The King Jesus Gospel Question

At the very heart of our new book (The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited) is one central question:

Is 1 Corinthians 15 the gospel or not?

That leads to a chaser question: Is 1 Corinthians a sketch of the full gospel or only part of it? Or, is this an adequate or incomplete presentation of the gospel?

Our central question has enormous consequences for how we “frame” the gospel. What I mean by “framing” is how we present it and how we tell it and what narrative it tells if we want to be faithful to what Paul tells us about the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. I want to ask a few questions of you today:

Do you think what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel?

Do you think Paul omitted anything important?

What drives this gospel of Paul? The story of God in this world, from Adam and esp Abraham to Jesus, or a systemic plan of how a person gets saved?

What does this say about how we “present” the gospel today?

This is not a question of whether the Story framing is about salvation, for surely that framing tells us about salvation: “for our sins.” But the issue is how the apostle Paul, who thinks he is here presenting the apostolic tradition about the gospel — that is, what all the apostles said was the gospel, “framed” the gospel. Is it framed as the Story of Israel come to fulfillment in Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord (and Son) who saves or the plan of personal salvation? The former leads us from christology to salvation, and so is a saving message, but the latter too often never even gets to the Story of Israel and often only tells us that Jesus is the Savior. So this is not a choice between gospel Story vs. salvation but between a gospel Story about Jesus who saves and salvation theology without that Story framing.

Another way of putting this: If you examine 1 Corinthians 15, what is the gospel? (I am convinced many read this text and see something else or don’t think this really is the gospel.)

Here’s 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.3 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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I believe it is probably even more accurate to think the gospel extends all the way to v. 28 (see after the jump).

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

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  • albion

    Scot: Can you say how the story of Israel and Christ died for our sins go together? I would expect if the Story of Israel is uppermost in Paul’s mind that Christ’s death would be more closely connected to the Kingdom of God in terms of Israel’s expectations (I’m thinking particularly of the songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1 and Jesus’s sermon in Luke 4). There is a much more overtly political element in their expectation, their praise, even Jesus’ understanding of his mission, than Paul describes in 1 Cor 15. So the story of Israel is front and center in Luke, a pale shadow in 1 Cor. And I see almost nothing of his life and teaching in 1 Cor 15. So that if the good news is in part about a new kingdom and its polity (Sermon on Mount, e.g.) Paul doesn’t make much of that here.

  • Scot McKnight

    Albion, there are about 10 questions or topics in that comment. Not sure where to begin.

  • rjs


    I’ve been thinking about this – in part in the context of your book and the ideas you’ve worked up in it and in part because of the importance of 1 Cor. 15 in the science/faith discussion. What Paul outlines here is the gospel, and it is centered on Christ.

  • Simon

    I do agree with your implied point that if 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel, then it certainly should not be restricted to 1 Cor 15:3-4, whether we stop at v28 as you suggest or v57 or v58, as I think he is still expounding the theme. Certainly the eschatology of 42 – 56 is necessary for understanding the importance of the resurrection. I think from this resurrection discourse we can then hang all of the rest of the kingdom theology of Jesus, although to our western minds it does not flow smoothly. Maybe we need 25 years of a resurrection focused kerygma to look back and see what we have lost!

  • Is it the full gospel? This much I will say: it is our ground zero.

  • Simon

    If I may add a few points which I tink address the question in Albion’s post…
    v24 – 25 certainly resonate for me with the same themes of political justice as the Magnificat of Luke 1 and the Jubilee manifesto of Luke 4, although as we might expect for an earlier peice of writing the thoughts are less developed in Paul than in Luke.
    v30-32 I read in connection with the political violence of empire also which should be an outcome (or at least a side effect of a gospel preached which speaks truth unto the powers.)
    v39 – 42 presents a creational cosmology that presents a stark challenge to the Roman / pagan cosmologies of the first century as much as to the violently exploitative capitalist ones of today.
    v50 -55 I think are misundestood if the reader takes a view of spirituality that is private / personal and not public and therefore in some way political.
    Finally v56 shoudl be considerd in the context of a crtique of the powers, something not alien to the Lukan themes Albion longs to retin in the gospel presentation.

    The trouble is, all of this stuff is not obvious to a Western reader of 1 Cor 15, so the Luke stuff is really helpful at the level of “Method of persuasion” even if 1 Cor 15 is sufficient at the level of “Plan of Salvation”.

  • Scot McKnight

    Simon, there are “kingdom” themes, yes, in 1 Cor 15, but I observe that your points are not Jesus-shaped. Which is precisely the point of 1 Cor 15: The gospel is the Story of Jesus, according to the Scriptures (that is, that fulfills the Story of Jesus), and it saves (and there some kingdom society themes emerge as the effects of Jesus).

    Kingdom dare not be reduced to justice, peace, love, etc… though those are conditions of kingdom. Kingdom is first and foremost about the King and then those who dwell under his dominion.

