Darrell Bock on the Non-Pauline gospel of the Speeches in Acts

Darrell Bock on the Non-Pauline gospel of the Speeches in Acts July 13, 2012

Darrell Bock, who is touring Australia at the moment, wrote a very good essay on “The Gospel Before the Gospels: The Preached Core Narrative” in the recent Howard Marshall festschrift. In particular I like these two quotes:

In the church today we often present the gospel as if it were about forgiveness of sins alone. Jesus died for our sins, so believe and be saved. However, what this speech [Acts 2] highlights is not so much how Jesus saves us, but where that act of saving takes us. It takes us to God’s Spirit and a restored relationship with God rooted in enablement to respond to God. This parallels what is said about the new covenant in Jeremiah, where forgiveness and the Law of God on the heart are the benefits God promises will come to his people one day. In this way, gospel and covenantal promise come together. God’s having exalted Jesus makes all of this possible. This is the message of Acts 2.

What is remarkable in our overview of these speeches is how little is said about how Jesus brings the forgiveness he offers. In fact, nothing is said about that at all. In these speeches there is no description of atonement, even though the scene of the Last Supper and the speech by Paul to the elders at Miletus indicates that that is precisely how this was accomplished. Wha tis pursued is a personal link between the exalted one and the person who responds to his offer. More than that what is also presented is the opportunity for life that comes from that forgiveness, often summarized in the promise of the gift of life that comes with the Spirit Jesus bestows to his own. How is this like what we see elsewhere in the NT?

I seriously wonder if we have two competing gospel visions in evangelicalism. On the one hand, the Paul-justification-forensic view (e.g., Dave Gilbert, What is the Gospel?) contrasted on the other hand with the Gospel narrative-Lord Jesus-multiple-salvation-images approach (e.g., Tom Wright, Scot McKnight, John Dickson, Darrell Bock). I think we are seeing a protest against Reformed tendencies to define the gospel strictly in forensic and non-narrative categories drawn strictly from Paul (and Paul = Galatians 2-3 and Romans 1-5) being unconsciously set over the rest of the canonical witness to the gospel.


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  • editor

    Yes, undoubtedly. But isn’t the key question to ask where this differentiation has arisen from? Is it present in the texts, which have a bifurcated view of the gospel–perhaps even competing theologies? Or has it arisen from (possibly on both sides) a selective reading of the texts? Or is there something about the social and intellectual contexts of the different readers?

    • Andley Chang

      Could it be possible that they are not competing, but complementing visions of the Gospel ?

      As Paul elaborates in 1Cor 15 that there are two-sides of one Gospel: the death & resurrection of Christ — Justification & Sanctification, Paul-justification-forensic & narrative-Jesus-multiple-salvation-images, already & not-yet …

      • Patrick


        That’s how I see it.

        I see the “corrective” movement alluded to above as reaction to evangelicals sort of majoring on the forensic side to the detriment of the “life” Christ gave us at belief and our role in it.

        Neither are the whole w/o the other, both are God’s will.

  • TR

    A good question, Michael, that helps clarify the current state of the discussion. For my money, having spent the past month reading through 1 Peter, I’d argue that a “Petrine” view of salvation may offer the most full-orbed articulation of the doctrine, tying together Paul’s forensic emphasis (1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18; Acts 10:43, 15:10-11) with the corporate and narrative emphases (1 Pet. 2:4-10; Acts 2:14-40, 3:13-25, 10:42), as well as the Johannine emphases on new birth (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) and cleansing (1 Pet. 1:2, 19; Acts 15:9). It’s not that Paul or John (or Peter) got salvation “right” and the others somehow got it “wrong,” but given that each had particular concerns that shaped their presentation of the gospel message, I think that Peter brings together a number of the major salvation-images in a more holistic way. Then again, he was fighting different battles from Paul, John, James, et al.

  • Timothy

    Is the issue here what is the aspect of the gospel which is most appropriate for a particular culture or for a particular situation? At Galatia the issue of fellowship unity was the issue and so the answer was in terms of the forensic etc. In Acts, very often is was a gospel preached to the Jews and the issue became what is ushering in the new era. In Colossians, perhaps the issue was spiritual powers so that the triumph of Christ over such powers in the cross was more central. What the traditional Reformed view does is make what was an aspect entirely appropriate for their time and culture normative for other times and cultures. Not that this makes the Reformed view wrong, just not the aspect that needs in some situations to be emphasised.

  • The interesting thing to me is that I don’t see much of the “Pauline gospel” in Paul, if that’s what is meant by the “Pauline gospel.” Paul’s gospel is also thoroughly concerned with new covenant themes, with forgiveness receiving much less attention than being made righteous and holy.

  • Lukea

    Brief correction: It’s Greg Gilbert who wrote What is the Gospel, not Dave Gilbert. I once knew someone named Dave Gilbert, but he didn’t write books.

  • BK

    haven’t read it yet, but does someone like Matt Chandler in his recent book “The Explicit Gospel” try to hold the two together?

  • Susan

    Where is the link to the article by Bock?

  • Tim

    One could add a third element of Jesus’ work, in addition to the two Bock discusses, namely that of taking away our shame. Neither of the other two emphases addresses this head-on the way, say, it is addressed in Peter’s epistles. While this might seem less relevant to our culture, we daily face the shameful actions of some parts of the Church.