Saturday, October 31, 2009

Getting the Gospel Right

In Distinction to Tom Stegall and the No-Burial Gospel

(To view the PDF of this article, click here.)


Preface

This article came about on the prompting of Bob Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society (GES), and as a follow up to my recent blog post titled "The GES Newsletter Misrepresents My Position". As a result of that post (which is published in the November/December edition of Grace In Focus), Mr. Wilkin graciously expressed his apologies for the misunderstanding and asked me to further clarify my position in the Free Grace gospel debate, which I am pleased to do here.

Let me begin by pointing out that my position in the Free Grace gospel debate is distinct from that of Tom Stegall and J. B. Hixson. The gospels they promote have been variously labeled as patchwork, partial, groundless, and Gnostic-friendly because of the arbitrary dogmatism and subjectivity these men employ in choosing which Bible verses and doctrines to incorporate into their gospel synthesis, and also because they have removed the historical facts of Christ's burial and resurrection appearances from the content of saving faith. Hixson takes the position that "Saving faith is the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died and rose again to pay one's personal penalty for sin and the one who gives eternal life to all who trust Him and Him alone for it."1 Stegall advocates a similar position in his new book The Gospel Should Be Sliced (marketed as The Gospel Of The Christ). He writes: "A person must simply believe the gospel of Christ, which is the message that, as 'the Christ, the Son of God,' Jesus is both God and man, and the One who died for all our sins and rose from the dead in order to provide salvation by grace through faith in Him (John 3:13-18; 5:24; 6:32-53; 8:24, 28; 20:30-31; Acts 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 1:17-21; 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Thess. 1:6-10)."2 In contrast to these men, I simply believe the Pauline gospel of salvation declared in 1 Corinthians 15, which is the message preached to save those who believe, namely "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, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Cor. 15:3b-5; cf. Acts 13:26-41; 1 Cor. 1:17-24; 15:1-2). This is the "Glorious Gospel" of Christ preached by the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 4:4, KJV; 1 Tim. 1:11).3

The Centrality of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

While there are many passages in the New Testament that are important in expounding different aspects of the gospel and truths related to the gospel, "there is only one passage in all of the New Testament that deliberately defines the gospel in detail."4 Dennis Rokser affirms that "the most definitive passage in the New Testament explaining to us the very content of the Gospel is found in...1 Corinthians chapter 15."5 More specifically, James D. G. Dunn writes: "1 Cor 15:3-5...is Paul's fullest explicit statement of the gospel which he preached and on which his churches were founded".6 It's no wonder the passage is said to be "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3). Based on these facts I understand other gospel related passages in light of 1 Corinthians 15, and not vise versa. For example, I understand passages like Acts 2:22-32, 20:24, Romans 1:1-5, 1:16, and 10:9-10 (none of which specifically declare Christ's substitutionary death) in light of the passage in 1 Corinthians 15. S. Lewis Johnson affirms the primary importance of 1 Corinthians 15 in relation to Paul's gospel. He writes: "First of all (lit., among the first things) refers to importance, not time. The substance of Paul's message is contained in the four that's following received [in 1 Cor. 15:3ff], and it includes Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances. These things make up the Gospel."7 In regards to the priority of 1 Corinthians 15 in relation to other gospel passages, Johnson holds a position similar to my own. He writes: "[In Romans 1:16] The apostle does not set forth the details of his 'gospel.' The interpreter, however, is upon reasonably safe ground in assuming that they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. The gospel is the good news of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances, together with the apostolic explanation of the doctrinal significance of these great facts."8 William R. Newell makes a similar statement in his commentary on Romans 1:16. He says: "Read that passage in I Corinthians 15:3-5...this good news concerning Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearing, 'is the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth.'....Again we repeat that it is of the very first and final importance that the preacher or teacher of the gospel believe in the bottom of his soul that the simple story, Christ died for our sins, was buried, hath been raised from the dead the third day, and was seen, IS THE POWER OF GOD to salvation to everyone who rests in it, - who believes!...Paul's preaching was not, as is so much today, general disquisition on some subject, but definite statements about the crucified One, as he himself so insistently tells us in 1 Corinthians 15.3-5."9

Unfortunately, patchwork gospel advocates only give lip service to the centrality of 1 Corinthians 15 in relation to the gospel message. In practice they do not give the passage "first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3). For example, I still have an original copy of Tom Stegall's proposed WORD OF GRACE BIBLE CHURCH CONSTITUTION & DOCTRINAL STATEMENT from 2003. At the time he had asked me to review it, which I was happy to do. After reading through all of its sixteen pages I was astonished to find that not once was there any mention of 1 Corinthians 15 anywhere in the document even though the gospel was explicitly mentioned almost ten times! "The most definitive passage in the New Testament explaining to us the very content of the Gospel" (as Rokser has noted) was noticeably absent from Stegall's church constitution and doctrinal statement! I approached Stegall with my concerns and several of my suggestions were incorporated into the final document. However, Stegall's tendency to downplay the centrality of 1 Corinthians 15 is still evident today from the fact that on his church website there is absolutely no mention of 1 Corinthians 15 in his explanation of the gospel, even though numerous other verses are cited. This is the classic patchwork gospel approach used to define the gospel. But if the definition of Paul's gospel is based on a synthesis of many Scriptures instead of an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15, the search for the gospel message becomes largely a matter of speculation and human opinion. Furthermore, such an approach creates more problems than it solves. For example, who determines which passages to incorporate into the patchwork gospel synthesis? What Bible passages make the cut and which ones don't? Who determines how many times a truth has to be mentioned before it becomes essential to the gospel synthesis? And how is the authoritative number determined? What if there is disagreement as to which passages to incorporate into the gospel synthesis? Bob Wilkin poses several more valid questions to consider, such as: "which passages do we link? How do we know which passages give us one or more of the essentials? How do we know when we have found all of the passages and all of the essentials?"10 Another problem with the patchwork and partial gospel espoused by Stegall and Hixson is that it fails to explain the passages of Scripture which specifically include, for example, Christ's burial in the gospel message (cf. Isa. 53:9; Matt. 12:38-41; 27:57-66; Mk. 15:42-47; Lk. 23:50-56; Jn. 19:38-42; Acts 2:29-32; 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:4, etc.). The patchwork gospel Easter egg hunt for the sin qua non of the gospel message is quite arbitrary and subjective - not to mention confusing. No wonder Wilkin incredulously asks: "DOES GOD HIDE THE SAVING MESSAGE IN A SYNTHESIS?"11 Wilkin is correct to conclude that such reductionist reasoning on the part of patchwork gospel advocates is nothing more than "arbitrary dogmatism".12 Not surprisingly, the many conundrums created by patchwork gospel advocates in their attempts to redefine the gospel vanish when 1 Corinthians 15 is returned to its central place and given "first importance" in determining the content of the gospel.

The Content of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15


The apostle Paul specifically declares the content of his gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. While verses 1-11 give the context of Paul's gospel, verses 3b-5 give the actual content of the gospel message. Notice the four content conjunctions beginning in verse 3: "that Christ died...and that He was buried...and that He was raised...and that He appeared...." The word "that" (Greek hoti), repeated four times in verses 3-5, functions as a "content conjunction" and indicates a content clause. Greek grammarian David Alan Black affirms: "Content clauses involve a subject, predicate nominative, direct object, or an appositional noun clause. Such clauses are commonly introduced by hina, hoti, hopos, and hos."13 More specifically, Daniel Wallace cites 1 Corinthians 15:3 to illustrate a "content conjunction".14 And John Niemela notes under the heading "Indicating a Content Clause" that "1 Corinthians...15:3...15:4a-b, [and] 5" (but not 15:6ff) each indicate "a Content Clause".15 Even Stegall affirms that "Paul begins by stating explicitly, 'I declare to you the gospel (to euangelion) which I preached (euengelisamen) to you' (1 Cor. 15:1a)....In the following verses Paul then specifies the content contained in that good news starting with the conjunction 'that' (hoti) in verse 3."16 Ironically, Stegall points out the significance of the hoti content clause in relation to the gospel message when he says that "a content clause, express[es] essential content"!17

Besides indicating a content clause, the Greek word
hoti also functions as the equivalent to quotation marks. William Mounce writes: "hoti can also act as quotation marks."18 J. Gresham Machen writes: "hoti frequently introduces direct (instead of indirect) discourse. When it introduces direct discourse, it must be left untranslated. In such cases, it takes the place of our quotation marks."19 A. T. Robertson writes: "The ancients had no quotation-marks nor our modern colon. But sometimes hoti was used before the direct quotation merely to indicate that the words are quoted."20 Alfred Marshall writes: "hoti (that) is often, though not always, used to introduce the exact words uttered by the original speaker, and is, therefore, according to our mode of expression, redundant; in fact, it must be omitted in rendering into English. The pronoun and the tense of the verb remain unchanged. Greek had no quotation marks, and hoti, thus employed, did duty therefor - indeed, it has been facetiously said that hoti is 'Greek for quotation marks'."21 Thiselton writes: "Murphy O' Connor rightly appeals to the demonstrable convention of using hoti to denote quotation marks, with kai to add emphasis. He convincingly see [1 Cor. 15] vv. 3b-5 as a unit....the content of this early declarative, self-involving, descriptive and commissive creedal confession is now expressed by the four parallel components, each of which is introduced by hoti or kai hoti, which effectively serve as the equivalent of quotation marks."22 Even Stegall admits: "The fact that the [content] conjunction hoti ("that") in v. 3b is followed by three successive kai hoti ("and that") statements may point to a direct quotation or recitation here by Paul. Since Koine Greek had little if any punctuation, hoti occasionally served the purpose of introducing direct discourse and functioning as a virtual quotation mark."23 So the little Greek word hoti helps the Bible interpreter to determine the content of Paul's gospel in a very specific and accurate way. Recognizing the grammatical construction of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, Norman Geisler affirms that "the full content of the New Testament gospel - includ[es] the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ".24 The words of Herbert Lockyer are appropriate: "First of all, Paul states the sum and substance of the sublime yet simple Gospel with which he accomplished mighty victories. Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised, and appeared to His saints. If, as one early leader wrote, there are shallows in this very full and potent Gospel where a little lamb may wade, there are depths where an elephant must swim."25

The Conclusion of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

Although there seems to be some misunderstanding as to where the content of Paul's gospel concludes in 1 Corinthians 15, it is actually quite clear from the Greek language. Furthermore, English translations generally reflect the Greek accurately by placing a period at the appropriate point. To be specific, most scholars agree that the content of Paul's gospel concludes with verse 5, most probably after the reference to "the Twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5c). Far from being an arbitrary guess, this conclusion is arrived at through an exegesis of the passage and is reflected in most of the more literal English translations (e.g. the ESV, NAS, NIV, NLT, NKJV, NRSV, HCSB, and Daniel Wallace's NET translation). There is a grammatical break at the end of verse 5 separating the former appearances in verse 5 from the latter appearances in verses 6-8. Note the following statements by eminent and respected scholars from a wide range of theological backgrounds highlighting this exegetical truth:

Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad write: "[1 Cor. 15:]5 kai hoti ophthe Kepha eita tois dodeka." This quotation is taken from Hodges' Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text.26 Notice that Hodges places a period at the end of verse 5 to indicate the grammatical break between verses 5 and 6.

F. W. Grosheide writes: "The clause of the direct object ends here [in 1 Cor. 15:5], marking a separation between the preceeding and the following appearances which are of a different nature."27

Joachim Jeremias writes: "it can be proved linguistically that the kerygma (which includes verses 3b from [Christ] to 5 [Twelve], as shown e.g. by the syntactic break at the beginning of verse 6) was not formulated by Paul....Up to v. 5 there are hoti-clauses, from v. 6 onwards main clauses."28

R. J. Sider writes: "There is no reason for limiting the traditional element to [1 Cor. 15] vv. 3-4 as does HERING. Since the series of hoti clauses depending on [delivered] continues through verse 5, vv. 3-5 would seem to be the minimum which can be designated with certainty as part of that which Paul had received. The traditio, then, included a citation of at least some of the eyewitnesses....The verification of Jesus' resurrection by citation of the carefully preserved tradition of eyewitnesses is, accordingly, a significant part of the Gospel which Paul considers of 'first importance'."29

Hans Conzelmann writes: "Opinions differ as to the extent of the quoted text. Linguistic considerations indicate that it extends as far as v 5. For in v 6 the grammatical construction begins anew....[In 1 Cor. 15:6] The construction changes; the series of 'that's' is not continued. The change is most simply explained by assuming that the formula has come to an end and that Paul is now supplementing its data."30

Werner Georg Kummel writes: "In other words, in this formula [in 1 Cor. 15:3ff], whose delimitation is disputed - in the view that appears to me most likely, it goes only through the words "then to the twelve".31

James Hastings writes: "Whether St. Paul means that the entire list of appearances here given [in 1 Cor. 15]...formed part of the original tradition which he had received has been disputed. The grammatical construction continues unbroken to the end of v. 5 ('that he hath been raised on the third day...and that he appeared to Cephas, then the twelve') and then changes ('then he appeared,' etc.): and some hold that these later appearances were added to the list by St. Paul himself."32

F. Godet writes: "[1 Cor. 15] Ver. 5...Thus far all was dependent on the verb paredoka, I delivered unto you. But from this point [after verse 5] the sentence breaks off, and the following appearances are stated in the form of independent propositions....The epeita, thereafter [in 1 Cor. 15:6a], separates more forcibly than the eita, then, of ver. 5; it makes the following appearances [in 1 Cor. 15:6ff] a new step in the series, and rightly so."33

Hans Dieter Betz writes: "The next two sections ([1 Cor. 15] vv. 6-7) seem to be expansions of the original kerygma. There is a change of syntactic structure between v. 5 and v. 6. The previous sentence (v. 5) ends with a full stop, instead of being paratactically expanded with the coordinating conjunction kai (hoti -)".34

Darrel Bock writes: "As most scholars recognize, Paul uses these verbs [i.e. "delivered", "received", 1 Cor. 15:3] in conjunction with the balanced structure of verses 3b-5 and the four-fold repetition of "that" (hoti), to signal the presence of a formula or creed that he had received and passed on to the Corinthians (see Collins, 529-32; Fee, 722-23; Thiselton, 1186-89). Something of its rhythm and structure can be seen in a textual rearrangement [not retranslation] of verses 3-5 (cf. the poetic or hymnic layout in the HCSB):

3 'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and
4 that He was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and
5 that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.'

Although verses 6-8 continue Paul's list of witnesses to the resurrection, the Pre-Pauline creedal formulation probably ends somewhere with verse 5, either with 'appeared' (v. 5a) or with 'Cephas' (v. 5b) or most probably with 'the Twelve' (v. 5c; see further Fee 723 n. 52; Thiselton, 1203; esp. Kloppenborg, 'An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Formula 1 Cor. 15:3b-5 in Light of Some Recent Literature,' CBQ 40 [1978]: 358-359). At least two observations lead to this conclusion: First, verse 6b seems too protracted and contains too much circumstanial information to be part of an early creedal formula. Second, Paul drops his introductory 'that' (hoti) after verse 5."35

Ladd writes: "[The] tradition embodied in the apostolic kerygma or euangelion. Paul delivered (paredoka) to the Corinthians the gospel that he also received (parelabon), that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he rose on the third day, that he appeared to his disciples (1 Cor. 15:1-5). It is generally accepted that verses 3b-5 embody a primitive piece of pre-Pauline kerygma that Paul has received as a tradition from [Christ and also from] those who were apostles before him....Probably the appearances mentioned in vv. 6-8 were added by Paul to the tradition he received."36

In spite of the clear exegesis of the passage and the consensus of eminent scholars, groundless gospel advocates still cling to their groundless contention that there is no exegetical or grammatical break to separate the resurrection appearances of Christ mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:5 from the subsequent appearances listed in verses 6-8. For example, in a section from his book labeled "The Gospel Is Not About Paul And The Other Apostles," Stegall states: "From a purely grammatical perspective, Christ's burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances in verses 5-8 all stand in parallel to the mention of His death in verse 3....The succession of 'then' (eita) and 'after that' (epeita) clauses in verses 5b-7b forms an unbroken, chronological structure....If some Christians contend that every detail of [1 Corinthians 15] verses 3b-5...must be included in the gospel, then it is purely arbitrary and special pleading to argue that only a portion of verses 5-8 are gospel-content. If only verse 5 [out of verses 5-8] constitutes the gospel, then why should a person's eternal destiny be dependent upon the reference to Cephas (v. 5) but not to the five hundred brethren (v. 6) or James (v. 7) or Paul (v. 8)?...This would nullify the salvation of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today, many of whom cannot even identify the individual in verse 5 with the Aramaic name 'Cephas.'"37

In response to Stegall's contentions several points need to be made in addition to what has already been said. When Stegall states that "the gospel is not about...the apostles" he is erecting a type of straw man argument because no one in the Free Grace gospel debate is saying that the gospel is about the apostles. The gospel is ever and always about Christ. Although the gospel is not about Cephas (i.e. Peter), it is clear from a cogent reading of the text that the gospel does "account" for him as one of the initial witnesses to the resurrection of Christ and an example of resurrection faith (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. Lk. 1:1, 24:34, etc.). No wonder James D. G. Dunn can say: "We know that the primitive kerygma regarded the appearances to Peter as the first of the appearances, the decisive encounter for the faith of the earliest communities, and the beginning of the gospel as gospel. This is clearly indicated by I Cor. 15.5 ('and that he appeared to Cephas'), by Mark 16.7 ('Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him'), and by Luke 24.34 ('The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon')[cf. John 20:19, 26, 30, 21:1, 14]."38

Stegall's contention that it is "purely arbitrary and special pleading" to say that the content of the gospel concludes with 1 Corinthians 15:5 instead of verse 8 is seen to be groundless on the basis of the exegesis of the passage which clearly indicates a grammatical break after verse 5. In verses 6-8 Paul supplements the gospel by listing several more appearances of Christ which are not part of the gospel's specific content and which are not repeated in the later Gospel narratives.

Stegall then goes on to argue that by including 1 Corinthians 15:5 in the content of the gospel it "would nullify the salvation of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today many of whom cannot even identify the individual in verse 5 with the Aramaic name 'Cephas.'" Stegall seems to be grasping at straws in an attempt to bolster his groundless gospel. His claims are false and exaggerated. No one in the debate is saying that a lost person must give the correct identity of "Cephas" (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. Jn. 1:42) in order to be saved. The lost are not required to pass an exam in theology. Instead, they are required to believe the gospel. In addition to this, Stegall's argument is based more on experience than on the Bible. Since when is one's soteriology and definition of the gospel based on the supposed conversion experiences of "a vast percentage of God's children in the world today"?! A vast percentage of God's children in the world today also asked Jesus into their hearts, but they were wrong. Sadly, Stegall has allowed postmodern thinking to influence his understanding of the gospel. One's theology should never be based on popularity or percentage of opinion but instead should be grounded in God's Word. The words of Dennis Rokser are appropriate: "The accuracy of Scripture is not determined by a popularity contest....Will you base your beliefs and practice on the popular opinion of the human crowd or upon the unfailing and unchanging truths of the Word of God?"39

In response to the contentions of partial gospel advocates, consider the following fifteen reasons why 1 Corinthians 15:5 is part of Paul's gospel:

1. The use of the coordinating conjunction as opposed to the subordinating conjunction. The linking word kai ("and") is a coordinating conjunction as opposed to a subordinating conjunction, and is to be understood in a copulative sense. A. T. Robertson writes: "The Mere Connective ('And')....The simple copulative idea [i.e. joining together coordinate words or word groups and expressing addition of their meanings] is...the most common use of kai where words are piled together by means of this conjunction...The chain with kai as the connective may go on indefinitely...So we have kai hoti three times in 1 Cor. 15:4 (kai to connect hoti clauses)."40

2. The use of the content conjunction. John Niemela notes under the heading "Indicating a Content Clause" that "1 Corinthians...15:3...15:4a-b, [and] 5" (but not 15:6ff) each indicate "a Content Clause".41

3. The third day theme continues. Hastings writes: "Whether St. Paul means that the entire list of appearances here given...formed part of the original tradition which he had received has been disputed. The grammatical contruction continues unbroken to the end of v. 5 ('that he hath been raised on the third day...and that he appeared to Cephas, then the twelve') and then changes ('then he appeared, ' etc.): and some hold that these later appearances were added to the list by St. Paul himself....Chase interprets the break in construction, if intentional, as denoting that 'the Apostle regards the appearances which he mentions as falling into two groups,' and infers that 'he places the appearance to Cephas and that to the Twelve among the events of the third day'".42

4. The grammatical break occurs after verse 5. Jeremias writes: "it can be proved linguistically that the kerygma (which includes verses 3b from [Christ] to 5 [Twelve], as shown e.g. by the syntactic break at the beginning of verse 6) was not formulated by Paul....Up to v. 5 there are hoti-clauses, from v. 6 onwards main clauses".43

5. The non-Pauline language. John Kloppenborg writes: "Vocabularic analysis has shown that the bulk of vv 3-5 is non-Pauline in character and certainly belongs to the tradition....Whether vv 6a, 7 belonged to vv 3b-5 in the pre-Pauline stratum is, however, another matter....That [the twelve] also belonged to [appeared] is suggested by (1) the fact that it is a non-Pauline word [i.e. "the twelve" is a non-Pauline phrase; Paul prefers to use the word "apostles" instead]....The core of the pre-Pauline tradition, then, remains vv 3b-5 - the material which proved distinctive on vocabularic grounds."44

6. The scholarly support. Matt Myllykoski writes: "Most scholars have regarded vv. 3b-5 as an old traditional unit."45

7. The preaching of the apostles included the Easter appearances. Peter Stuhlmacher writes: "But together with the elder apostles from Jerusalem, Paul preached the gospel of Jesus' atoning death, burial, resurrection on the third day, and his Easter appearances before Peter and the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:3-5, 11[; cf. Mk. 16:7; Lk. 24:34; Jn. 20:19, 26, 30, 21:1, 14; Acts 2:32, 3:15, 5:32, 10:40-41, 13:28-31])."46

8. The resurrection appearances of Christ are pictured in believer's baptism. Stegall has stated somewhat incongruently that "water baptism pictures believers' identification with the person of Christ, [and] it also pictures the spiritual reality of our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection....It signifies the believer's spiritual identification with Christ in His person and work [i.e. His death, burial, and resurrection]. It is a picture of the Gospel!"47 But instead of stopping at Christ's resurrection, the classic baptismal text in Romans 6:4 includes one more facet of Christ's work that Christians identify with in baptism: "so we too might walk in newness of life" (v. 4b). There is a congruency between 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6 in regards to the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15 the four verbs of the gospel are: "died", "buried", "raised", and "appeared" (vv. 3-5). Similarly, in Romans 6 the four points of identification are seen to include: co-death, co-burial, co-resurrection, and co-walking in newness of life (vv. 3-4). The Christians' walking in newness of life identifies with Christ's resurrection appearances in which He walked in newness of life along the Emmaus road in the Gospel of Luke and along the sea shore in the Gospel of John (etc.). When a Christian convert is raised up out of the water at baptism he appears in the public domain and begins to walk in newness of life before the Christian community, much like Christ did after His resurrection. By comparing Romans 6:3-4 with what Paul had written earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, it is evident that the resurrection appearances of Christ are pictured in believer's baptism. Christian baptism is a picture of the glorious gospel, not the groundless gospel.

9. Cephas was controversial in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 15:5 is seen to contain an essential element of the gospel because Paul declared it's truth to the Corinthians and even included it in the content of his gospel despite the fact that his listeners already had significant problems quarreling over prominent leaders in the church and specifically over "Cephas" himself (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul would not risk further disunity in the church by mentioning Cephas if he could avoid it. And the risk was great indeed. Quarreling over the prominence of Cephas and other religious leaders was such a huge problem in the Corinthian church that Paul begins his entire epistle by addressing this concern (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:5 Anthony Thiselton affirms that "the traditions about Peter (Luke 24:34; cf. Mark 16:7; Matt 16:18; and the early chapters of Acts) would hardly have been something to which Paul himself would choose to draw attention in view of issues about a Peter group at Corinth (1:12)."48 As has been noted, we can all agree that the gospel is not about Cephas, but it does "account" for Cephas as an example of resurrection faith and a foundational witness to the resurrection of Christ in time and space (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. Lk. 1:1, 24:34, etc.).

