February 4: 1 Cor 15:1-2, etc

If we look at the remaining occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in the Pauline corpus, especially in the undisputed letters (of 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon), we find two main themes which continue (and develop) the usage examined thus far in 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans:

    1. Paul (and his fellow ministers/apostles) as chosen messengers, i.e. chosen (by God) to proclaim the “good message”, and
    2. The religious identity of believers defined by the “good message” which they heard and received

These two aspects bind believers together with Paul (and the other ministers) in a special bond of unity. This is expressed variously by Paul in these letters, both where he is attempting to resolve points of conflict with the congregations to whom he is writing, and also as a way of exhorting believers to support him in his labors and to join with him in suffering on behalf of the Gospel. Here is a summary of these references:

Clearly, the noun is more frequently used by Paul than the verb (as we have already seen). The specific expression “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” also appears to be distinctively Pauline (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:27, as in 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:19; Gal 1:7; cf. also 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4).

What stands out is how well-established the meaning of the noun eu)agge/lion, especially, is for Paul (and his audience) at the time these letters were written (c. 50-60 A.D.). For the most part, Paul makes no attempt to explain his use of the word; moreover, there is rather clearly a range of theological (and Christological) associations present with the use of eu)agge/lion which, likewise, it was not necessary to clarify. Only in Galatians and Romans does Paul feel the need to expound the term, and for somewhat different reasons:

    • In Galatians, Paul is addressing views of other (Jewish) Christians regarding the religious identity of believers in Christ—that is, whether such identity was defined entirely by faith in Jesus Christ, or also involved observance of the Torah. Paul argues vigorously for the former position, while his Jewish-Christian ‘opponents’ took the latter view. Paul characterizes their view as a “different Gospel” (Gal 1:6-7, cf. also 2 Cor 11:4).
    • In Romans, Paul is writing to believers who, for the most part, were unfamiliar with his preaching and theological outlook. In 1:15, he states his eagerness “to bring the good message” to them, even though they are already believers. As I mentioned in the previous note, chapters 1-11 of Romans could be described fairly as Paul’s definitive exposition of what he means by the term “good message” (eu)agge/lion).

In the prior note, I discussed Paul’s central declaration in Rom 1:16, where he states that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is really only in Romans that Paul goes over thoroughly what this means, though it certainly would have been implied elsewhere by his use of the term (above). From a rhetorical standpoint, in the body of the letter (the probatio, 1:18-11:36), Paul presents various lines of argument to “prove” the proposition (propositio) of 1:16-17, using just about every literary/rhetorical device and approach at his disposal. By studying these sections of Romans carefully, we can begin to fill out the important soteriological dimension of the eu)aggel- word group for Paul (and for other early Christians as well).

To supplement such a study (which I encourage you to take), I would point out two other passages in the undisputed letters, where theological and soteriological aspects of eu)agge/lion are brought out. The first of these is 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Here, in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, at the beginning of a paraenetic (instruction) section, dealing with the question of the (end-time) resurrection, Paul exhorts his readers, including a summary declaration regarding the “good message”:

“I would make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] which I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you, which (indeed) you received alongside [parela/bete], (and) in which also you have stood [e)sth/kate], through which also you are saved [sw/|zesqe], by what account [i.e. lo/go$] I brought as a good message, if you hold down (onto it), if indeed you (have) not trusted (in it) futilely.”

In many ways, this serves as an excellent summary of Pauline theology; each phrase could be isolated and treated as a specific chapter in a detailed theological study. Here I wish to focus on the central phrases which qualify the “good message” (presented emphatically by doubling of noun and verb together). First note the overall structure:

  • “…the good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion), followed by a sequence of simple relative clauses:
    • “which [o^] I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you”—i.e. Paul’s proclamation
    • “which also [o^ kai] you received alongside [parela/bete]”
    • “in which also [e)n w!| kai] you have stood [e(sth/kate]”
    • “through which also [di’ ou! kai] you are saved [sw/|zesqe]”
      • “by what account [lo/go$] I brought as a good message to you…”

Of the four relative clauses, the first two form a pair, both syntactically and conceptually:

    • “which I brought as a good message”—Paul’s role as messenger, proclaiming the Gospel
    • “which…you received alongside”—the Corinthian believers’ response to the message; the verb paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”) implies acceptance and the bringing of someone/something in close

Similarly, the last two clauses form a pair:

    • “in [e)n] which…you have stood”
    • “through [dia/] which…you are saved”

Each statement represents an aspect of the effect that receiving the good message has on believers, utilizing a different preposition and verbal tense. The first statement uses the preposition e)n (“in”) with the verb i%sthmi (“stand”)—believers stand in the good message of Christ. Paul tends to use this verb in relation to the trust/faith (pi/sti$) of believers (Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; 2 Cor 1:24). A careful study of these (and other) passages reveals the core Pauline idea that, as believers, we trust primarily in the favor (xa/ri$) God has shown in what He has done for us through the person and work of Jesus (cf. Rom 5:2). This is expressed more directly by the second clause, using the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the verb sw/|zw (“save”). We are saved through the good message, together with all that it entails.

Interestingly, the first verb is in the perfect tense (“you have been saved”), while the second is in the present (“you are [being] saved”). We might rather have expected the opposite—i.e., “you have been saved”, and now “you stand”. This, however, reflects a different understanding (or aspect) of salvation. Modern-day Christians tend to think of “being saved” as something which happens to an individual at a particular (past) moment in time (i.e., when a person come to believe/accept Christ). By contrast, early believers in the first-century tended to view salvation primarily as something which was to occur in the future—specifically being saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment. Paul, in particular, added to this a most distinctive soteriological aspect, one expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, but never so clearly than it was by Paul: that believers are (even in the present) saved/rescued from the power of sin in the world that currently holds humankind in bondage. This point will be discussed further in the next daily note.