2 Peter 1 and the Furnishing of Faith

This is an exact replication of Peter's likeness.

This is an exact replication of Peter’s likeness.

This past summer I attended a pastor’s conference where one of the keynote speakers spent several of his sessions preaching from the text of 2 Peter 1. His goal, as best I could tell, was to speak about the moral formation of pastors, and he was using the list of characteristics in 2 Peter 1:5-9 toward this purpose. In case you are unfamiliar with that list, the NIV renders that passage as follows:

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

I confess a few problems. Three to be precise. First, is that of all the New Testament books, 2 Peter is the most likely candidate for, shall we say, lack of authenticity. Many scholars don’t believe that Peter had a hand in writing this letter, and there are a number of reasons for this. For example, a large section of the book is exactly copied in Jude, which means either that Jude was written first and Peter borrowed from him, or that Peter wrote and Jude borrowed. Either way, it’s a little troubling. For another matter, the business where Peter defends both Scripture (1:19-21) and Paul (3:15-16) feels a little strained. It is only later, inauthentic books that attempt to shore up their own authority with these kinds of claims. That isn’t to suggest that 2 Peter doesn’t belong in the Bible, but only that we have to read it with some special attention.

My second problem with 2 Peter 1 is that I find this list a little tiresome and daunting. Whenever I hear it I feel a kind of undue pressure. Does this mean that in addition to all the other ethical practices I am meant to keep—the Sermon on the Mount, the Fruits of the Spirit, and so forth—that this metric of adding to virtue A virtue B, and to virtue B virtue C and so forth is the way forward in faith? Something about the math of the matter leaves me sour, especially the sense that in order to get to love as a quality I have to accomplish tasks A, B, C, D, and E. This seems like a contradiction to the witness of Scripture elsewhere. Third and finally, the conference speaker wasn’t particularly good, and although he was very enthusiastic the level of his energy, this, combined with the relative poverty of his insights, left me feeling rather dry and nonplussed in the audience. His interpretation of 2 Peter 1, in other words, did not incite me to greater moral formation.

Reader's Greek Bible

I carry this with me at all times, just in case.

So, as is often the case, while he preached I opened my Greek Bible and began to work my way through the text in question. What I found in 2 Peter 1—as is often the case when I attend to the original Greek text—opened my eyes and encouraged my faith. Let me see if I can share the same encouragement with you.

The message of 2 Peter begins in verse 3 and the first paragraph runs through verse 11. Other translations do an injustice when they break the paragraph into pieces—the whole section from verse 3 to 11 is really one thought. Permit me to offer (or maybe even forgive me for this) my own translation here. Things may sound a little wooden because I am being intentionally literal. Also, please note that the words in bold are directly repeated words and ideas in the Greek text. Peter writes,

Since all things of His divine power—the things for life and for reverence—have been given to us through the knowledge of the one who calls us to His own glory and goodness (through whom the honorable and great promises have been given, in order that through these things you might share fellowship with the divine nature, escaping from corruption in the world’s desires)—now, regarding this very thing, making making every effort in all haste, supply in your faith goodness, and in goodness knowledge, and in knowledge self-control, and in self-control obedience, and in obedience reverence, and in reverence brotherly love, and in brotherly love love. For these things are possessions to you and increasing, making nothing idle or fruitless for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For in the person for whom these things have not come, he is blind and shortsighted, holding forgetfulness of purification from his old sins. Wherefore more, brothers, hasten to make secure your calling and election, for doing these things you will never ever stumble. For thus access will be richly supplied to you for the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

One of the funny things about the Greek language that make it difficult to translate into English is the way it uses verbs. In any given sentence you can have one main verb with a whole host of attached clauses—the trick is that the main verb doesn’t always have to be at the beginning. In the passage above, the first main verb we get is in verse 5, were Peter commands us to “supply.” That means that the whole of the first two verses are clauses explaining this action of supplying. What this means is that we can neatly summarize the main idea of the passage as follows: since all things of the Divine power have been given, therefore supply the following to your faith. Because of verses 3 and 4, perform the command of verse 5. The grammar points to the importance of verses 5-7.

