Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Robert H. Mounce's article on the word "GOSPEL"

     I recently came across an excellent article on the word "GOSPEL" in Baker's Dictionary of Theology while doing some research in Crowell Library at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The article is written by Biblical Greek scholar Robert H. Mounce (father of William D. Mounce) and edited by Free Grace theologian Everett F. Harrison.1 The entire article is very much worth reading, but in this post I'd like to just highlight a couple of sections in regards to the clear content of Paul's gospel. First, notice what Mounce says under the heading "THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL":

     "Paul's ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel. Unto this gospel he was set apart (Rom. 1:1) and made a minister according to the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). His special sphere of action was the gentile world (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 2:7). Since Paul accepted the gospel as a sacred trust (Gal. 2:7), it was necessary that in the discharge of this obligation he speak so as to please God rather than man (1 Tim. 2:4). The divine commission had created a sense of urgency that made him cry out, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel' (1 Cor. 9:16). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22, 23). No sacrifice was too great. Eternal issues were at stake. Those whose minds were blinded and did not obey the gospel were perishing and would ultimately reap the vengeance of divine wrath (2 Cor. 4:3; 2 Thess. 1:9). On the other hand, to those who believed, the gospel had effectively become the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
     Because Paul, on occasion, speaks of his message as 'my gospel' (Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 2:8), and because in his letter to the Galatians he goes to some pains to stress that he did not receive it from man (Gal. 1:11 ff.), it is sometimes maintained that Paul's gospel should be distinguished from that of apostolic Christianity in general.
     This does not follow. 1 Cor. 15:3-5 sets forth with crystal clarity the message of primitive Christianity. Paul, using terms equivalent to the technical rabbinic words for the reception and transmission of tradition (M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, Scribner's, New York, 1935, p. 21), refers to this message as something which he had received and passed on (vs. 3). In verse eleven he can say, 'Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.' In Galatians, Paul tells how he laid before the apostles at Jerusalem the gospel which he had preached. Far from finding fault with the message, they extended to him the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9)."2

     In the next section of the article titled "THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING," Mounce again draws attention to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Notice what he says:
     "If we wish to investigate more closely the specific content of the primitive gospel, we will do well to adopt the basic approach of C. H. Dodd (The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1936). While Dodd refers to the message as kerygma [i.e. preaching or proclamation], he is ready to admit that this term is a virtual equivalent of euaggelion [i.e. good news or gospel]. (Kerygma stresses the manner of delivery: euaggelion, the essential nature of the content.)
     There are two sources for the determination of the primitive proclamation. Of primary importance are the fragments of pre-Pauline tradition that lie embedded in the writings of the apostle. These segments can be uncovered by the judicious application of certain literary and formal criteria. While at least one [fragment of pre-Pauline tradition] purports to be the actual terms in which the gospel was preached (1 Cor. 15:3-5), others take the form of early Christian hymns (e.g., Phil. 2:6-11), summaries of the message (e.g., Rom. 10:9), or creedal formulae (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Tim. 3:16).
     A second source is the early Petrine [i.e. Peter] speeches in Acts. . . ."3

     In the statement above, Mounce referenced C. H. Dodd and his book The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments. It will thus be helpful to observe what Dodd says in regards to the content of Paul's gospel. Dodd writes:
     "To begin with, Paul himself was conscious of a distinction between the fundamental content of the Gospel and the teaching which he based upon it. In 1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2-6, he recalls that at Corinth he had preached 'Christ and Him crucified.' He would now like to go on to 'speak wisdom among mature persons,' and regrets that the Corinthians do not show themselves ready for it.
     Again, in 1 Cor. 3:10 sqq., he distinguishes between the 'foundation' which he laid, and the superstructure which he and others build upon it. The reference is no doubt to the 'building up' of the life of the Church in all its aspects. But a study of the context will show that what was most particularly in his mind was just this distinction between the fundamental Gospel and the higher wisdom (not to be confused with 'the wisdom of men') which can be imparted to those whose apprehension of the Gospel is sufficiently firm. The 'foundation' is Christ, or, may we not say, it is the Gospel of 'Christ and Him crucified.' Paul himself, Apollos, and others developed this fundamental Gospel in various ways. The epistles represent for the most part this development, or superstructure. But Paul was well aware that what gave authority to his teaching was the Gospel which underlay it all.
     In 1 Cor. 15:1 sqq. he cites in explicit terms that which he had preached at Corinth:

'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;
and that He was seen of Cephas . . .'

'It was thus,' he adds emphatically, 'that we preached and thus that you believed.' He then goes on to draw out certain implications of these fundamental beliefs . . ."4


1 Robert H. Mounce, "GOSPEL," Everett F. Harrison, Editor-in-Chief, Geoffrey W. Bromiley Associate Editor, Carl F. H. Henry, Consulting Editor, Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960). See the entry under "GOSPEL" on pages 254-257. NOTE: Everett F. Harrison is a well-known Free Grace advocate who debated Lordship Salvation with John Stott in 1959. For more information see the article: Lordship salvation controversy.

2 R. H. Mounce, Everett F. Harrison, Editor-in-Chief, et al., Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 256, bold added. The same "Gospel" article by Mounce also appears in Walter A. Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), pages 472-474. NOTE: Mounce's article is also available online. See the article: Gospel, Godspel, Godspell, Evangelion (scroll down to the second section titled "Gospel").

3 R. H. Mounce, Everett F. Harrison, Editor-in-Chief, et al., Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 256, bold added.

4 C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1962), pp. 9-10, bold added. NOTE: This book was originally published in London by Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1936.

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