Scot McKnight's "The King Jesus gospel: The original good news revisited": notes

Scot McKnight, 2011. The King Jesus gospel: The original good news revisited. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

1 The gospel

1.1. What is the gospel?

Scot McKnight’s ‘big question’ is ‘What is the gospel?’ (23). American Calvinists in particular (with John Piper as their recent leader) have redefined the gospel as justification by faith (25). It has to do with personal salvation alone (28). This position SM calls ‘soterian’, but not ‘evangelical’, as it does not preach the gospel as laid out in the Scriptures (29). Soterians have difficulty getting the Decided (those who have made a decision for Christ) into the category of the Discipled, because the soterian gospel excludes everything except personal salvation (32) and has a major problem handling the lifestyle issue, lest its adherents infer that salvation is not by faith alone (33). This means, inter alia, that Jesus cannot himself have preached the gospel (27). SM insists that we should go back to the text and see what it actually says. 

It is critical that the gospel not be divorced from the story of Israel. This story begins with the creation of the world as God’s temple and the placing of Adam and Eve, his image-bearers, in the garden temple to represent God, to govern on His behalf, and to related to God, self and others in a redemptive way. This task was radically distorted when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s good command and were banished from the garden. We can’t skip from here to Jesus, because this isn’t how the Bible tells the story. God chose one person, Abraham, and then through him one people, Israel, and then later still the Church, to be God’s priests and rulers in this world on His behalf. Redemptive government was the task God gave to Israel, but like Adam Israel failed. So God sent His Son to do what Adam and Israel did not (and could not) do to rescue everyone from their sins, from systemic evil, and from Satan. Hence the Son is the redemptive ruler of the world. He is the messiah, i.e. the king, and with him God established the Kingdom of God—so there is a connection between the creation story and the Kingdom. The culmination of the story will be the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth (Rev 21–22) (35–36). 

The gospel fits into this story. The story itself is not the gospel, but the gospel only makes sense within that story. Without it there is no gospel, and the gospel gets distorted, and this is what has happened in soterian cultures (36). The gospel is the story of Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s story, and its need of a Messiah solution (44). The gospel is about a vision of God’s kingdom which has its end in the vision of the city in Revelation (37). The plan of salvation is not the gospel: it emerges from the story of Israel and the story of Jesus (39). The plan of salvation leads to justification by faith, but it doesn’t lead inexorably to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness (40). Jesus’ kingdom vision isn’t simply the plan of salvation, but it entails it and can’t work without it (41).

1.2 1Corinthians 15

Many scholars think that 1 Corinthians 15 is among the oldest set of lines in the New Testament, repeating the oral tradition about the gospel that every NT apostle received and then passed on (46). It as if Paul is giving us his version of the Apostles’ Creed (47). Paul’s gospel statement is found in verses 1–5 and 20–28. SM divides it into three sections. 

First, the introduction in verses 1–2 underlines that Paul is about to lay out the gospel (48). 
1 Now, brothers, 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. (1 Cor 15:1–2) 
Then verses 3–5 indicate that this is nothing new. It is the ‘authorised’ tradition of the apostles. This is the core gospel, the story of Jesus (49), but it is rooted in the story of Israel: ‘according to the Scriptures’ twice (50). Which scriptures? The obvious choice is Isaiah 53:10-12, but SM thinks Paul is pointing us to the whole OT witness to atonement (52). He refers to Jesus as ‘Christ’, i.e. the Messiah, meaning ‘anointed king’, ‘Lord’, ‘ruler’ (55). At the same time, it includes the plan of salvation (‘died for our sins’) but doesn’t stop to tell us how this works (51), and SM thinks we should not lock in a single theory (52).
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 Peter, and then to the Twelve. (1 Cor15: 3–5)
Finally verses 20–28 
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 his own 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. (1 Cor15: 20–28) 
There has been much debate about the meaning of verse 28, but the conclusion is clear: the story ends with God the Father as unassailed Lord (56). 

(mdr:) It is a little difficult to see why SM omits verses 6–8 from ‘the gospel’, as they continue the narrative from verse 5, but it is perhaps because it culminates in a personal reference to Paul himself. 
6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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. (1 Cor 15:6-8) 
(mdr:) Verses 9–11 continue in a personal vein but end by saying that this is the gospel of the apostles: 
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 was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Cor 15:9–11) 
(mdr:) Verses 12–19 are a digression responding to those who deny the resurrection of the dead, which Paul ties very directly to Jesus’ resurrection, leading back into the statement in verses 20–28 that Jesus’ resurrection was the ‘firstfruits’ of a general resurrection which presages the final coming of God’s kingdom on earth. 
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 to be pitied more than all men. (1 Cor 15:12–19) 
A gospel was an announcement, in this case that Jesus is Lord (and by implication Caesar isn’t) (58). Soterian theologians see Romans 1–4 as the crucial starting point for the gospel, but the start of Romans itself is significant, as it is a summary statement of the larger gospel (60). 
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.  
If we de-storify the gospel by abstracting the Plan of Salvation from it, then we cut ourselves of from the story that identifies, tells our past and tells our future, and turn it into a story about me (62).

