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 Iēsoun 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. 

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