Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does the Old Testament Teach the Gospel?

I'd argue that Peter thought so, based on his sermon in Acts 10:34-43. Here's the final verse:
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."


brian said...

Agreed, though Peter also says that its testimony to Christ and the gospel was veiled--even to the prophets themselves (see 1 Peter 1). Thus, perhaps the OT witness that Peter speaks of in Acts could best be described as corroborative evidence to the life and work of Jesus as witnessed by the apostles. In other words, I don't think we can say that the mystery of the gospel as seen in the NT and as taught by the apostles was explicit in the OT.

jntskip said...

I think the gospel was pretty obvious in the OT. Jesus rebuked the disciples in Luke 24 because they didn't see it present in the OT.
I posted a little about this on my blog http://pastoralmusings.com/2010/04/the-new-testament-use-of-the-old-testament-2/

ben said...


I'm looking at 1:10-11 in the ESV, which strikes me as wholly consistent with Acts 10, by saying that the prophets were "inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories." It seems consistent with an understanding of the content of the gospel, but a lack of clarity on the timing and identity.

Is that the passage you're interacting with?

David Stertz said...


Two things. First, I am trying to understand what you mean by "gospel" in the context of Acts 10? Clearly in Peter's sermon he references elements of the gospel message such as Jesus' sinlessness, death, resurrection, and second coming. All these are certainly elements of the gospel message. However, Peter does not attribute any of these elements to the OT writers.

Second, as to verse 43, the ESV smoothes out a somewhat difficult verse. However, even the ESV does not necessarily mean that that the OT taught the forgiveness of sins through Jesus name in the way Peter was preaching. The phrase "forgiveness of sins" (an infinitive) can easily be a result infinitive so that Peter would be saying "All the prophets bear witness of him with the result that anyone who believes in him receives the forgiveness of sins through his name." That result could be from the the OT prophets or it could reference the larger context so that the combination of the witness of Peter and the prophets demand that a person believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

I am more or less thinking out loud as I am away from all my tools so please correct me if I am wrong.

ben said...

David, by all means feel free to offer an argument from Greek grammar that I'm wrong. I think you're arguing merely that the translation could go either way.

Maybe you could have a look at Acts 3:18 as well, which seems to me (without spending more time looking at it) to contain a similar infinitive construction. Except in that case, the infinitive has to be more than a result, because God foretold by "all the prophets" that "Christ would suffer." Obviously, the crucifixion in that context is the content of the prophecy, not the result. But you may well be more keen on picking up grammatical nuances than I am.

In any case, I actually think Brian's citation from 1 Peter offers evidence that my proposal is true about Peter, even if Acts 10 could be taken either way.

Thanks for the thought-provoking observation.

tenjuices said...

Not sure whether to enter into this but here goes. Yes Ben, 1 Peter 1 seems to indicate the timing and circumstance of Christ's coming which the Holy Spirit was leading them to prophecy, who was indwelling said prophets. This is apparently talking of an instance such as Daniel searching out Jeremiah in his 70 week prophecy. Daniel figures the 70 yr exile likens to 70 weeks of years. The truth of Jesus' death and resurrection was clearly given in the OT. Paul says this in 1 Cor 15 that his death and resurrection was 'kata graphe.' That some don't readily see this in the OT is more an indictment of modern readers than the writers of the OT (Tanak). John 5 seems to say that careful reading of the OT testifies of Jesus. How can we look at Lk. 24 otherwise? Romans 1:2 says the gospel was promised beforehand in the Holy Scriptures. I will argue this til I die. Happily. long live sailhamer

ed payne

brian said...

Is the gospel in the OT? Yes. However, I was simply trying to say that it's not laid out as explicitly in the OT as it is in the NT. What I was trying to say is that it was not completely clear to even the prophets themselves. I agree with the above comments: 1 Peter 1, 1 Corinthians 15, and Luke 24 all say that prophcies of the death (sufferings) and resurrection (glories) are throughout the OT. Jesus rebukes the disciples in Luke 24, but he does not do so in Luke 4. It seems that Jesus expected them to connect the dots of OT prophecy and see them lining up with his person and work.

Also, there's still the question of "mystery" to me. To what extent was the gospel preached by the apostles a revelation of previously unseen things? Is the whole gospel in the OT?

I could very well be wrong, so feel free to correct me.