    And I’m very enthusiastic about painting the kingdom themes (as I have done in both King Jesus Gospel and in One.Life) but we need to avoid turning kingdom into abstract ethics etc and keep it focused christologically.

  • T

    Is this a gospel passage? Yes. Does it deserve elevation over and above all other gospel passages? No. Why? Context, context, context. Paul is not writing this passage to do what we’re talking about here. He is aware of a very specific problem in Corinth, namely, “some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead.” What kind of response should we expect from an apostle who hears of such about a church–some of them are saying there is no resurrection!? He will argue as strongly as he can that Christ’s resurrection has happened (mention the witnesses), and how central it is to God’s work as a whole, including for this Church. He does all this Paul is saying that the resurrection is a non-negotiable. It is central to the faith. He’s fixing a serious problem in Corinth.

    If we ignore this and elevate this passage by saying that Paul is elevating this above other gospel articulations (rather than giving this in light of them), or if we treat this as if this is even a gospel summary given in a sterile environment that isn’t warped in a particular way, we misread it.

  • Albion

    we need to avoid turning kingdom into abstract ethics etc and keep it focused christologically

    Agreed. But I’m having trouble seeing it in 1Cor. If the life and teaching of Jesus cannot be separated from the cross, why aren’t the life and teaching (the christological way of the followers of Jesus, the way of faithful witness in the already but not yet kingdom, if you like) not more prominent in Paul’s thought here? Seems like he’s doing what the creeds do, skipping that ambiguous period of time between his sinless birth and sin-bearing death to focus on his death, burial and resurrection. In other words, the story of Jesus for Paul is not the whole story of Jesus. If that’s the case, it seems that Paul did omit something really important.

  • T

    And Scot, I disagree that the point of I Cor. 15 is that the gospel is the story of Jesus, that is taken for granted in this passage. The point of this passage is that the resurrection is central to the plan of God in Christ, to his story, and to our faith and salvation. The “gospels” however, make it plain that the story of Jesus is the gospel.

  • Rick

    I have started the book and am enjoying it.

    Touching on what Albion asked in #1, and what RJS said in #3, it looks like “Christ” is such a loaded term, or would have been to those hearers/readers. The connection to Israel is understood in that. Would that be a fair statement?

  • DRT

    I think Paul has an implicit assumption that all people need to belong to one kingdom and ruler or another. Many people today, in the US, feel that they are independent and don’t really consider themselves to be under the rule of someone else. But not so then.

    So Paul is not saying the question to which the gospel responds. The question is, who is my ruler? And, who do I follow?

    The good news is that we can now know that Jesus is the true King of the world and can be my Lord, my ruler.

    OK, so the kicker question is, what is saved? If the original question was, How do I inherit eternal life? Then saved gets you that. But I think the original question in for which the gospel is gospel is “Who do I follow?” So being saved is that we are now following the true and correct ruler of the world and we are now found instead of being lost.

    The eschatological resurrection is a benefit of being saved and found. The people would have the implicit assumption that if they found the true king of the world and they would follow him that something good would come of it, and the resurrection of Jesus is the proof of the power of god, demonstrating his rightful rulership, and also showing that he can do that to us too.

  • T

    Has he omitted anything important?

    Of course. There’s all that stuff in the first half of the gospels. There’s the part about the Holy Spirit resting on Christ, but now given to his Church, empowering the Church to be Christ’s witnesses (even doing all the stuff the Corinthians were doing with power, but not love). But in the whole letter, Paul dealt with each problem in Corinth in turn. Again, Paul wasn’t writing a mini-treatise on the gospel in this passage as if for a text-book; the whole passage is a thorough dismantling of the “argument and lofty idea” that there is no resurrection.

  • Amos Paul

    If Paul is *reminding* them of the Gospel, then he need not lay out the whole story in total… but merely that which is relevant to the particular situation to ‘remind’ them of the whole of it.

    I think that’s pretty clear from his own introduction, anyway.

  • DRT

    What is left out?

    Well, I think that Paul is doing his apostolic duty here and conveying his personal witness. He does not go beyond that. He says his witness and interpretation so he leaves out things that are beyond what he has known.

  • Scot McKnight

    Well, I disagree. Yes, context is resurrection, but read vv. 1-2 carefully and you’ll see that Paul begins with what everyone knows, what everyone believes, and what is saving them and what is sustaining them: the gospel, the traditional gospel.

    Yes, it has a very heavy resurrection theme (without which there is no forgiveness), and Paul then winds into that discussion.

    So I agree with you affirmation, but think you are denying what Paul gets started with. It’s not just resurrection.


    Fair enough, but in that word “Jesus” and in that word “Christ” is a person who lived — the teachings of Jesus are embedded in that, so I think.