2 History: from the gospel to soterianism

In summary, 1 Corinthians 15 led to the Rule of Faith (regula fidei), and the Rule of Faith developed over time (as a result of the doctrinal struggles of the church in its first four centuries) into the three principal creeds of Christianity: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedon Definition. Thus 1 Corinthians 15 is the genesis of the creeds (64–65). 

One can see this development in early church writings. One of the earliest was Ignatius of Antioch, who expresses what he believes in his letter To the Trallians 9:1–2. 
Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up, as in the same manner his Father will raise up us who believe in him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life. 
His words are strikingly similar to the way Paul summed up the gospel as the story of Jesus (65). 

Around 190 AD Irenaeus framed the earliest and clearest regula fidei, and the second half of the following passage echoes Paul (66): 
… this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race … : 
So how did the gospel get reduced to the Plan of Salvation alone? SM says it started with Augustine but moved into higher gear with the Reformation. The Reformation didn’t make the reduction, but it reformulated doctrine such that personal salvation took centre stage and subsequent simplifications did the rest. The Reformation shifted the gravity of the gospel towards human response and personal responsibility (70–71). 

The relevant documents are the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and the Calvinist Geneva Confession (70–71). The Augsburg Confession focussed on salvation and justification by faith (71), the Geneva Confession on the depravity of man, salvation in Jesus and righteousness in Jesus (72–73). (mdr:) However, the focus on salvation as individual experience came later. First the puritans insisted on people reading the Bible for themselves, but as the American colonies developed, a number of them had a state church, either Anglican or Congregational (puritan). Various people reacted against this imposition of state values (which was perceived as necessary for the unity of the colony) in which justification by faith was apparently downplayed in favour of the need for correct behaviour. One of those who opposed this position  was Anne Hutchinson, a well educated Englishwoman who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 and as a midwife had extensive local contacts, to whom she talked about her personal experience of God. This led eventually to an increasing number of pastors, among them Jonathan Edwards, taking up a gospel based on a personal relationship with God amidst the First Great Awakening. From 1801 the Second Great Awakening took place, fuelled by mainly Methodist preachers along the pioneer frontier, accompanied by baptisms in the Holy Spirit and a strong emphasis on personal salvation.

3 The Gospels

The term ‘gospels’ is a misnomer. There was only one gospel, and the early church labelled these books ‘The gospel according to St Matthew’ etc (80–83). The four evangelists did not see themselves as writing biographies but as proclaiming the gospel, the story of Jesus (82). This is visible in their lopsided emphasis on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Mark’s gospel is almost 50% focussed on Jesus final week (82–83).  

The four evangelists clearly saw the story of Jesus as the culmination of the story of Israel. Mark 1:2–3 quotes Isaiah, placing Jesus’ story firmly in the story of Israel. Luke 1–2 is punctuated by the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), the Benedictus  (Luke 1:67–79) and the Nunc dimittis, the songs of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon, which are breathtakingly full of OT allusions to Israel’s story and its expectations (86, 93–94). John shows how the principal institutions and features of Israel, which tell Israel’s story annually, find their completion in Jesus: the temple in John 2, the Sabbath in John 5, the Passover in John 6, the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7–10 and the Dedication in John 10:22–39 (86–87) 

The gospels also make explicit that Jesus died for our sins. In Matt 1:21 the Angel says, ‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ This is followed by a reference back to the prophets. The point here, however, is that Yeshua means ‘YHWH is salvation’, so Jesus’ role is explicit in his name (87). John the Baptist says of Jesus, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). In Jewish thinking there was a connection between sin and sickness: hence Jesus says to the paralysed man in Matt 9:2, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Jesus healing of people is symbolic of freeing them from their past sin. At the last supper Jesus said,  ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ (88). 

SM writes, ‘Our sins bring death, and while Jesus’ death enters into our death, that death is reversed into life by the resurrection, In that resurrection Jesus’ death became effective to unleash the new creation.’ (89) 

The correspondence between Paul’s gospel and that of the four evangelists reflects the fact that both are informed by the same early apostolic oral history. Eusebius, the first church historian, writes that Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote down the stories that Peter told as he remembered them (90). 

Jesus looked forward to the story of his life being told when he said of the woman who prophetically anointed his body for burial, ‘I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ (91)

4 Did Jesus preach the Gospel?

If we frame the gospel as the culmination of Israel’s story and the establishment of God’s kingdom, then we can ask whether Jesus’ kingdom message centred on his own role in the story of Israel (79). Did he preach that he was the completion of Israel’s story? (92). The answer is a clear ‘yes’. 