As I looked closer at verses 5-7, however, more of my curiosity was aroused. The preposition used between each element is en, meaning ‘in’ or ‘within.’ This seems like an odd choice to translate as “to” since there are other Greek prepositions that can mean “to” (such as eis or even epi). That made me want to look up the translation options for the word which the NIV translated “add,” but which I have translated “supply” above. In Greek, that word is epicoregeo, and other immediate options for translation are “provide” “give” “grant” and “support.” This range of options warranted some further digging, and what I found was this—the primary meaning of the word is to “supply” or “furnish,” and its special usage is the action of a husband providing for his wife. This discovery piqued my interest.

I looked at other occurrences of the word in the New Testament, and more things came together for me. Of these (there are 5 total, including the two in our passage above), Paul’s use of the word in Galatians 3:5 was especially arresting. Paul writes, “So then, does He who furnishes you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” What a concept! The Church, who is the bride of Christ, has been supplied (epicoregeo) by the Spirit. Taking from the special usage of the word, Paul is implying that the Spirit is like the support offered by God to we who are His Bride. He is our deposit, our household expense account, if the image is not too irreverent.

Concentric CirclesWith a fresh understanding of the word “supply” and its possible implications, I returned to 2 Peter 1 and reread the list. Things then began to shift. This is not a list of ethical addition at all. My faith is not a matter of adding x to y and to z in order to achieve love. Instead of addition, the dominant image is one of concentric circles. Faith is the overall picture, the biggest circle, but at the centre of that circle is love itself. The action of “supplying,” then, is the action making provision for the needs of my faith through these qualities. So, within my faith I supply goodness, and within goodness I supply knowledge, and within my knowledge I supply self-control, and within my self-control I supply obedience, and within my obedience I supply reverence, and within my reverence I supply brotherly love, and at the absolute centre of my being, the heart-of-hearts from which I operate all my faith, I am to supply love. The progression of my ethics is not adding action to action, but of a sanctified centre working outwards through all my behavior. The Christian life, in other words, is not a matter of adding qualities to attain to love, but of centering your life on love and then growing into these other qualities.

Suddenly, this passage in 2 Peter which had seemed obscure and, quite frankly, a little difficult, resolved into a clear message of Christian ethics. God is calling us into His Divine nature—to participation in His image and likeness. How are we commanded to respond to that call? By placing love at the centre of our lives, furnishing our faith with it as a husband furnishes living arrangements for his bride. If we reject this process, we are blind, shortsighted, and forgetful of our salvation.

My little Greek study made the conference more enjoyable. It overturned my previous thoughts on this passage. And it even began to change my perception of the second letter of Peter as being something of a fringe text. Indeed, read this way it would appear that the message of 2 Peter 1:3-11 is at the very centre of the Christian ethical life.

The Two Sins of Judas

Dante’s vision of the final circle of Hell was Satan eternally chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (three greatest traitors in history).

Judas, right after Peter, stands out as the most compelling figure among the disciples, and, indeed, as one of the most mysterious personalities of the whole New Testament.

Part of the mystery stems from lack of information: there is little that we know about Judas other than his betrayal. What we do know makes his betrayal seem even more startling. After all, he was one of the twelve. When Jesus healed, preached, and exorcised demons, Judas was a direct witness. When Jesus sent the twelve out to preach and empowered them to cast out demons and heal the sick, Judas went out, preached the kingdom, cast out demons, and healed the sick. Judas, we must never forget, was a man who knew and experienced the power of Jesus firsthand.

And yet, for all this, Judas’s motivations remain shrouded in mystery. How could a person who knew Jesus so well, who experienced Jesus’ power, betray him in the end? Could such a person really betray Jesus merely for money? If it was really all about money and greed, then why did he take his own life?

Judas is compelling because he figures so prominently in the narrative of Jesus’ life. He is mysterious because we know so little about his life and motivations. But, in addition to these, Judas is also one of the most unsettling figures in the Bible because his betrayal presents us with a theodicy. How can God ordain that Judas should betray Jesus, then condemn him for doing what he had no choice but to do? Jesus states clearly at Matthew 26:24 that “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Jesus’ death was prophesied, but woe to the man who betrayed him! And this makes us ask: If Judas was clearly destined to betray Jesus, does that also mean he was destined to die as he did? Was the aftermath of his betrayal bound by the same necessity as his betrayal? Is Judas a special case in the history of salvation—the one man God could never, and would never, save? Did God, who destined Judas to betray Jesus, also destine Judas for eternal damnation?