    Now to both T and Albion,

    My book argues that 1 Cor 15 is unfolded, or instantiated in gospeling, in Acts, and I would contend that Acts 10:34ff might be the most important gospeling passage in Acts, though I have no bone in that fight. And there we see — in Acts as a whole — a whole life of Jesus, including life and teachings and deeds — so we need to read 1 Cor 15 within the context of gospeling among the apostles.

    And one more T, to say Paul omitted something important means to me he’s failed to do what he said he would do: pass on the gospel that everyone preaches and the one that saves. Those are his words. I’d have Holy Spirit in ascension and exaltation.


    He says explicitly this is not just his gospel but the one apostolic gospel of the tradition.

  • Ann

    I started the book and am enjoying it… however I’m still trying to figure out where exactly you are going with it. (I’m only 1/3 of the way through so maybe I just need to keep reading and I’ll get there). You say the gospel is not the same as the plan of salvation, but the plan of salvation is still vital. So are you saying to “evangelize” we should first present people with the gospel and then the plan of salvation? I guess I was kind of hoping you’d push us further beyond our hang-ups on personal salvation. Because I believe that self-centeredness is actually part of the problem… the plan of salvation is cosmic in scope and often preaching of a personal salvation distorts it. BUT, I’ll keep reading b/c for the most part I’m really enjoying it!

  • Ann

    Oh yeah, and I find myself surrounded by people who do not see the connection between the story of Israel (Old Testament) and the New Testament. I actually had one person in my Education for Ministry (EfM) class that flat out said she hated the OT and that it was just the history of one group of people and we shouldn’t elevate the Jewish history above other histories. She refused to believe there was ANYTHING she could learn by studying the OT. For me it’s just plain as day the connection, but sadly for many they don’t see it. Thank you Scot for trying to help people see the connection.

  • Amos Paul


    Is your position, then, that Paul was not giving a quick summary of ‘The Gospel’ here for the purposes of ‘reminding’ the Corinthians, but that he ‘reminded’ them of the Gospel by laying out the full and total of it.

    For if it’s a summary, it’s obviously missing something–whether it be details or depth. Conversely, if it’s the whole of the Gospel, then how can there be relevant details missing?

    I agree with Augustine (a somewhat rare occurrence) that the Gospel, if anything, is simple enough that a child can believe in it, but rich enough that the most brilliant human mind can never grasp or define the whole of it.

  • Yes, I agree that 1 Corinthians 15 is a sketch, a good solid outline of the gospel. It is the apostolic tradition handed down to Paul, faithfully handed down from Paul, received as such by the Corinthians. It is the the message that is to be believed and the message that saves (vv. 1-2).

    There is the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection (vv. 3-4). “According to the scriptures” alludes to the Hebrew “backstory,” so these things did not happen in a historical vacuum.

    The bodily resurrection of King Jesus from the dead is not just about Him but also about us, because He is the firstfruits from the dead that guarantees our bodily resurrection as well (v. 20).

    There is the coming again of the King (v. 23). But Paul does not stop there, leaving a big gap between the resurrection of the Jesus and the return of the King. There is something that is happening in between that is, I believe, a very important part of the gospel. King Jesus is reigning now (the kingdom is now as well as later) and all things are being placed under His feet (already begun though not yet completely done).

    When I was in Bible college, we stopped at the Crossed then progressed to the Resurrection, then shot ahead to the Parousia. It was not until a number of years later that I began to understand the significance of the Ascension ~ the King rising to His throne. In Matthew 28, we jumped to the Great Commission, in verses 19 and 20, and all but ignored verse 18, where Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” That is a stunning declaration and tremendously good news. It means that the reign of King Jesus has already begun, not just in heaven but on earth as well. We participate in that kingdom now, but will also experience it forever in resurrection, incorruptible bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

    In view of all this, Paul concludes, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). It is all going somewhere; it all has tremendous significance. And it is all centered in King Jesus the Messiah.

    Like the old gospel song says, “Ain’t that good news?”

  • Ann #17,

    I like the distinction Scot makes between the gospel and the plan of salvation; not as separate from the gospel but as a part of it. I think that is very helpful. The Bible college I went to prided itself on the clarity with which it preached the gospel, but it was preaching only a portion, the plan of salvation. It is an important portion, and very true, but there is more to the gospel than that. I would say that the plan of salvation is about how we enter into the good news that Jesus is King and all that means; so that the gospel announcement that He is King is not a judgment to be feared but a joy to be embraced.

  • Albion

    Scot: I think this is the weakest part of your book’s argument because it depends on something Paul never says. If, as you say, Paul is “here presenting the apostolic tradition about the gospel — that is, what all the apostles said was the gospel,” why did he not give even a nod toward the life/teaching/kingdom as “of first importance”?