One more question I'll throw out that's always been in the back of my head. Forgive me if it's heresy. Was Satan duped into crucifying Jesus? How could he not see what was going on based on the OT prophets?

David Stertz said...


I am not really trying to prove you wrong on anything. I am actually trying to get your original post clear in my own mind when you talk about the "gospel" being in the OT. Typically when I think of the gospel today I think of the elements Peter proclaims in his sermon in Acts 10 (along with many other sermons in Acts) or what you find in 1 Corinthians 15. As mentioned before these would at a minimum include the person and work of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and future coming/judgment. However, I don't seem to see those elements proclaimed in the OT as such. They are there but I don't think you will ever find a sermon like Peter's in the O.T. Piecemeal I suppose.

I am assuming that your original question strikes at the hearts of various hermeneutical systems and as such your question is a good one. But in order to get a good answer the terms have to be clear.

Andrew Suttles said...

Galatians 3:8

brian said...

I don't know that I've articulated my thoughts well up to this point, but I think Galatians 3 is a great example of what I'm getting at. Isn't it the case that the gospel was not a static message, but rather developed over redemptive history and through increasing revelation, ultimately culminating in the final revelation of Christ handed down to us through the apostles?
If by "gospel" Ben is implying the promise to Abraham received by faith, then we have to define our terms. I tend to think that the word "gospel" in the Bibe is connected with varying levels of revelation. Jesus arrives on the scene in Mark 1 annnouncing the gospel of the kingdom. Was that gospel the same gospel as articlated 1 Corinthians 15? Yes, if we say the gospel is the good news of God's redemptive activity in fulfillment of his promise on our behalf to be received through faith. No, if we say that the gospel is (through all time) the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Anonymous said...

For all the talk about the gospel being in the old testament, can any of you actually demonstrate that?

Show the sinless Messiah who died for your sin and took upon him the wrath of God and that by faith in him alone you can be saved.

ben said...

1. What Ed said.

2. Brian, what reference to the gospel as mystery in the OT do you have in mind?

3. David, I'd cautiously agree that they're present in piecemeal, as opposed to sermonic, form. (That's a longer conversation.) But like Ed I'll argue to the death that they're present (and when I'm dead Ed will still be arguing). They're present in places like the narrative strategies of the Pentateuch, and how the prophets pick up themes from the Pentateuch and develop them in their prophecies. See John Sailhamer's Pentateuch as Narrative and The Meaning of the Pentateuch for the thorough argument.

4. What Andrew said. (Why can so many people not comprehend Galatians 3?)

5. Brian, possibly. Would need to think about that more. Nevertheless, but by the close of the OT canon we should have a pretty clear picture of a coming King from the tribe of Judah who would live a life of righteous service to God and die a substitutionary death for mankind so that those who repent and believe might dwell with him in his Kingdom.

6. James, I'm assuming that if you reject the straightforward message of Galatians 3:8, that no OT text will be persuasive to you.

Andrew Suttles said...

> "Show the sinless Messiah who died for your sin...

Isaiah 52:14 to 53:12

20s and 30s Adult Bible Fellowship said...

Great discussion.

I like J.I. Packer's summary of the categories of the gospel: (1) truth about God; (2) truth about sinful man; (3) truth about Christ and redemption; (4) truth about the response of faith and repentance. When viewed this way I would say I find the gospel in the OT. But it seems like common sense to recognize that with the unfolding of revelation we have received both in volume and content, greater clarity regarding salvation.

As far as preaching the gospel from OT Scriptures, I'm burdened to anchor interpretation to authorial intent, so I try not to find things in the OT that were not there. But when I apply any Scripture I can't imagine how I can do that any other way than through the cross. While I don't find OT revelation about God's way of salvation to be as clear as it is today, it was sufficient for salvation, and it was consistent with all of Scripture, making it pretty easy to see gospel connections for application today.

Nathan Gearhart said...

oops, that last comment connected with an old blog identity. That was from Nathan Gearhart

Anonymous said...

Ben, I don't reject that meaning. I just wanted to see someone take a stab at it. The gospel that was preached to Abraham as far as what is actually recorded in Genesis is limited. It is reasonable to conclude many things from the limited account. It is very easy for those of us with the full account to look bad and almost think of people as stupid for having not understand. Alot of prophecies were not explicit at the time they were given that they were in fact looking to be fulfilled.

brian said...


