What Gospel Did Paul Preach? [Hint: It Wasn’t Penal Substitutionary Atonement]

What Gospel Did Paul Preach? [Hint: It Wasn’t Penal Substitutionary Atonement] October 11, 2018

What is the Gospel? Well, it depends on who you ask.

If you ask some Christians today, especially the Reformed kind, you’ll hear something that sounds like a description of the crucifixion. That’s also called Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory, or the Satisfaction Atonement Theory.

All you need to know is: That’s not the Gospel. At least, not according to the New Testament, or to Jesus. It’s also a very new doctrine that didn’t show up until about a thousand years after Christ. It’s also not the only theory about the atonement, or the oldest. It’s actually one of many theories. And, at any rate, it’s not the Gospel.

The Gospel that Jesus preached was the Good News [or Gospel] of the Kingdom.

What’s the Gospel of the Kingdom, you ask? Well, very simply, it’s the “Good News” that the Kingdom of God where He rules and reigns can be experienced today by anyone who surrenders their life to Christ as their King and begins to learn to follow Jesus in their daily life.

Jesus talks about the Gospel of the Kingdom all throughout his ministry, for example:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” – Mark 1:15 

“The kingdom of God has come upon you.”- Matthew 12:28

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14

“For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:21

“After his suffering, he [Jesus] presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 1:3

In fact, Jesus spoke almost exclusive about the Kingdom of God. His parables almost always start with the phrase: “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is like…” and then he will tell us a parable about man who finds a treasure in a field, or a man who seeks for precious pearls, or a woman who loses a coin, or a shepherd who seeks for his sheep, etc.

But nearly everything Jesus does and says is to emphasize something about the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Believe it or not, Paul also taught the Gospel of the Kingdom. The New Testament affirms this over and over again.

For example:

“I [Paul] have gone [among you] preaching the kingdom of God” – Acts 20:25

“We must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22

“For the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:17

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Cor. 4:20

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 19:8

“He [Paul] witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” – Acts 28:23

“He [Paul] proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” – Acts 28:31

“Now I [Paul] know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” – Acts 29:25

So, the Gospel that Jesus preached and the Gospel that Paul preached are exactly the same.

For that matter, Philip and the other Apostles also taught the Good News of the Kingdom [because there was no other Gospel to teach]. As we read in Acts:

“But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” – Acts 8:12 

See also: Heb. 1:8; 11:33; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev. 1:6; 1:9; 5:10; 11:15; 12:10

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, the problem is that many Christians want us to believe that the Gospel is not what we read from the lips of Jesus, or what we find repeated over and over again in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Instead, they want us to believe that – based on one single verse – that the Gospel was given to us by Paul [not by Jesus] and is found in 1 Corinthians [not the Gospels].

To them, this is the Gospel:

“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. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

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 Cor. 15:1-8)

So, there are a few problems with taking this one verse and declaring that this is the Gospel:

First, Jesus [not Paul] came to declare the Gospel [Good News] of the Kingdom.

Second, the Gospel is contained in the Gospels, not in a letter to the church in Corinth.

Third, no theologian worth a damn would ever base an entire doctrine on a single verse of scripture.

Fourth, Paul and Jesus both preached the same Gospel of the Kingdom, as evidenced by the 8 verses above – as compared to this one single verse in 1 Corinthians.

Finally, the passage in 1 Corinthians mentions “the gospel that I preached to you” and then, after that, mentions a specific emphasis on something Paul passed on to them as “of first importance”. But these two things – “the Gospel I preached to you,” and “what I passed on to you as of first importance” – are not necessarily the same thing.

What’s more, Paul is obviously not seeking to be thorough in his statements here at all. He references the Gospel without spelling it out. He explains the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as something important, but eliminates the details about Jesus appearing first to Mary Magdalene at the Tomb [skipping on to Cephas or Peter instead].

So, I believe that based on the overwhelming evidence at our disposal, we can say with complete confidence that the Gospel that Paul preached was exactly the same Gospel that Jesus preached.

Here’s what else I can affirm based on that same evidence:  The Gospel preached by Jesus and Paul was not Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory. It was very simply, and very obviously, the exact same Gospel that Jesus preached, and that was the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Even the phrase, “Jesus is Lord”, which Paul uses often in his epistles, is a statement about the Kingdom of God, because, in a kingdom you need a king, or a “lord”.

Paul affirms to both Jews and Gentiles alike that everyone who confesses that “Jesus is Lord” will be saved. [See Romans 10:9]

This means that Paul understood the “Gospel of the Kingdom” and he taught it all throughout his ministry.

The confusion comes because some Christians have lost the “Jesus-Centric” approach to scripture. They major on the teachings of Paul and wrongly ignore the things that Jesus talked about.

They also get easily confused when Paul says:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” [Gal. 1:6]

Some Christians even think that Paul must be saying that he taught people to “live in the grace of Christ” and that there must be another Gospel that Jesus preached. As if there were two Gospels: one preached by Jesus to the Jews and one preached by Paul to the Gentiles.

But that’s not what Paul is saying. Not at all. In fact, let’s look again at the full passage and please notice something at the end:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” [Gal. 1:6-7]

Did you catch it? Notice that right after Paul says that people are turning away from the Gospel of Grace he refers to this Gospel as “the gospel of Christ”.

Wait, what?

That’s right: Paul’s Gospel of Grace is the Gospel of Christ.

And the Gospel of Christ is what Christ preached: The Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Keep in mind, Paul didn’t think he was writing the Bible. He was writing letters to friends and fellow Christians in various places who were struggling to follow Jesus in their respective lands.

Because of this, Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time repeating the Gospel of the Kingdom to these people. He knows they already know it. In fact, many of them knew this Gospel long before Paul knew it. Remember, when the movement stared, Paul [Saul] was persecuting the Church.

But we do know that Paul was aware of this Gospel of the Kingdom because:

A) he preached this Gospel all through his ministry [see references above] and

B) it was the only Gospel anyone in the Christian church had ever heard up to that point.

Elsewhere, Paul says we should prepare ourselves to preach the “Gospel of Peace” [Eph. 6:15], does that mean we have a third Gospel? Is the Gospel of Peace yet another Gospel competing for space with the Gospels of the Kingdom and Grace?

Of course not. There is only one Gospel. Paul knows that. The people he is writing to know that. There is no Gospel other than the one that Jesus preached.

Is the Gospel also about Grace? Yes.
Is the Gospel also about Peace? Yes, again.

Does the Gospel involve the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ? Yes, but to reduce the Gospel to an Atonement Theory is to totally miss the actual Gospel that Jesus specifically came to proclaim.

As Jesus affirms:

“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)

There is only one Gospel and that is the Gospel that Jesus preached and that Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom, as found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and also in John.

Jesus and Paul both preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

We should too.


Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community. 

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

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