Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Deceiver Savior of the Groundless Gospel

    Does it really matter if Jesus rose from the dead on the third day or not? Is this detail of the third day really part of the Gospel? What if a person believes that Jesus was raised to life on the 666th day after His death and burial, instead of "on the third day" as the Scriptures make clear (see 1 Corinthians 15:4) - is that person saved?
     Turn in your Bibles if you would to Matthew 12:38-42. In this passage, some of the Pharisees and religious leaders ask Jesus for a sign. In response to them, Jesus declared: "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented [i.e. they "believed," see Jonah 3:5] at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:39-41) Here  in this passage of Scripture, Jesus speaks about "the sign of Jonah the prophet" (Matt. 12:39). What is the sign of Jonah the prophet and what does it have to do with the Gospel?
     One groundless gospel advocate named Tom Stegall has written that the sign of Jonah the prophet is merely a "circumstantial detail".[1] However, in contrast to what Stegall has said, notice that Jesus singled out this sign as one of first importance. When Jesus says "the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matt. 12:39, NLT), Jesus is indicating that He didn't think the sign of Jonah the prophet was merely a "circumstantial detail" but instead that it was a sign of top priority!
     What does the sign of Jonah the prophet signify? What does it point to? Theologian and Bible scholar Merrill C. Tenney writes: "Aside from the fact that Jonah's obedience was reluctant, whereas Christ's was voluntary, there is a strong parallel between the two. Both were sacrificed for the safety of others; both were three days in darkness; and both were restored to a broader and more effective work for God by a miracle which confirmed their divine commission. Jesus Himself made the application of the analogy and stressed the chronological element (Matt. 12:39, 40)."[2] Tenney goes on to say: "In replying to the Pharisees' request for a 'sign' ([Matt.] 12:39, 40), Jesus likened Himself to Jonah, who returned to life after three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish."[3]  The words of Free Grace theologian Roy B. Zuck are appropriate when he says: "Jonah's three days and three nights in the fish's stomach illustrates Christ's burial."[4] Even Stegall acknowledges (and is correct to say) that by this sign "God prophetically and typologically ordained that Christ should be in the tomb for 'three days and three nights' (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63)".[5] And so Jesus is predicting that like Jonah, He will return to life after being buried in a tomb for three days.
     Some may wonder what the phrase "three days and three nights" in Matthew 12:40 is all about? The phrase "three days and three nights" was simply a common Jewish idiom or expression meaning any part of three days, not necessarily a full 72 hour period of time.[6] This fits perfectly with what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Christ was raised "on the third day according to the Scriptures". And so we see that Jesus' words in Matthew 12:40 were fulfilled in His resurrection from the grave "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4).
    Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:4 also help to clarify a possible misunderstanding about saving faith. No one is the Free Grace gospel debate is saying that a lost person has to believe in the story of Jonah to be saved! The sign of Jonah was particularly for the Jews. Paul himself makes it clear that "Jews require signs, and Greeks seek for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:22). In the Gospels, when the Lord Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah the prophet, He was speaking to the unbelieving Jews of His day ("this generation," Matt. 12:41). Jesus was giving the sign to the Jews. However, Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). And on another occasion Jesus said the Pharisees, "You study the Scriptures diligently because in them you think you have eternal life, but these are they which testify about Me" (Jn. 5:39). The resurrection of Christ on the third day is a fulfillment of the Scriptures. As Paul says, "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). The fulfillment of the Scriptures is found in the person and work of Christ. This is what Paul preached and this is what must be believed for salvation (see 1 Cor. 15:1-5).
     Besides minimizing the significance of the sign of Jonah the prophet (which points to the resurrection of Christ on the third day according to the Scriptures), Stegall goes on to say "that a person is saved"[7] even though he "is vociferously denying the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Christ's resurrection occurred on 'the third day.'"[8] But is this really what the Scriptures teach?
