Interpreting the Bible: The Gospel

bible.jpgOne school of hermeneutics is called “flat” hermeneutics. In flat hermeneutics, it’s concluded that because all the Bible is from God, all the Bible is equally important. It’s just as important to understand how to worship or organize a church or manage the church treasury as to understand the gospel.

But Paul makes it quite clear that this is just not so–

(1 Cor. 15:3-5) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

We really have to take Paul at his word. Indeed, it requires a special kind of education not to understand this. The gospel is the most important thing in all the Bible.

The Old Testament points to the gospel. The Gospels point to the gospel. Acts shows the gospel in action. The epistles explain the gospel. The Revelation predicts the final victory of the gospel.

Now, we should pause here to explain that “gospel” doesn’t mean “religious truth.” No, it refers specifically and only to the good news about Jesus–what he did to bring salvation and how we are brought into his salvation–and what his salvation means to us.

When the Gospel Advocate prints an article on the work of elders, it may well be teaching timeless spiritual truths. But it’s not teaching the gospel.

(2 Tim. 2:8-10) Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

(2 Tim. 1:8b-10) But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

(Rom. 1:16-17) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

This is the message that’s the good news. It’s not the good news of congregational autonomy or a plurality of elders. It’s the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus by the power of the cross.

Therefore, nothing can contradict the gospel. Any interpretation that’s inconsistent with the gospel is false.

Manifestly, therefore, a true scholar will first study to deeply and richly understand the gospel–long before he gets around to all the other interesting topics the Bible touches. Moreover, our teaching and preaching must be cross and gospel centered. The gospel is of first importance.

Indeed, it’s so important that Paul considers even baptism a secondary question.

(1 Cor. 1:17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Can you imagine a Church of Christ missionary coming to his home congregation to report on his progress and saying, “I was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel”? Long before baptism becomes important, the gospel must be preached. We don’t convert the lost to baptism, nor do we teach faith in baptism.

Count the “saved by faith” verses and then count the “saved upon baptism verses.” I think the ratio is about 20 to 1. Our preaching should reflect the same emphasis.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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