10. It depicts a bodily resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:5 depicts Christ's bodily resurrection which is an essential element of the gospel. Robert Lightner says: "The bodily resurrection of Christ is absolutely indispensable to the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5) and to the whole Christian faith (1 Cor. 15:1-19)."49

11. It is of primary importance. The truth that the risen Christ appeared to His twelve disciples is said to be "of first importance" in the gospel of salvation (1 Cor. 15:3). Robert Price writes: "The phrase 'in which terms we preached to you the gospel' in 1 Cor. 15:1 must be remembered in what follows. The list of appearances is not simply some interesting or important lore Paul passed down somewhere along the line during his association with the Corinthians. This is ostensibly the Pauline gospel itself, the Pauline preaching in Corinth. 'Behind the word 'gospel' in St. Paul we cannot assume a formula, but only the very preaching of salvation' (Dibelius). Again, v. 2 makes clear that what follows is not just a helpful piece of apologetics but rather the saving message itself."50

12. The gospel is not confusing. The gospel is clear, not confusing. The words of A. B. Luter are appropriate: "Just as it is very common for preachers to add unnecessary complexity to their presentations of the gospel [like Lordship salvation advocates], there is the opposite tendency to over-simplify [like crossless and groundless gospel advocates]. It should be remembered, though, that there is a bedrock historical basis for the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5) that is true (and, hence, must be articulated and believed) or 'our preaching is useless and so is your faith' (v. 14)."51

13. It is the beginning of the gospel as gospel. James D. G. Dunn writes: "We know that the primitive kerygma regarded the appearances to Peter as the first of the appearances, the decisive encounter for the faith of the earliest communities, and the beginning of the gospel as gospel. This is clearly indicated by I Cor. 15.5 (and that he appeared to Cephas'), by Mark 16:7 ('Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him'), and by Luke 24:34 ('The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon')[cf. John 20:19-21:14]."52

14. The Easter appearances are Church founding appearances. Reginal Fuller writes: "We conclude, therefore, that the appearances to Peter and to the Twelve share a common function. In these appearances the Risen One initiates the foundation of the eschatological community: they are 'church-founding appearances".53 Similarly, Thiselton writes: "Our understanding of the fourth line, 'He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve' (v. 5), cannot be isolated from all of these major considerations set forth already on the basis of vv. 3b and 4....Wilckens rightly discusses the issue as one of foundation: 'It was the appearances...which inspiried belief...and led to the founding of the primitive community.'"54

15. It is Prophesied in the Old Testament. Christ's resurrection appearances were prophesied in the Old Testament like the other elements of the gospel (Rom. 1:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; cf. Ps. 22:22; Isa. 53:10). Commenting on Psalm 22:22 Arno C. Gaebelein writes: "We therefore behold Him at once as the risen One with a great declaration. 'I will declare Thy name unto my brethren.' [Ps. 22:22] And thus He spake after His passion and resurrection, 'Go and tell my brethren that I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.' [Jn. 20:17]"55 Commenting on the gospel in Isaiah 53, Herbert Lockyer relates the following true story from the life of D. L. Moody: "When Moody was asked to conduct his first mission in London in 1874, union meetings were comparatively new. The committee asked him to explain his methods. Everything went smoothly until one member asked him his creed. Moody calmly replied, 'My creed is already in print.' A member seized a paper and pencil and asked where it could be found. 'In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah,' Moody answered."56

In light of the exegetical considerations of the text there are two errors to avoid in relation to 1 Corinthians 15:5 and the conclusion of the gospel. On the one hand the student of God's Word must be careful not to artificially truncate Paul's gospel at the end of 1 Corinthians 15:4, thus erroneously excluding the remainder of Paul's sentence and thought in verse 5. This position improperly views verse 4 as the conclusion of Paul's gospel. Even Stegall affirms: "To be consistent, Christians must recognize that the syntactical structure begins with the first "that" (hoti) in verse 3 and is then followed by three successive "and that" (kai hoti) statements in verses 4-5. This means that from a purely grammatical and syntactical standpoint, there is no reason why this passage should be artificially truncated at the end of verse 4."57 The other error to avoid in regards to 1 Corinthians 15:5 involves a failure to recognize the grammatical break at the end of the verse, and thus erroneously including verses 6-8 in the content of the gospel. This position improperly views verse 8 as the conclusion of Paul's gospel. Although I do not agree with his partial gospel, Hixson is correct to say: "When it comes to the good news about man's salvation, appeal is often made to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 as the definitive content of the so-called technical gospel....[But] the good news Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15[:1-8] appears to be broader than the precise content of saving faith."58 These are the two errors to avoid when it comes to the conclusion of Pauls gospel; one errs by omission, the other by addition. The exegetical and thus proper understanding of Paul's gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is perfectly balanced between these two extremes and correctly understands verse 5 as forming the conclusion of the gospel's specific content.

The Components of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

Biblical exegesis will show that there are four elements or components in Paul's gospel, not merely two as partial gospel advocates suppose. Notice that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 the four individual hoti content clauses are linked together with the word "and", which is repeated three times. Paul writes: "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, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." Paul uses the word "and" (Greek kai) to connect all four hoti content clauses together. This is significant because the Greek word kai is a coordinating (not subordinating) conjunction which "links equal elements together".59 A. T. Robertson writes: "The Mere Connective ('And')....The simple copulative idea [i.e. joining together coordinate words or word groups and expressing addition of their meanings] is...the most common use of kai where words are piled together by means of this conjunction...The chain with kai as the connective may go on indefinitely...So we have kai hoti three times in 1 Cor. 15:4 (kai to connect hoti clauses)."60 Robertson also notes: "Hoti may be repeated in parallel [or coordinate] clauses as in Jo. 6:22; Ac. 17:3; 22:29; 1 Cor. 15:3ff."61

In light of the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:3ff there is general agreement among Bible scholars from a wide range of theological backgrounds affirming that there are four coordinate components in Paul's gospel and not merely two as some suppose. For example, consider the following statements:


Gary Habermas writes: "Virtually all scholars agree that 1 Corinthians 15:3ff records an ancient oral tradition(s) that reports the Gospel data: Jesus Christ's atoning death, burial, resurrection, and appearances to many persons."62 Elsewhere Habermas notes that "1 Corinthians 15:3ff recounts the gospel facts of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus Christ".63

F. F. Bruce writes: "The things of first importance are four in number: (a) Christ died, (b) he was buried, (c) he was raised, (d) he appeared in resurrection to many. Whatever differences there might be in primitive Christian faith and preaching there was evidently unanimity on these fundamental data."
64

A. T. Robertson writes: "[1 Corinthians] 15:3...Four items given by Paul in explaining 'the gospel' which Paul preached....The four items are presented by four verbs (died, apethanen, was buried, etaphe, hath been raised, egegertai, appeared, opthe). Christ died (Christos apethanen)...[1 Corinthians] 15:4 And that he was buried (kai hoti etaphe). Note hoti repeated before each of the four verbs [in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5] as a separate item. Second aorist passive indicative of thapto, old verb, to bury. This item is an important detail as the Gospels show. And that He hath been raised (kai hoti egegertai)...[1 Corinthians 15:5] And that he appeared to Cephas (kai hoti ophthe Kepha). First aorist passive indicative of the defective verb orao, to see. Paul means not a mere 'vision,' but actual appearance...Paul had told all these four facts [in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5] to the Corinthians in his preaching."
65

R. J. Sider writes: "There would seems to be little to recommend CONZELMANN'S preference for the two verbs ('he died' [in 1 Cor. 15:3] and 'has been raised' [in 1 Cor. 15:4]). Indeed the syntax is definitely against CONZELMANN. There are four clauses introduced in the same way with hoti, and the latter three are connected in an identical fashion with kai hoti...It is sheer specualtion to argue that the [second] and [fourth] verbs are subordinate to the [first] and [third] verbs in the sense that their meaning can be collapsed into the meaning of the first and third verbs...it is necessary to insist on the fact that the syntax by no means supports any hypothesis which subordinates 'he was buried' to 'he died'. Syntactically, hoti etaphe [i.e. 'he was buried'] is as independent of 'he died' as it is of 'he was raised'."66

C. K. Barrett writes: "[The clauses in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff are] short independent propositions, not subordinated to one another".67

Gerhard Delling writes: "The three hoti in [1 Cor. 15] vv. 4f. serve at the same time to separate and emphasize each one of the four statements".68

Reginal Fuller writes: "in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. [we have] a combination of at least four different traditions, each introduced by its own hoti....Now it must be noted that the phrase 'he was buried' occurs within its own hoti clause and must be taken therefore as an independent statement standing on its own".69

William Lane Craig writes: "The fourfold hoti serves to emphasize equally each of the chronologically successive events, thus prohibiting the subordination of one event to another".70 Elsewhere Craigs writes: "In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, the tradition he received and passed on refers to Jesus' burial:...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. (pers. tr.) The grammatically unnecessary fourfold "and that," the chronological succession of the events, and particularly the remarkable concordance between this tradition and both the preaching of Acts 13 and the Gospel narratives regarding the order of events (death - burial - resurrection - appearances) shows that the traditions mention of the burial is not meant merely to underscore Jesus' death, but refers to the laying of Jesus in the tomb, as recorded in the Gospels.71

Wolfhart Pannenberg writes: "The reference to the burial as well as the death is not just a literary device to stress the reality of the death; it is also a statement of fact".72

Gary Habermas writes: "Moreover, Paul gives independent and early confirmation of Jesus' burial in the traditions handed on by him to the Church he founded in Corinth. It is now generally recognized that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Paul is passing on a primitive Christian tradition summarizing the central elements of Christian belief and preaching....The grammatically unnecessary threefold 'and that' (often omitted in English translations), as well as the succession of the events, makes it highly probable that the tradition's mention of the burial is not meant merely to underscore the death but refers to a distinct event, the burial of Jesus. But was that event Jesus' burial in the tomb? The answer to that question may be found by comparing this traditional summary to the Gospel accounts on the one hand and to the apostolic sermons in the book of Acts (particularly Acts 13:29-30) on the other. What we discover is a perfect concordance between the four lines of the summary and the stories of Jesus' crucifixion, entombment, resurrection and appearances. This makes it very clear that the second line of the tradition handed on by Paul summarized the story of Joseph's laying the body of Jesus in the tomb."73

Raymond Brown writes: "The sequence of death, burial, resurrection, and appearance(s). We see that the four 'that' clauses of the pre-Pauline formula concern, not just death and resurrection, as in the two-member formulas, but a whole chain of events. Thus we have the skeleton of what will emerge in the Gospels as a consecutive narrative."74

Alan F. Johnson writes: "This Christian confessional statement contains four historical events: (1) Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (2) he was buried, (3) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and (4) he appeared to Peter. All of these are historical events in time and space, and they are linked as if in a golden chain."75

Even Antonio da Rosa affirms: "In the 1st Corinthians passage, we have four co-ordinate clauses that make up Paul's gospel message, all divided by the Greek 'kai hoti' ('and that'). 1 Cor 15:3ff, 'For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received: THAT Christ died...AND THAT He was buried, AND THAT He rose again...AND THAT He was seen....These 4 coordinate clauses...instruct us as to what Paul's gospel was (in other words, the message which he couched the promise of eternal life in). Being coordinate, they are of the same value."76

Yet in contrast to A. T. Robertson and other noted scholars, all of whom understand the kai coordinating conjunctions in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 in a copulative sense and thus specifically include all four parallel hoti content clauses in Paul's gospel, Tom Stegall still maintains that the grammatical structure of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 "establishes nothing semantically or theologically."77 With this admission one has to wonder why Stegall then devotes the next four pages of his book endeavoring to establish something theologically from the passage in support of his partial gospel? Clearly Stegall's dogmatic theology is triumphing over his Biblical theology.

Let's take a closer look at Stegall's reductionist reasoning. Stegall believes he has found support for his partial gospel in a somewhat obscure footnote from Daniel Wallace's textbook Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. In the footnote Wallace makes the following notation regarding the characteristics of conjunctions, saying: "Although the two elements [which are connected by a coordinating conjunction] might be equal syntactically, there is often a semantic notion of subordination. For example, on the surface 'I went to the store and I bought bread' involves two coordinate clauses joined by and. But on a 'deep structure' level, it is evident that coordinate ideas are not involved: 'I went to the store in order that I might buy bread.'...Paratactic structure (i.e., when whole clauses are joined) may or may not reflect the true semantic relationship."78

There are several reasons why Wallace's footnote cannot be used to support Stegall's partial gospel interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. First, Wallace never makes the connection that Stegall tries to make. Stegall applies Wallace's footnote to the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 when Wallace never does. In context, Wallace is simply discussing conjunctions generally and does not specifically reference 1 Corinthians 15 (as did A. T. Robertson in his discussion of Greek conjunctions). In fact, the only time Wallace mentions the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 it is much later in the chapter, and it is not to show that any part of the gospel is subordinate to the other as Stegall contends. Rather, when Wallace cites the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 it is to show that the hoti clause in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is a content conjunction!79 It's no surprise that Stegall never draws attention to this grammatical point highlighted by Wallace because the fourfold hoti construction of the passage clearly argues against the partial gospel by specifically including Christ's burial and appearances in content clauses.