     When we examine the Scriptures we notice that in contrast to what Stegall has written,  the apostle Paul says that Christ's resurrection "on the third day" is actually an important truth in the Gospel by which people are saved (1 Cor. 15:1-5).[9] Christian apologist William Lane Craig affirms: "the 'third day' motif [was] prominent in the earliest Christian preaching, as it is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5."[10] Free Grace theologian Everett F. Harrison writes: "This much is clear from the whole discussion, that Jesus, both in His predictions [Matt. 12:38-41; Jn. 2:19-21, etc.], and in His teaching following the resurrection [Lk. 24:46-48], laid great stress upon the time element [of the third day], and the early church sought to impress the same thing in its witness (Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4)."[11] Similarly, Merrill C. Tenney writes: "Jesus stressed the detail that He would rise from the dead on the third day (John 2:19; Matt. 12:40, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, and parallels). One of these, 'he must . . . the third day be raised up' (Matt. 16:21), implies that the prescribed interval of time was not accidental. According to Jesus' subsequent explanation to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:46) and the apostolic preaching (Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4) the three-day period was prophesied in the Scriptures."[12] It's no wonder then that the mention of the third day has been included in every major creed of the church including the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed.[13] Merrill C. Tenney concurs saying: "The affirmation that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day, and that consequently all believers will rise when He appears, is written into the major Christian creeds. It has been the faith of martyrs and missionaries and is the core of evangelical preaching."[14] W. H. Griffith Thomas highlights the gospel truth when he says that 1 Corinthians 15:3ff "includes one small but significant statement which at once recalls a very definite feature of the Gospel tradition - the mention of 'the third day.'"[15] The bottom line is that Christ's resurrection on the third day is part of the saving gospel (1 Cor. 15:4). And if the apostle Paul said it's something "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3) in the saving Gospel, who is Stegall - or anyone for that matter (Gal. 1:8-9) - to say otherwise?
     Notice how Stegall goes on to cast doubt on God's Word when he says: "Though God prophetically and typologically ordained that Christ should be in the tomb for 'three days and three nights' (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63), would the grounds of our eternal redemption really be removed if Christ had risen on the fourth day, or the fifth, or the sixth, [or the 666th day], instead of the third day? Did it matter in providing the very basis for eternal salvation that He rose before sunrise on the first day of the week [i.e. the third day after His death]? Or could He have risen on the second day of the week [i.e. the fourth day after His death]? It mattered only that His once crucified body actually did rise gloriously from the dead."[16]
     Amazingly, Stegall fails to understand that because "the grounds of our eternal redemption" (those are his words) required a sinless sacrifice - a sinless Savior (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:9; Lk. 23:41; Jn. 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:18-19, 2:22, etc.), therefore Christ had to be raised on the third day because that's the day He predicted He would rise from the dead. Anything else would make Jesus a liar! In other words, if Christ had risen on any day but the third day it would have revealed Him to be a sinner - a false prophet (cf. Deut. 18:22; Jer. 14:14; Matt. 7:15, 24:11, 24), because He predicted that He would rise from the dead on the third day (see Matt. 12:38-41, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mk. 9:31, 10:34; Lk. 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 46; Jn. 2:19-21, 10:17-18). Robert Gromacki affirms: "If Christ had been raised from the dead on the second, fourth, or any succeeding day, that would have been a remarkable, unprecedented achievement; but it also would have declared Him to be a false prophet."[17]   
     Stegall's teaching in regards to the third day is a real tragedy of the groundless gospel because: 1) it changes the gospel, 2) it makes the gospel unclear, and 3) it allows for a deceiver savior. In its "purest"[18] form the groundless gospel opens the door to the devil because it is not precise enough nor clear enough to exclude a deceiver savior who supposedly rose from the dead on the 666th day instead of "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4).
