Monday, October 17, 2016

A Study on the Two Evangels (Part 1)

A Study on the Two Evangels: Preliminary Considerations

The word translated “gospel” in most translations of scripture is euangelion (“well-message”), and is derived from the noun angelos (“messenger”). Concerning the meaning of this word, notes the following: “In classical Greek, a euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant “to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news.” Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.”

In the “Greek-English Keyword Concordance” of the Concordant Literal New Testament, we read the following concerning this word: “The term evangel is much to be preferred to “gospel,” as it has the verb evangelize and the noun evangelist in accepted usage, and it is not encumbered with many unscriptural associations and phrases.” Since I agree with this remark, I will be using the term “evangel” rather than “gospel” throughout this article.

It seems that, for most Christians throughout church history, it has been taken for granted that all of Christ’s apostles - Paul included - heralded the same “gospel” or evangel, and that all who have been saved since the coming of Christ into the world (or at least since his death and resurrection) have been saved by virtue of believing the same basic message. This was the doctrinal position of the Presbyterian church in which I was raised, and is what I continued to believe for a number years even after leaving the institutional church. In contrast to this popular and largely unquestioned view, I believe scripture reveals that the evangel which Paul received and heralded among the nations (Gal. 1:16, 2:2) was not the exact same evangel as that which was heralded by Peter in accord with his “apostleship for the Circumcision.” Rather, there were two evangels that were heralded during the "Acts period" - evangels which, although affirming truths that are completely harmonious and concordant in nature, are nonetheless different with regards to their content and "target audience."

That there were, in fact, two evangels being heralded in Paul's lifetime is, I believe, implied by Paul’s words in Galatians 1:1-24 and 2:1-10. In view of what Paul wrote in these passages, consider the following: If the evangel of the Uncircumcision was the same evangel as the evangel of the Circumcision, then why would Paul have to receive it through “a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12)? After being filled with the holy spirit and baptized, Paul traveled to Arabia and remained there for about three years (Gal. 1:17). After returning to Damascus, Paul’s evangelistic efforts were spent heralding Jesus in the synagogues, and trying to convince his Jewish brethren that Jesus “is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-22) – which is precisely the message that the twelve apostles had been heralding. Paul then went to Jerusalem to relate the story of his conversion to Peter (Gal. 1:18), and - after an assassination attempt (not by Peter, of course!) - Paul subsequently returned to Tarsus for safety (Acts 9:28-30). After being found by Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch, teaching “a considerable throng” of Jews (Acts 11:25).

After a short time in Jerusalem with Barnabas, we read that they returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25). It is at this point in Paul’s ministry that we read of he and Barnabas being “severed” to God for the work to which he’d called them (Acts 13:1-3). Now, during the entire time prior to the “severing” of Paul and Barnabas for their work among the nations, there is no indication whatsoever that they had been heralding any message other than that which the rest of the apostles had been heralding since the descent of the holy spirit on Pentecost. In fact, in Galatians 1:23 we read that, during this early period of Paul’s ministry (from his time in Damascus to his time in Syria and Cilicia), he had been “evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged!”

And yet, we’re told by Paul in Romans 1:1 that he had been “severed for the evangel of God,” which is undoubtedly a reference to the same evangel that Paul referred to as the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” in Gal. 2:7 (Paul referred to his evangel as the “evangel of God” several times in his first letter to the Thessalonians; 1 Thess. 2:2, 8-9; 3:2). If the evangel for which Paul had been “severed” is the same evangel that Peter, James and John were heralding, what necessitated a revelation from Christ according to which Paul and Barnabas had to return to Jerusalem in order to “submit” to those of repute (i.e., Peter, James and John) the evangel which they had been heralding among the nations since the time they had been “severed” (Gal. 2:2)?

According to Paul, this private meeting in Jerusalem with Peter, James and John took place fourteen years after he had been in the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Gal. 1:21), which means it was approximately 4-7 years after he and Barnabas had begun heralding the evangel among the nations. If the truth that Paul and Barnabas had been heralding among the nations since the events of Acts 13 was the same truth that Paul had been heralding to his fellow Israelites in the synagogues since the time covered by Acts 9, such a meeting would have been completely unnecessary. We can infer, then, that the evangel which they’d been heralding among the nations was distinct from the evangel they’d been heralding in the synagogues all this time.

Not only can it be inferred that Paul and his co-laborers had been heralding a different evangel among the nations than that which they been heralding in the synagogues, Paul explicitly distinguishes the evangel of the Uncircumcision from that of the Circumcision in Galatians 2:7. There, Paul wrote that “…I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision…” In all available Greek manuscripts, both the noun translated “Circumcision” and that translated “Uncircumcision” in Gal. 2:7 are in the genitive (i.e., the possessive) case, meaning that they have to do with the kind or character of each evangel in view. The same Greek construction found in this verse is used in the expression translated “evangel of the kingdom” elsewhere. This latter expression does not, of course, refer to the evangel being heralded to the kingdom; rather, it means that the character of the evangel is such that it distinctly pertains to the kingdom.

In the same way, when Paul wrote of the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” and that “of the Circumcision,” he did not have in view one evangel that was being heralded to two different categories of human beings, but rather two distinct evangels which, in some way, pertained to two different categories of human beings: (1) those described as “the Circumcision” (circumcision, of course, being the sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God), and (2) the “Uncircumcision” (i.e., non-Israelites, or “Gentiles”). We’ll later see how each evangel pertains to its distinct “group”; for now, it’s sufficient to note that there is, in fact, a difference.

But why would there be two evangels? And what is it that distinguishes one from the other? In order to begin to answer these questions, more needs to be said in defense of the position that Paul’s apostolic ministry and dispensation as the “apostle of the nations” was not a continuation of the apostolic ministry which belonged to Peter, John and the rest of the twelve apostles. In the next section, I will be arguing that Paul’s ministry among the nations involved a different “salvation program” [1] than that according to which the twelve apostles were laboring. Understanding this distinction will, I think, make it easier to understand why there would be (and, I believe, are) two evangels.

Part Two:

[1] By “program” I simply mean, “a plan of things that are done in order to achieve a specific result” or “a plan or system under which action may be taken toward a goal” (

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