A Different Gospel?
By Jack Kelley
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8)
Within a few days, I received the same question from four different people. This aroused my interest, and I decided maybe the Lord was trying to give me the theme for my feature study this week.
I have no idea how many of you have run into this before, but the question was this: Did Peter and Paul teach the same gospel, or was the message Peter preached to Israel different from the one that Paul carried to the Gentiles?
This “Two Gospel” view, like several other opinions critical of the Bible’s authenticity, originally came from Germany through the writings of Ferdinand Baur of the Tubingen School of Theology. Mr. Baur couldn’t find very much at all to accept in the New Testament as it was written, even disputing the authorship of several of Paul’s letters, accepting only Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, and Romans as genuine. He also claimed that the Paul of Acts was a different person than the one who wrote these Epistles.
He then turned to the Gospels which he said were all adaptations of an earlier work. Offering his version of the so-called Q document theory, he wrote that Matthew, Mark, and Luke came from an earlier common source, possibly the Gospel of the Hebrews, while John “does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it.” (Q stands for Quelle, German for source.)
As it was explained to me in one of the eMails I received,
“the 12 taught that Jesus was the Messiah and to repent and be baptized. Everything they taught was under the law, and all of this is true (for the Jews.)
Paul, however, taught the Grace of God and revelation that the ascended Lord gave him, which says we are saved by grace through faith, not of works. If you read the bible carefully you will see that the gospels and the letters written by the 12 are written to and for Jews, not that we can’t learn from them, but our doctrine comes from the Apostle Paul (given by The Ascended Lord) to Jews & Gentiles.”
I can’t tell you how many times folks who believe differently than I do have advised me to just read the Bible carefully and I’ll embrace their position, but that’s another story.
Supporters of this view point to Peter’s message to the Jews of “repent and be baptized” while the Gentiles were never told such a thing, only that we’re saved by grace through faith. They claim that Paul received this gospel that had been hidden through out the ages by direct revelation from God, using Galatians 1:11-12 as their authority. If true, this would mean that the Jews were given a different path to salvation, one that combined faith and works, rather than the grace through faith path offered to the Gentiles.
When Baur published his opinions, in the 1830’s and 40’s, even his fellow German critics thought it was too big a departure from traditional thinking, by and large rejecting it. But it has gained popularity again in some circles partly due to Hyam Maccoby, a British scholar of Jewish background, whose book, “The Myth Maker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity”, relies heavily on Baur’s work. Surprisingly, Baur’s two-Gospel view has also been embraced by the followers of Islam, who use it to support their view that Jesus was the Messiah for the Jews only. And there is at least one TV preacher that teaches this view, basing it on an interpretation of Galatians 2:7-9 that I think is taken out of context.
But we’re interested in everything the Bible says, not just a couple of verses. Was the doctrine of Salvation by Grace a secret hidden through the ages and revealed only to Paul? Did Peter and Paul preach a different message? Did the Jews receive a different path to salvation than the Gentiles? Were the Gospels and the non-Pauline Epistles written only to them? Let’s find out.
Hidden in Plain Sight?
Was the doctrine of Grace unknown in Old Testament times? Over 1000 years before Paul began preaching, King David had this to say after sinning with Bathsheba.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:1-2 & 16-17)
See how David made no attempt to restore himself to righteousness through his own works. According to the Law both he and Bathsheba should have immediately been put to death. David humbled himself before God, confessed his sin, asked to be forgiven, and was. (2 Samuel 12:13)
7 centuries before Christ, Micah offered two of the most eloquent descriptions of God’s Grace to be found anywhere in the Old Testament.
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)
It’s been said that there are only two possible results from a works based plan for salvation; pride or fear. The things that God requires of man can only happen when the Holy Spirit has voluntarily been given control of his life. No amount of sacrifice will substitute.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)
These and dozens of other references throughout the Old Testament clearly show that the underlying message was one of God’s Grace right from the beginning. The sacrifices they offered were required as evidence of their faith in the coming redeemer, allowing God to set their sins aside until He came. Offering them in the absence of this faith was actually repulsive to God. (Isaiah 29:13-14 & 66:2-4) Once the Redeemer arrived on the scene, their sacrifices were not only not required, they were considered blasphemy. The entire letter to the Hebrews is devoted to this idea, (Hebrews 4:9-11, 10:1, 4, 14, 18) and was written, by the way, to Jews in Israel.