I propose to you that the answer to those questions is “no.” That Judas, while destined to betray Jesus, was not of necessity bound to die because of it. In fact, when we examine the story of Judas in the Gospel of Matthew we discover a series of curious parallels that force us to ask a critical question. The parallels are between Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial, and the critical question is: What is it that separates these two men? The answer, I believe, is in two sins Judas commits, implicitly, between his betrayal and death. They are sins worth examining both to answer for Judas’s untimely death, and because they are sins into which every Christ-follower is equally prone to fall.

So worthless, in light of eternity…

The Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel that treats significantly with the details of Judas’s last night on earth. Curiously, within that narrative the actions of Judas and Peter are directly paralleled four distinct times. To set the stage, we must remember that Judas has agreed in Matthew 26:14-16 to betray Jesus into the hands of the Pharisees for a sum of 30 pieces of silver. (As an aside, Judas’s decision to betray Jesus falls on the heels of the ‘waste’ of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus at Bethany. Notably, all the disciples take offence at the waste, so Judas isn’t singled out. Nevertheless, we are led, by virtue of editing, to conclude that Judas is the only one to do something about it. This, of course, is merely speculation.)

This brings us to the first parallel between Judas and Peter. During the Last Supper, Jesus makes a prediction. He says (26:21), “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” He is, of course, speaking of Judas. Then, after supper, while on their way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus makes another prediction. This time he says (26:31), “This very night you will all fall away on account of me.” Not only would one disciple betray Jesus, the whole group would fall away that very evening. It was, to be sure, not a very good night to be a disciple.

The second parallel is in the focusing of these predictions, because both Peter and Judas present themselves to be identified as prime culprits. First, right after Jesus predicts his betrayal, the disciples seek to exonerate themselves, each saying, “Surely not I, Lord?” When Judas offers his excuse in verse 25, Jesus responds by saying, “Yes, it is you.” Then, when Jesus has predicted the falling away of all his disciples, Peter responds, on behalf of the group, and says (26:33), “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” To which Jesus replies that Peter would disown him three times that very night. In verse 35, observe, Peter restates his conviction, “And all the other disciples said the same.”

The kiss would help soldiers identify the correct man in the dark. (They were afraid to arrest Jesus during the day.)

These, then, are the first two parallels: a general prediction (betrayal), followed by specific identification (Judas), and a general prediction (falling away), followed by another specific identification (Peter). Both predictions, of course, and both betrayals, come true. And this, indeed, is the third parallel in Matthew’s Gospel, because Jesus’ predictions are fulfilled. After the disciples arrive in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrives with the soldiers and betrays Jesus with his kiss. Shortly after this, while Jesus is on trial, Peter disowns Jesus three times outside in the courtyard. It seems clear, from the editing of the text, that we are meant to see Peter and Judas in parallel to one another.

But there is a fourth parallel drawn between these disciples, and in order to understand this parallel we must also understand the passage Jesus quotes to his disciples when he predicts their falling away. There, in Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

Zechariah’s prophecies figure prominently in Matthew’s account of the passion of Jesus, but the quotation of the oracle from chapter 13:7-9 is one of the most prominent instances. An initial clue to help us understand this passage will be to know that in the Old Testament the language of ‘shepherd’ and ‘sheep’ is frequently used in the place of ‘King’ and ‘people.’ Here, then, in the passage Jesus has quoted, God has promised to strike a shepherd (His King), and scatter His sheep (the people of Israel) as judgment. In Jesus’ quotation, Jesus has envisioned himself as the shepherd and his disciples as the sheep; he was about to be struck, and they were about to be scattered. For both Jesus (in Matthew) and Israel (in Zechariah) it is a striking of judgment—Christ, in other words, is about to take the judgment of God, on our behalf, upon himself.

This process of saving judgment is something the prophet Zechariah speaks about as well, and we find, in Zechariah 12:10 (a passage immediately preceding the one Jesus quotes), the following striking oracle:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

The shepherd, Jesus, is about to be struck, or pierced, and the people of God will look upon the one who had been pierced and mourn as a response. This reveals our fourth, and most stunning parallel between Peter and Judas, because both of them look on the one they have pierced and mourn. In Matthew 26:75, immediately after Peter has denied Jesus, he “went outside and wept bitterly.” And right after this passage, in Matthew 27:3, Matthew records that “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse.” Both Peter and Judas mourn bitterly for what they have done to their master. They both fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy.

