Most Christians believe that there is only one “Gospel message” in the Bible (the word “Gospel” literally just means “a proclamation of Good News,” or ”news which is good”), and that the Gospel which Paul taught to the nations is the same one Jesus and His disciples were preaching throughout His three-year ministry on the earth. Because of this, a lot of evangelists like to hand out copies of the book of the Bible known as “the Gospel According to John” to people, telling them to read it so they can learn the Gospel and, by believing it, be saved. How they expect this to happen, however, is a question they really need to consider.
You see, most Christians would agree that the Gospel Paul taught was the Good News that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, and that one needs to believe this Good News in order to be saved. (Even those of us in the body of Christ agree with this, although we also understand that it’s only salvation from a relative perspective that one gains when they believe this, and that the belief actually comes after the salvation, not before it, but that’s a whole other discussion.) Simply put, pretty much every Christian agrees that, if someone doesn’t “believe the Gospel,” meaning they don’t trust in Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection on the third day, they haven’t been saved. And yet these same Christians somehow manage to also convince themselves that, while they walked around Israel preaching what is called the Gospel of the kingdom during Jesus’ three-year ministry, Jesus and His disciples were preaching the same Gospel Paul taught.
That this isn’t the case can be easily demonstrated from any of the four books generally referred to as the “Gospel accounts” (meaning the books called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, none of the disciples understood, much less believed, that Jesus was going to die and then be resurrected by God. In fact, even when Jesus explained to them that He was going to die, they didn’t understand what He was saying to them, and John even tells us that, “when therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said,“ so it wasn’t until after His resurrection that they finally came to understand what it was that Jesus had been telling them.
But if this is the case, how is it possible that the Gospel Paul taught (which is about how Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent burial and resurrection, saves us) is the exact same Gospel that Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim during His ministry when they weren’t even aware of His impending death and resurrection, much less that it was for our sins? The answer is that it’s not possible. Since they didn’t believe in Jesus’ impending death for our sins, or in His subsequent burial and resurrection, none of Jesus’ disciples could have possibly been proclaiming it when they preached the message called the Gospel of the kingdom, which means they weren’t preaching the same Gospel message that Paul taught (which was always simply about the cross and what it accomplished). In fact, John even explained that the message one had to believe in order to be saved (or to “have life through His name”) was simply that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, and there isn’t anything about His death for our sins included in that message which John’s audience needed to believe, so, again, it isn’t the same Gospel message, and no amount of trying to twist the text can allow Paul’s Gospel of Christ’s death for our sins to be squeezed into that message.
To put it another way, because the word Gospel means “news which is good,” and the word “news” quite literally refers to “a series of specific words which, when laid out in a specific order, conveys specific information about a specific subject,” this means that if you have another set of specific words which, when laid out in their own specific order, convey some other sort of specific information about that subject, you can’t say that you have the same news, even if both sets of news are good in nature, or even about the same person. For example, the news that “Joshua went to the graveyard” can’t be said to be the exact same news as “Joshua is now my boss” because the two messages mean something entirely different from one another since they convey entirely different pieces of information about this person from one another: one piece of news being about an action this person took, with the other piece of news being about the identity of said person. Because they’re providing us with different sorts of information about a subject from one another, it means they are, by definition, different sets of news. And since the news which is good that Jesus and His disciples preached prior to Paul’s conversion (which was the news that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) does not contain the same specific words that the news which is good that Paul preached to the nations does (which is the news that “Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day”), nor does it convey the same specific information (since it doesn’t contain anything about Christ’s death for our sins in it, which it couldn’t have since most of the people proclaiming it weren’t even aware of the fact of His impending death at the time they preached it), it should be very evident that the news which is good that Jesus’ disciples preached during Jesus’ earthly ministry simply can’t be said to be the same news which is good (meaning the same Gospel) that Paul taught, and so anyone who still insists there’s only one set of news which is good in the Bible is simply lying to themselves at this point.
That’s not to say someone can’t be saved by believing the Gospel of the kingdom, also known as the Gospel of the Circumcision, but that’s a whole other sort of salvation that has to do with getting to live in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth, specifically in Israel. So someone reading only “the Gospel According to John” can be saved, but if an evangelist wants someone to read Scripture in order to be saved by the Gospel that Paul preached (known as the Gospel of the Uncircumcision), I would give them a copy of 1 Corinthians 15 instead.
Unfortunately, most people who read this are going to manage to overlook nearly everything I said, so to recapitulate it all in point form:
- Paul’s Gospel message to the nations is that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.
- Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand or believe that Jesus was going to die or be resurrected prior to it occurring.
- If they didn’t know it was going to happen, they couldn’t have been preaching Christ’s death for our sins when they preached the Gospel of the kingdom during Jesus’ three-year ministry.
- This means the Gospel of the kingdom they were preaching wasn’t the same Gospel message Paul preached to the nations.
It’s really as simple as that. If you’d like to learn more about this, however, I wrote about it in far more detail in this article.