Another reason why Wallace's footnote cannot be used to support the partial gospel interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is because such a connection leads to a mistranslation of the passage. This is an important consideration and even Wallace advices the exegete to "Test each option with an interpretive translation in determining the best one."80 Based on Wallace's footnote (which points out that on a "deep structure" level the coordinating conjunction "and" can often be translated as "in order that" or "in order to") Stegall argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 should read as follows: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, in order that He might be buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, in order that He might appear to Cephas, then to the twelve." However, if such a translation is correct and conveys the intended meaning of the passage, why do no versions of the Bible translate 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 as Stegall has suggested? That Stegall must rewrite the Bible to support his groundless gospel is a glaring problem! Stegall's mistranslation of the Bible is characteristic of cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and their New World Translation, but such practices should have no place in the life and ministry of Bible-believing Christians.

A final reason why Wallace's footnote cannot be used to support the partial gospel interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is because it leads to confusing conclusions that are both illogical and unbiblical. Based on his unique translation Stegall concludes: "As this relates to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 we could say that just as someone would not bury a living person, so the Lord's burial (v. 4a) was dependent upon Him dying first (v. 3b). And just as a person could not be seen by others unless he arose from the dead, so the Lord's post-resurrection appearances (v. 5a) were dependent upon Him rising from the dead first (v. 4b). In this respect, the burial and appearances are clearly [?] seen to be semantically subordinate to the two main clauses in the passage. The claim that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 contains a 'golden chain' of elements that must be of equal theological weight and that must all be elements of the saving gospel, is clearly [?] seen to be unfounded."81

Besides being confusing there are several obvious flaws in Stegall's statements. As Norman Geisler would say, the logic is self-refuting. Notice that Stegall is taking an equally firm contrary position in that he believes certain elements of the text must not be of equal theological weight and must not be elements of the saving gospel. Furthermore, if Stegall's logic and reasoning are consistently applied to the passage, we are left to erroneously conclude that Christ's resurrection is semantically subordinate to His death because we could say that someone would not resurrect a living person, so the Lord's resurrection (v. 4b) was dependent upon Him dying first (v. 3b). Based on Stegall's reasoning the argument could also be made that Christ's resurrection is subordinate to His burial because His resurrection was dependent upon Him being buried first. Although these conclusions are consistent with Stegall's logic they are at odds with the entire context of the passage which stresses the importance of the resurrection.

Furthermore, Stegall's reductionist reasoning evidences the logical fallacy of being non-sequitur. In other words, Stegall's conclusion does not follow his premise. Stegall's premise is that Christ's burial and appearances should be understood in a subordinate sense; his conclusion is that they are not elements of the gospel. This logical fallacy results from his failure to distinguish the difference between correlation and content. Stegall is confusing a supposed "deep structure level" correlation with the specific content of the gospel. However, the content of the gospel is not changed by some supposed "deep structure level" relationship of the clauses. In other words, even if two of the four coordinate content clauses in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 have a subordinate relationship or correlation to the others, all four clauses still remain content clauses because each is introduced by a hoti content conjunction. A supposed subordination of Christ's burial and appearances does not equate to their elimination from the gospel. Hence, Stegall's entire argument is rather beside the point and gives no validation to his partial gospel. The words of Crouch are appropriate: "Paul had an answer to bad theology, and that's good theology. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul started out, 'Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you...' Paul had been to Corinth before, and he had taught these people the Gospel of Jesus Christ - you can read about it in Acts 18. These people had heard the Gospel, had believed it, and were saved. But now Paul found out that some things weren't going well in the Corinthian church. So in chapter 15, it's back to square one, the basics of the Gospel. And you can sum it up in four main words: Christ died, he was buried, he was raised, and he appeared. That is more than four words, but in the original language, each of these verbs, these four things Christ did, is one word....we could call them 'The Four Things Jesus Did.' These are teachings that you can't compromise - you can't change them, and you can't ignore them. If you remove these, you don't have the Christian faith anymore - you have something completely different."82

In contrast to Stegall's unclear reductionist reasoning, it is quite clear from a cogent analysis of the text in 1 Corinthians 15 that the content of Paul's gospel has four components, not merely two are partial gospel advocates suppose. These four components are exegetically expressed in the four parallel hoti content clauses in verses 3-5. Stegall's partial gospel simply does not do justice to the particular exegetical features of the passage and is therefore rightly rejected.

The Cross-References of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

When it is understood that the content of Paul's gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 has four components (and not merely two as some suppose), it becomes apparent that by definition all four components are denoted whenever the apostle Paul refers to his "gospel". Thus, if Paul's gospel is truly "the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16; cf. Rom. 2:16), it is evident that the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Christ are the four key events/works repeatedly emphasized throughout Scripture as an inseparable quartet necessary for salvation, including His burial (Acts 15:7, 20:24; Rom. 1:1, 1:9, 1:16, 2:16, 10:16, 11:28, 15:16, 15:19, 15:29, 16:25; 1 Cor. 4:15, 9:12, 9:14, 9:18, 9:23, 15:1; 2 Cor. 2:12, 4:3, 4:4, 8:18, 9:13, 10:14, 11:4, 11:7; Gal. 1:7, 1:11, 2:2, 2:7, 2:14; Eph. 1:13, 3:6, 6:15, 6:19; Phil. 1:5, 1:7, 1:12, 1:17, 1:27, 2:22, 4:3, 4:15; Col. 1:5, 1:23; 1 Thess. 1:5, 2:2, 2:4, 2:8, 2:9, 3:2; 2 Thess. 1:8, 2:14; 1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:8, 1:10, 2:8; Philemon 1:13).

Groundless gospel advocates attempt to work around this plain and simple truth because it clearly disproves their redefinition of the gospel. So instead of focusing on Paul's "gospel", Stegall draws attention only to Christ's death and resurrection. In proposing the groundless gospel to his church congregation Stegall wrote: "The death and resurrection of Christ are the two key events/works repeatedly emphasized throughout Scripture as an inseparable couplet necessary for salvation, not His burial. (Matt. 16:20-21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Mark 8:29-31, 9:30-32, 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34, 24:7, 26, 46; Acts 2:23-24, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:39-40, 17:3, 25:19, 26:23; Rom. 4:24-25; Gal. 1:1-4; 1 Pt. 1:18-21; 1 Th. 4:14)".83 Stegall is assuming that an emphasis on Christ's death and resurrection in Scripture equates to an exclusion of Christ's burial and appearances from the gospel. But such reductionist reasoning is non sequitor for an emphasis on one portion of the gospel does not equate to an exclusion of other parts. Furthermore, it should be obvious to any unbiased observer that Stegall's compilation of Scriptures is highly selective. For example, why does Stegall omit 1 Cor. 15:1-5 - a passage "of first importance"? Probably because the passage argues against the point he's trying to make by including Christ's burial and appearances in the gospel. Similarly, why does Stegall omit the rest of Peter's sermon in Acts 2:25-32? Probably because the passage argues against the point he's trying to make by including Christ's burial and appearances in the gospel message. And why does Stegall omit any mention of Paul's sermon in Acts 13:26-41? Probably because the passage argues against the point he's trying to make by including Christ's burial and appearances in "the word of this salvation" (Acts 13:26). Furthermore, Stegall omits any and all mention of John's Gospel in his compilation of Scriptures (e.g. Jn. 2:18-22, 11:25, 12:23-24, 14:18-19, 16:16-22, 21:14)! Such an omission on Stegall's part only strengthens the contention that he is at war with the Gospel of John. I could go on to talk about how Stegall has selectively omitted other Scriptures like Matthew 12:38-41, but to cite more examples would be superfluous. Once again Stegall has allowed his dogmatic theology to triumph over his Biblical theology. Concerning this Chafer writes: "Some interpreters who claim to accept the Bible as the revealed Word of God, reject specific revelations in it because these do not fit into the framework of their preconceived theology."84 It is apparent that Stegall's selective scatter-gun approach to Bible interpretation and theologically driven synthesis of Scriptures is nothing more than arbitrary dogmatism and "is the ultimate search for the Holy Grail".85 Stegall has found his gospel essentials "hither and yon in the NT and then stitched them together into a salvific quilt. But there are lots of holes in the quilt!"86

In his new book Stegall presents another similar but even more extreme method of interpretation in his continued attempt to redefine the gospel. His new method of interpretation borders on numerology by attaching "essential" gospel status to words based on the number of times they are mentioned in the New Testament. Conversely, he attaches no such "essential" gospel status to words that appear less frequently. Under the heading "The Frequency of Christ's Death & Resurrection" Stegall declares: "if Christ's burial and appearances are truly elements of the gospel of our salvation, and therefore essential to saving faith, then there is no adequate explanation to account for the fact that the death and resurrection most frequently appear together in the New Testament without any mention of the burial and appearances."87 Stegall then goes on to list a random selection of Scriptures referencing Christ's death and resurrection very similar to his previous list mentioned above. Stegall's soteriology-by-numerology type method of interpretation is flawed not because he is noting the number of times certain words occur in the New Testament, but because he is using numerical frequency to supposedly divine the essential and non-essential elements of the gospel, and that without Biblical grounds. It is telling that none of the passages Stegall lists even claim to declare the content of Paul's gospel! Furthermore, Stegall's reductionist reasoning contains its own refutation. When consistently applied, such a hermaneutic ultimately leads one to conclude that Christ's resurrection is a non-essential element of saving faith because it is not mentioned as frequently as Christ's death! In other words, based on Stegall's reductionist reasoning a misguided interpreter could conclude that the death of Christ is the one key work most frequently emphasized throughout Scripture as the one truth necessary for salvation, not His resurrection (Matt. 17:12, 20:28, 26:2; Mk. 9:12, 10:45; Lk. 9:31; Jn. 3:14, 16, 6:51, 8:28, 11:50-51, 12:24, 32-33, 18:14; Acts 8:32-33, 20:28; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Cor. 1:13, 17, 18, 23, 2:2, 8, 5:7, 10:16, 11:26; Gal. 1:4, 3:1, 13, 4:5, 5:11, 6:12, 14; Eph. 1:7, 2:13, 16, 5:2; Phil. 3:18; Col. 1:14 (MT), 20, 2:14; 1 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9-10, 6:6, 12:24, 13:12; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 1 Jn. 1:7, 3:16; Rev. 7:14, 12:11). This unbiblical conclusion is more easily arrived at when the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 is selectively omitted, as Stegall has done in his compilation(s) of Scriptures.88

There is another evidence showing that Stegall's arbitrary gospel-by-number method of interpretation is flawed. He makes a fatal admission which acts as the nail in the coffin to bury his groundless reasoning. In his Grace Family Journal article "The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel Pt. 3," Stegall lists all the many references to Christ's death in Scripture and essentially shoots his soteriology-by-numerology hermaneutic in the foot when he writes: "'death' - (Matt. 20:18, 26:59, 26:66, 27:1; Mark 10:33, 14:1, 55, 64; Luke 23:32, 24:20; John 11:53, 12:33, 18:32; Acts 2:23, 24, 13:28 (2x); Rom. 5:10, 6:3, 4, 5, 9, 10 (implied); 1 Cor. 11:26; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8, 3:10; Col. 1:22; Heb. 2:9 (2x), 14, 9:15, 16; 1 Peter 3:18".89 Ironically, Stegall admits what I have always affirmed: when a truth is not denied it's implied. In other words: the truth is implied not denied. Stegall is writing in regards to Christ's death, but the same reasoning holds true in regards to Christ's burial and appearances. When these gospel truths aren't specifically mentioned in certain passages of Scripture (like they are in 1 Corinthians 15), they are implied not denied. Dean Flemming affirms that "in his letters the substance of Paul's gospel is generally assumed rather than spelled out. Paul only discusses those aspects of it that are relevant to the situation at hand. He could grant that his converts had already received instruction in the basic understanding of the faith, and in general Paul does not need to repeat this unless there is some misunderstanding of the gospel that needs to be corrected. Just as a sermon may not continually retell the story of the text on which it is based, but presupposes it throughout, so Paul's letters constantly assume and interpret the gospel story of God's redeeming action in Christ."90

The Christ of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

Who exactly is the Christ of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15? Is this Being to be equated with some sacred calf (Ex. 32:4), a reptile (Rom. 1:23), a mere man, a god like Allah - or maybe even a goddess? In distinction to any of these ideas, in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul presents Christ as the unique God-Man promised by the prophets in the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 1:1-4, 10:16, NKJV). In other words, the glorious gospel sets forth both the humanity and deity of Christ within a Biblical framework. In regards to His humanity, it is highlighted first by His substitutionary death. Christ "died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). No one else but Christ is said to have died for the sins of the world. As a Man, He died for man. He died as man's substitute and in our place. He died so we might live. S. Lewis Johnson writes: "The preposition for (Gr., hyper, which modern grammarians now recognize may denote substitution) suggests his death in our stead."91 The burial of Christ mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:4 also highlights His humanity. Christ's burial verifies the reality of His death and emphasizes that a physical body was laid in a tomb. As Hastings has said: "Who ever heard of a Spirit being buried?"92 Furthermore, Christ's resurrection appearances mentioned in verse 5 also bear witness to His humanity by showing that what went into the tomb came out again. A dead body "was buried" (1 Cor. 15:4) and then a resurrected body "appeared" (1 Cor. 15:5).

