In this post, I am going to focus my attention on Jarvis Williams’ theology of the gospel. Williams argues that Southern Baptists need to develop a biblical theology of the gospel. I think Williams is saying that Southern Baptists need to get back to the gospel. There can be no doubt that the SBC has a fully formed theology of the gospel. Some of them take a more Arminian perspective while a few take a Calvinist perspective in their soteriology. But to say that Southern Baptists need to develop a biblical theology of the gospel implies that they have yet to do so. Perhaps Williams just doesn’t like the Southern Baptist theology of the gospel. A theology of the gospel falls within the area of soteriology. Williams throws everything including the kitchen sink into his theology of the gospel. He includes: entry language (repentance and faith), maintenance language (walking in the fruit of the Spirit), racial reconciliation, and loving one another in the power of the Spirit. By throwing so many items into his theology of the gospel, he muddies the waters and creates confusion. So, if Williams includes too many items into his theology of the gospel, how is one to determine precisely what is the gospel? The best way to define the gospel is to allow Scripture to define it for us. I will attempt to do that in my closing comments of this post. For now, attention will be given to the claims made by Jarvis Williams about the gospel. One should pay Close attention to the argument Williams is making as well as the method he employs to make it.
Williams first move is to broaden the definition of the gospel. He says that the gospel should not be defined exclusively in terms of justification by faith. He grounds his theory in his interpretation of Paul’s work in Galatians, claiming that Paul’s gospel in Galatians includes more than justification by faith. For instance, he says that Paul does not use euaggelion, dikaiosynē, and dikaioō synonymously. Williams’ argument seems to be as follows:
- Unless Paul uses these terms synonymously, then the gospel must be more than justification by faith.
- Paul does not use these terms synonymously.
- Therefore, the gospel is more than justification by faith.
The argument is suspect because the major premise (1) is false on the face of it. It is not necessary for the terms “justify,” “righteousness,” and “gospel” to be synonymous in order for the gospel to be defined in terms of how someone is declared righteous or is justified. What then is the gospel? The gospel is that through the work of the Messiah on my behalf, I have been declared righteous, just, not guilty! That is good news. Now, does it follow that the consequences of my being declared righteous are also inclusive of the gospel? In other words, is regeneration also the gospel? It is surely related to the gospel, but it is not itself the gospel. Being declared righteous means that I am now filled with the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, dying to self, etc. Williams confuses the gospel with the consequences of the gospel. The message of Christ, the gospel, the good news is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is the gospel. Paul says that the gospel was simply this: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and on the third day, He was raised from the dead. Because of this, we are declared righteous, justified by faith in his name! The noun means very simply means, God’s good news to man. The verb means, to proclaim the good news. Why does Williams insist on extending the definition of the gospel? Why does he want to reject limiting the gospel to justification by faith? The answer seems to be that he wants racial reconciliation to be a gospel issue and the only way to do that is to broaden the definition of the gospel. It seems to me that once we open the door and accept Williams’ broad definition of the gospel that everything becomes a gospel issue. However, such a position is entirely unsustainable.
The verb euangelizō appears 22x in the LXX. The verb translates the Hebrew word bśr in 21 of those 22 occurrences. The sense of the Hebrew word is to bring news, a messenger of good news, to proclaim, to hear good news, to bring good news. Williams spills a lot of ink and several paragraphs attempting to show that good news may entail a broad category of meaning. But this approach is wide of the mark and quite unhelpful. Remember, Williams is trying to show that we should not think of the gospel only in terms of justification by faith. He says Paul’s gospel in Galatians includes more than justification by faith. Williams then spends several paragraphs in the LXX and even extra-biblical literature such as the Psalms of Solomon in order to strengthen his argument. His project fails. His argument is not strengthened. However, his agenda becomes clearer and that is a good thing for those who are interested in preserving the truth.