Israel’s story looked forward to the proclamation of God’s kingdom, and Psalm 72 gives us a picture of what it looked like (94–95). Jesus clearly believed the kingdom of God was breaking into history. In Mark 1:15 he says, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” The Gk verb Ä“ngiken means ‘has come very near, is imminent’. In Matt 12:28 Jesus says, ‘But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ (96)  Famously, Jesus equated himself in Luke 4:18–19 with the Servant Song of Isaiah 61, and asserted ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ and asserts, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town’ (97, 99). In the Beatitudes of Luke 6:20–26 he declares a new citizenship for the kingdom of God: the very act of speaking these works makes a declaration about himself (97, 100). The Lord’s prayer asks, ‘Your kingdom come.’ (Matt 6:9). When John the Baptist sent to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus responds,  
So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. :23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” 
This draws clearly on the themes of Isa 29:18–19, 35:5–6 and 61:1. (98–99). Jesus believed the kingdom of God was breaking into history because of himself. Origen described Jesus as the autobasileia, ‘the kingdom himself’ (100). 

John the Baptist saw himself as “the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,” quoting Isaiah 40:3 (102). There is debate about who John thought Jesus was. He asks, “Are you the one who is to come?’ In Mal 3:1–5, 4:1–6 this appears to be Elijah, but Jesus’ response is drawn from Isa 29:18–19, 35:5–6 and 61:1, as if Jesus was saying, ‘No, I am not the Elijah figure in Malachi, I am the one announced in Isaiah.’ But a text from the Dead Sea Scrolls lists the expectations about the Messiah, and shows him doing exactly the things John asked Jesus about (102–103). 

In his moral vision Jesus saw himself as fulfilling the story of Israel and ushering in the kingdom (106–107) 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17–20) 
Jesus explained his own inevitable and impending death through a clear reference to the figure in Daniel 7 (108): 
“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31) 
This kind of claim invites C. S. Lewis’ comment that either Jesus was mad or he was indeed the Son of God.  

At the passover Jesus declares that his body and blood will liberate (Mark 14:12–26). Again, he places himself in the centre of Israel’s story, as the one who will do for mankind what the passover lamb did for the Hebrews in Egypt (109). 

On the Emmaus road, Jesus self-identification with the Messiah is explicit (109–111): 
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25–26)
Thus Jesus clearly saw himself as the Messiah, i.e. as the fulfilment of Israel’s story, who would usher in God’s kingdom.

5 The gospel of Peter and the sermons in Acts

The sermons in Acts are often ignored, but they provide excellent summaries of early apostolic preaching and conform fully to 1 Corinthians 15. There are eight: four by Peter, one by Stephen   and three by Paul (114–115). 

  • Peter at Pentecost: Acts 2:14–39 
  • Peter: Acts 3:12-26 
  • Peter (summary): Acts 4:8–12 
  • Stephen: Acts 7:2–53 
  • Peter  
    • at Cornelius’ house: Acts 10:34–43 
    • his testimony: Acts 11:4–18 
  • Paul at Antioch: Acts 13:16–41 
  • Paul at Lystra (summary): Acts 14:15–17 
  • Paul on the Areopagus: Acts 17:22–31 

These sermons typically start with the story of Israel. Thus Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:12-26 refers to Genesis 22:18 or 26:4 (Acts 3:25), Deuteronomy 18:15, 18–19 (Acts 3:22–23), Joel 2:28–32 and Psalms 18:8–11 and 110:1. In his sermon at Cornelius’ house Peter says, ‘All the prophets testify … ’ (Acts 10:43). In his most complete sermon in Acts 13:16–41 Paul begins with ‘The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors (13:16–17) and proceeds straight through Israel’s history until he gets to Jesus, whom he depicts as a descendant of David (13:23). He summarises his message as, ‘What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus (13:32–33) (118). What the sermons in Acts show is that the apostles had come to interpret the story of Israel in a brand new way (117). We find a similar concern with the story od Israel in 1 Peter 1:10–12 and Hebrews 1:1–4 (119). 

But at the same time the story of Jesus is strongly present, most clearly in Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house (120): 
You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,  40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (Acts 10:38–41) 
His reference to the Kingdom is here truncated in favour of underlining the fact that Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s story. 
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:42–43) 
However, it is clear that Peter preached the whole story of Jesus as Messiah (Acts 2:22–35; 3:13–15, 19–21; 10:37–42) (120). In Acts2:36 (122): ‘“God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” ’ Peter uses a remarkable collection of terms for Jesus: ‘servant’ (3:13), ‘the holy and righteous one’ (3:14), ‘the author of life’ (3:15) and ‘the prophet’ (3:22–23) (123). 

The summons to people to respond individually is clearly present in the Acts sermons. People were called to believe, repent and be baptised. ‘Believe’ means here ‘to trust one’s entire person and salvation’ to Jesus Christ (127). Peter makes this call in Acts 10:43 (above) and  
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  (Acts 11:17) 
Paul makes a similar call: 
“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)


Wright, N.T., 1997. What St Paul really said.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.