Both Christ's burial and appearances are an essential part of the good news because they describe the gospel truths of His humanity and bodily resurrection, truths on which many ancient and modern heresies stumble (e.g. present day Gnostics and the Jehovah's Witnesses). Norman Geisler affirms: "The physical resurrection of Christ's body is just as much a part of the gospel as His death (1 Cor. 15:1-5)....there are soteriological problems with denying the material resurrection of Christ. As noted earlier, the New Testament teaches that belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is essential for salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). It is part of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5)."93 Similarly, Anthony Thiselton asserts: "Wilchens rightly discusses the issue as one of foundation: 'It was the appearances...which inspired belief...and led to the founding of the primitive community [i.e. the Church].'...it is God's action in and on the world in Christ's resurrection [i.e. in His physical resurrection appearances to His disciples] that serves 'to ground its salvation'."94 Throughout history the gospel truths of Christ's burial and appearances have powerfully declared the corporeal Christ and have clearly countered gnostic-type heresies. The objective facts of Christ's burial and appearances highlight the physical reality of His body and effectively refute heresies of a false spirit-Jesus. Even Stegall admits that Christ's burial and appearances "effectively serve as the spiritual antidote to the insidious doctrine of Gnosticism with its denial of Christ's literal humanity, death, and bodily resurrection."95 When Stegall removes the historical facts of Christ's burial and resurrection appearances from the gospel of salvation and holds that they are "not absolutely essential for someone to know about...and believe...in order to go to heaven"96, he is eroding the very truths of the gospel which he claims to uphold, namely: "the essential, defining elements of the Gospel which must be believed for one to receive eternal salvation...[such] as...Jesus Christ is human...[and] Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead".97 It is exactly the truths of Christ's burial and appearances which anchor the gospel in substance and prohibit the Savior from being redefined by heresies which deny the reality of His resurrection body. It is ironic that although Stegall condemns "belief in...a spirit-Jesus,"98 he is nonetheless eroding the gospel truths of Christ's humanity and bodily resurrection by removing the facts of Christ's burial (1 Cor. 15:4) and appearances (1 Cor. 15:5) from the content of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

Besides highlighting the humanity of Christ, the glorious gospel also sets forth the deity of "Christ" (1 Cor. 15:3), not only because Paul "uses the divine title as a name,"99 but also because the passage highlights Christ's resurrection from the grave: "and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). It is clear from verse 4 that this resurrection from the dead was a resurrection from the grave as the Scriptures indicate (1 Cor. 15:4; cf. Deut. 21:22-23; Isa. 26:19, 53:9; Ezk. 37:12-13; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 12:38-41, 27:52-53, 63-64, 28:6; Jn. 5:28, 12:23-24; 1 Cor. 15:35-37, etc.). According to the Scriptures Christ's resurrection from the dead was from the grave. Joe Hewitt observes: "The same 'He' that was buried was also resurrected."100 Similarly, Alan Lewis states that "it is the crucified and buried person - he and no other - who has been raised to life."101 Kenneth Boa affirms: "Any theory that denies the resurrection of the body that had been laid in the tomb negates Paul's argument. It was the Dead and Buried One who rose from the dead."102 The words of Robert Lowry are appropriate in highlighting the connection between Christ's resurrection from the grave and His deity: "Up from the grave He arose...Jesus my Lord!"103 The apostle Peter had highlighted this glorious gospel truth when the Church first began (Acts 2:29-36). Similarly, when preaching the Good News after his conversion, the apostle Paul "in Acts 13:33, as in Rom. 1:2-4, designates the resurrection of Christ [from a tomb (Acts 13:29)]...as the...emphatic predicted manifestation of Christ's Messiahship" as God's Son.104 Wayne Jackson concludes: "Christianity is based upon a buried and resurrected Lord."105 Even Dennis Rokser affirms this basic truth. Under the heading "PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS CHRIST," the Duluth Bible Church doctrinal statement reads: "We believe that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave, God confirmed the deity of His Son."106 Similarly, Larry Moyer writes: "if Christ supernaturally arose from the grave, He is indeed God and can be trusted in everything He says and does. If He did not arise from the grave, nothing He professed to be and do matters, because He is not God as He claimed to be. Christ Himself made it clear that His offer was verified by His own death and resurrection [cf. Matt. 12:39-41]. Having risen from the grave, He has every right to ask us to put our faith in His ability to give us life."107 The words of Lewis Sperry Chafer are appropriate: "Beyond all this - especially for those who have spiritual discernment - is the New Creation reality [i.e. 'the Christian Church'] which is built, not on a mere belief in the resurrection of Christ, but on Him who arose from the grave."108

The Conformity of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

What is the significance and importance of the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4)? Groundless gospel advocates believe that this phrase acts as a type of cipher that can be used to decrypt or decode the gospel message. Stegall writes that a "major reason why the burial and post-resurrection appearances of Christ are not technically part of the gospel, and therefore not part of the required content of saving faith, is the double occurrence of the phrase, 'according to the Scriptures' in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4...Why would Paul attach the phrase 'according to the Scriptures,' only to Christ's death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 when in fact the death, burial, and resurrection are all 'according to the Scriptures'?"109 Similarly, Dennis Rokser states that "the burial of Christ's body, as well as His being seen by others after His resurrection, are not integral components of the Gospel (as 'according to the Scriptures' are not attached to these statements)".110

However, instead of redefining and reducing Paul's glorious gospel by removing Christ's burial and appearances from the "message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21, cf. 1 Cor. 1:17, 15:1), there is a Biblical and balanced explanation of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:3b-5 in relation to the phrase "according to the Scriptures". With the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) the apostle Paul is simply corroborating and clarifying the theological truths of Christ's death for our sins and resurrection forevermore, not somehow cutting or curtailing the content of the Gospel. Indeed, in Acts 13 the apostle Paul declares "the word of this salvation" (Acts 13:26) to the unsaved in Galatia and affirms the four-fold emphasis of "the good news" (Acts 13:32) as including: (1) Christ's "death" (Acts 13:28), (2) they "laid Him in a tomb" (Acts 13:29), (3) God "raised...from the dead" (Acts 13:30), and (4) "He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people" (Acts 13:31). Richard Longnecker affirms: "As Paul comes to the heart of his sermon [in Acts 13:26-31], he appeals respectfully and urgently for a hearing. 'Men, brothers [Andres adelphoi], children of Abraham [huioi genous Abraam], and you God-fearing Gentiles [hoi en hymin phoboumenoi ton theon],' he says, 'it is to us [hemin] that this message of salvation has been sent.' Then he presents a four-point Christian confession like that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: (1) Jesus was crucified; (2) they 'laid him in a tomb'; (3) 'God raised him from the dead'; and (4) 'for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem,' who are 'now his witnesses to our people.' Also significant is the clear note of fulfillment explicitly sounded in v. 27 ('in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath') and implied throughout the whole presentation."111

In 1 Corinthians 15:3b and 4b Paul adds theological truth to the bare facts of Christ's death and resurrection: "Christ died for our sins" (the truth of justification in seed form) and "was raised on the third day forevermore" (the promise of eternal life in seed form).112 These theological truths are according to, or in conformity with, the Scriptures (Isa. 53:4-12; Ps. 16:8-11; Acts 13:34-37; cf. Heb. 7:25; Rev. 1:17-18, etc.). Garland affirms: "That Christ died and that he was resurrected on the third day are facts, but their meaning is interpreted by the Scriptures."113 By contrast, in verses 4a and 5 Paul does not add theological truth from the Scriptures to the historical facts of Christ's burial and appearances to the twelve disciples. Paul simply declares the historical events: "He was buried" (1 Cor. 15:4a) and "He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5). The gospel (including the historical events of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances) was of course "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:2; cf. Isa. 53:1-12; Ps. 22:1-22, Rom. 10:16, NKJV; 1 Pet. 1:10-12, etc.), but Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is to affirm that the theological facts of Christ's death "for our sins" (cf. Isa. 53:4-12, etc.) and resurrection on the third day forevermore (cf. Ps. 16:8-11, etc.) are indeed "according to the Scriptures" and just as much part of the good news as the historical facts of the gospel!

A Chart of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

The Good News declares:

A Person: Christ (1 Cor. 15:3) - Paul uses Jesus' divine title as a name.

A Performance: Christ died, He was buried, He was raised, and He appeared (1 Cor. 15:3-5) - These four verbs detail the historical events of the gospel and are repeated in the later Gospel narratives.

A Provision: Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. Isa. 53:4-12; 2 Cor. 5:21) - This is the truth of justification in seed form.

A Promise: Christ was raised forevermore (1 Cor. 15:4; cf. Ps. 16:10-11; Rev. 1:18) - This is the promise of eternal life in seed form.

A Requirement: Receive/believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2, 11)114

A Result: Forgiveness of sins as opposed to judgment for sins (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. 2 Thess. 1:8-10), and life as opposed to death (1 Cor. 15:4; cf. 2 Tim. 1:8-10). There is no penalty to pay and no death to dread!

The Clarity of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

The glorious gospel is clear, not confusing. In contrast to this, the groundless gospel is unclear and quite confusing! Consider for a moment that if the historical facts of Christ's burial and resurrection appearances are not absolutely essential for someone to know about and believe in order to go to heaven as Stegall asserts, then their presence in the gospel message simply confuses the issues. Groundless gospel advocates admit to preaching the maximum consisting at least of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but require something less than this to be believed. Stegall acknowledges that "it is quite common for Christian to reference 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and then state that the gospel is the message that 'Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.'...since the burial happens to fall in-between these two pillars [i.e. Christ's death and resurrection], it gets included each time this passage is quoted...I myself routinely quote it this way".115 Notice here that although Stegall only claims to be preaching "the gospel," in reality he believes he's preaching more than the gospel! This simply highlights the incongruity inherent in the groundless gospel because Stegall is including supposedly non-saving truth (i.e. Christ's burial) in his saving message. But Dennis Rokser correctly and somewhat incongruently points out "that THERE IS NO INCONGRUITY BETWEEN THE GOSPEL that was PREACHED by Paul and THE GOSPEL which was BELIEVED by the Corinthians! There was no MAXIMUM preached and MINIMUM believed!"116 Stegall's new mini-gospel is truly an issue of incongruity that requires either semantical gymnastics or a lack of personal integrity to maintain.

Obviously the apostle Paul is not guilty of confusing the gospel message. In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians Paul writes: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, - and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless (1 Cor. 1:17, NET, italics added). In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul affirms that "we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2, NIV, italics added). If Paul is not guilty of distorting and confusing the issues involved in eternal salvation, who is guilty of confusing the gospel message? In answer to this question consider how a pro-groundless pastor named Billy might witness to a Gnostic named Mike. Interestingly enough, Pastor Billy is the same Billy whom Stegall describes in his book as the young boy who doubted that Jesus was buried in a tomb for three days and that He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection.117 However, Billy is not a seven year old boy anymore. He went on to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth and is now pastor of a small  fundamentalist church.

Gnostic Mike: I was just reading about the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 and had some questions. I was wondering if you could help me out?

Pastor Billy: I'm sure I can help. What are your questions?

Gnostic Mike: It seems clear that Paul delivers his gospel in a four part formula, right?

Pastor Billy: Well, there are four parts but only two are really the gospel and essential to believe.

Gnostic Mike: Really? I'm glad you're explaining this to me because I didn't get that from reading the text. Paul uses the same grammatical structure to introduce each of the four verbs in verses 3b-5.

Pastor Billy: Yes of course, but Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances are only proofs, you don't really have to believe them.

Gnostic Mike: I can see how they might be proofs of his death and resurrection, but why don't you have to believe them? After all, isn't Christ's resurrection a proof that He is God (cf. Acts 17:31; Rom. 1:4)? You still have to believe in Christ's resurrection, right?

Pastor Billy: Yes of course. But Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances are not saving events.

Gnostic Mike: Really? Didn't Paul include them in the words of salvation in his preaching in Acts 13:26-41? I understand that only Christ's death paid the full penalty for sin, but Christ's burial and appearances are included in the gospel. Isn't the gospel "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16)?

Pastor Billy: Well you see, the double occurrence of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 marks out the essentials of the gospel.

Gnostic Mike: Are you saying that Christ's burial and appearances aren't according to the Scriptures? 

Pastor Billy: Ummm. 

