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Are the gospel and the doctrine of Jesus the same?

By Joseph D. Meador

religion, articles, christianity


Question: After reading several books authored by college professors who are members of the church, I am confused as to the distinction which they make between the gospel and the teaching of Jesus. Are the gospel and the doctrine of Jesus the same? Do we need to make this distinction' How does I Corinthians 15:1-9 fit in with this?

Answer: Much of the printed material to which you refer makes a distinction between the gospel and the teaching of our Lord. This type of theorizing is not new. The "gospel versus doctrine" issue has been a recurring theme over the years and has been trumpeted by those who desire to promote the unity-in-diversity view of fellowship.

The question is: Can a distinction between gospel and doctrine properly be made? The idea that doctrine is one thing and gospel another is found in early twentieth century Europe. J.A. Jungmann, a German Catholic theologian published his views in a text titled, The Good News and Our Proclamation of the Faith (1936). Jungmann's proposed what he called the "kerygmatic approach to preaching." He made a hard distinction between gospel (Kerygma) and doctrine (Didache).

Later that year British theologian, C.H. Dodd, published a book called, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, in which he urged that a firm distinction be made between gospel and doctrine.

The Bible does not support such a theory. In the Koine (Hellenistic Greek) language, in which the New Testament was written, the word gospel (Kerygma) means "good news" and is used to refer to the salvational aspects of Jesus. The word doctrine (Didache) means "teaching" or "discourse," and has reference to the same salvational message as the gospel. Therefore, it is not unusual for the New Testament to speak of the gospel as that which must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8). If the gospel is only a set of facts death, burial and resurrection it cannot be obeyed. One cannot obey facts!

Recently some in the Lord's church borrowed the discarded "gospel versus doctrine" theory from Jungmann and Dodd to build a base on which to launch their speculation about open fellowship between the church and denominations. They call their opinion unity-in-diversity - a contradiction in terms. In this view, the gospel is separated from teaching, or doctrine, and supersedes it in importance.

The adherents of unity-in-diversity stress that only the gospel is important since doctrine is a relative and elusive standard. Therefore, all believers (regardless of their denominational-church) are to achieve unity of faith by ignoring doctrine, but gospel must not be discarded.

The very definition of the word gospel, in the unity-in-diversity theory, was modified to exclude everything but the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In more recent literature this notion has been styled the Core Gospel. As a result of this historic shift in faith, some brethren stress that the gospel can be preached only to the lost (i.e., the world), but doctrine may be preached only to the saved (i.e., the church).

In the Bible the two words (gospel and doctrine) are intertwined. For instance, when Paul preached the resurrection (a part of the so-called core-gospel-triad) the Athenians called it doctrine (Acts 17:18-19). How ludicrous it would have been for Paul to respond to the sincere question of the Greek philosophers by saying he could not teach them doctrine because they were not yet Christians.

Servants of sin obeyed doctrine to be free from sin and become servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17). If there is a difference in doctrine and gospel, and if only the gospel frees from sin, how could these unbelievers obey doctrine? There is nothing in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 antagonistic to doctrine.

It is ridiculous to say Paul preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus without giving conditions of salvation. How could one understand how to respond to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ separate from specific teaching or doctrine? (See Romans 6:3-4 with v. 7.) On Pentecost Peter preached the resurrection of Christ, but also told people what commands to obey to be saved (Acts 2:31-38).

Why does Paul write that Christians are made strong in the faith and edified by the gospel (Rom. 10:25), if the gospel is only for the non-Christian?

Gospel and doctrine are not separate. Some have accepted a false distinction between gospel and doctrine to erect an unauthorized bridge of fellowship with the unwashed disobedient.

(Joseph D. Meador is director of the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, Texas. He is qualified to teach men to be all-season preachers of the unvarnished Word of God. The Firm Foundation is pleased to recommend this excellent school and its outstanding director. The school is housed in the building of the Southwest Church of Christ where Gary Colley is the capable preacher and mentor of brother Meador. The elders of the church are godly men who are committed to the old paths. Thank God!)

Published September 1996