     How important is it that we are clear about the Gospel? Somewhat ironically in light of his "Gospel in 8 Words" (which excludes the burial of Christ and also has no mention of the third day in it), Pastor Jim Scudder Jr. of Quentin Road Bible Baptist Church is correct to say: "But a lot of people aren't clear. Is it important that we are clear? There is a verse in Colossians 4, it says in verse 3, '...praying also for us that God would open unto us a door of utterance...' Have you ever asked for an open door when you want to speak to somebody else about the Gospel? You're asking for 'a door of utterance...to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest...' [Col. 4:4.] That word 'manifest' has an idea of clarity, or making it very obvious. So this is our prayer: that I can make it obvious, I can make it clear as I ought to speak. When given these opportunities, I want to be so clear - it's not that I want to be so clear that I can be understood, I want to be so clear that I cannot be misunderstood. That's what we're looking for today. And there was the story of this train, and there was a commuter [train] and a freight train. And they collided, and many people died and it was horrific. And there was an inquest. And during this testimony the engineer said, 'No, I saw a yellow flag of caution. And so we proceeded.' And ended up running into the train. When they went back and they looked at that flag, they found that over the years the sun had turned a red flag which means stop into an orange or yellow flag. Just because the signal wasn't clear, many people perished."[19]
     The 666 deceiver savior allowed by the vagueness of the groundless gospel is obviously a "false Christ" (see Matt. 24:4, 24), "another Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:4), and "a different gospel" (2 Cor. 11:4) that is powerless to save. Nevertheless, Tom Stegall and other groundless gospel advocates like Pastor Dennis Rokser[20] promise salvation to those holding to such a disbelief. They ban Christ's burial and the truth of the third day from really being part of the saving Gospel[21] and teach that these facts only "constitute growth-truth for every child of God".[22] Tragically, this promise of salvation to those who reject the truths of Christ's burial and the fact that His resurrection occurred "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4) is giving false hope to those who don't believe the Biblical Gospel.
     The apostle Paul gives the following  warning about the danger of being deceived by another Jesus and a different Gospel: "I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed [like a Jesus who did not necessarily rise "on the third day" like the apostles proclaimed but instead could have risen on the 666th day], or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received [like a spirit of error instead of the spirit of truth], or a different gospel than the one you accepted [like the groundless gospel], you put up with it way too easily." (2 Cor. 11:4, Berean Study Bible)
     Dear readers, a deceiving snake has slipped out of the cracks of the groundless gospel! Is it any wonder that "the ancient Serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world" (Rev. 12:9) is using the groundless gospel to proclaim a deceiver savior who did not necessarily rise "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4) but could have risen on the 666th day? I can hear the hiss of that ancient serpent: "Did God really say...?" (See Genesis 3:1.) Now the serpent's question has been repackaged to cast doubt on the true Gospel and replace the true Jesus with a deceiver savior: "would the grounds of our eternal redemption really be removed if Christ had risen on the fourth day, or the fifth, or the sixth, [or the 666th day], instead of the third day?"[23] This is the tragedy and heresy of the groundless gospel.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727. The main false teacher of the Free Grace Groundless Gospel is Thomas Stegall, former pastor of the Word of Grace Bible Church (WOGBC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Editor's Note: Stegall left WOGBC at the end of 2011 to become the Publications Director at Duluth Bible Church in Duluth, Minnesota. See the article "WELCOME BACK, STEGALL?"] In 2007 he removed the mention of Christ's burial from the Word of Grace Bible Church Doctrinal Statement on the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," and in 2009 he wrote The Gospel of the Christ, an 800+ page book defending his new groundless gospel of the non-buried and never-seen savior. Stegall affirms: "My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the "crossless gospel" and the contents of saving faith. Part I [pages 27-152] of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book [pages 153-826] still interacts with the new  GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms 'gospel' and 'Christ.' The longest section of the book, Part II [pages 153-589], clarifies the meaning and content of 'the gospel,' while Part III [pages 591-746] examines the meaning of Jesus being 'the Christ.' In this respect, the book goes far beyond simply providing an answer to the position of the Grace Evangelical Society on the contents of saving faith since it addresses many soteriologically significant passages and theological topics". (Stegall, "The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical Response to the 'Crossless' Gospel," http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2009/09/gospel-of-christ-biblical-response-to.html [accessed October 26, 2010].)