    Put another way: I don’t think you intend to present or frame the gospel the way Paul presented it because you want to say more. You want not only to flesh out the things he said, you want to add the things he didn’t say including the full story of Jesus and the story of Israel (which doesn’t even get a mention here).

    Even in Acts 10, Peter does not repeat Mt 28 (make disciples, teach them to obey); rather, he says “he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” The story of Israel and even the teaching ministry of Jesus are muted, if not completely ignored, and the “forgiveness of sins” takes a more prominent place.

    I’m not Soterian but I’m not seeing how would persuade a soterian to have a bigger vision. Don’t 1 Cor15 and Acts 10 fit quite nicely within a soterian worldview?

  • T


    Thanks for reply. We are in much more agreement than not. Let me start by agreeing with your reference and point about Acts 10:34ff. If I was going to pick a passage to say the kinds of things we are saying here about I Cor. 15, it would be that passage. I’d love for everyone to read it! Notice how it is practically an outline of the gospels! In fact, the best way to account for the difference b/n the content of that passage and I Cor. 15, IMO, is problem that some in Corinth are saying there is no resurrection. That should tell us something important.

    There are arguably other good reasons (preaching to the saved vs. non-believers, etc.) to focus on the Acts passage as well. But all that aside, I did as you suggested and read the first couple of verses closely (and I think v. 11 helps your point as well), and yes, Paul is clearly locating his arguments for the resurrection within his (and the other apostles’) typical gospel. He is reminding them, even if slighly selectively for his point, of “the” gospel he gave them. I agree with you that this passage is “gospel.” I still say the gospel he summarizes leaves out a few bits that Peter does not (which are easy to spot) precisely because of the problem Paul is addressing, not because the parts that Peter mentions aren’t important as well. Honestly, though, the more one keeps reading I Cor. 15, the more it becomes clear that Paul’s goal is dismantling the “no resurrection” idea in every possible way, and even using the gospel as exhibit “A.”

    Here’s my main concern: You know from my past comments that my issue is that we have a church that is largely shaped by the last half of the gospels–Jesus’ death and resurrection–but not the first half (and not even the next bit at Pentecost, in significant ways). For that pastoral reason alone, I so wish you had focused on the Acts passage. I’ll gladly admit the last half of the gospels (as with any good story) is the climax. But we have a long way to go before the other bits are given their due as “gospel” at all! So it’s unfortunate to me that, despite valid contextual reasons to see Paul’s specific aim, and despite the availability of other passages which are less shaped by concerns of heresy, and despite our current, long-standing church problems of lacking discipleship and related transactional soteriology, we keep lifting up I Cor. 15 as the gold standard of gospelling. It’s just unfortunate. Does that make sense?

  • There is, of course, much more that could be said about the gospel, about King Jesus, but as John said in his telling of the Gospel, the world is not big enough to contain all the books that could be written about it.

    So, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is not saying everything that can be said about it. But it is, as Scot said in the opener, a sketch of the gospel, and as such, I think it is a faithful condensation of the Big Story. I don’t know whether this passage is necessarily the one everyone should begin with in telling the story, but I do think it faithfully outlines it for us.

  • Scot McKnight

    Amos, what Jeff said after you …

    … Paul does not give everything but an outline of everything. Thus, nothing significant is omitted.

    Albion, the Story of Israel is in “according to the Scriptures,” and if you go at least to v. 28 Scripture is everywhere.

    T, in the book I do emphasize Acts 10 as a singularly important gospeling passage. Today’s post though is on the adequacy of the gospel in 1 Cor 15. You don’t have to convince me of the significance of Jesus’ life and teaching, and I would say they are en nuce at “Jesus” and “Christ,” if not simple presupposition — they knew who they were talking about. The Jesus who did that and said this, which is why 1 Cor 15 has to be seen in light of Acts because those sermons “flesh out” details of the Story.

  • Patrick

    Israel is always part of the Gospel because the people who believe God about Jesus are His Israel. Paul made that imminently clear.

    That’s who we become upon the birth from above.

  • Jon G

    #12 DRT said-
    “If the original question was, How do I inherit eternal life? Then saved gets you that. But I think the original question in for which the gospel is gospel is “Who do I follow?” So being saved is that we are now following the true and correct ruler of the world and we are now found instead of being lost.”

    I think this is a great summation of the debate as I see it! Scot, is this what you are addressing?

  • I am with Albion, “Seems like he’s doing what the creeds do, skipping that ambiguous period of time between his sinless birth and sin-bearing death to focus on his death, burial and resurrection. In other words, the story of Jesus for Paul is not the whole story of Jesus. If that’s the case, it seems that Paul did omit something really important.”

    I think T’s definition of the gospel would be mine, “The “gospels” however, make it plain that the story of Jesus is the gospel.” That gospel story is the incarnation, the life, the teachings, the death and the resurrection. Any attempt to reduce the gospel down robs it of it’s power.