Paul speaks both of the mystery of Christ and of the gospel, seemingly interchangably. The mystery is possibly summed up best by Paul in Ephesians 1:9, that in the fullness of time God has united all things in Christ. In other words, IN CHRIST the law and ordinances are abolished and we who were aliens are brought into the covenants of promsie (Eph 2:11ff)
When Paul gets to chapter 3 of Ephesians, he says that this mystery of the gospel was made known to him by revelation; hence it was not known by previous generations. "This mystery is that Gentiles are fellow heirs...and partakes of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph 3:6).
To which some may reply: "But that's not the essence of the gospel." "That's not salvation by grace through faith in the penal substitutionary death of Christ." But if I understand Paul rightly, I think there is no message of the gospel without Revelation 9-11. In fact, that is part of the mystery of the gospel (Rom 11:25) and why it must go to all peoples (Rom 16:25-26).

So, if this mystery is integral to the gospel, and if it was made known to Paul by revelation, and was therefore unknown to previous generations, then don't we need to say that the gospel (in its entirety) was not found in the OT scriptures. Again, as I've written in earlier comments, I believe the gospel was present in the OT from the beginning, and by the time of Jesus, we can assume the gospel of the kingdom could and should have been understood.

However, can we say with certainty that the Jews would and should have understood that the new covenant would be for Jews and Gentiles alike, and that there would no longer be need for the law and the ordinances (like circumcision, for instance)?

Lastly, I hope these comments are seen not as argumentative in nature. I merely want to participate in the discussion and throw out my thoughts. I heartily welcome the input of you and others.

Andrew Suttles said...

We don't know what the Patriarchs, like Abraham, knew. Moses only brushes across a few highlights from Creation until the time of his own birth. Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day - and let's not forget about Hebrews 11.

Regarding Eph 3, the mystery is the form the Kingdom would take, not that there would be one. A mystery is not something before unheard of so much as not clearly understood. Paul quotes several verses, in Romans, from the Old Testament citing Gentile inclusion in the church.

The early Christian believers, before the NT was complete, bound together, copied, and transmitted, had only the OT Scriptures and they preached the gospel using those.

When Jesus comes back and the mystery is unfolded some more, we'll be shocked at how ignorant we are in this time. Perhaps, we'll be amazed that we could be so ignorant and yet have a saving knowledge of God. We'll see the Scriptures with perfect clarity then and realize how much we miss now.

brian said...

oops, I meant to reference ROMANS 9-11, not Revelation.

David Stertz said...

To follow the good pattern of this blog's administrator: "what Nathan said."


For me your original provocative title and post was not clear in that it potentially linked some elements in Peter's sermon to the O.T. which are not presented as such in the O.T. I think, upon our further reflection, that you and I would largely agree in how we understand the "gospel" in the O.T. I have read Sailhamer (still reference it often) and largely agree with him.

greglong said...

Andrew, the "mystery" Paul communicates is not regarding the Kingdom, but regarding the Church, Christ's body.

greglong said...

The OT predicts a Messiah and points to Christ but is not explicit concerning the content of the Gospel. Galatians 3:8 is clear that the good news that was preached to Abraham was this: that one of his descendants would bring blessing to all nations.

ben said...

Greg, just time for a quick question here. Are you positing multiple gospels in Scripture?

Ok, another quick question: Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that we are saved by holding fast to the gospel that the Messiah died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. And he says that all this was "according to the Scriptures." How do you reconcile that passage with your statement that gospel content is not explicit in the OT?

greglong said...

No, I'm not positing two Gospels. But let me ask you: Is your view that OT saints knew that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, would be born, die, and rise again?

greglong said...

And if the Gospel was explicit in the OT, why is it that the apostles, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Ethiopian eunuch, etc. didn't understood it in connection with Christ until it the connection was made clear by Jesus Himself or by His apostles?

Again, I don't think Gal. 3:8 could be more clear. It is a specific statement about what Abraham was told and what he believed.

d4v34x said...

So out of my depth here, but . . .

I don't think one gospel progressively revealed to different degrees of fulness is multiple gospels.

Isn't that the basic of dispensationalism, those who embraced by faith what had been revealed so far were saved?

On the other hand, some OT saints seemed to know much more than they had a right to know based on revelation written up to their time, i.e. Job speaking about his Redeemer and the resurrection.

