Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Gospel According to Scripture Twisting, or How to Wring Christ's Burial Out of the Gospel

I've noticed that proponents of the groundless gospel1 use a very arcane method of Bible interpretation to decipher the contents of their no-burial gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. They say that since only Christ's death and resurrection are followed by the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, only the statements about Christ's death and resurrection are really part of the gospel, in distinction to the burial and appearances which are not modified by these phrases.2 In the book The Gospel of the Christ (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009), author Tom Stegall calls this double occurence of the phrases "symmetrical literary markers" which he says mark out the actual content of his no-burial gospel. But there are several glaring problems with Stegall's method of Bible interpretation that I would like to briefly point out:
  1. Stegall uses the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 to mark out the content of his groundless gospel, but amazingly he doesn't even include these two phrases in his gospel! Is it any wonder that a man-made gospel doesn't include the references to "the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4)? It's 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."4 Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, affirms: "'Of first importance' (en protois) in the gospel tradition that Paul has received and passes on is 'that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve' (1 Cor. 15:3-5). Death and resurrection, not as isolated events but in their significance and as the fulfillment of Scripture (entailing revelatory, tradition-establishing appearances of the resurrected Christ to the apostles), are central to Paul's message."5
  2. Stegall also excludes from his groundless gospel any mention of the phrase "on the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) even though the apostle Paul plainly declares it to be "according to the Scriptures". The phrase "according to the Scriptures" supposedly marks out the content of the groundless gospel, but Stegall still doesn't include the time element of the third day in his gospel.6
  3. Stegall employs a double standard in regards to his use of "symmetrical literary markers" because there are other "symmetrical literary markers" in the passage which exegetically do in fact mark out the content of the gospel, such as the four-fold repetition of the Greek word hoti (English "that") in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. 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 was seen...." 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."7 More specifically, Daniel Wallace cites 1 Corinthians 15:3 to illustrate a "content conjunction".8 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".9 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."10 This is the actual grammatical exegesis of the passage that marks out the content of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. So I want to ask groundless gospel advocates: What are you going to do with "that"? My guess is they will likely just ignore it and continue to twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, like the Bible says in 2 Peter 3:16.

The Gospel According to Scripture Twisting: Exploit the Scriptures. Exclude certain elements. Employ a double standard.


1 What is the groundless gospel? In 2007, pastor Tom Stegall removed the burial of Christ from the Word of Grace Bible Church doctrinal statement on salvation. I coined the term "groundless gospel" to describe Stegall's new teaching. The groundless gospel label has a double meaning:
    1) It refers to a gospel lacking Christ's burial in the ground (Isa. 53:9; Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:4, etc.).
     2) It refers to a gospel lacking biblical support.

2 For example, author Tom Stegall writes: "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." (Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ [Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009], p. 578, italics his, ellipsis added.)

3 Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 578.

4 John Piper, "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).

5 Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "'Life-Giving Spirit': Probing The Center of Paul's Pneumatology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41 [December 1998]: p. 574, bold added.

6 Stegall excludes "the third day" from his groundless gospel using some very clever reductionist reasoning. First, he defers to the "opinions among commentators" as his new authority on the third day. Stegall writes: "Opinions among commentators are divided as to whether the phrase 'according to the Scriptures' [in 1 Corinthians 15:4] qualifies the entire statement, 'and that He rose again the third day'". (Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 560, note 60, italics his.) Wait a minute - "Opinions among commentators"? "BUT WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY?" (Gal. 4:30, capitalization added; cf. Rom. 4:3). That's the only question that really matters. Let's back up for a minute and examine why Stegall makes such a comment in the first place. Stegall knows that 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, at least if he wants to be consistent with his own reductionist reasoning (which views the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 as marking out the real gospel). But Stegall knows that he has to remove the reference to the third day from the content of the gospel because the third day points to the burial of Christ (see 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.) A few 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". (Ibid., p. 566.) The problem with Stegall's reductionist reasoning is that he is rejecting Jesus' statement on the matter, when He 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)! That's what the Scriptures say. Commenting on Luke 24:46, Everett F. Harrison affirms: "Here Jesus is not simply stating the fact of His resurrection on the third day, but rather the Scriptural necessity for its occurrence at that time. The same thing is true of Paul's statement in I Cor. 15:4 to the effect that the resurrection transpired on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." (Everett F. Harrison, The Christian Doctrine of Resurrection, unpublished manuscript, pp. 54-55.) Commenting on the similarly worded passage in Luke 18:31-34, Merrill C. Tenney affirms: "By the inclusion of the phrase [in Luke 18:31], 'the things that are written,' Jesus connected the events of His passion with the Old Testament." (Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 31.)
     Another argument that Stegall uses to exclude the third day from his groundless gospel is by saying that the reference to "the third day" in 1 Corinthians 15:4 is merely "a circumstantial detail" (see Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 727). The Collins English Dictionary says that "Circumstantial evidence is evidence that makes it seem likely that something happened, but does not prove it." Yet the Lord Jesus consistently foretold His resurrection on the third day in order to verify (prove!) His claims to be the Messiah (see for example: Matt. 12:38-41, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mk. 9:31, 10:34; Lk. 9:22, 18:33, 24:6-7, 46; Jn. 2:19-21). So the reference to the "third day" is clearly not "a circumstantial detail"! The Puritan minister Isaac Ambrose affirms: "When He arose; it was the third day after His crucifying, As Jonas was three days and three nights together in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, Mat. 12.40. This was the time He had appointed, and this was the time appropriated to Christ, and marked out for Him in the calendar of the prophets: of all those whom God raised from death to life, there is not one that was raised on the third day but Jesus Christ; some rose afore, and some after...but Christ takes the third day, which discovers Him to be the Messiah; Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, Luke 24.46." Ambrose goes on to say that "all these [Scriptures] signify, that His rising on the third day was the accomplishment of prophecies, and a certain evidence that He was the Messiah indeed." (Ambrose, The Complete Works of Mr. Isaac Ambrose, Book 4: Looking Unto Jesus [Dundee: Henry Galbraith and Company, 1759], p. 637, cf. Ambrose, Looking Unto Jesus: A View of the Everlasting Gospel; or The Soul's Eyeing of Jesus, pp. 136-137, 425.) Similarly, Robert Gromacki writes: "If Christ had been raised from the dead on the second, fourth, or any succeeding day [such as the 666th day], that would have been a remarkable, unprecedented achievement; but it also would have declared Him to be a false prophet." (Gromacki, Called To Be Saints, p. 182, bold added.) For more information and further discussion, see the Free Grace Free Speech article "The Deceiver Savior of the Groundless Gospel".

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

8 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 678.

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

10 Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 532.

No comments: