“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 provides us with a striking reminder of Paul’s gospel. This gospel was not something that Paul invented, a charge that was often levelled against him by his enemies. The gospel that Paul preached, he tells us, is a gospel which he ‘received’ and ‘passed on’ to the Corinthians as of ‘first importance’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). The question is thus: “From whom did Paul receive this gospel which he preached?”
At first glance the most obvious assumption is that Paul received this gospel from the other apostles, those who were apostles from the beginning and who were the eye witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And in Galatians 2:1-10 Paul does make reference to a meeting with the apostles during which the gospel was discussed. But he makes it crystal clear that they “added nothing to his message” (Galatians 2:6) and indeed in Galatians 1:11-12 he states categorically that he did not receive his gospel from men but “by a revelation from Jesus Christ”. When Paul therefore speaks in 1 Corinthians about ‘passing on’ the gospel that he received, he must mean the gospel he received from the Risen Lord Jesus Himself. This was the gospel which he preached to the Corinthians and this was the gospel they received, on which they took their stand and by which they were saved (1 Corinthians 15:1).
It is however also worth noting Paul’s declaration that the gospel he received and preached was an “according to the Scriptures” gospel. Paul uses this phrase twice, once in connection with Jesus’ death ‘for our sins’ and once in connection with Jesus’ resurrection ‘on the third day’ (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). We don’t know precisely what Scriptures Paul had in mind, though this term is his normal way of referring to what we call the Old Testament (see e.g. 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We do know that following His resurrection Jesus had to remind His disciples of the Scriptures’ teaching that the “Christ had to suffer these things and after that enter His glory” and that He “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:26 & 45). It is thus natural to assume that part of the revelation of the gospel to Paul by the Risen Lord was an opening of Paul’s mind so that Paul, who had studied the Scriptures as a Pharisee, could now at last study and teach them in the light of their true fulfilment in the Person and the work of Jesus the Christ. Paul himself gives us an interesting insight into this in his instruction to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Reflect on what I am saying and the Lord (i.e. Jesus) will give you insight into all this.” These words surely echo Paul’s own experience as he studied the Scriptures day by day. As he reflected on what the Scriptures were saying, no doubt praying for understanding, the Lord Jesus gave him the gospel understanding and application of these Scriptures both for his own edification and for the edification of others through his preaching of the gospel. In this way then Paul, the man of God, was “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
But let us also note that this gospel that Paul received and taught had definite content and meaning. It concerned events – the death of Jesus and His resurrection. But it also concerned the meaning of these events, namely that the death and resurrection of Jesus was ‘for our sins’ and with a view to ‘salvation’. Neither the content nor the meaning of the gospel could be invented, both had to be received. Paul thus reminds us that there is only one true gospel, a historic gospel with fixed content and meaning centred in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But he also reminds us that this historic gospel is a contemporary gospel since it is this same gospel, preached and received, that saved the Corinthians and continues to save people today. No invented gospel can do this, for salvation itself was achieved in only one way, namely by Jesus through His death and resurrection. And yet for people to be saved, what Jesus did for us in history must be proclaimed in our own day. For this to happen the Scriptural gospel that Paul received and preached and which the Corinthians received and upon which they took their stand must both be received and passed on by us. In this way we become partners and fellow workers not only of Paul but of God Himself whose gospel it is and who is still at work through the gospel for the salvation of people.
Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.