Painting by James Jacques Tissot

Peter’s grief was real.

But it is here that the parallels end, for while Peter lives on to be restored by his master, Judas takes his own life. And let it be clear, at this point, from within the darkness of betrayal, that neither man has a real advantage. Both men have had their master name the betrayal/denial in them before it came to pass. Both men have actually betrayed their Lord and Master. And both men experience remorse for what they’ve done. By all accounts and purposes, and to the extent that Matthew documents this story, Judas and Peter are, at this point, in the same dismal boat.

What is it, then, that sets Peter and Judas apart? Both men betrayed their master—why does one die, and one live? Indeed, this question becomes more imperative when we remember that we also, like Peter and Judas, sometimes deny and betray Jesus—what, in the end, is the real difference? If we commit this sin of Judas and Peter, are we equally doomed to die an eternal death as a result?

The answer is “no.” We are not doomed, but we must beware two sins that Judas commits at this point, because it is these two sins—those that follow his betrayal—that condemn Judas to an eternity in hell.

For a moment, let’s return to the passage Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13, because that passage will inform our understanding here. There, the same oracle from which Jesus quotes also describes the ultimate effect of God’s divine scattering. There, in Zechariah 13:9, it is revealed that the result of this scattering will be to refine and purify God’s people. The remnant who survive this scattering, who survive the remorse of witnessing the one they have pierced, will be revealed as God’s holy people, the purified foundation of Christ’s new nation. Remember again, it was not merely Peter and Judas who betrayed Jesus that night, but the entire group of disciples that abandoned him. They were all scattered, they were all filled with remorse, but only eleven survived. What set Judas apart was not that he had remorse (which was predicted by Jesus through Zechariah), but the way he dealt with his remorse. And it is precisely here that Judas committed his two sins.

The first sin Judas commits is the sin of despair, and to despair is to fixate on the present hopelessness to such a degree that you remove God from the influence of your life. Emotionally, you close off the world, close out the future, and judge all of eternity in light of a present moment. Judas determined that, for him, there was no hope.

I find this image sadly fitting…

As Judas fixates in this way, he sections off outside influences. Nobody can reach him. Nobody can get through. There are no words that can reach a heart that has given itself to despair because that heart is becoming increasingly self-referential. Even subconsciously, the heart thinks, “I am the only one. There is no one who can help me. There is no one who can save me. I am alone, and alone I have no hope.” Judas had experienced the Lord; Judas had then betrayed the Lord. And if Judas knew (as we must presume he did) that the Lord was his only hope, then Judas believed he had betrayed his own hope. His logic, in a twisted way, was sound. It is the logic of a world without God. It is flawed because it doesn’t account for God.

To put this another way, Judas’s first sin is the taking Good Friday without Easter Sunday. Judas got stuck in a moment of time, and never looked to the larger picture. To this you might immediately respond, “How could Judas take Easter Sunday? He takes his life before the resurrection happens!” But that is precisely my point. Judas stops, he fixates, on Good Friday. His remorse for what he has done is the right response, but he holds on to his remorse, lets it control him, and gives in, in the end, to despair. In this, Judas is so busy looking at himself and how he feels, that he closes himself off from the world around him. And ultimately, that is precisely what his suicide is: a closing off of the world, a denial of everything but the experience of his own self. Judas took Good Friday as the final word and didn’t wait for Easter Sunday.

That this is a lesson for us should be obvious. We cannot allow our momentary despair to overshadow the work of God. We must always maintain perspective, always remember that God is good and has a plan for us. We must always remember that for every Good Friday, when things seem darkest, there is always an Easter Sunday around the corner where God’s light will shine on us again—if we have but the patience to wait! Therefore the sin of Judas is this: to fixate on our circumstances, to close off the voice of God and the voice of history and the voice of the Church in favor of our own thoughts. It is to become self-referential when we ought to be looking for forgiveness. It is to judge our present circumstances as absolute, as if there were no future possible for us. It is, in effect, to take the world as all that is, and deny the possibility of God’s goodness and providence toward us.

