Is There Only One Gospel?

-This comes from my notes on the talk “Dwelling in the Gospel” by Timothy Keller –

Is it possible that there are many Gospels? Matthew’s, Marks, Luke’s, John’s, Paul’s, James’? This has been a hot topic within academia for over a century and a half.

For instance, the writers of the Synoptic Gospels speak of “entering the Kingdom” when they refer to the Gospel. John uses the term “eternal life.” Paul often speaks of justification when referring to the Gospel. Are these different Gospels?

Well, in Galatians 1:8, Paul states unequivocally that there is only one Gospel:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal. 1:8, NIV)

Later in the letter, Paul recounts his face-to-face public rebuke of Peter. This is important because it shows that his later affirmations are not simply a rubber stamp of approval. He has no problem rebuking those same Jerusalem apostles when necessary.

But Paul does affirm that the Gospel the other apostles preached is the same Gospel he preached:

“Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor. 15:11, NIV)

So Paul is affirming the Gospel message of the Jerusalem apostles, people like Peter, James, John, and others, saying that they are preaching one and the same Gospel. After Paul’s strong language in his letter to the Galatians, we can’t take his affirmation of the Jerusalem apostle’s Gospel presentation lightly.

Then, if we compare Mark 10:17, 23-34; Matt. 25, with John 3:5-6, 17, we see that almost the identical language is used for “entering the Kingdom of God” in the synoptics and “receiving eternal life” in John.

In Mark 10, Jesus interchanges the terms “inherit eternal life” and “enter the kingdom of God,” as if they are referring to the same thing:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17, NIV)

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:23-24, NIV)

In John 3, Jesus interchanges the terms for “kingdom of God” and “save the world”, as if they are the same thing:

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:5-6, NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:17, NIV)

We see that receiving the Kingdom of God and being born again or receiving eternal life is essentially the same thing.

So why don’t the biblical authors simply use the same terms and make it easier on us as we read centuries later?

In this way, the biblical writers highlight the richness of the Gospel when applied to various contexts.  Those influenced by Judaism needed to hear certain aspects of the Gospel, while those influenced by Greek philosophical thought needed to hear other aspects. The differences and variety in presentation throughout the New Testament is striking.

The Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand, and at the same time, unfathomably richer, deeper, and more magnificent than we can imagine.

A close reading of the various New Testament authors affirms that they all proclaimed the same Gospel, simply in different contexts with different terms.

But there is only one Gospel.


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