them right and call them back from Judaism, in order that they may preserve faith in Christ alone, and receive from Christ the hope of salvation and of his promises, because no one is saved by the works of the law. So, in order to show that what they are adding is wrong, he wishes to confirm [the truth of] his gospel.
(quoted in F. F. Bruce, “The Galatian Problem: The Early Consensus,” Epistle to the Galatians).

What does Paul say about this gospel?
  1. There is only one, and it is the one that Paul preached to them (1:7-9).
  2. Believing an incorrect gospel (a gospel different from the one they received from Paul) is tantamount to deserting Christ, and results in being “severed from Christ” and “falling away from grace” (1:6; 5:4).
  3. It is not man’s gospel, but God’s, given to Paul by Jesus Christ (1:11-12).
  4. The gospel has moral and ethical implications (2:14; 3:11b), which can be summed up in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14). This is manifested through service and charity in all things toward one another (5:13, 15, 26; 6:2, 10).
  5. The gospel involves justification by faith and not works: “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16; cf. 3:6-8a, 11a).
  6. The gospel involves, first, death in Christ, then life through Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2:20).
  7. God’s grace is null and void, and Christ’s death was vain, if righteousness can be obtained through works (2:21; 3:18).
  8. The Holy Spirit is received by faith (3:2).
  9. The believer is sanctified also by faith (3:3).
  10. The Abrahamic promise (that through him all the nations of the earth would be ‘blessed’) is fulfilled in the lives of those who receive Christ by faith (3:6-9, 14).
  11. Christ has set us (who believe in him) free from captivity to sin (3:22-24), and adopted us as his sons and daughters (3:26; 4:4-7).
  12. The gospel demolishes socio-economic barriers between Christians and pronounces equality to all (3:28).
  13. The gospel frees us from obligation to the law; frees us to obey it out of conscience—as it is applicable in our own context—rather than self-justifying duty (5:1).
  14. The gospel must be ardently defended: This is evident from the existence of the letter itself, and is elucidated in his numerous denouncements of those who are propagating a different gospel, as well as in the significant omission of Paul’s regular salutatory thanksgiving.

F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, electronic ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982, npag.

C. Marius Victorinus Afer, In Galatas, introd. (ed. A. Locher, 1).

All Scripture quoted from ESV.

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