After several paragraphs devoted to the LXX use of good news, Williams brings us back to Galatians where he says the following: LXX Isaiah is especially helpful for understanding Paul’s use of ‘euangelizō’ in Galatians since he directly quotes and alludes to Isaiah throughout the letter. Now, this raises the questions, does Paul directly quote and allude to Isaiah throughout the letter of Galatians? How often does Isaiah use euangelizō? First of all, Isaiah never used the term euangelizō. Let’s be very clear about that. Isaiah used the term bśr. That is the word that appeared in Isaiah as it was originally inspired. And that word carries the sense to bring news, a messenger of good news, to proclaim, to hear good news, to bring good news. As one can see, it is essentially the same meaning as the Greek word used by Paul in the NT. I only raise the LXX issue in order to caution others who may not be theologically trained in using it. It is a translation of a copy of a copy of the original, somewhat removed. Moreover, we do possess the same copy of the LXX that Paul or any of the other NT writers used when penning their works. A right understanding of the nature of the LXX is critical if you are going to use it as a source in your Bible study.
Does Paul make heavy use of Isaiah when he uses the word euangelizō? From what I can tell, Paul alludes to Isaiah 49:1 in Gal. 1:15 where he says he was set apart in his mother’s womb. And then in Gal. 4:27, Paul cites Isaiah 54:1 in the context of his analogy involving Sarah and Hagar. In fact, Paul uses the OT approximately 30x in Galatians and in half of those occurrences the reference is Genesis. Other than these two texts from Isaiah, I can find no other place where Paul seems to lean heavily on Isaiah in his use of the word euangelizō. Williams points to the four places euangelizō translates the word bśr in Isaiah, but Paul never cites, quotes, alludes to, or even echos any one of these passages. That does not mean that Isaiah did not inform Paul’s soteriology. Surely, he did. It only means that Williams is exaggerating Paul’s references to Isaiah in Galatians. It goes to his tactics more than anything else.
Williams makes much of the number of times euangelizō is used to pronounce judgment in the LXX. But this is a serious gaffe. For example, Williams says that this word is used to pronounce judgment in Psalm 96 (95 in the LXX). But when one examines Psalm 96, one finds that the word appears in Psalm 96:2, which says, “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day-to-day.” Nowhere in the LXX is the word euangelizō used to announce divine judgment. There are contexts in which judgment is imminent, but the good news is that repentance always brings mercy and faith always produces salvation and deliverance. It is impossible to talk about justification by faith apart from guilt and judgment. To be justified means that we were previously condemned, under judgment. Williams fails to make the sharp distinctions necessary and as a result, he fails to strengthen his argument, which to restate it, is that we should not see the gospel as primarily justification sola fide.
Where is Williams going with all this? He wants us to think that the gospel itself not only has a vertical component but a horizontal one as well. He is confusing the gospel itself with the effects of the gospel. When I say I have good news, you just won the lottery, that announcement does not fill your bank account or put you on some exotic beach. It is a statement about the state of affairs that has obtained. Now, the consequences of that announcement are that I am a millionaire, debt free, living a completely different life. Williams goal seems to be to get to Peter’s inconsistent behavior when the Judaizers were present. Williams writes, Peter believed all the right things about justification by faith for Jews, but he departed from the gospel by imposing Jewish legal demands on Gentile Christians. His error stemmed from an incorrect view of the gospel’s horizontal component. How close is Williams to the truth of the situation in Galatians 2? He seems to say that Peter believed justification by faith for Jews, but not for Gentiles. I cannot imagine how Williams arrived at such a conclusion. The main problem in the Galatian churches was over the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from the works of the law. That is the occasion for Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. We can see this easily enough in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Conference and the issue of Gentile salvation. When Paul first preached in the region of Galatia, he preached that everyone is freed from everything that the law of Moses could not free them from, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 13:38-39). Kostenberger writes, Paul wrote Galatians to defend the gospel of justification by faith alone against the false gospel of the Judaizers. [The Cross, The Cradle, and The Crown, 420] Did Peter really stray from the gospel? I don’t think so. Peter’s issue was that he let his fear get the best of him. He would eat with the Gentiles when these particular Jews were not around, and he would not do so when they were.