[2] Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 45.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, p. 181

[5] Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727.

[6] The phrase "three days and three nights" (Matt. 12:40a) is a Jewish expression meaning any part of three days, as opposed to a literal 72 hour period. (Cf. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 42; A. T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Commentary on Matthew 12:40 and 1 Corinthians 15:4; Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NAS, p. 1534; John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 Vols., Vol. 2, p. 47; Bible.org Admin, "Were the three days and three nights that Jesus was in the grave a full 72 hours?," http://bible.org/question/were-three-days-and-three-nights-jesus-was-grave-full-72-hours [accessed September 24, 2010].)
     The expression "in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40b) "means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment." (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 42.) Jesus was buried on Friday evening (Matt. 27:57-60) and rose from the grave the following Sunday morning on the third day (Matt. 28:1).
     Concerning Jesus' statement that "something greater than Jonah is here" (Matt. 12:41), the following insight by Greek scholar Marvin Vincent is helpful. Commenting on the related statement by Jesus that "in this place is one greater than the temple" (Matt. 12:6), Vincent writes: "One greater ([meizon]). The correct reading makes the adjective neuter, so that the right rendering is something greater (Rev., in margin). The reference is, of course, to Christ himself (compare vv. 41, 42 [of Matthew chapter 12], where the neuter [pleion], more (so Revised Standard Version, in margin), is used in the same way.) Compare, also, John ii. 19, where Christ speaks of his own body as a temple. The indefiniteness of the neuter gives a more solemn and impressive sense." (Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.], 4 Vol., Vol. 1, p. 71, bold added.) Commenting on Matthew 12:41, Greek scholar A. T. Robertson similarly affirms: "Note also pleion (neuter), not pleiwn (masc.). See the same idiom in 12:6 and 12:48. Jesus is something greater than the temple, than Jonah, than Solomon. 'You will continue to disbelieve in spite of all I can say or do, and at last you will put me to death. But I will rise again, a sign for your confusion, if not for your conversion" (Bruce)." (Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament [Broadman Press, 1960], "Commentary on Matthew 12:41," bold his.)

[7] Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 563.