    Jesus said “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus focused on the teachings and the embodiment of those teachings as the path to freedom. I don’t see that in this passage from Paul. However, I think the more significant mystery is the incarnation, that indwelling of Christ in the flesh that makes the incarnation of the word possible in all of us. The gospel message is Jesus, all of Jesus.

  • Scott, I just read your #25 in response to T. While it may have been true that the original readers of Paul’s text read into the text the full story of Jesus life, I do not think that today’s readers read it that way and as a result I think it is dangerous to make this passage a synopsis of the gospel story. I have not read your book but hope to over the weekend, perhaps that will help me understand where you are going with this post.

  • I think we need to understand that the name “Jesus” and the terms “Lord” and “Christ” (or rather, “Messiah”) are LOADED with gospel significance.

    He is called “Jesus,” or “Yeshua” (His name in Hebrew), because “He shall save His people from their sins” and yeshuah is the Hebrew word for salvation. So there is connection to the story of Israel in that.

    He is also called “Messiah”, because He is the “anointed one” God promised to Israel, the one anointed to be King.

    He is called “Lord,” which speaks of His divinity and His authority as King.

    When the Philippian jailer, who was not of Israel, fell on his knees before Paul and begged, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your house.” I don’t take that as just the “plan of salvation.” I see in it a super-condensed proclamation of the gospel: He is savior, He is God’s promised and Anointed King over Israel and the world, and He is divine. If that is not how Paul actually condensed it that sudden moment, it is at least how Luke condensed it in the telling. All of that can be unpacked by the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    Of course, that does get used as nothing more than plan of salvation, about us ~ how do we get saved. But Paul was not just saying something important for the Philippian jailer, he was declaring something important about who and what Jesus is, and what that means in the history of the world.

  • Rick

    T, Albion, and Wendy-

    Your concerns are valid, but they are an “us” (the modern church) problem, not a Paul or passage problem.

    What Paul included, as it was probably delivered to him, is a sufficient summary. We are the ones (or those who focus on just one aspect) missing the boat.

  • Rick

    Jeff #30-

    Well said, and is what I was attempting to take a stab at in #11. Your comment was much more complete and spelled out.

  • Scot McKnight

    Wendy, but Paul says 1 Cor 15 is the gospel. Do you think he got it wrong?

  • James

    One “omission” in 1st Cor. 15, as well as in Paul’s letters in general, is that Paul focuses on the death, resurrection, and parousia of Jesus as the key elements of the Gospel he preached. But Paul wrote and apparently preached little about the three year life/ministry of Jesus from His baptism to his death. (Paul does reference the events of the last supper in the context of teaching he received regarding the Lord’s Supper for beleivers).

    To me this is an interestinbg “omission”. It could be Paul did not know much about the three year ministry/life of Jesus. Or one could interpret the omission in Corinthians and elsewhere to be that he did not deem the life/ministry details essential to the Gospel (ie – Jesus’ miracles, actions [cleansing of the temple], direct reference to his teaching [Sermon on the Mount], etc.)

    Paul does emphasize Jesus’ death and ressurection as the key elements of the Gospel, but mostly omit the rest of the ministry narrative of Jesus that is found in the four gospels. Or to put it another way, if all a person had were the letters of Paul, tha person would know very little about the earthly life/ministry narrative of Jesus, beyond His death, burial, and resurrection.

    I realize Paul restates theology that is found in the four gospels, but for the most part he does not teather his theology to the narrative details found in the four gospels, other than the last supper, death, burial, and resurretion of Jesus.

  • Scott,

    I think Rick #32, is onto something. When I read Paul’s words, I read them through the lenses I was trained to read them with. I do not see anything in this passage that points to the incarnation, life, teaching of Jesus. However, if you are correct and that understanding was a given to the original audience, then no Paul is not wrong. However, to use Paul’s words today, with today’s audiences and give no emphasis to fuller story behind his words would be wrong. It would reduce the gospel to only these words written by Paul and I think the gospel story is bigger than that.

  • Scot McKnight


    In my book I don’t use 1 Cor 15 alone, but as the earliest statement of the apostolic gospel, and I argue at length that 1 Cor 15 is complemented by the gospel sermons of Acts (7 of them) where flesh is put on the bones of 1 Cor 15 (and it includes the life and teachings and deeds of Jesus), and then I argue the first four books of the NT, the Gospels, are in fact The one and only gospel. So, I agree but I’m confident Paul had just that sort of thing in mind when he used Jesus and Christ and implied the whole life in talking about him.

    But there is a gravity of God’s action in the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation as well.

  • Is it not the gravity of God’s action in the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation that causes us to see that the three year ministry of Jesus, His words and deeds, are of highest importance to us? But take away the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension, and what would be be left with? Nice-sounding ideas that we would have no reason to think would actually pan out.