Did Peter and Paul convey Different Messages?
Speaking of the similarity of his message to that of the other Disciples, Paul had this to say, “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. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4,11)
The confusion here lies not in the Bible, but in our misunderstanding of two words; repent and baptize.
The reason that Jews were told to repent and be baptized is that in spite of the passages I cited above, many had been taught that their salvation came from their works of righteousness. The Greek word translated repent applies to the way one thinks, not to the way one acts. It is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the Bible. When Peter told the Jews to repent and be baptized, as in Acts 2:38, he wasn’t telling them to re-double their efforts to behave more like the Law required, he was telling them to change their minds about their need for a Savior, stop relying on their efforts to keep the Law for their salvation, and receive the gift of Grace that had been extended in the Lord’s death on their behalf.
Since Gentiles didn’t have this pre-conceived notion of a works based salvation, there was no need to persuade them from it. That’s why there’s no mention of repentance for Gentiles in the Book of Acts. It certainly isn’t because they weren’t sinners in need of a Savior.
It’s clear that both Jews and Gentiles were baptized right from the beginning, although the meaning behind this practice ran much deeper for Jews than Gentiles. As it was practiced in Israel beginning with John the Baptist, the baptism was adapted from the Jewish mikvah, a ceremonial cleansing. It was so important to Jews that they were required to build a place for the mikvah before they could begin to build a synagogue. A mikvah was taken before the Sabbath and other Holy Days, before getting married, before being consecrated as a priest, and before converting to Judaism. It was also taken after any incident of ceremonial uncleanliness. It signified a cleansing from all encumbrances of the past, of entering a new phase of life in a state of ritual purity.
John called this a baptism of repentance (Matt. 3:11) because it symbolized a cleansing from the false belief that one could attain salvation though righteous works. When he told the Jews to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2) he wasn’t exhorting them to clean up their behavior in anticipation of the coming King. He was telling them to change their minds about their need for a Savior because their Savior had come. The mikvah symbolized this change of mind and prepared them to be consecrated as priests in the Kingdom.
Different Paths To Salvation?
When the people asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the work that God requires?” they gave Him the clearest opportunity of His ministry to hand them a list. Here He was, a Jewish rabbi, standing in Israel speaking primarily to Jewish people who wanted to know what God required of them. He could have referred them to the 10 Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the 613 laws of the Torah. But how did He respond?
“The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Then He said that it was God’s will that everyone who looked to the Son and believed in Him would have Eternal life. (John 6:40) Their salvation was based on their belief that He had come to save them, not on their behavior. Just like ours.
Much of His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount had been aimed at convincing them that they could never attain the necessary righteousness by keeping the Law. He even commanded them to “be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This can only be achieved when God’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith. Those who advocate the different Gospel hypothesis would have us mix some combination of grace, faith, and works to arrive at the Jewish formula for perfection. But it can’t be done. Grace is defined as an unmerited favor. As soon as you add work, it’s no longer unmerited. The two don’t mix.
When the rich young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit the Kingdom, Jesus said, “You know the commandments.” When he replied that he had kept them all since he was a boy, Jesus told him to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow Him. He wasn’t telling the young man to do other good works in addition to keeping the commandments. Nor was He saying that wealth is bad. He was showing him that his self reliance was insufficient. By selling everything and following Jesus, the young man would be demonstrating his willingness to rely solely on God, and he would gain his salvation by faith.
When the disciples realized what Jesus was saying, they asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “With man this impossible, but not with God. With God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:17-27) Neither obedience nor wealth nor both will suffice. Salvation is by the grace of God, accepted in faith.
There’s a number of other passages in the Gospels that show Jesus teaching the Jews in Israel that God’s only requirement of them is to believe in Him and accept God’s gift of grace in faith. The idea that the gospels were written only to the Jews and teach a faith plus works gospel won’t stand up to scrutiny. There is but one Gospel and one path to salvation.
Were The Gospels Written Only To The Jews?