[8] Ibid, italics his. In regards to 1 Corinthians 15:4 Stegall writes: "Opinions among commentators are divided as to whether the phrase 'according to the Scriptures' qualifies the entire statement, 'and that He rose again the third day'" (Ibid., p. 560, italics his). Stegall makes this comment because he believes that the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 "provides symmetrical literary markers in the passage that distinguish the actual content of the gospel from the evidences for that gospel." (Ibid., p. 578, italics his.)
     On a side note, apparently Stegall doesn't think that there can be evidences in the gospel. In this regard he seems to have a problem on his hands because the resurrection of Christ is "proof"  or evidence that He is God (Acts 17:31; cf. Rom. 1:4). And last I checked Stegall still includes Christ's resurrection in the gospel even though it's an evidence.
     Let's get back to the issue under discussion concerning the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Stegall knows he has some explaining to do in regards to his removal of "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) from the content of the gospel because he has no reason to remove it, as least if he wants to be consistent with his own reductionist reasoning. But Stegall knows that he has to remove the reference to the third day from the gospel because the third day points to the burial of Christ (cf. Matt. 12:40, 27:63-64; Lk. 24:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:4; also see Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4 Vols., Vol. 4, p. 82). And Stegall has removed the burial of Christ from the gospel. So Stegall defers to the "opinions among commentators" as his new authority  on the issue of the third day (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 560, note 60). (Six pages later in his book, Stegall similarly appeals to the supposed conversion experiences "of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today".)
     The problem with Stegall's reductionist reasoning is that he is once again rejecting Jesus' statement on the matter, when Jesus says, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day" (Lk. 24:46a, italics added, compare to the wording in Lk. 4:4, 8, 17, etc.). By saying, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should...rise again from the dead the third day," Jesus makes it clear that the reference to the third day is indeed "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). Thus Stegall has no valid reason for removing the reference to the third day from the Gospel, even according to his own reductionist reasoning. That is to say, Stegall's reductionist reasoning is 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 real Gospel - Stegall still omits the third day time element from his Gospel!
     There is one last point to be made bearing on this whole discussion. Even though Stegall uses the double occurrence of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) as the key to decode the cipher of his new mini-gospel he doesn't even include these two phrases in his gospel! (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 480, 512, 529, 536, 543, 561, 576, 578, 700.) In his view the two phrases are only "symmetrical literary markers" which mark out the content of the Gospel but they are not included in that content themselves (Ibid). Is it any wonder that a false gospel doesn't include the references to "the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4)? It is truly a tragedy that Stegall exploits the Scriptures in this way. In contrast to Stegall's reductionist reasoning notice what John Piper has to say about the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Under the heading "6 Aspects of the Gospel Without Which There Is No Gospel," Piper declares: "The Gospel was planned by God beforehand (verses 3, 4: 'according to the Scriptures')...Now, why is that good news? Because I'm arguing this is an essential part of the Gospel. You strip away 'according to Scriptures' - [so as to say] 'there was no plan here'...well what was it if it wasn't a plan? Historical vagaries, just something slipped up here, something went wrong here...that's not Gospel." (John Piper, "How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels,' http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/how-i-distinguish-between-the-gospel-and-false-gospels (compiled from the sermon outline and the sermon audio [1:13:50-1:13:20], bold and italics his.)

[9] Although I don't agree with his interpretation of the Gospel, Pastor Dennis Rokser is correct to point out: "The Gospel offers the good news of SALVATION to us. (1 Cor. 15:2a)...by which also you are saved...The present tense of 'saved' may be viewed in two possible ways. First, Paul may be communicating that these Corinthians via the Gospel were being presently saved from the POWER OF SIN in their Christian lives as long as they remained steadfast to the Gospel, just like they had been saved from the PENALTY OF SIN (Hell) when they had trusted in Christ. In other words, the Gospel they had received would continue to have saving effects from spiritual damage upon their lives 'if you hold fast the word which I preached to you.' In the second view, the apostle may be indicating that the Gospel continues to bear fruit in Corinth by various [unsaved] sinners continuing to receive it, and as a result being 'saved'. Both views are presented by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson in his comments on 1 Corinthians in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1255." (Dennis Rokser, Let's Preach the Gospel [Duluth: Duluth Bible Church], p. 23.)
     The comment of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson on 1 Corinthians 15:2 is as follows: "Ye are saved (Gr., present tense) may refer to continual salvation from the power of sin in the lives of believers, or it may refer to the day-by-day salvation of the inhabitants of Corinth as they received the message and formed part of the church of Jesus Christ." (Johnson, Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, Editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1990], p. 1255.)

[10] William Lane Craig, Jesus Under Fire, p. 150.

[11] Everett F. Harrison, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Editor, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., Vol. 5, p. 241.

[12] Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 44, italics and ellipsis his.

[13] Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, pp. 280-281; cf. Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 104.

[14] Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 104.

[15] W. H. Griffith Thomas, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Editor, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., Vol. 4, p. 82.

[16] Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727, italics his.

[17] Robert Gromacki, Called To Be Saints, p. 182, bold added.

[18] I say that "tongue-and-cheek" because the groundless gospel is not pure at all - it is contaminated with the leaven of false doctrine.
     In his book Getting the Gospel Wrong J. B. Hixson promotes what he calls "THE PURE GOSPEL" (p. 77).  In reality "THE PURE GOSPEL" is "THE PARTIAL GOSPEL" because Hixson excludes Christ's burial and appearances from the contents of saving faith - i.e. from the contents of the saving Gospel (pp. 80, 148-149). Presumably the fact of "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) is expendable as well, for Hixson does not include it in his gospel.