  • Hope to read your book this weekend. I am not saying that the death and resurrection of of Jesus are any less important than the life and teaching. I am simply arguing for presenting the whole gospel and I don’t read this one passage as the whole gospel.

    I guess I have been in too many churches that do see only the death and resurrection as the full gospel and I have seen how this understanding leads to a faith that over emphasizes “right belief” and discounts actually embodying the teachings of Jesus.

  • Just downloaded the book and read the Wright’s intro…I think I am going to enjoy this! I look forward to future discussions on this topic.

  • Dave Leigh

    I’ve always seen the word gospel in two parts: good + news (or good + message; “evangel”). The news relates to facts uninterpreted: Jesus crucified, dead, buried, risen, ascended, etc. The “good” relates to a valuation and and interpretation of the facts and their significance. The facts have implications for Israel and its history-long God-wrestling, the messianic kingdom, and the salvation of mankind. Most of the NT is preoccupied with the implications and applications of the Christ-event facts and their significance for the many diverse peoples to whom the message is delivered. So I see Paul, the apostles, and the evangelists saying: “Here’s the news: events we saw and experienced regarding Jesus Christ. And here’s what it means for Israel, for Gentiles, for the faith community, for the lost, for the all who would hear and believe the news.” And what good news it is in every case!

    Journalists have a saying: “All news is local.” In other words, you can’t just define news from the starting point of facts but must consider the recipients and what is important to them as recipients. For this reason, I think defining the “good news”/gospel, will always seem a little hard fossilze or concresce, so long as there are multiple locals to which the news is sent.

  • Dave Leigh

    * a little TO hard fossilze or concresce

  • Dave Leigh

    ugh! * a little hard TO fossilze or concresce

  • Albion

    What Paul included, as it was probably delivered to him, is a sufficient summary. We are the ones (or those who focus on just one aspect) missing the boat.

    Rick: Why is it sufficient? If Paul has the life and teaching of Jesus in mind, why doesn’t Peter or Paul mention the teaching of Jesus in their sermons? Israel is plainly a part of Peter’s preaching in Acts (not so in Paul’s presumably because of the gentile context) but the preaching ministry of Jesus is absent from all 7 sermons in Act so far as I can tell. He was a man who did good deeds and healed people and died for their sins. You’d never know he preached a pretty important sermon too.

    I’m not arguing that Scot’s thesis about the gospel being bigger than the plan of salvation is wrong. He’s absolutely right about that. But the narrower question he asked about whether Paul omitted anything important in 1 Cor 15 has to be answered affirmatively. What is the gospel if it’s not at least about Jesus calling into being a new community of the new age that will live in faithful obedience to his commands? It’s fundamental to the story of Jesus and it’s absent here and in Acts.

    It’s also Friday afternoon. Have a great weekend everybody.

  • Dennis J

    “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance”
    As mentioned by some already, the eternal and cosmic significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection are “of first importance”. without this particular aspect of the gospel we would have nothing other than the classic Liberal view of emulating a good man. however, when i hear the term “gospel” several other passages come to mind. like, Luke 2:10-11, Luke 4:18, and Acts 10:36-38.
    the picture painted by the four Gospels (and the book of Acts concerning the church), altogether, form a truly grand view of what the gospel means. Paul, on the other hand, seems to often emphasize particulars as they pertain to life and situations. Perhaps the Corinthians had forgotten the eternal purposes in favour of ‘here and now’ realities. and so, needed a reminder.

  • Dennis J

    I think Paul’s continued theme concerning death and the afterlife does suggest that Paul is offering a particular aspect of the gospel that needed to be emphasized for this group specifically. (perhaps much in the same way that someone like N.T. Wright is emphasizing Thy Kingdom come in our generation.)

  • Rick


    “What is the gospel if it’s not at least about Jesus calling into being a new community of the new age that will live in faithful obedience to his commands?”

    That is certainly a wonderful benefit of the gospel, and the importance of His teachings may be understood simply because of who He is and what He did. But is not the “first importance” specifically about Him and what He accomplished in real space and time? All else flows from that, and as Scot has stated, works with, and is supported by, the Gospels and sermons in Acts.

  • Scot,
    I was with you in chap 1-3, but you lost me when you shifted from this grand over-arching story of Israel and Jesus to defining the story through 1 Cor 15.

    You write “Every time Paul mentions “gospel” in his letters, he is referring to this four-line gospel.” You define those four lines as, “Death of Jesus, burial of Jesus, resurrection of Jesus and appearances of Jesus”, which obviously omits the life and teachings of Jesus.

    I was hopeful when you quote Pastor John who says “Only the Gospels recount the gospel in all its fullness. The Gospels and the gospel are one.” But I was ready to throw the book out the window when you wrote on the next page that the gospels “focus on the death and resurrection of the hero – Jesus – more than any story in ancient history. This also conforms to Paul’s own emphasis…he goes right for the death, the burial and the resurrection.”

