Did Paul Only Want to Preach Christ Crucified?

Teaching on the Resurrection at the Creation Museum.

One of the many opportunities I have had to teach on the Resurrection

In response to hearing a message on the importance of the Resurrection that I’ve given a few times in the past two months I have had a couple of people disagree with my claims. It isn’t that they don’t believe that the Resurrection is vitally important, but they both cited a verse that supposedly contradicts my statement about the centrality of the Resurrection in the sermons delivered by the apostles that are recorded in the New Testament. As we’ll see, my friends who have challenged me on this have overlooked a few key points, and they have misunderstood the verse they cited.

My previous blog post explained my position on the centrality of the Resurrection to apostolic preaching. It also includes an embedded video to a 25-minute presentation I gave on the subject. So how could one possibly object to my message which simply surveyed each of the sermons in the book of Acts and then Paul’s letter to the Romans to demonstrate how frequently the Resurrection was the focal point?

The objection made by my two friends is that Paul said in 1 Corinthians that he only wanted to preach Christ crucified. In making this claim, they apparently think that Paul was only talking about the Cross, and not the Resurrection. But this simply is not the case.

First, we are told in Acts 18 what Paul did when he went to Corinth. In Acts 18:4 we read that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” While this verse doesn’t specifically tell us what Paul said in the synagogue, we can be quite confident about the content of his message because the previous chapter tells us what Paul’s customary approach was in the synagogues he entered in the various cities. Acts 17:2–3 state, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.'”

My new book on the Resurrection of Jesus includes a chapter about the disturbing trend of neglecting the Resurrection when sharing the gospel. See www.midwestapologetics.org/shop for more details.

My new book on the Resurrection of Jesus includes a chapter about the disturbing trend of neglecting the Resurrection when sharing the gospel. See www.midwestapologetics.org/shop for more details.

So what did Paul do when he went into the synagogues? He reasoned with the people, “explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead.” What did he preach in the Corinthian synagogue? Undoubtedly, his message was that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. But we don’t need to rely on my deductions based on these passages, we have Paul’s very own words to the Corinthians!

In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4 Paul tells us exactly what message he preached to the Corinthians.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures… (emphasis added)

Paul specifically tells us that he preached the gospel message of Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection to the Corinthians. But didn’t he say that he only wanted to preach Christ crucified? Not exactly. Let’s quickly take a look at this verse that my friends have cited.

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul wrote, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” A couple of brief comments are in order. First, Paul did not say that he only wanted to preach Christ crucified. He stated that he determined to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It wasn’t only the Crucifixion that he preached; it was Jesus Christ and the Crucifixion. This would undoubtedly include the Resurrection (as we know it did based on his statement in 1 Corinthians 15).

Second, as with every other passage, it is very important to look at the context. In the surrounding verses, Paul explains that he didn’t try to wow the Corinthians with excellence of speech or human wisdom. Instead, his focus was on proclaiming the gospel message (sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ), and to do this, he reasoned in the synagogue that Jesus is the Christ and that He had to suffer and rise again.

Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that “we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…” Someone may think this is an indication that Paul only focused on the Crucifixion, but this simply is not the case. Paul is likely using a figure of speech known as synecdoche, where a part of something is used for the whole. In this case, “Christ crucified” is shorthand for “the sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I believe many Christians do the same thing today—they speak of Christ’s death on the Cross and neglect to mention the Resurrection, it isn’t because they don’t believe in the Resurrection, but it’s because in their mind, the Resurrection is a given. In a sense, by naming one (Crucifixion), they mean the whole message (death, burial, and Resurrection).

Did Paul do the same thing? I am very confident that this is exactly what he meant. After all, the death of Jesus was not foolishness to the Greeks. They didn’t have a problem with someone dying. What was foolishness to the Greek mind was the Resurrection. We see that the same thing happened in Acts 17:18 and Acts 17:31–32 when Paul was in Athens. As soon as he mentioned the Resurrection, the Greeks thought he was foolish. This is why he spent 58 verses in 1 Corinthians 15 establishing the importance of the physical Resurrection of Jesus and the future physical resurrection that awaits us. The Greeks really struggled with the concept of a physical resurrection since to them, the spiritual world was good and pure while the physical world was corrupted and evil. Why would someone even want to believe in an eternity involving physical bodies?

Acts 18 tells us that Paul spent 18 months in Corinth. Surely, he taught them all sorts of biblical doctrine (we know he told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:27 that he had not failed to declare to them the whole counsel of God). Why would we think that he only spoke to them of the Crucifixion?

Paul, like Peter and the other apostles, always emphasized the Resurrection (as well as the Crucifixion) in his proclamation of the gospel. By neglecting this important truth, many well-meaning Christians have delivered an incomplete gospel message by focusing solely on the Cross. Notice, I did not say they delivered a false gospel, but their message is incomplete because they do not mention the Resurrection. As I’ve said before, the fact that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins is good news indeed, but the message does not become the good news until He conquers the grave.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.

Comments

Did Paul Only Want to Preach Christ Crucified? — 6 Comments

  1. Hi Tim,

    I fortuitously happened upon your blog while looking for something about Paul’s preaching and I appreciate the nuanced approach you take to this topic on the Gospel and 1 Corinthians 2:2. Your previous article is also great for noting the incompleteness of the Gospel message that is often presented by stopping at Christ’s death. Along those lines I have also noticed another “gaping hole,” as you put it, in the gospel’s presentation, and that is that the message of the kingdom of God has been almost entirely ejected from the gospel message in our preaching, despite the fact that it is by and large the only good news that our Lord proclaimed. Several times in the Gospels the euangelion is called the “good news of the kingdom”. Luke 4:43 makes it out to be one of Jesus’ primary purposes for coming to the earth: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” The context of every time Jesus uses the words euangelion or euangelizo is always about the kingdom.