[19] Pastor Jim Scudder, Jr. "The Gospel in 8 Words" (1 Corinthians 15:1-7), June 6, 2015. 

[20] Dennis Rokser wrote the "FOREWORD" to The Gospel Of The Christ (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 14-16). In the "FOREWORD" Rokser calls the book a "scripturally-sound, exegetically-based volume" (Ibid., p. 15). It is telling that no one else besides Stegall's former pastor and fellow groundless gospel advocate endorsed his book.

[21] Ibid., pp. 578, 579, 580, 587, 589, etc.

[22] Ibid.,  p. 589.

[23] Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Among Equals in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

R. J. Sider has said: "One can of course grant that Christ's death and resurrection are mentioned more often than his burial and appearances, and are in some sense more important items of belief. But this in no way leads to the conclusion that the burial and appearances (ophthe) are not independent issues to be discussed in addition to the death and resurrection."1 In other words, Christ's burial and appearances are not somehow swallowed up or subsumed by the death and resurrection simply because the latter are emphasized more. To put it another way, Christ's burial and appearances do not magically disappear from the content of the gospel  (or the things "of first importance") simply because the death and resurrection are in some sense more important. Yet this is the reductionist reasoning of groundless gospel advocates. Stegall supposes that a theological EMPHASIS on Christ's death and resurrection equates to an EXCLUSION of the burial and appearances from the gospel.2 Such reasoning is non sequitur however, because an emphasis on one truth does not automatically mean the exclusion of a related truth. It will be helpful to discuss this whole issue of "theological weight" in more detail so as to avoid any misunderstandings.

There are two senses to consider in regards to the relative weight of each part of the gospel:  the exegetical sense and the theological sense. Notice the order, first the exegetical and then the theological. As to this order Charles Ryrie remarks: "Biblical Theology stands in the closest connection to exegesis, for it builds directly upon it."3 With this in mind, the following observations can be made:

EXEGETICALLY speaking, all four verbs in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 are coordinate and their meanings are copulative.4 Stegall seems to agree that all four verbs are coordinate.5 However, he doesn't agree that the four verbs are linked by the kai conjunction in the simple "COPULATIVE" sense where these "WORDS ARE PILED TOGETHER" in a "CHAIN".6 Similar to how Stegall fails to mention the grammatical point noted by Daniel Wallace in his textbook that the Greek word hoti in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff is a "content conjunction",7 it is telling that Stegall never once mentions these exegetical truths by A. T. Robertson concerning the copulative sense of the kai coordinating conjunction in 1 Corinthians 15:4ff! Sadly, Stegall's groundless gospel is "theologically contrived, not exegetically derived."8 As R. J. Sider and other scholars9 have noted regarding the exegesis of the passage in 1 Corinthians 15, "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'."10