Gnostic Mike: And according to the Scriptures wasn't Christ's resurrection from the dead a resurrection from the grave (Isa. 53:9-10; Acts 13:29-30; 1 Cor. 15:4)? 

Pastor Billy: Hmmm.

Gnostic Mike: Wouldn't Paul be guilty of garbling the gospel by including non-saving truths in the saving message?

Pastor Billy: Actually, we just leave them out when we share the gospel so that clears things up.

Gnostic Mike: But Paul makes it clear that Christ's burial and appearances are included in the content of his gospel.

Pastor Billy: It takes much time and study to really understand the gospel message.

Gnostic Mike: I'm trying to understand. You're saying the gospel declares that Christ died for our sins - what about the phrase "according to the Scriptures," does a person have to believe that?

Pastor Billy: Well that's a proof too.

Gnostic Mike: So I don't have to believe it?

Pastor Billy: You have to believe what it proves.

Gnostic Mike: This is kind of confusing.

Pastor Billy: I'm glad I'm here to explain it to you.

Gnostic Mike: So I have to believe that Christ died for my sins but I don't have to believe that it was "according to the Scriptures" because that's just a proof. What if I believe Christ is a spirit?

Pastor Billy: Oh no, you have to believe Christ is human.

Gnostic Mike: Don't the facts of Christ's burial and appearances highlight His humanity? I mean, who ever heard of a spirit being buried?

Pastor Billy: Yes of course, but you don't have to believe them, you just have to believe Christ is human.

Gnostic Mike: But how will I believe Christ is human if I don't believe His body was buried or that He appeared to anyone?

Pastor Billy: Well, His death sets forth His humanity.

Gnostic Mike: But I'm a Gnostic. I believe Christ's death was only spiritual, not physical. And in the resurrection Christ's spirit was raised up, not His body. Immortality is conceived as escape from the body. I don't get it, you want me to believe Christ is human but you have removed His burial and resurrection appearances from the gospel. It doesn't make sense.

Pastor Billy: Here, I have some sermon tapes for you, why don't you listen to these.

Gnostic Mike: Thanks. I'm glad you're here to walk me through this. Otherwise I don't think I'd understand what you're saying. So let me see if I got it so far. I have to believe that Christ died for my sins, I don't have to believe the phrase "according to the Scriptures" because it's just a proof - although I can't believe it was according to some other holy book. And I don't have to believe that Christ was buried, but I have to believe He is human. How am I doing so far?

Pastor Billy: I think you're getting it.

Gnostic Mike: I hope I can remember all this! So the next part of the gospel I have to believe is that Christ was raised on the third day, right?

Pastor Billy: Well, we only require that you believe Christ rose from the dead.

Gnostic Mike: So if I believe Christ rose from the grave that's enough?

Pastor Billy: Oh no, you don't need to believe that Christ rose from the grave because that adds in His burial, you only need to believe that He rose from the dead.

Gnostic Mike: So all those people who believe Christ rose from the grave are adding to the gospel?

Pastor Billy: Well we try not to say that, they just don't understand the simplicity of the gospel message!

Gnostic Mike: It sounds kind of complicated to me.

Pastor Billy: Maybe you'd like to start coming to my church? I'm sure it would help clarify things for you.

Gnostic Mike: Are you saying I need your church to have it all make sense? That sounds kind of cultish.

Pastor Billy: I don't know why people always accuse us of being cultish...although we are the only doctrinally sound church in the city. But first things first. The important thing is that you get saved by believing my groundless gospel.

Gnostic Mike: That's what I'm trying to understand...so where were we? You were saying I have to believe Christ rose from the dead but not that He rose from the grave because that adds in His burial. So do I have to believe Christ rose from the dead on the third day? I mean, it says His resurrection on the third day is "according to the Scriptures," right?

Pastor Billy: Technically it does say that, but there are many passages throughout the New Testament which never mention the third day. We find that when a truth is mentioned frequently enough in the Bible it actually overrides another truth that's not mentioned quite as frequently. We like to tell people that an emphasis of one truth automatically means the exclusion of a related truth.

Gnostic Mike: I don't follow you on that one. But shouldn't this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 be considered "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)? I mean, shouldn't we understand 1 Corinthians 15 in its own context and then those other gospel passages in light of the most important one?

Pastor Billy: Don't take everything so literally. After all, 1 Corinthians 15 is only one passage so it can't really be considered that important. There are many other verses throughout the New Testament that never reference a third day resurrection.

Gnostic Mike: So if I understand you correctly you're saying that even though Christ's resurrection on the third day is said to be "according to the Scriptures," I only have to believe He rose from the dead but not that it was "on the third day," right?

Pastor Billy: Now you're getting it!

Gnostic Mike: Actually, the gospel didn't seem confusing until you started explaining it to me!

Pastor Billy: That's because you're not saved. Often God uses human instruments like myself to explain these deep truths of the gospel.

Gnostic Mike: I don't know what I would do without you pastor. I sure wouldn't be able to understand the gospel simply from reading my Bible!

Pastor Billy: But once you understand it's so simple! We can't let the textual nuances of 1 Corinthians 15 override our carefully engineered system of theology, which of course is based on a synthesis of arbitrarily selected Scriptures fitting an unspecified numerical profile and the conversion experiences of many Christians in the world today.

Gnostic Mike: It sounds like I have a lot to learn! So you don't mind if I review all this one more time? I just want to make sure I'm getting this.

Pastor Billy: Sure but I don't have much time. I'm writing another book explaining the gospel.

Gnostic Mike: Okay...I'll try to make it quick. So you're saying I have to believe that Christ died for my sins - but now here I have another question. If Christ's resurrection on the third day is said to be "according to the Scriptures" but I don't have to believe that part about "the third day", why can't I simply believe that Christ died? I mean, I don't really have to believe the "for my sins" part, do I? I can just cut that out too, right?

Pastor Billy: The gospel isn't always consistent or clear like it may seem at first glance. You don't have to believe that Christ rose "on the third day"118 but you do have to believe that He died "for our sins". I know it sounds complicated but this is only the first time someone like myself has explained it to you.

Gnostic Mike: Yeah, I think I understand. It's still confusing me a bit though.

Pastor Billy: You're moving in the right direction. We can't take the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 so literally. Such an interpretation is too rigid and wooden. I mean honestly, who ever preaches that Christ "appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5)?!

Gnostic Mike: But didn't Paul preach it (1 Cor. 15:1)?

Pastor Billy: Well, Paul may have preached it, but only to the Corinthians in reference to the specific issues at that church.

Gnostic Mike: But doesn't Paul say that all the other apostles preached the same gospel message (1 Cor. 15:11)?

Pastor Billy: Let's not squabble over details. You'll just have to read my book. Actually, I carry extra copies of it with me for times like these. Here, why don't you take one?

Gnostic Mike: Actually I was wondering if I could just get a Bible? Mine's falling apart.

Pastor Billy: Oh, uh, I have one back at the church if you visit on Sunday. But let's not get sidetracked. Does what I've been explaining to you make sense?

Gnostic Mike: Well, not really. I'll have to go home and listen to your sermon tapes and look over your book. Your gospel is confusing me a bit.

Pastor Billy: Call me if you have any more questions. God's Word isn't always as clear as it seems. But once you understand it's so simple!

This story serves to illustrate the real tragedy of the groundless gospel. We simply cannot improve on the gospel, but we can detract from it by clouding it's clarity with human viewpoint and distorting it's message with reductionist reasonings. This is a serious error when it comes to evangelism because the unsaved have no grid other than their darkened minds to interpret our message of life. Let's encourage one another to proclaim the gospel clearly so that it can truly be dynamite for Christ!

The Curse of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

The groundless gospel dishonors Christ by removing His burial from the gospel message and the required content of saving faith. "In contemplating this tremendous tragedy, thoughtful Christians cannot help sympathizing with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb [i.e., gospel], and we do not know where they have laid Him' (John 20:2)."119 According to Stegall, Christ's burial is not part of the gospel and therefore the lost can be saved without knowing or believing it.120 In fact, the groundless gospel position is even more extreme, for as one proponent states: "In terms of salvation, there is no distinction between not believing and denying."121 Thus, the groundless gospel position holds that the lost can consciously deny Christ's burial and still go to heaven. This is a tragedy because in the Bible, to refuse a person burial is tantamount to damning them to Hell! Joe Haag writes: "To allow a body to decay or be desecrated above the ground was highly dishonorable (1 Kings 14:10-14; 2 Kings 9:34-37), and any corpse found by the wayside was required to be buried (2 Sam. 21:10-14).122 Calmet affirms: "The Hebrews were, at all times, very careful in the bural of their dead; to be deprived of burial, was thought one of the greatest dishonors, or causes of unhappiness, that could befall any man; (Eccl. vi.3.)...and the souls of such persons were believed to be plunged into hell."123 The gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 gives no such dishonor to Christ, for the apostle Paul makes it clear "that He was buried" (1 Cor. 15:4). This gospel truth is a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which speaks of giving a man an honorable burial: "And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance." As this passage and others point out, Christ was cursed once through His death on the cross (Deut. 21:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13; cf. Heb. 10:10). But the groundless gospel curses Christ again by denying His burial in the gospel and in the required content of saving faith.

The Choice of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15

It has been said that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 "beats the heart of the Gospel with a simple and confident rhythm."124 The passage is where the power of God unto salvation is found (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:17-18). It is where the arm of the Lord is revealed (Isa. 53:1; cf. Rom. 10:16, NKJV). Hence, Stegall's partial gospel is not only groundless, but also powerless. It must be remembered that a subtle change is often more dangerous than one that is more obvious. John Ashbrook has said: "The most dangerous deviation is the one closest to your own position."125 The apostle Paul warns of the subtle danger of a slightly changed gospel when he pleads: "Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly - and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus [like the non-buried and never-seen savior] whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel [like the groundless gospel] which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it!" (2 Cor. 11:1-4, NKJV, italics added).

The basic content of the gospel must not be changed or altered because every part of it is said to be "of first importance" in matters of salvation (1 Cor. 15:3). Someone has wisely said: "We are dependent on the doctrinal statements and facts in the gospel for true views and correct impressions of the divine character. The names, doctrinal statements, and facts in the gospel must be preserved in their order and connection, and perceived, if we would know the truth...If we cannot think anything true or right without the word of God in religion, when we leave that word, or change or alter the connection in the statements, or alter the terms with their associations in it, our thoughts in religion are wrong. God's Word is truth."126 No wonder the apostle Paul urges Christians to "hold fast the word [i.e. the gospel] which I preached to you" (1 Cor. 15:2; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14-15). The words of William R. Newell are fitting: "This story of Christ's dying for our sins, buried, raised, manifested, is the great wire along which runs God's mighty current of saving power. Beware lest you be putting up some little wire of your own, unconnected with the Divine throne, and therefore non-saving to those to whom you speak."127

A lost and dying world doesn't need some new pop-theology, a sound-byte gospel, or a more user-friendly message, but instead needs to hear and believe the old, old story of Jesus and His love (Rom. 5:8). The Jesus of Paul's gospel is not the non-buried and never-seen savior of the groundless gospel. Instead, the Jesus of Paul's gospel is the One who rose victoriously from the grave and appeared to His disciples. Augustine affirms: "What have we got in the gospel? That Christ rose again in the same body as was buried; that he was seen, that he was touched and handled, that to the disciples who thought he was a spirit he said, Feel and see, that a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you can see that I have (Lk 24:39). What does the apostle [Paul] oppose to this?"128 In Acts 13 the apostle Paul, after preaching "the word of this salvation" (Acts 13:26) concerning Christ's death (v. 28), burial "in a tomb" (v. 29), resurrection "from the dead" (v. 30), and appearances to His disciples (v. 31) solemnly warns his audience against unbelief by saying: "Take heed therefore, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: 'Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you" (Acts 13:40-41).

Dear reader, you must decide which gospel you will proclaim. A choice must be made, for as Billy Graham has said, no decision is a decision. The inspired and glorious gospel message declared by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 "was good enough for the Holy Spirit, is it not good enough for you? I exhort you. Do not let your pride ('I've taught that cliche in the past') or your emotions ('I've prayed this with my kids') or your religious traditions ('our church has always said that') get in the way of truth and biblical accuracy on the most important issue that anyone must address. I appeal to you to do away with these 'sacred cows' [cf. Ex. 32:8] of modern evangelicalism, and let us return to the authoritative Word of God to embrace what the Lord says about our eternal salvation."129


ENDNOTES:

1 J. B. Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong [Xulon Press, 2008], 84, 89, 92, 99, 100, 104, 110, 145, 205, 229, 237, 242, 258, 285, 347, etc.

2 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ [Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009], 17.

