Tuesday, May 29, 2018

George E. Ladd's statement on the Gospel

     In his book A Theology of the New Testament, theologian George Eldon Ladd (1911 - 1982) has written some helpful information on the Gospel as it relates to Jesus and the apostle Paul. Ladd's statements are helpful in answering the questions: "What is the Gospel according to Jesus?" and "What is the Gospel according to the apostle Paul?" Ladd writes:

". . . Paul frequently refers to his preaching and teaching in the same terms that are used of the Jewish oral traditions: to deliver (paradidonai) and to receive (paralambanein) tradition (paradosis). Jesus had contrasted the Jewish traditions with the word of God (Mt. 15:6) and forbade his disciples to imitate the rabbis (Mt. 23:8-10), and yet Paul commends the Corinthians for maintaining the traditions he had delivered to them (I Cor. 11:2) and exhorts the Thessalonians to hold to the traditions they had been taught (II Thess. 2:15) and to shun those who ignored the tradition they had received from Paul (II Thess. 3:6). This idiom established a distinct similarity between Jewish rabbinic tradition and Christian tradition, for the terms are the same, and they are used at times quite synonymously with preaching the gospel. The Corinthians received the gospel (parelabete) that Paul had preached to them (I Cor. 15:1). 
     . . . This tradition embodied the apostolic kerygma [preaching] or euanggelion [gospel]. 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 (I 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 those who were apostles before him. 
     The same idiom of oral tradition appears in connection with the preservation of a piece of tradition from Jesus' life, namely, the Lord's Supper. Paul received 'from the Lord' the account that he delivered to the Corinthians of the institution of the Eucharist (I Cor. 11:23). Some scholars understand the expression 'from the Lord' to mean that Paul received his knowledge of the Lord's Supper by direct illumination from the exalted Lord, as he received knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah on the Damascus Road. However, in view of the language and the content of the tradition, this is highly unlikely. Most commentators think Paul means to assert that this tradition which he received from other apostles had its historical origin with Jesus. Paul says he received apo [from, away from], not para [from, from beside], the Lord. The latter would suggest reception directly from the Lord, whereas the former indicates ultimate source. In any case the words mean at least this: that the chain of historical tradition that Paul received goes back unbroken to the words of Jesus himself.
     . . . While the oral gospel tradition is in some ways similar to Jewish oral tradition, in one all-important respect it is quite different. To receive the gospel tradition does not mean merely to accept the truthfulness of a report about certain historical facts, nor does it mean simply to receive instruction and intellectual enlightenment. To receive the tradition means to receive (parelabete) Christ Jesus as Lord [Christon I─ôsoun ton Kurion = literally: "Christ Jesus the Lord"] (Col. 2:6). In the voice of the tradition, the voice of God himself is heard; and through this word, God himself is present and active in the church (I Thess. 2:13). Thus the Christian tradition is not mere instruction passed on like Jewish oral tradition from one teacher to another. The tradition handed on in the form of preaching (eueggelisamen, I Cor. 15:1) and the reception of the message involve a response of faith (episteusate, I Cor. 15:2).
     . . . In his letter to the Galatians, Paul seems to reject the role of tradition in revelation and to claim that revelation occurs only by direct illumination by the Holy Spirit. He appears to declare his complete independence from the primitive church. He asserts that he did not receive his gospel from men, that it did not come to him by tradition (parelabon) nor by instruction, but by direct revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). He declares his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. After his conversion, he did not go up to Jerusalem to receive the approval of the apostles but withdrew to Arabia. When he did go to Jerusalem three years later, it was not to establish an abiding relationship, but only to make a short visit to get acquainted with Peter and James (Gal. 1:17-19). Taken out of context, the assertions in this passage seem to contradict the statements of I Corinthians 11 and 15 that Paul handed on what he had received by tradition.
     Various solutions to this apparent contradiction have been offered. Some have suggested that in Corinthians Paul refers only to the facts about Jesus that he learned from other Christians, while the meaning of these facts, i.e., their true interpretation, came to him not from men but only by the direct revelation of the exalted Lord. This is, of course, true. Unquestionably, as Machen points out, Paul was familiar with many of the facts about Jesus' life and death, as well as the Christian claims for him as the Messiah, when he was still in Judaism. In fact, it was his Jewish understanding of the facts that made Saul a persecutor; what he gained on the Damascus Road was a new and correct understanding of the facts, namely, that Jesus was the Messiah. However, the tradition in I Corinthians 15 includes interpretation: 'Christ died for our sins'; and it includes also a fact that undoubtedly Paul as a Jew did not accept - the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples.
     . . . The apparent contradiction is due to the different purposes involved in the two passages. In Corinthians Paul is thinking of particular aspects of the substance of his gospel: the Lord's Supper, the saving death, the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus. These include both facts and at least something of the meaning of the facts. In the substance of his gospel, Paul stands in agreement with earlier Christians, and indeed he received information from them as to the gospel itself. However, in Galatians Paul is dealing with his apostolic authority and with the one central fact of the gospel, that Jesus was the resurrected and exalted Messiah. This he did not learn from other men, even though it was later corroborated by what he did learn from them. Paul was not converted by Christian preaching but by an immediate confrontation by the exalted Christ. Neither did Paul receive his apostolic office from men. Both - his gospel and his apostolic office - came to him directly from the Lord, unmediated by men. The fact that subsequent to his conversion Paul consulted with Peter and James and received from them both facts about Jesus and the gospel and their interpretation of it would in no way weaken his claim to complete independence of his reception of the gospel. The purpose of the passages is to argue that Paul enjoys the same apostolic authority as those who were apostles before him (Gal. 1:17), because he, like them, received his commission and his gospel directly from the Lord."1