    I was wondering what translation of the bible you have? I actually counted the Gospel pages in my bible – 125 tell about the life of Jesus and 11 focus on the death and resurrection.

    Why should we read the Story of Jesus through Paul when we have the full story in the gospels themselves? Why can’t the gospel be the Story of Jesus as presented in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in their entirety?

    Perhaps in the second half the book you say something that will counter my reading of the first half. But, I am so very disappointed with your insistence that 1 Cor 15 is the gospel and your willingness to read everything through that lens including the words of Jesus, that I can’t read any more.

    Perhaps you can give me the cliff note version – Why did Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share the life of Jesus and his teachings if all that matters is Paul’s four lines starting with the death of Jesus?

  • Dennis J

    In light of my own statements above it may seem odd that I would critiquing what you say, being that it is very similar to what I have said. However, I think that it is important to note that the overarching theme of Jesus’ death and Ressurrection are not contained in the final couple chapters of each Gospel. They are pivotal themes that are greatly emphasized throughout each Gospel, culminating and climaxing at the end.
    It is good to stress their importance. I just think that Jesus’ mission included the added dimension of revealing the nature of God through His person. This revelation of God, then, is also a major aspect within the writing of each Gospel. But it does not take precedent over the theme of death and ressurrection. it enriches the Gospel to see Jesus in action on this earth.

  • Scot McKnight


    Thanks for this.
    First, Paul calls this the gospel, and I trust him in it and I think he’s adequately describing the gospel.
    Second, I would not want to omit “life and teachings” from anything, but Paul does and sometimes I have it in that kind of formula and sometimes I don’t — but any reading of the book shows that I emphasize the whole story of Jesus, so when you suggest above that it “omits” it does so only in that one formula but others are used. I think you are looking for a one-sided emphasis on the life and teachings, and I want to give it how it is shaped in the NT.
    So let me say this very clearly: the book has to be read through to see this and I can’t believe you would come to that conclusion once you see it unfold.

    1. 1 Cor 15 is the gospel and it implies life.
    2. Acts sermons bring that whole life out.
    3. The Gospels are the gospel and they tell the whole story in detail.
    4. The Gospels fill in what 1 Cor 15 has.
    5. That means 1 Cor 15 in some way also includes the life.

    But if I say “life and teachings’ every time I mention 1 Cor 15 it looks like I’m cooking the books because 1 Cor 15 both tells us that these four lines tell us the gospel (they do!) and I suggest implies that life but doesn’t express it in detail.

    1 Cor 15 is the sketch; Acts is gospeling; the Gospels are the gospel.

    Now how about that? You with me yet?

  • Scot McKnight


    Let’s say Acts 13, 14, 17 adequately sketch how Paul preached.
    Paul says he preached “Christ crucified” in 1 Cor 1.

    Does this mean the latter doesn’t entail the life? No, but it sees the life through the cross. So with the former we see what Paul preached, with the latter the lens through which Paul saw that life.

  • Scot McKnight


    Now back to the earlier comment: they Gospels do focus on death and resurrection. No other life in ancient history has half on the last week and death. None. That’s the focus of 1 Cor 15.

    What I have in mind is Mark 11-16 and the parallel structure in each of the other three Gospels. There is an amazing concentration on the Passion story.

    I am not reading them through Paul; I’m saying Paul defines it and when we get to the bottom of what he says we see that the Gospels are indeed the gospel, and this in the face of many today who think the Gospels are not the gospel.

  • Denis,

    I agree fully with your statement “This revelation of God, then, is also a major aspect within the writing of each Gospel. But it does not take precedent over the theme of death and ressurrection. it enriches the Gospel to see Jesus in action on this earth.” I am not trying to elevate the life and teaching above the death and resurrection. I am simply trying to get them into the telling of the story. I believe the whole Jesus story is important. It all belongs together and one part of the over arching story of the scriptures. Taken out of the context of the larger story, it is a perversion of the gospel which is what I originally thought Scot was arguing. However, that is not what I found once I got deeper into the book.

  • scotmcknight

    Wendy, cool.

  • Chris

    What impresses me about what I have read in the book is not whether 1 Cor 15 does or does not say about the Gospel but that Scot has made a valuable distinction between the what is the Gospel and what has been called the plan of salvation. This resonated with me right away–tired of the instantaneous decisions of people being forced fed prayer like it was a magic saying and calling them saved forever–even leaders saying things like it doesn’t matter if a person never shows faith actions-yep, still saved because they made a decision. It hurts!

    The call to the Gospel is a more than a call to personal salvation, something westerns gladly acquire with only the cost of a prayer and then can go on with life as before. The call is to a new life, a reconciliation to the Father, whom we owe everything. From what I see of today’s Christianity, there is a knee-jerk to anything that hints at works or borders on Lordship salvation.

