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Did Paul Preach a Different Gospel than Jesus?

One evening while scrolling social media, I came across a video of a pastor saying his church sides with Jesus’s gospel on the numerous occasions where Paul’s gospel contradicts it. I was less shocked by his comment than by the Christians who were. This is not a brand-new way to think about Jesus and Paul.

Does Paul create a “theological” story about Jesus that contradicts the “social and ethical” gospel Jesus preached?

In any conversation around these questions, building common ground can make navigating disagreements easier. Let’s be honest: evangelicals can unintentionally place a greater focus on Paul than on Jesus. The apostle’s letters usually make more direct, literal, and logical claims than what you find in narrative passages. We all have genres of Scripture that appeal to us and tempt us to develop a personal “canon within the canon.”

What Did Paul Mean by ‘Gospel’?

The “two gospels” claim asserts Paul was preaching a gospel story about Jesus that came to him secondhand. Jesus, meanwhile, preached about a new way of life associated with the arrival of the kingdom.

We all have genres of Scripture that appeal to us and tempt us to develop a personal ‘canon within the canon.’

Such a message certainly corresponds with Mark’s summary of Jesus’s preaching (Mark 1:14–15). (Ironically, this passage is likely Mark’s summary of eyewitness accounts passed along to him—not unlike the experience of Paul.) But did Jesus define his “social and ethical” gospel as turning to a new way of life that would lead to justice and generosity for all?

To answer this question, we must return to the beginning of Mark. Mark uses “the gospel” in his title to the book in 1:1 (“the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”). In this title, he defines “gospel” as an account of Jesus that depicts him as the the Christ (or Messiah) and the Son of God (Jewish and Roman titles for a king).

How did Mark come to do this?

In the first-century Roman world, the term “gospel” (euangelion) didn’t describe a biographical narrative about someone’s life; it described victories given by the gods on the battlefield as well as the birth, rise to power, and decrees of the divine ruler (e.g., the Priene calendar inscription about Augustus Caesar).

The verb euangelizō (“I proclaim the good news”) was used in the Septuagint, particularly in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 40:9–10; 52:7–10), to announce that God was acting to save his people from exile, overthrowing the idolatrous rulers of the world and establishing his reign. By citing Isaiah 40:3 in his introduction, Mark is using the title “gospel” to document how Jesus’s death on the cross functions as his entrance into his kingly reign.

This gospel from the Gospels doesn’t contradict Paul’s gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:3–11, Paul emphasizes how the proclamation of the cross and resurrection fulfills the Old Testament story. He affirms the historicity of the resurrection by recounting that Jesus appeared to Peter and James—men the “two gospel” advocates claim were Paul’s enemies. In Romans 11:1–7, Paul explains that the gospel he preached was a fulfillment of the prophets’ promises: God would rescue his people through Jesus’s death and resurrection, resulting in his enthronement as king.

Why Did Paul Refer to ‘My Gospel’?

If Paul and Jesus agree, why does the apostle use the phrase “my gospel”? It’s worth observing that he only adds the modifier in “my/our” six of the 60 times he used the term “gospel.” He highlights how his gospel includes a judgment performed by King Jesus (Rom. 2:16), enables the obedience that comes from faith (Rom. 16:26), and empowers endurance as believers are persecuted because of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3; 1 Thess. 1:5). These examples demonstrate that rather than differentiating his message from Jesus’s, Paul is aligning it.

By comparison, Paul uses “the gospel” without any qualifier 27 times. This most common designation reflects his understanding that the gospel he preached was the same one preached by the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22–30). Additionally, Paul uses “gospel of Christ” (e.g., Rom. 15:19) and “gospel of God” (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:2) in ways that parallel Mark 1:1 and 1:14. The gospel revealed to Paul (Gal. 1:11–12) aligns with Jesus’s plan—that the Gentiles would hear the good news of Jesus’s kingship, which enables people to be saved (Matt. 24:14; 26:13; Mark 13:10; 14:9; Luke 24:44–49).

The gospel Paul preached was a fulfillment of the prophets’ promises: God would rescue his people through Jesus’s death and resurrection, resulting in his enthronement as king.

How should the unified gospel of Jesus and Paul affect the church today?

First, we should consider whether we do favor Paul, elevating him in a way that pits him against Jesus. We should learn to appreciate the entire Bible, not just our favorite testaments, genres, or authors.

Second, we should have confidence that Paul articulated “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” faithfully. His concepts and language have roots deep within the Old Testament and in the ministry and message of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.

Last, we should be bolstered in our belief that the entirety of the Scriptures perfectly reveals God to his people. He entrusted his church with 66 books, and the early church placed these books alongside each other as Christian Scripture.

We mustn’t elevate our own reasoning to unhitch portions of what God has revealed to his church. If we manipulate what’s left into a supposedly biblical argument, we fall into representing our sensibilities rather than God’s truth.


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