Gospel is an old English word meaning Good News. There are four presentations of the Good News for a reason. Each was written to a different audience, and each answers a different question about the Lord.
Who Was He?
Matthew was written to the Jews. His purpose was to demonstrate who Jesus was; presenting overwhelming evidence that Jesus was Israel’s long awaited Messiah, The Lion of Judah. The genealogy in Matthew begins with Abraham and runs through King David, showing His Messianic lineage (Matt 1:1-17). The most frequently used phrase in Matthew’s Gospel is “it was fulfilled.” There are more references to events foretold in Old Testament prophecy and fulfilled in the Life of Jesus in Matthew than in any other gospel account. Partial copies discovered in the caves at Qumran suggest that Matthew may have originally been written in Hebrew. The first miracle, the cleansing of a leper, was highly symbolic for Israel. Leprosy was viewed as a punishment for sin, and cleansing a leper signified taking away the sins of the people. Matthew’s gospel ends with the resurrection signifying God’s promise to Israel that David’s Kingdom would last forever.
What Did He Do?
Mark’s gospel is actually Peter’s account and was written to the Romans. His purpose was to portray Jesus as the obedient servant of God. Since no one cares about the heritage of a servant there is no genealogy in Mark. The most frequently used phrase in Mark’s Gospel is “straight away” sometimes translated immediately, so Mark is called the snapshot gospel, giving us picture after picture of Jesus in action. The first miracle is the casting out of a demon, demonstrating that the God whom Jesus served was superior to all other gods, a matter of great importance in Rome’s polytheistic society. Mark’s gospel ends with the ascension, signifying that the servant’s job was finished and He was returning home.
What Did He Say?
Luke’s account portrays Jesus as the Son of Man, a title Jesus often used of Himself, and was written to the Greeks. It presents the human side of Jesus and emphasizes his teaching. Greeks were famous for their story telling form of oratory, so the most frequent phrase in Luke is “and it came to pass.” Most movies of the life of Jesus rely primarily on Luke’s gospel because of its flowing narrative form. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus all the way back to Adam, the first man (Luke 3:21-38). Since the Greeks, like the Romans, were a polytheistic society, Luke also used the casting out of a demon as his first miracle, and ended his gospel with the promise of the Holy Spirit, uniting man with God.
How Did He Feel?
John wrote to the church describing how Jesus felt about people’s reaction to His ministry. His gospel is the most unique, based upon 7 miracles, 7 “I Am” statements and 7 discourses. John pays little attention to chronology, sometimes placing events out of order (like the Temple Cleansing in Chapter 2) for their effect in presenting Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). John’s gospel covers only about 21 days out of the Lord’s 3 1/2-year ministry. 10 chapters are devoted to one week and 1/3 of all the verses in John describe one day. His genealogy begins before time and identifies Jesus as the Eternal One Who was with God and Who is God (John 1:1-2). The most frequently used phrase in John is “Verily, verily”, or truly, truly. His first miracle was changing water into wine, an act of enormous symbolism that introduced the New Covenant, by which He “revealed His Glory and His disciples put their faith in Him” (John 2:11). John’s Gospel ends with the promise of the 2nd Coming, an event that most benefits the Church.
So why four gospel accounts? Because no single one is big enough to contain all of the attributes of Jesus. It took all four to show His four faces as The Lion of Judah (Matthew), the Obedient Servant (Mark), the Son of Man (Luke) and the Son of God (John). Trying to put all four perspectives into one account would have left us hopelessly confused. Whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile, understanding all of Who Jesus was and is requires reading all four Gospel accounts.
In summary, the Two Gospel idea was originally conceived to attack the credibility of the Bible and maintain a wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, even though the Lord died to tear it down. It was brought to us by the same folks who were responsible for the Documentary Hypothesis, that challenges the authenticity of the 5 Books of Moses, the deutero-Isaiah theory that challenges the authorship of Isaiah, the late-dating of the Book of Daniel that attempts to negate the power of its prophecies, and a number of other heresies all designed to downgrade the Bible in our minds from the infallible Word of God to a flawed effort by man.
Those who have resurrected this opinion from its well deserved death may have different motives, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s inconsistent with the clear intent of Scripture. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28). Selah.