The second sin of Judas is the sin of power, in particular with the taking of matters into his own hands. Judas doesn’t wait on God’s power; instead he acts in his own power. Potentially, there are hints of this in Judas’s betrayal. Some have hypothesized that Judas, knowing the power of Jesus, betrayed him as a way to force him to act. All the disciples, remember, were looking for an earthly kingdom—was Judas’s betrayal his own earthly way of forcing Jesus to exert his divine power against the Romans? The hypothesis fits what we know of Judas’s character, but even more than that speculation, we see this taking of matters into his own hands most clearly in Judas’s suicide. There, rather than waiting for God to dispense His divine justice, or wait for God to reveal His ultimate plan, Judas took justice into his own hands, literally. Judas determined to mete out his own punishment, determined what he deserved, and dealt himself the killing blow. He was to himself judge, jury, and executioner.

Framed this way, the sin of power, of taking matters into our own hands, is perhaps one of the oldest of all sins. After all, if only Adam and Eve had waited a short while longer, they could have asked God what He thought about the fruit and the snake. Seen this way, taking matters into our own hands is the essence of all sin—it is the refusal to admit God’s power, to wait on His will, and to allow God’s sovereign reign. We commit it when we grow impatient with God, when we try to work our own deals. God says to us, clearly, “Wait for Sarah,” and we go and find ourselves a Hagar and mess it all up.

Peter denies Jesus but is redeemed. Judas betrays Jesus and is condemned. Alike in their betrayal, they are unalike in their outcomes, and what separates Judas and Peter are the sins of despair and power. In the end, it is these two sins that commit Judas to Hell; not his betrayal. I even suspect that if Judas had stayed his hand for two more days, he might have been restored and forgiven by the risen Lord. He, like Paul, might have been the corrupt apostle made more glorious by the redemption of the master. Instead, Judas is in Hell. But he is not there because God chose him for Hell before time began, but rather because he was self-referential, because he allowed no inbreaking of God’s greater plan, and he, from that dismal vantage, impatiently took his own life into his own hands. In fact, together these two sins—despair and power—are the sins that create hell itself. They represent a sinister and pervasive logic: “This world is all there is. My power is all I have.” By such thoughts is Hell sustained. God forgive us all for thinking them.

The mystery of Judas has long pricked the imagination of the Church, and followers of Jesus have striven to make sense of Judas. The apostles, of course, felt no such compunction—they were content to condemn him in blanket uniformity, and after his replacement in Acts 1 he is never mentioned again. But later followers of Jesus were compelled by the mystery of Judas; he remained an alluring figure. Partly because of this there was even an early, heretical, “Gospel of Judas” which attempted to resolve the theodicy by framing Judas as the hero of the story, doing Jesus’ will by inaugurating the cross. But while the disciples dismiss Judas as a thief and say no more, and early Gnostics invent stories to make sense of Judas, neither of these provides a satisfactory answer to the complexity of Judas.

Of necessity, much of Judas’s life and choices will remain a mystery. We will never, this side of eternity, know the real motivation for his choice to betray his Lord. And yet perhaps there is more to the story of Judas for our benefit—not, as with those early Gnostics, in a secret history where Judas reveals to us some long-hidden truth, but rather in the content of Judas’s story as recorded in the gospels. And from that content we see these truths: that we may betray, deny, or fall away from our Lord, but we must not despair, closing God off from our lives. And no matter what happens, under whatever circumstances, we must always trust in the power of God, rejecting the temptation to take matters into our own hands. We must reject self-reference and patiently embrace God’s power. Like Peter, and unlike Judas, we must in all things wait on God.

Why Peter’s Gospel Doesn’t Look Like Ours–Some Thoughts on the Apostolic Preaching

Anyone who has read Peter and Paul’s gospel sermons as recorded in Acts has noticed a sizeable discrepancy between the gospel as preached by the early believers and the gospel as preached by the modern Church. It is a discrepancy that begs a question: How, if we have drifted far from our original moorings, are we to rediscover this gospel of the early Church? It is to address just this question that C.H. Dodd delivered a series of lectures at King’s College, London in 1935, which were later converted into his short but insightful book, “The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments” (Hodder & Stoughton, 1951).