3 And believed by the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:1-2, 11).

4 G. Michael Cocoris, JOHN MacARTHUR, JR.'S SYSTEM OF SALVATION, An Evaluation of the Book, The Gospel According to Jesus, unpublished ms., 29.

5 Dennis Rokser, Seven Key Questions About Water Baptism, 5.

6 James D. G. Dunn, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, 959.

7 S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commenatary, 1255. Even Dennis Rokser recognizes S. Lewis Johnson's scholarship on the gospel. In the self published pamphlet Let's Preach The Gospel Rokser appeals to Johnson as an authority on the gospel of salvation in 1 Corinthians 15 (Rokser, Let's Preach The Gospel, 22).

8 S. Lewis Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul Preached," Bibliotheca Sacra 128 [October 1971]: 330.

9 William R. Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse, 5-6, 18-21. Somewhat ironically, Stegall states that Newell's book is a "fine commentary on Romans" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 561, note 61). But one is baffled at how Stegall can describe Newell's book in such glowing terms in light of the two men's divergent positions on the gospel. To be consistent, Stegall should be warning readers about the tragedy of Newell's glorious gospel!

10 Bob Wilkin, Review of J. B. Hixson's Getting the Gospel Wrong, 22.

11 Ibid., 20.

12 Ibid., 22.

13 David Alan Black, It's Still Greek To Me, 144.

14 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, 678.

15 John Niemela, "For You Have Kept My Word: The Grammar of Revelation 3:10," Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6 (January 2000): 29-30.

16 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 532.

17 Ibid., 393-394.

18 William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 41.

19 J. Grescham Machen, New Testament Greek For Beginners, 208.

20 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, 1027.

21 Alfred Marshall, New Testament Greek Primer, 115-116.

22 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1189.

23 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 569.

24 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, 4 Vols., 3:549. Tom Stegall contends that Norman Geisler "sees only Christ's death and resurrection as forming the contents of saving faith in 1 Corinthians 15 rather than the burial and appearances" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 558). However, Stegall's statement is inaccurate and misleading. My friend Dr. Liam Moran and I recently had the opportunity to meet Norman Geisler and get his thoughts on the groundless gospel. We had heard from a mutual friend at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that Dr. Geisler was to speak at Fellowship Bible Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin on the night of November 2, 2008. When we arrived and entered the sanctuary I noticed Dr. Geisler talking with a small cluster of people at the front of the church. Shortly thereafter he walked over, shook our hands, and gave us his business card! After the service a group of us stood around Dr. Geisler asking him questions. Liam began to explain how a pastor in the Milwaukee area had recently removed Christ's burial from his church's doctrinal statement on the gospel. Dr. Geisler listened intently and began shaking his head in disagreement. Geisler made it very clear to us that if the lost deny Christ's burial and appearances they will not be saved! (On this point I queried Dr. Geisler several times to make sure I understood him correctly.) Geisler also affirmed that Christ's burial and appearances are implied in statements about His death and resurrection. So in contrast to Stegall who understands Christ's burial and appearances as exclusively Christian "growth truth" (Ibid., 589), Geisler affirms that Christ's burial and appearances are an essential part of the gospel message that cannot be denied by the lost. Geisler's written statements are consistent with his spoken statements. He writes: "What we're really asking is this: How much knowledge of His plan of salvation does God require of us in this present age as a condition for our receiving His gift of salvation? The answer, as the above verses [i.e. Rom. 1:16, 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:1-6] indicate, appears to include explicit knowledge of the gospel. As spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6." (Geisler, Systematic Theology, 4 Vols., 3:416.) Elsewhere Geisler writes: "Jesus' Burial Was According to the Gospel. Paul used Jesus' burial as part of the Gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15. Burial is an essential part of the 'gospel' since Paul defined the 'gospel as involving death, burial, and resurrection appearances. Burial is the seal of death and resurrection is proof that death is not final (cf. Rom. 4:25; 2 Tim. 1:10). Hence, burial is a significant symbol since it portrays a crucial part of the gospel." (Norman Geisler and Douglas E. Potter, "Christian Burial: A Case for Burial," http://www.equip.org/articles/christian-burial (accessed July 22, 2009). In light of these specific statements by Geisler there can be no doubt that he disagrees with Stegall's groundless gospel. This makes one wonder: if Stegall has misrepresented Norman Geiser, how many other scholars has Stegall misrepresented in his attempt to justify the groundless gospel?

25 Herbert Lockyer, All the Books and Chapters of the Bible, 259-260.

26 Zane Hodges and Art Farstad, The Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text, 539.

27 F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 351.

28 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 129.

29 R. J. Sider, "St. Paul's Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians XV 1-19," Novum Testamentum 19 (April 1977): 132-134.

30 Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 251, 257.

31 Werger Georg Kummel, The Theology Of The New Testament, 98.

32 James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, 334.

33 F. Godet, Commentary On The First Epistle To The Corinthians, 2 Vols., 2:334.

34 Hans Dieter Betz, Adela Yarbo Collins, Margaret Mary Mitchell, Antiquity and Humanity: Essays on Ancient Religion, 125.

35 Darrell Bock, The Bible Knowledge Word Study: Acts - Ephesians, 310-311.

36 George Eldon Ladd, Donald A. Hagner, A Theology of the New Testament, 427.

37 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 560, 566, italics added.

38 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 125.

39 Dennis Rokser, Seven Reasons NOT To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart, 36-37.

40 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, 1182.

41 John Niemela, "For You Have Kept My Word: The Grammar of Revelation 3:10," Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6 (January 2000): 29-30.

42 James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, 334.

43 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 129.

44 John Kloppenborg, An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Formula in 1 Cor 15:3b-5 in Light of Some Recent Literature, 351, 352, 358, 360.

45 Matt Myllykoski; Ismo Dundererg, Christopher Tuckett, and Kari Syreeni, Ed., Fair Play: Diversity and Conflicts in Early Christianity, 66.

46 Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul's Letter to the Romans, 23.

47 Tom Stegall, "The Tragedy Of The Crossless Gospel," Grace Family Journal (Special Edition, 2007): 27; cf. Dennis Rokser, 7 Key Questions about Water Baptism, 23.

48 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1203-1204.

49 Robert Lightner, Sin, The Savior, And Salvation, 129.

50 Robert Price, Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation, 4.

51 A. B. Luter, Jr., A. Scott Moreau, Harold A. Netland, Charles Edward Van Engen, David Burnett, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, 454.

52 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and Spirit, 125.

53 Reginald Fuller, The Formation Of The Resurrection Narratives, 35.

54 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1198, 1202.

55 Arno C. Gaebelein, Gaebelein's Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible, 465.

56 Herbert Lockyer, All The Books And Chapters Of The Bible, 173.

57 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 560-561.

58 J. B. Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong, 79.

59 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 667.

60 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, 1181-11822.

61 Ibid., 1034.

62 Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, 17.

63 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 117.

64 F. F. Bruce, 1 And 2 Corinthians, 138. Elsewhere Bruce writes: "Paul uses ['delivered'] and ['received'] of himself according to the usual terminology of transmission - receiving (from predecessors) and delivering (to successors)...[in 1 Corinthians] 15:3 (with regard to the saving events of Christ's death, burial, resurrection and subsequent appearances)". (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, 88.)

65 A. T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, online edition, note on 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, 5.

66 R. J. Sider, "St. Paul's Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians XV 1-19," 134-135.

67 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 338.

68 Gerhard Delling, The Significance of the Message of the Resurrection for Faith in Jesus Christ, 80-81.

69 Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 14, 16.

70 William Lane Craig, The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus, 61.

71 William Lane Craig, Jesus Under Fire, 147.

72 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 359.

73 R. Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas, In Defense of Miracles, 248.

74 Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, 83.

75 Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, 284.

76 Antonio da Rosa, Unashamed of Grace blog, "Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3ff/the Pauline Gospel," http://unashamedofgrace.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.html (accessed June 4, 2008).

77 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 581.

78 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 667, note 2.

79 Ibid., 678.

80 Ibid., 668.

81 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 585.

82 Steve Crouch, One Eternal Day blog, "Things that can never be compromised," http://www.one-eternal-day.com/2007/03/things-that-can-never-be-compromised.html (accessed August 6, 2008).

83 Tom Stegall, "Proposed Change" church handout (circa 2007). Stegall's shift away from the truth of the gospel is a matter of documentation. In 2007 he proposed a change in the Word of Grace Bible Church constitution to rid the church's doctrinal statement of explicit belief in Christ's burial as a condition for salvation. After some 2,000 years of church history, Stegall has made "several slight changes" to the gospel! (Ibid.) Truly, it "seems there is no such thing as 'steady-state theology' in the Free Grace movement these days." (Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 2," The Grace Family Journal [Summer 2007]: 12.) The Word of Grace Bible Church doctrinal statement originally read as follows: "We believe the only correct response to the Gospel of grace which saved a soul from Hell is faith alone in Christ alone, whereby the lost sinner believes that Jesus Christ died for all his sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead (Jn. 1:12; 3:15-18, 5:24, 6:32-40, 8:24; Acts 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 17)." (original Word of Grace Bible Church doctrinal statement, "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION", circa 2004, bold added.) After all the deacons who helped draft the original doctrinal statement either left the church, resigned or passed away, Stegall proposed to change the wording and redefine the gospel. Stegall's proposed change was approved by the church congregation - although not without misgivings on the part of the congregation. I talked to one former deacon of the church who helped draft the original doctrinal statement and listened as he voiced his misgivings. As we sat in his study he made it clear that he didn't agree with Stegall's new groundless interpretation of the gospel, but generally held to the position of Lewis Sperry Chafer instead (cf. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., 7:63). He related how he had attempted to discuss the issue with Stegall and had even written him a letter. Unfortunately, Stegall refused to repent or even dialogue about his own "repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:25). The deacon told me that the unresolved burial issue was the reason why he finally left the church. He was amazed because Tom always said he was so right on the gospel and then he changed it! He said that Tom had no authority to cut Christ's burial out of the gospel. This incident is just one example of the real tragedy of the groundless gospel. Notice how in the new edition of the Word of Grace Bible Church doctrinal statement Stegall has removed the fact of Christ's burial from the sole condition for salvation so that the statement now reads: "We believe the only correct response toward God which saves a sould from Hell is faith alone in Christ alone, whereby a lost sinner believes the gospel, that as 'the Christ, the Son of God,' Jesus is God-incarnate who died for all our sins and rose from the dead to provide salvation by grace through faith in Him (Jn. 3:13-18, 5:24, 6:32-53, 8:24, 28, 20:30-31; Acts 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 1:17-21, 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Th. 1:6-10)." Stegall contends that the original doctrinal statement only "seemed to indicate" that Christ's burial was absolutely essential for someone to believe in order to go to heaven (Stegall, "Proposed Change" church handout, italics added). However, Stegall's double-talk is seen to be intellectually dishonest in light of the fact that some of the old Word of Grace Bible Church gospel tracts assign the same salvific value to Christ's burial in the gospel! Ironically, these church gospel tracts read as follows, and I quote: "What is 'the Gospel'? GOSPEL = 'GOOD NEWS' For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 The resurrection of Jesus Christ means: 1. Jesus Christ had no sin of His own 2. Our sin debt was paid forever to the satisfaction of God the Father. 3. Our Savior lives! Believe the Gospel and eternal life is yours today! Word of Grace Bible Church (414) 321-8880 www.wogbc.org" (Christ Has Bridged the Gulf tract, bold his). It is truly a tragedy that Stegall has now abandoned Christ's burial in the gospel of salvation. And although Stegall still claims to use these tracts in evangelism, this simply highlights the incongruity inherent in the groundless gospel because Stegall is including supposedly non-saving truth (i.e. Christ's burial) in his saving message! Regarding this, Stegall acknowledges that "it is quite common for Christians to reference 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and then state that the gospel is the message that 'Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.'...since the burial happens to fall in-between these two pillars [i.e. Christ's death and resurrection], it gets included each time this passage is quoted...I myself routinely quote it this way" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 559). But Dennis Rokser points out the truth "that THERE IS NO INCONGRUITY BETWEEN THE GOSPEL that was PREACHED by Paul and THE GOSPEL which was BELIEVED by the Corinthians! There was no MAXIMUM preached and MINIMUM believed!" (Rokser, "The Issue of Incongruity - Actual or Artificial? Pt. 2," In Defense of the Gospel blog, http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2008/05/issue-of-incongruity-actual-or_08.html [accessed December 20, 2009], emphasis his.) Groundless gospel advocates admit to preaching the maximum consisting at least of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but require something less than this to be believed. Stegall's new mini-gospel is truly an issue of incongruity that requires either semantical gymnastics or a lack of personal integrity to maintain. In a twist of irony, Stegall's own words once again bear witness against him when he declares: "Thus, it is my contention that there has been an intentional doctrinal shift in the last decade or so - a radical change for the worse." (Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal [Spring 2007]: 7.)