    You take an evidence based approach toward what Paul actually preached by citing from Acts, and I have also done that by noting that the preaching of the kingdom did not cease in Acts (though some dispensationalists pit “Jesus’ gospel” against “Paul’s gospel”, thinking Jesus’ kingdom message was only for the Jews) and that is proven by multiple mentions of the kingdom in Paul’s preaching in Acts, not the least of which shows Paul’s two-pronged proclamation in Acts 28:23, 31. The latter verse (the final verse in the whole book) says that Paul was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Paul preached Christ AND the Kingdom. I think the kingdom was also part of the gospel Paul preached as people who believed in Christ learned how they entered into this glorious kingdom and even that there was a kingdom to be entered. You cannot have a king without a kingdom to reign over. Jesus is the king, and believers are citizens in His kingdom. Jesus was not dismissing the reality of the kingdom in Acts 1:8 (though the consummation of that kingdom awaits for Christ’s millennial reign I believe), as a simple word study on the use of kingdom throughout Acts will demonstrate. I believe in an “inaugurated but not yet consummated” view of the kingdom of God, and think that the kingdom should not be absent from our preaching of the Gospel either, since Paul preached it and most importantly Jesus preached it.

    I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on that? I am currently writing a book on the kingdom of God and now am working on the completion of my chapter on the gospel in which I present my study on all instances of the words for gospel and preaching the gospel in the Gospel accounts and show the kingdom context for them. Like you, I also wrote part of my study in reaction to counter-claims by some who extricate the kingdom from the gospel, and (believe it or not) even one pastor who does the opposite and extricates the cross from the gospel to make it only about the kingdom (a position which I refute in my book)!

    I might be interested in citing some of your material here in my book if you don’t mind, but would be curious to know if the content in these two articles is also in your book. Perhaps we might be able to arrange some kind of a manuscript exchange if you contact me by email.

    God bless!
    Josh

    • Pardon me, I meant to reference Acts 1:6-7 instead of 1:8. And to be clear what I attempt in my book is to show the compatibility of Paul’s gospel and Jesus’ gospel, and that they are not two different gospels, and even how hints of Jesus’ good news about the kingdom pointed to the necessity of his death, thus unifying the two in an overall “good news” presentation, as I believe Paul did in Acts 28:23, 31.

      All this is in a sincere effort to be like the Bereans and to also present the whole council of God, neglecting nothing of what scripture tells us about the gospel. And if we can rescue and revive Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of God as part of the gospel we will have some powerful preaching indeed, since the power of the Holy Spirit accompanied Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:17-19)!

  2. Excellent message.I’ve herd the same “cross-only”messages and arguments from jimmy swaggart.jesus christ is the savior not a cross.praise God brother.

  3. Hi, Tim –

    I have never met a believer who accepted the crucifixion but did not believe in the resurrection. However, I have met PLENTY of folks who claim to believe in both but lack resurrection power to live Godly lives in Christ. Many are concerned only with not going to hell, or about going to heaven and being re-united with their loved ones, etc. I don’t think Paul was simply preaching head knowledge, but was preaching the resurrection as a power source for overcoming sin (Philippians 3:10).

    We’re now in a country where upwards of 70% of the people identify themselves as Christians, yet we have pornography in the clergy, 53 million abortions, normalized (by the “church” in some cases) same-sex “marriage”, and a divorce rate in the church slightly higher than that of the public at large. These folks “know” but have a power problem. I am not suggesting that by changing our technique – maybe adding a fifth “spiritual law” centered on the resurrection – would instantly resolve these staggering cultural problems (or the problems in the Christian sub-culture). I don’t know that.

    I do know that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that salvation is more than just not going to hell. I don’t think we can “assume” that people in this post-Christian era know about, understand, or believe any particular thing about the resurrection. I am personally persuaded that the resurrection is central to the gospel, not peripheral. I’m also persuaded that the American “gospel” usually does not transform people. Again, I’m not suggesting that by a change in “formula” or “technique” that suddenly the gospel will “work” as we expect.

    Best,

    Steve

  4. I really enjoyed your sermon on this subject when you were in our area, Tim. I also enjoy your articles and gracious responses. I often struggle with how to tell many people that emphasizing a pet doctrine or topic and setting aside another as unimportant is foolishness or even dangerous.

    I especially appreciate your reference to Acts 20:27. It’s like most people’s response when trying to share the gospel or even a biblical point of view. “Well, I’ve never killed anyone,” is pretty common, but James 2:10 says that whoever transgresses one point of the law is guilty of breaking all of the law. It is important that we, as Bible-believing Christians regularly proclaim the whole counsel of God. There is much to learn and many examples in all 66 books. We need to take it as a whole .

    Without the crucifixion, there is no atonement for our sins, but without the resurrection, there is no complete and final victory!

    Very good article. God bless you.

    • Thanks for the kind words Joe. It was great to see you and your family again, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to preach that message. I agree that the “whole counsel of God” is an extremely important point to consider, although it wasn’t necessarily the main point of this blog. So many Christians have an imbalanced theology because they tend to focus on just a handful of verses that shape their thinking, but they ignore other passages that directly contradict their understanding of their key verses. For example, the misuse of Romans 9:13 immediately comes to mind (http://midwestapologetics.org/blog/?p=926). The way this verse is often used neglects its immediate context, ignores the historical meaning of the verses quoted, and ignores the actual meaning of a key word in the verse.
      God bless!

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