Peter’s behavior was indeed inconsistent with the gospel. But to say that Peter departed from the gospel is to overstate the situation. Did Peter’s behavior depict an incorrect view of the horizontal component of the gospel? This assumes there is a horizontal component of the gospel. This is a theory that Williams et al. have failed to prove. The horizontal consequences of the gospel are loving your neighbor. The gospel itself is that all men in Christ are forgiven of their debt to God regardless of their ethnic background. There is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. There is only one man. All men are under sin, both Jew, and Gentile, according to Romans 3:9. Williams biggest problem is that he does not seem to appreciate hermeneutical and exegetical boundaries. He wants to take texts father than they should be taken.
When Williams says that Moses was establishing Israel’s racial identity in Deut. 7, he goes beyond the text. When he makes much of the word genos, he goes beyond the word. When he uses the LXX to try and show that euangelizō means more than just good news, he goes beyond the word. When he attempts to show that Paul was alluding to Isaiah throughout Galatians, he goes beyond the content of Galatians. When he says that Peter had an incorrect view of the gospel, he goes beyond what Paul actually said. And just for good measure, there is one more example worth mentioning. Williams writes, “When Paul condemned Peter as accursed in Gal. 2:11, he placed Peter under an apostolic curse.” What does Paul actually say in 2:11? It says, But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. The word condemned is translated from the Greek, kataginōskō. The lexical evidence suggests convict, condemn, bring a charge against. The word is used in 1 John 3:20-21 where John talks about our heart condemning us and God being greater than our heart. The gist of Paul’s sentence is that Peter was wrong! Nothing more. There is no pronouncement of a curse and there is no implication that Peter had perverted the gospel. Williams is constructing a narrative that will support his agenda that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. That much is now obvious at this point. Williams is wrong about Moses, wrong about the word genos, wrong about the focus of Paul in Galatians both in terms of justification by faith and in his view of Paul’s use of Isaiah, and he is wrong in how he frames the incident with Peter in Galatians 2. In every case there is an exaggeration. In every case, it is obvious that the text is being stretched just beyond its limits. Williams has an obvious purpose in mind.
Williams says that in Paul’s view, one can conceptually confirm justification by faith and yet stand condemned by the gospel. And Peter is his example. However, one has to ask if this is actually Paul’s point or if Williams is once again reading something that isn’t really there? The resounding answer to that question is absolutely not. In fact, Paul is dealing with men who are publicly denying justification by faith alone. They are the reason Paul has penned the letter, to begin with. No one would dispute the fact that there are hypocrites in the church whose lives are grossly inconsistent with their profession. Again, this line of argumentation is unhelpful. It misses the point that Paul is making in Galatians. Williams is seeking to turn Paul’s concern from that of justification by faith to that of the supposed horizontal component of the gospel. By painting Peter as being cursed by Paul, not only does Williams supposedly support his theory of this horizontal component, it elevates that theory to a place of extreme importance. Now, can you see what Williams is doing? Williams is going to argue that walking in the Spirit is the gospel and that walking in the Spirit entails the horizontal component of the gospel and that walking in the Spirit, or the fruit of the Spirit also entails racial reconciliation. With a wave of his exegetical magic wand here, and there, and here again, Williams thinks he has successfully shown that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. And as long as you don’t ask any questions and ignore the numerous exegetical gyrations and logical fallacies in Williams’ argument, you might just be convinced he is right.
The gospel then is the good news from God that the human race can be declared righteous, justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is the gospel.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:26-29)
There is something far more profound about the gospel than just limiting it to concerns of social justice. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
It is because of the gospel that we can and do have fellowship with one another. We have fellowship with the Father and the Son and therefore, with one another. John writes, If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7). One is one. You cannot be more unified than being one in Christ.
I am rapid-fire posting these days because this issue is hitting very close to home for me. In my next post, I will interact with Williams’ section entitled, Racial Division and Reconciliation in the Bible and then I will turn to Racial Reconciliation and the Mystery of the Gospel. Once these posts are up, I will demonstrate just exactly how errors like this make their way into the rank and file of the church and result in a variety of errors. The end result is likely to lead to division in the body rather than unity. My final post in this series will address this topic in a direct, candid, and honest way. My hope is that the unity we find ourselves in is based on the unity of Christian truth rather than politics, political correctness, or melanin.