84 Rollin T. Chafer, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Ed., Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., 7:205.

85 Bob Wilkin, A REVIEW OF J. B. HIXSON'S GETTING THE GOSPEL WRONG: THE EVANGELICAL CRISIS NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring 2008): 22.

86 Ibid., 24.

87 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 588, bold added.

88 Ibid., 588.

89 Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 3," The Grace Family Journal (Fall 2007): 8, bold added.

90 Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 93. Contrary to what groundless gospel advocates would have us believe (cf. Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 556-559), respected theologians like Norman Geisler and Charles Ryrie affirm that Christ's burial is an essential part of the gospel that is implied, not denied, in statements about His death and resurrection. Since the position of Norman Geisler in relation to the groundless gospel has already been discussed (see footnote 24), let us move on to consider the position of Charles Ryrie in this regard. In his book So Great Salvation Ryrie indicates that Christ's burial is an essential fact of the gospel. He writes: "Facts are essential. In describing the Gospel he preached, Paul said it was '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 (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). These historical and doctrinal facts are 'of first importance,' for without them there is no Gospel." (Ryrie, So Great Salvation, [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989], 30.) Stegall contends that Ryrie mentions Christ's burial not because it is essential to believe, but simply because it happens to fall in between Christ's death and resurrection. But if Stegall is correct one would have expected Ryrie to omit the fact of Christ's burial using ellipses just as he does a few pages earlier when quoting the same passage (cf. Ryrie, SGS, 26)! Instead, Ryrie specifically includes Christ's burial in "the Gospel". There is no other way to honestly understand Ryrie's statement without twisting the meaning of his words. Ryrie is not describing more than the gospel as Stegall contends, but only "the Gospel". It is not surprising that in his book Stegall never mentions this statement by Ryrie! Similarly, in response to the question: "WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?" Ryrie promptly quotes 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 noting Christ's burial and appearances (Ryrie, SGS, 35-36). Clearly, Ryrie has not denied Christ's burial or appearances in the gospel! Stegall believes that Ryrie does, in fact, deny Christ's burial in the gospel and he uses the following statement as proof. Ryrie writes: "But Paul wrote clearly that the Gospel that saves is believing that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. This is the complete Gospel, and if so, then it is also the true full Gospel and the true whole Gospel. Nothing else is needed for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life" (Ryrie, SGS, 40). However, Stegall understands Ryrie's statement quite out of context. In context, Ryrie is discussing "the 'full Gospel' which included experiencing certain ministries of the Holy Spirit" and "the redemption of society" (Ryrie, SGS, 39-40).  Hence, when Ryrie states that "Nothing else is needed for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life," he is speaking with reference to "experienceing certain ministries of the Holy Spirit," not somehow excluding Christ's burial or appearances! Indeed, Ryrie specifically includes Christ's burial and appearances in what he calls the "twofold emphasis" or the "twofold content" of the gospel: "He died and was buried; He rose and was seen." (Ryrie, Basic Theology, [Chicago: Moody Press, 1999], 308; cf. Ryrie, SGS, 39.) Here Ryrie affirms that the "twofold emphasis"/"twofold content" of the gospel includes the four facts of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances. Thus, when Ryrie goes on to say: "Paul wrote of that same twofold emphasis in Romans 4:25: He was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification" - Christ's burial and appearances are implied, not denied (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 308). Stegall argues that Ryrie denies these truths in the gospel  because Ryrie also says: "He died and He lives - this is the content of the Gospel." (Ryrie, SGS, 39.) But even Stegall believes that the gospel has more content than that! Ryrie's statement makes no mention of Christ or His substitutionary death - all essential elements of the gospel even according to Stegall (cf. Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal [Spring 2007]: 9; Stegall, The Gospel Of The  Christ, 17). Stegall must admit that these elements are implied in Ryrie's statement, which is the very point I'm making in regards to Christ's burial and appearances! In light of Ryrie's position that Christ's burial and appearances prove His death and resurrection, the words of Ray Pritchard are appropriate: "Notice how clearly [Paul] lays out the gospel message [in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5]: A) He was crucified B) He was buried C) He was raised on the third day D) He appeared. Or you might look at it in two parts: 1. He was crucified. Proof: He was buried. 2. He was raised. Proof: He was seen. Either way the result is the same. Paul regarded the burial of Jesus as an essential part of the gospel message. When he preached the gospel, he included the burial of Jesus in his message." (Ray Pritchard, "God's Scapegoat: 'Buried'", Keep Believing Ministries blog, http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/204-03-28-Gods-Scapegoat-Buried/ [accessed December 21, 2009], bold added.) In regards to Pritchard's statement, groundless gospel advocates reason that Christ's burial and appearances are subordinate facts because they prove His death and resurrection. However, simply because one fact functions to prove another does not mean it is somehow subordinate, much less excluded from the gospel! For example, consider that Christ's resurrection is a proof that He is God (Acts 17:31; Rom. 1:4). Is the resurrection of Christ now a subordinate fact of the gospel because it is a proof or evidence of His deity? Of course not. Such reasoning is groundless. While Tom Stegall and other groundless gospel advocates have denied Christ's burial and appearances in the gospel and in statements about His death and resurrection, respected theologians like Norman Geisler and Charles Ryrie do not go to such erroneous extremes. Instead they correctly understand Christ's burial and appearances to be included in the gospel and implied in statements about His death and resurrection. Thus, in a tragic example of a theological method gone awry, Tom Stegall has gone too far (adapted from J. B. Hixson's Getting the Gospel Wrong, 153).

91 S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1255.

92 James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, 332.

93 Norman Geisler, "The Significance of Christ's Physical Resurrection," Bibliotheca Sacra 146 (April 1989): 148, 169.

94 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1202.

95 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 589.

96 Tom Stegall, "Proposed Change" church handout (circa 2007).

97 Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2007): 9.

98 Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 4," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2007): 3.

99 Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 724.

100 Joe Hewitt, I Was Raised a Jehovah's Witness, 173.

101 Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection, 89.

102 Kenneth Boa, Robert M. Bowman, Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Sense and Nonesense about Heaven and Hell, 73.

103 Robert Lowry, B. D. Ackley, Ed., Church Service Hymns, 386. Stegall correctly points out that "we must be careful not to let our hymnology determine our theology" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 587). But Stegall's reasoning is truncated and leaves much unsaid, for it begs the question: from where do we get our theology? In this regard it is what Stegall doesn't say that is troubling, for we must get our theology from exegesis, not experience. Charles Ryrie remarks: "Biblical Theology stands in the closest connection to exegesis, for it builds directly upon it." (Ryrie, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, 16.) Stegall doesn't say this because his groundless gospel is not based on a cogent analysis of 1 Corinthians 15 and does not do justice to the peculiar exegetical features of the passage, but instead is based largely on the supposed conversion experiences "of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today"! (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 566.)

104 Edwards A. Park and Samuel H. Taylor, Ed., "Dr. J. A. Alexander's Commentaries," Bibliotheca Sacra and Biblical Repository 16 (April 1859): 459.

105 Wayne Jackson, "The 'Burial' of Christ's Body," http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1240-the-burial-of-christs-body (accessed July 5, 2008).

106 Dennis Rokser, The Doctrinal Statement of Duluth Bible Church, 3.

107 Larry Moyer, Free and Clear, 39.

108 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., 5:243, italics added.

109 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 578, 580.

110 Dennis Rokser, Let's Preach The Gospel, 33.

111 Richard Longenecker, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 12 Vols., 9:425-426.

112 The verb "was raised" (egegertai, 1 Cor. 15:4) is in the perfect tense, emphasizing abiding results. There is general agreement on this grammatical point among theologians and even Dennis Rokser affirms: "The phrase "He rose again" (egegertai) is a perfect tense verb indicating past completed action with abiding present results. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day and He remains alive to this very day. He is a living Savior who got out of death, Hell and the grave alive! (Rokser, Let's Preach The Gospel, 33; cf. S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1255; W. Harold Mare, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 10:282; A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In Light Of Historical Research, 896; Earl Radmacher, The Nelson Study Bible, 1937; Tom Stegall, "The Tragedy Of The Crossless Gospel," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2007]: 33). Norman H. Camp declares the gospel truth when he writes that "the body of Jesus was raised from the grave, never to die again." (Norman Camp, The Resurrection of the Human Body, 28.)

113 David Garland, 1 Corinthians, 684.

114 There is general agreement among Greek grammarians as to the meaning of the term believe (pisteuo). In his Greek-English lexicon Walter Bauer affirms: "believe (in), trust of relig. belief in a special sense, as faith in the Divinity that lays special emphasis on trust in his power and his nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that he exists and that his revelations or disclosures are true." (Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 661.) In the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown gives a similar understanding of believe (pisteuo): "The trusting acceptance and recognition of what God has done and promised in [Christ]." (Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 4 Vols. 1:588.) Likewise, W. E. Vine writes: "pisteuo...'to believe,' also 'to be persuaded of,' and hence, 'to place confidence in, to trust,' signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence." (W. E. Vine, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, 61.) Lewis Sperry Chafer, quoting the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia affirms the following concerning faith (which is but a synonym for the verb believe): "In conclusion, without trespassing on the ground of other articles, we call the reader's attention, for his Scriptural studies, to the central place of faith in Christianity, and its significance. As being, in its true idea, a reliance as simple as possible upon the word, power, love, of Another, it is precisely that which, on man's side, adjusts him to the living and merciful presence and action [i.e. person and work] of a trusted God. In its nature, not by any mere arbitrary arrangement, it is his one possible receptive attitude, that in which he brings nothing, so that he may receive all." (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4 Vols. 4:148.) By definition belief is consistent with "grace" (1 Cor. 15:10-11). Thus it is clear that belief relies upon another, it trusts something as true, it eliminates obedience, it excludes good works, it narrows the door.

115 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 559.

116 Dennis Rokser, "The Issue of Incongruity - Actual or Artificial? Pt. 2," In Defense of the Gospel blog, http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2008/05/issue-of-incongruity-actual-or_08.html (accessed December 20, 2009), emphasis his.

117 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 561-562.

118 In Stegall's list of what he believes to be the five "essential, defining elements of the Gospel," any mention of "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) is noticeably absent. (Stegall, THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal [Spring 2007]: 9.) Far from being an accidental oversight, this omission is entirely purposeful. In his new book Stegall makes it clear that the reference to the third day is not, in his opinion, an essential point of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 559.) In contrast to Stegall's partial gospel, Everett F. Harrison highlights the Biblical truth when he writes: "This much is clear from the whole discussion, that Jesus, both in His predications [cf. Jn. 2:19; Matt. 12:38-41, etc.], and in His teaching following the resurrection [Lk. 24:46-48], laid great stress upon the time element, and the early church sought to impress the same thing in its witness (Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4)." (Everett F. Harrison, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Ed., Systematic Theology, 8 Vols. 5:241.) William Lane Craig concludes: "the 'third day' motif [was] prominent in the earliest Christian preaching, as it is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5." (William Lane Craig, Jesus Under Fire, 150.) It is clear that Stegall's reductionist reasonings are flawed even according to his own standards because although the mention of "the third day" in 1 Corinthians 15:4 is said to be "according to the Scriptures" - a phrase which supposedly deciphers the essential elements of the partial gospel - Stegall still omits the third day time element from his gospel! Ironically, Stegall's own words bear witness against him when he writes: "This is a transparent example of doctrinally-driven exegesis, of doctrine being imposed upon Scripture rather than derived from Scripture." (Tom Stegall, THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 3," The Grace Family Journal [Fall 2007]: 4-5.)

119 Tom Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 4," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2007): 11.

120 Tom Stegall, "Proposed Change" church handout (circa 2007).

121 Greg Schliesmann, "Zane Hodges, 'Legalism is Not a Very Nice Word.' (Part 1)" http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2008/10/zane-hodges-legalism-is-not-very-nice.html (accessed November 3, 2008).

122 Joe Haag, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 243.

123 Augustin Calmet, Calmet's Dictionary Of The Holy Bible, 214.

124 E. Glen Hinson, "Christian Teaching in the Early Church," Review and Expositor, Vol. 99 (Summer 2002): 383.

125 John Ashbrook, Axioms of Separation, 27.

126 Alexander Campbell, D. S. Burnet, "Christian Union," The Christian Baptist, Vol. 1-7 (1835): 163.

127 William R. Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse, 18-21.

128 Augustine, Edmund Hill, John E. Rotelle, Augustinian Heritage Institute, The Works of Saint Augustine, 250.

129 Duluth Bible Church, "Wrong Responses To The Gospel," http://www.duluthbible.org/164066.ihtml (accessed May 4, 2008).