     In Galatians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul says that he received his Gospel by a direct revelation of Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul's Gospel is the Gospel according to Jesus! To say it another way: 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is the Gospel according to Jesus. Are you misquoting Jesus on the Gospel?


ENDNOTE:

1 George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 388-389, 392-394, italics his, ellipsis added. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Remembering the Martyrs

"Remember your former leaders, who spoke God's message to you. Think back on how they lived and died, and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7, Good News Bible.)

This Memorial Day weekend, I want to say that I'm grateful for those who have given their lives in the service of our country and in defending the freedoms we enjoy. And when I meet military men and women, I thank them for their service. My grandfather served in World War II, and I have great respect for those who serve in our armed forces. 

Yet it's important to remember that as Christians, we are also citizens of heaven. The Bible says, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil. 3:20, NKJV.) And many of those who went before us died for their faith in Christ. We need to remember them and honor their legacy. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “witnesses” (Greek martures; see Acts 1:8) means “martyrs”. The early Christian author Tertullian (155 – 250 A.D.) wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50.) 

Here's an excellent graphic novel called The Martyrs, published by The Voice of the Martyrs ministry, which tells the story of some of the early Christian martyrs. 

And let's also remember that most all of the twelve apostles died for their Christian faith. The Voice of the Martyrs has another graphic novel called The Twelve, which "tells about the lives and deaths of the 12 apostles."

Additionally, let's remember the great apostle Paul. Shortly before his martyrdom he wrote: 
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me his prisoner, but join me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:8.)
"As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near." (2 Timothy 4:6, NLT.)

To give some historical context to Paul’s words, here's a statement by the Roman historian Tacitus (55 – 120 A.D.) regarding the persecution of Christians during the reign of Emperor Nero. (It was Nero who had the apostle Paul beheaded). Tacitus writes: 
“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration [devastating fire] was the result of an order [i.e. Nero's order to burn the city of Rome]. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, and immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.” (Annals of Tacitus, Book 15, Section 44.) 

Similarly, the church historian Eusebius (260 - 340 A.D.) writes:
1. When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe. 
2. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths. 
3. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion. 
4. The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: "Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence." 
5. Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. (Eusebius, Church History, Book 2, Chapter 25.)

No wonder that Andy Stanley has remarked something to the effect that, "Today we name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero." The Bible says, “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Proverbs 10:7.)

So let's thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in this country and let's use it as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why the Gospel Matters!

Have you ever wondered why the Gospel matters? What's the big deal about the Gospel? Here's a great comment on the Gospel by the late Jack Weaver (a.k.a. ExPreacherMan) from his blog, Notes From A Retired Preacher:

"As has been said, stick with the Gospel of God’s Grace — IT is the power of God unto salvation.
The Gospel: 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
Why the Gospel: The Power of God; Romans 1:16
What to do with the Gospel – Believe it; John 3:16
Why we cannot mix Grace with perseverance and “repentance” works – they are not comparable; Romans 11:6

Just some ideas - Be encouraged!!"

This is why the Gospel matters: "because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes," like the Bible says in Romans 1:16!