    If we understand salvation as a change of allegiance from ourselves/the world system to the kingdom God is expanding here on this earth that will eventually be revealed at the return of Jesus the Messiah it will set a expectation, a theme, a purpose for life and living at the very onset of the conversion experience naturally leading to disciplng. Now that thrust is simply to get the hell our of hell.

  • Scot,

    I think I will stick with your Pastor John quote, “Only the Gospels recount the gospel in all its fullness. The Gospels and the gospel are one.” I really don’t understand the point in trying to reduce the gospel message down any further than that.

    I loved One.Life – “Jesus Calls, We Follow” is the way we move from the “Decided” to the “Disciples.” I am struggling with how we hear and understand that call and how we know how to follow if we condense the gospel to 1 Cor 15.

    I understand what you are doing…it just does not work for me. Perhaps if I were coming to this conversation from the perspective of a “soterian” as you described it, I would see your use of 1 Cor 15 as an expansion of my understanding of the Gospel. I am sure for many it is. However, that is not my starting place so perhaps that is why I just don’t get the point.

    Loved chapter 1-3, I guess I should just leave it at that.

  • simon

    @Scot #7. Wow Scot, and thanks. What you have said, probably quite quickly, points to a gulf down the middle of my Christianity that has probably been then for the 22 years I have been in Christ – the one between spirituality and hermeneutics.

    My spirituality I suppose could be described (as inadequate as words are) as experiential and charismatic, with an intimate experience of the risen Jesus, by the Spirit, more close than I know, and a richness of communinion in prayer, contemplation and worship.

    By whenever I read the Bible I seem to find a mostly policitical and economic message, which peaks in the KoG vision of a radicallly egalitarian redistributive and non-violent community, a praxis which is only possible by the indewelling of the Spirit.

    Now when I think about “evangelism” I tend to think about telling of the latter, Biblical, story and not the former, personal experience.

    As I said before I’m still waiting for your book to arrive, but I’m hoping you might help me bridge this chasm. Thanks for reading my previous comment and posting your reply – its really great when bloggers do engage with their followers.

    Much love in King Jesus


  • Albion

    But is not the “first importance” specifically about Him and what He accomplished in real space and time?

    I don’t think that Jesus’ preaching of the gospel of the KG is subsidiary to his death/resurrection. If that is not part of the gospel, then you’re back to a soterian view of things. The kingdom is not a benefit of the gospel, it is the mystery hidden for ages and generations, that jews and gentiles belong together in God’s new age. The whole life of Jesus must be in view to make the gospel. His preaching/teaching is one leg of a 3-legged stool, so to speak.

    That’s been the problem with so much evangelical preaching — treating the life and teaching of Jesus as somehow subordinate to his death and the resurrection. They are all essential elements of the gospel which is why the story of Israel and the story of Jesus are necessary to a full telling of the good news.

  • Percival

    I don’t understand this insistence that this summary is the gospel. A summary of something is not the same as the thing that is summarized. Paul says it’s the gospel, okay, that settles it right? Well, if this was the gospel that Paul preached, he must have had the shortest sermons in history. Rather, it seems obvious that this is one summary of the gospel which he preached to them and he is reminding them of the bones of his message to deal their issues. I’m sure the fleshed out version is more complete.

    I believe that with another community Paul may have mentioned different things rather than the list of witnesses. In some communities he might have emphasized how in Christ God has made one people from all the families of the earth. To another community, another emphasis. After all, he was a cross-cultural missionary and he adapted the expression of the gospel to the community he was addressing.

    Also, what about the “gospel” that was preached by the disciples when they barely knew Jesus and did not understand God’s plan? Scott, something is not working for me in all this. It seems too reductionist. Yes, the Jesus Creed was short and sweet – love God, love others. The Gospel cannot be reduced so easily because at the center of it is a person who is bigger than all the gospel descriptions. and I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books.

  • Paul Johnston

    What makes Christology distinctive, rather transcendant, is resurrection. Comparable ethical paradigms can exist and be lived out, apart from this belief. Perhaps our brothers and sisters in Corinth were the first advocates of a purely social Gospel.

  • At the request of Wendy, I am coming to this conversation, though a bit late.

    Since I have not read the book, I feel inadequate to join the discussion, but I did publish a journal article a few years back on “euangelion” and “euangelizomai” and studied 1 Corinthians 15 as part of that article.

    I ended up concluding that 1 Corinthians 15 is a summary of the Gospel, but is not the entire Gospel as it leaves out several key truths which are mentioned in Gospel descriptions elsewhere.

    Furthermore, I argued that even the Gospels themselves do not contain the entire Gospel message, but that the Gospel is everything related to the birth, life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus. This ends up including all the prophecies and stories from the Hebrew Scriptures which “point” to Jesus, so essentially, the entire Bible becomes “the Gospel.”