Andrew Suttles said...

This is a very edifying discussion. This is the same discussion that took place between Christians and Jews 2,000 years ago and occurs today between Christians and Muslims.

ben said...


I agree with everything you said. As for connecting OT Christology/soteriology with authorial intent, what if somebody could show a message of salvation by grace through faith in a coming King from the tribe of Judah who would die a substitutionary death and be resurrected from the grave?

Here's a start: The Meaning of the Pentateuch

greglong said...

Ben, do you believe someone today can be saved by believing "in a King from the tribe of Judah who died a substitutionary death and was resurrected from the grave?"

ben said...


Obviously, a provocative question. Just to flesh it out a bit more, can a person who only has access to the OT in 2010 be converted if he believes and obeys its message that we must turn from idols to worship the coming King who would suffer and die for his peoples sins, and be raised to life to rule over his Kingdom?

I don't know. Some, of course, argue no on the grounds of various passages in Acts. I find those arguments unconvincing, but I just can't be dogmatic either way. And there may be other relevant texts that aren't immediately coming to mind. I'm willing to be persuaded if I see it in the text.

But that debate is somewhat tangential. I'm merely arguing that the apostles preached nothing other than what Moses and the prophets said would come to pass—that the apostles believed the OT contained the essential message of the gospel, and the NT unveils its fulfillment. And I think Paul would agree (Acts 26:22-23).

greglong said...

Ben, I believe that the NT is clear that a person cannot be saved unless he believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the "King from the tribe of Judah who died a substitutionary death and was resurrected from the grave."

If someone agrees to this (and I don't know why they wouldn't), then he is faced with two choices:

1) Either he must believe that OT saints believed that Jesus of Nazareth would be the "King from the tribe of Judah who died a substitutionary death and was resurrected from the grave."

2) Or, OT saints look forward to a "King from the tribe of Judah who died a substitutionary death and was resurrected from the grave" but did not possess full knowledge of who that King would be, and were still justified on the basis of their faith.

As to your argument, that "the apostles preached nothing other than what Moses and the prophets said would come to pass—that the apostles believed the OT contained the essential message of the gospel, and the NT unveils its fulfillment," I completely agree with that with the caveat that the OT message is not enough to save someone today with the full revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is NOT two Gospels; it's just the reality of progressive revelation.

ben said...


I certainly don't intend to argue against your point that the message of the NT advances revelation by identifying Jesus as the one that the OT pointed to, and rejecting him brings condemnation. I preached that pretty forcefully three days ago.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the texts that make that point are intending to condemn those who believed the gospel as presented in the OT but never knew that Jesus arrived. It seems as though you're arguing that they are condemned.

Again, I'm willing to be convinced. I'm just not yet sure dogmatism is helpful.

greglong said...

Ben, I'm simply trying to point out that maybe we're not as far apart as you might think and that maybe, just maybe, it's not "positing multiple gospels in Scripture" to believe that although the OT pointed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it was not fully revealed until it was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

It just bothers me when this "two gospel" canard is thrown as dispensationalists (Scofield notwithstanding) when come to find out, CTers also believe a person has to trust in Jesus Christ, who wasn't revealed until the NT!

ben said...

Maybe I should clarify a couple things, Greg, First, I'm not a CT'er myself, though you probably wouldn't consider me a dispensationalist. Second, in asking you whether you were positing two gospels, I wasn't suggesting that you were, but hoping to draw out your affirmation that the gospel preached to Abraham is, in its essence, the same gospel of the NT (obviously with the additional revelation that Jesus of Nazareth is the seed promised to Abraham through whom the blessing comes).

Just as you are justifiably bothered by the contemporary use of the two gospel canard, so I'm bothered when some dispensationalists seem to resist the identification of Jesus as the promised seed.

ben said...

Hey Greg,

Along the lines of two gospels, I was just in a conversation that reminded me of the assertion dispensationalists have made that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom until he was rejected by the Jews, and after that we see him begin to preach the gospel that we would articulate today. A friend just encountered that rigid two-gospel distinction in the course of his pastoral ministry.

(Forgive me if there's terminology I'm forgetting. I can't remember precisely how the Dispensationalism class I took addressed this.)

Would you argue that the gospel of the kingdom is the same gospel Peter and Paul preached, or are they different? Did Jesus' message change after he was rejected by the Jewish leadership?