In his books on the gospel, a well–known evangelical teacher claims that there has only ever been one gospel. Is this true?
Certainly, today, that is at the present time, there is only one gospel and that is “the glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) as preached by Paul. But to say, or even suggest, that there has only ever been one gospel is to take matters beyond Holy Writ. Paul speaks of the gospel as “my glad tidings” (Rom. 2: 16; 16: 25; 2 Tim. 2: 8). The use of the possessive pronoun my should be sufficient in itself to tell us that his gospel is not the only one in Scripture, for it says of John the Baptist that “he announced [his] glad tidings to the people” (Luke 3: 18). Unless the good news proclaimed by the Baptist was identical to that proclaimed by the Apostle Paul, we have therefore more than one gospel. Certainly, glad tidings were announced when the Lord was on earth, but are those now announced the same?
In the Epistles, the gospel is described in various ways. Paul speaks of “the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 4). But when the Lord was here we are distinctly told that “for [the] Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7: 39). How then could today’s gospel be the same as that told out when the Lord was here? Again, Paul speaks of “the glad tidings of peace” (Eph. 6: 15) but also says of the Lord that He has “made peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1: 20). How then can the gospel proclaimed before the cross be the same as that proclaimed now? Yet again, with Gentiles in mind, Paul speaks of “the glad tidings of your salvation” (Eph. 1: 13) and a little later on of “the glad tidings of peace to you who [were] afar off, and [the glad tidings of] peace to those [who were] nigh” (Eph. 2: 17). Those far off were Gentiles, those nigh were Jews. But the Lord’s order to the Twelve before they were sent out with the proclamation of their glad tidings was “Go not off into [the] way of [the] nations, and into a city of Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10: 5, 6). The gospel announced when the Lord was here was clearly limited to Israel. There is no such limitation now.
During the Lord’s sojourn on earth, the gospel proclaimed is described in just three ways. Firstly, it is “the glad tidings of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1: 1), secondly it is the “glad tidings of the kingdom” (Matt. 4: 23; 9: 35; 24: 14) and thirdly it is “the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1: 14; Luke 4: 43; 8: 1; 16: 16). No other descriptive expressions are employed. Thus the only gospel in the Synoptics was Jesus as the Christ in relation to the Kingdom of God. No other gospel was proclaimed. By contrast the gospel in the Epistles is never described as that of the kingdom. However, the reader will observe that all my quotations are from the synoptic gospels. What of the Gospel of John? What has John to say?
While the Lord taught His disciples directly, He did not teach the crowds apart from parables so that we read “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and without a parable he did not speak to them” (Matt. 13: 34). When this was queried by the disciples, the Lord replied “Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given” (v11). The subject matter of the most of the parables was the kingdom. Now then, what about John’s record?
Trawl through the 21 chapters of John and you will not find a single parable—even the word parable is not there. The Olivet prophecy concerning the kingdom, present in each of the Synoptics, is also absent. The so–called Sermon on the Mount, dealing with the kingdom, occupying three chapters of Matthew, and referred to extensively in Mark and Luke does not have a single saying quoted from it by John. As for the words gospel or glad tidings, they are just not there—and this in a NT book that we rightly call a Gospel! Surely, that speaks volumes to any Bible student! There is only one explanation: there had been a change of gospel when John penned his book. The gospel of the kingdom was for Israel but when John wrote that nation had been set presently aside in the governmental ways of God. Accordingly, the subject of the kingdom is never once in the public arena in John and is only spoken of in private (see John 3: 1–12; 18: 33–38) whereas the topic is dominant in the public setting in the Synoptics.
It is of course vital to stress that in the present day there is only one gospel (see Gal. 1: 6-12), but to say there has only ever been one gospel is to contradict the plain record of Scripture. It is regrettable when an influential teacher fails to cut “in a straight line the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15), thereby unwittingly sowing confusion and error.