Preaching, Dodd observes, is in the minds of the New Testament authors a different thing from Teaching. While the first is concerned with communicating the central message of the gospel, the second concerns itself with instruction on how to live in light of that gospel, or, put a different way, instruction that takes the preached gospel for its foundation. With this distinction in place, Dodd begins to move through the biblical text, driving back to the gospel-ground that lies as the foundation of the teaching we see in the New Testament, what Dodd calls the “Apostolic Preaching.” Dodd proceeds to argue that, despite the variety of New Testament source materials, the central message of the Church is widely and consistently attested to, and is supported not only literarily (in the harmony of the various witnesses), but also in historical development (in that it displays synchronic consistency). Dodd’s conclusion is this, that “With all the diversity of the New Testament writings, they form a unity in their proclamation of the one Gospel” (74).

Drawing, then, from Paul, the synoptic gospels, and John, Dodd identifies several key components to this Apostolic gospel: that prophecy has been fulfilled, that Christ (David’s seed) has come, that this Christ ministered, died, was buried, and rose from the grave, and has now ascended as the supreme judge of all. To put this gospel in other words, the eschaton (that is, the last days) has arrived in Christ Jesus, and everything must change in response. This is the gospel preached by the early Church.

This eschatological gospel reveals itself in the thinking and praxis of the early Church, particularly when it comes to their understanding of the Second Coming of Christ. Regarding this, Dodd observes the following:

The more we try to penetrate in imagination to the state of mind of the first Christians in the earliest days, the more we are driven to think of resurrection, exaltation, and second advent as being, in their belief, inseparable parts of a single divine event. It was not an early advent that they proclaimed, but an immediate advent. They proclaimed it not so much as a future event for which men should prepare by repentance, but rather as the impending corroboration of a present fact: the new age is already here, and because it is here men should repent. The proof that it was here was found in the actual presence of the Spirit, that is, of the supernatural in the experience of men (33, emphasis his).

Much inky scholastic angst has been spilt over the beliefs of the early Christians regarding Christ’s return, but here Dodd offers a compelling path through the mire: that the early believers were less concerned with Christ’s return, and more compelled by his present reign. This, the evidence suggests, is precisely the witness of the early Christians: that the Spirit has arrived, and therefore the end of the ages is upon us. Therefore repent. The early message of Christ was, “The Kingdom is near.” The matured, post-resurrection message of the Church is, “The Kingdom is here.” And the visible sign of the presence of the eschatological, history-fulfilling kingdom is the presence of the Spirit among the people of God.

This, notably, is a rather different proclamation from “Jesus saves you from your sins,” which dominates our preaching of the gospel today. Dodd, commenting on the discrepancy, even goes so far as to say this:

A well-known New Testament scholar has expressed the opinion that ‘the modern man does not believe in any form of salvation known to ancient Christianity.’ It is indeed clear that the primitive formulation of the Gospel in eschatological terms is as strange as it could well be to our minds (76).

But perhaps at this point Dodd has overstated his case, and it is worth asking: are the modern Church’s formulations of the gospel really so divergent from those of the early Church? Is this particular expression of the gospel as atonement (“Jesus saves”) fundamentally inadequate, or is it merely incomplete? The answer should be self-evident: the problem with the gospel as formulated today is that it is incomplete, not that it isn’t the gospel. Jesus surely does save, and save us from our sins. But to focus only on the cross is to miss the broader picture of God’s work in history which culminates in Christ.

The modern preaching of the gospel often narrows the story of Jesus to a single moment, and in narrowing it telescopes out the critical frame of Christ’s life as the fulfillment of God’s history. In other words, the ‘discrepancy’ a reader of Acts feels between the early gospel message and that of the modern Church is not a true discrepancy; it is a shift in focus. Here, the modern Church has become so accustomed to looking at one piece of Christ’s story that it has overlooked the rest of the picture. To correct this oversight, the preaching of the Church must return to the frame of the cross in order to see that event in light of the life of Christ, in light of the fulfillment of prophecy, and through these to re-saturate the Gospel story in the eschatological brew from which it was birthed (and in which it has retained its life despite our missteps). Through this, the Church can—indeed must—continue to stress the crisis of faith—not a particular conviction leading to a filling of the Spirit, but a recognition that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are of decisive, critical importance for the life of every individual on earth. Here, because this crisis remains the heart of the gospel message, the Church can continue to rightly, truly, and with confidence proclaim that “Jesus saves.”