Dear Apostle Paul,
Did you goof up in your recounting the essence of the gospel to the Corinthian believers? In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 you state your aim to remind those believers what the gospel is, the gospel you had yourself “received” as part of emerging Christian tradition. You emphasize that this gospel, your gospel, is the only gospel that saves. What is the gospel, Paul?
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. —1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Do you see your slip up? In recounting the historical events of Jesus’ life, you forgot to mention Christmas, Jesus’ birth. Come on, Paul. As a companion of Dr. Luke surely you knew something about Luke’s research into and account of the startling birth of Jesus. Matthew, the Apostle and Gospel writer, also spent some time on that event in Jesus’ life. How can your “gospel,” Paul, start with Jesus’ death and completely ignore Jesus’ birth and life? Don’t you know what the Angel of the Lord told the shepherds? Here, let’s recall what that angel called “gospel.”
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 10-12 emphasis added).
Gospel, Paul. The angel called Jesus’ birth gospel. Oops. What do you say about that?
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I appreciate your thoughtful reflection on my account of the gospel. Never one to shy away from admitting my faults, I confess that I could have really goofed on my gospel summary. You had a good point about the angel’s announcement that Jesus’ birth to the shepherds was “good news” (gospel). You’re in a privileged position having all four Gospels and my and other authors’ letters plus all the thoughts, insights, and teachings of passionate Christian hearts and minds though the ages. Maybe I did miss something, but, after further thought, I don’t think so.
The angel of the Lord and I did agree on the important thing about Jesus, the One born. He was Messiah. I wrote about “first importance”—that being CHRIST died. That right there has been a conversation starter and stopper for me all my life. Christ died. The angel of the Lord identified the One born as “Savior…CHRIST the Lord.” I agree with you that it is the actual, factual history about Jesus the Christ that is crucial to the gospel. When I wrote “the Christ” died, I assumed the baby born and named Jesus was, indeed, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. The identity of the One born is more profound than his birth. Jewish boys are born everyday, but only One was born Savior, Christ the Lord.
What you call Christmas is a small paragraph in a huge, sweeping cosmic Story. God the Creator is reclaiming all creation as his own. God’s Christ is the agent of something so massive and inclusive that the word “gospel” seems like a flimsy vessel for such a compelling reality. I was eager in writing to the Corinthians to get to God’s vast redemptive enterprise, to that Story anchored in “the Scriptures” in which God was doing something so marvelous in such an unexpected, even crazy way through Messiah. God was making all things new and it started when the Christ was RAISED according to the Scriptures! Is the incarnation important? Of course! Yet, incarnation, life in humiliation, death as deplorable as human kind can imagination and execute—all that recedes fast when Jesus kicked away the stone blocking the tomb entrance. New creation is here! It’s here now! That’s gospel, my friend. If I goofed up, it was a goof prompted by wonder.
Paul, as the one abnormally born