THEOLOGICALLY speaking, all four verbs do not carry the same weight within the things "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3). All four verbs are indeed "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3), but within this framework two are primus inter pares, or first among equals. (This principle of first among equals is evident not only within the gospel but also within the trinity, the family, the greatest commandment,11 the twelve apostles, and the elders of the local church.) Although all four verbs in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 are exegetically parallel and part of the gospel, they do not all carry the same theological weight within the gospel. A couple examples will suffice in this regard. First, notice that the double occurrence of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) is only attached to Christ's death and resurrection. In contrast to what groundless gospel advocates would have us believe,12 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. 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"13 (the promise of eternal life in seed form). 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. Rom. 6:9; 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."14 By contrast, in 1 Corinthians 15:4a 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. Ps. 22:1-22; Isa. 53:1-12; 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! Thus, while all four facts in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 are part of the gospel and "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3), Christ's death and resurrection have more theological weight. Consider a second example showing that the truths of the gospel have various theological weights. Notice the emphasis on Christ's substitutionary death in Scripture. This gospel truth is emphasized the most, as Stegall even indicates.15 It is the heart of the gospel message.16 Paul preached "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23). Paul equates the gospel with "the word of the cross" (1 Cor. 1:17-18).  And he says that he "determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Is Christ's resurrection excluded from the gospel because it doesn't carry the same theological weight as His death? Of course not! Yet this is one of the reductionist reasonings of groundless gospel advocates in regards to Christ's burial and appearances. Such an interpretation goes against the plain and obvious meaning of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15 where he clearly includes Christ's burial and appearances not only in "the gospel" (1 Cor. 15:1), but also in the things "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3ff). And so we see that within the gospel, within the things "of first importance," there exists the principle of primus inter pares, or first among equals.

In reality, this whole discussion regarding "theological weight"17 is beside the point in answering the question "What is the content of the gospel?" It is telling that while Stegall is vocal and verbose about the "theological weight"18 of the various hoti clauses in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, he  is completely silent regarding the exegetical  truths noted by Daniel Wallace and A. T. Robertson that these clauses are CONTENT clauses and that the kai coordinating conjunctions which connect them are to be understood in the simple COPULATIVE sense where words are piled together in a chain!19 These key exegetical truths are foundational and irrefutable, and that is probably one reason why Stegall simply avoids them - because they highlight the error of his groundless gospel. He is redirecting the discussion away from these exegetical truths to discuss something that is beside the point in terms of the actual content of the gospel. The issue of "theological weight" is beside the point because the content of the gospel is determined from the exegesis of the text, not from the theology of the text - for we would not have theology if it did not first come from exegesis (as Ryrie has noted). Furthermore, the content of the gospel is not affected by the theological weight of the clauses. In other words, even though two of the four coordinate hoti content clauses in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 have less20 theological weight than the others (i.e. "that He was buried," and "that He appeared..."), all four clauses still remain content clauses of the gospel because each is introduced by a hoti (or kai hoti) content conjunction. 

In conclusion, we can summarize by saying that all FOUR verbs in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 are part of "the gospel" (1 Cor. 15:1) and are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3). Among these four equals it is apparent that in terms of "theological weight" TWO are primus inter pares, or first among equals: Christ's death for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), and His resurrection on the third day forevermore (1 Cor. 15:4). And among these two equals ONE is primary, that being Christ's death for our sins - which ALONE paid the complete sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. Jn. 19:30; 1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23, 2:2, etc.).


ENDNOTES:

1 Ronald J. Sider, "St. Paul's Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in I Corinthians XV 1-19," Novum Testamentum 19 (April, 1977): p. 134, note 40.

2 Tom Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 581, cf. p. 588, etc.

3 Charles Ryrie, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 16.

4 A. T. Roberson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In Light Of Historical Research, pp. 1034, 1181-1182. Similarly, Daniel Wallace affirms that the Greek word kai is a coordinating (not subordinating) conjunction which "links equal elements together" (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 667).

5 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 560-561, 581.

6 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In Light Of Historical Research, pp. 1181-1182, emphasis added. In contrast to Greek scholar A. T. Robertson who understands the kai conjunctions in 1 Corinthians 15:4ff in the coordinating and copulative sense, Stegall tries to argue that in 1 Corinthians 15:4a and 5a (but not 1 Cor. 15:4b - how convenient) the kai COORDINATING conjunctions should be understood in a SUBORDINATING sense (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 580-585). As if this conclusion isn't enough of an exegetical stretch, Stegall then goes on to  argue that such a SUBORDINATION equates to an ELIMINATION from the gospel (ibid).  But here again Stegall is at odds with A. T. Robertson who specifically includes Christ's burial and appearances in the gospel (see A. T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:3, 15:4, 15:5). In an attempt to justify his exegetical dancing and hermaneutical leaps, Stegall has seized upon a somewhat obscure footnote from Daniel Wallace's textbook Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p. 667, note 2). In short, Wallace's footnote says that often coordinating conjunctions like kai can have a notion of subordination on a deep structure level and can thus be  translated as "in order that" or "in order to". The first thing to notice is that even if this was the sense of two of the kai conjunctions in 1 Corinthians 15:4ff, it still doesn't remove Christ's burial or appearances from the content of the gospel. But there are several reasons to conclude that Wallace's footnote does not apply to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and cannot be used to support Stegall's partial gospel interpretation of the passage. The first reason is that Wallace never applies the footnote to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 as Stegall attempts to do. In fact, the only time Wallace mentions 1 Corinthians 15 anywhere in the chapter it isn't to show that any part of the gospel is subordinate to the others, but instead to show that the hoti clause in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is introduced by a "content conjunction"! (Ibid., p. 678.) It is telling that Stegall never once mentions this exegetical point highlighted by Wallace.   The second reason why Wallace's footnote cannot be used to support a 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." (Ibid., p. 668.) Stegall argues that the passage 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 to be buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, in order to appear to Cephas, then to the twelve." (Notice that not only is the sense of kai changed from "and" to "in order to," but the tense of the verbs is changed as well. The verb "was buried" in the original is changed to "be buried," and the verb "appeared" in the original is changed to "appear".) 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 the way Stegall has suggested? (Even Wallace in his NET BIBLE doesn't translate the passage the way Stegall has suggested.) That Stegall must rewrite the Bible to support his groundless gospel is a glaring problem! Such practices are characteristic of cults such as the Jehovah Witnesses and their New World Translation but should have no place in the life and ministry of Bible believing Christians!  The third reason why Wallace's footnote cannot be used to support a partial gospel interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is that it leads to unbiblical, illogical, and confusing conclusions. 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." (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 585.) 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. Is Christ's resurrection now not part of the gospel because it is dependent on His death and burial? Of course not! Athough these conclusions are consistent with Stegall's logic they are at odds not only with the content of the gospel but also with the entire context of the passage which stresses the importance of the resurrection. Another problem with Stegall's reductionist reasoning is that it 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. For more information and further discussion see "Getting the Gospel Right," pp. 11-15.

7 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 678.

8 Stegall, "Vigilance Regarding the Truth of the Gospel: Reengaging the Heresy of the GES 'Crossless' Gospel, Part 1," http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2010/05/vigilance-regarding-truth-of-gospel_04.html (accessed, May 4, 2010).

9 See "Getting the Gospel Right," pp. 11-13.

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

11 See Matthew 22:34-40; cf. Matthew 23:23, NIV.

12 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 579.

13 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, p. 33; cf. S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1255; W. Harold Mare, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 10 Vols., Vol. 10, p. 282; A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In Light Of Historical Research, p. 896; Earl Radmacher, The Nelson Study Bible, p. 1937; Tom Stegall, "The Tragedy Of The Crossless Gospel," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2007]: p. 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, p. 28.) 

14 David Garland, 1 Corinthians, p. 684.

15 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 76.

16 Under the headings "THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST," "HIS DEATH," Ryrie affirms: "In relation to the gospel it is its heart (1 Cor. 15:1-3)." (Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, New American Standard Bible [Chicago: Moody Press, 1995]: pp. 2059-60, bold and capitalization his.) Commenting on the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, James Denney similarly writes: "In other words, there was no gospel known in the primitive church, or in any part of it, which had not this as its foundation - that God forgives our sins because Christ died for them." (Denney, Studies in Theology, p. 104.) Denney goes on to emphasize that "St. Paul makes Christ's death for our sins the foundation of the only gospel known to the primitive church." (Ibid., p. 109.)

17 Ibid., p. 585.

18 Ibid., pp. 580-585.