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From Bible teacher John MacArthur, a revelatory exploration of what the apostle Paul actually taught about the Good News of Jesus.
The apostle Paul penned a number of very concise, focused passages in his letters to the early church that summarize the gospel message in just a few well-chosen words. Each of these key texts has a unique emphasis highlighting some essential aspect of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The chapters in this revelatory new book closely examine those vital gospel texts, one verse at a time.
John MacArthur, host of the popular media ministry Grace to You, tackles such questions as:
- What is the gospel?
- What are the essential elements of the message?
- How can we be certain we have it right?
- And how should Christians be proclaiming the Good News to the world?
As always, the answers John MacArthur gives are clear, compelling, well-reasoned, easy to grasp, and above all, thoroughly biblical. The Gospel According to Paul is written in a style that is easily accessible to lay people, including those who know very little about the Bible, while being of great value to seasoned pastors and experienced ministers.
The Gospel According to Paul is the third in a series of books on the gospel by John MacArthur including – The Gospel According to Jesus and The Gospel According to the Apostles. The Gospel According to Paul is also available in Spanish, Evangelio según Pablo.
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About the Author
John MacArthur has served as the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, since 1969. His ministry of expository preaching is unparalleled in its breadth and influence. In more than four decades of ministry from the same pulpit, he has preached verse by verse through the entire New Testament (and several key sections of the Old Testament). He is president of the Master’s University and Seminary and can be heard daily on the Grace to You radio broadcast (carried on hundreds of radio stations worldwide). He has authored a number of bestselling books, including Twelve Ordinary Men, and One Perfect Life.
For more details about John MacArthur and his Bible-teaching resources, contact Grace to You at 800-55-GRACE or gty.org.
Read an Excerpt
The Gospel According to Paul
Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul's Teachings
By John MacArthur, Phillip R. Johnson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2017 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
THINGS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE
It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
— Luke 24:46–47
The apostle Paul had an extraordinary gift for bringing the gospel message to light in just a few clear, well-chosen words. His epistles are filled with brilliant, one-verse summaries of the gospel. Each of these key texts is different from the others. Each has a distinctive emphasis that highlights some essential aspect of the good news. Any one of them is capable of standing alone as a powerful declaration of gospel truth. Or put them all together, and you have the framework for a full-orbed understanding of the biblical doctrine of salvation.
That's the approach I will be taking in this book. Using some of the principal evangelistic texts from Paul's New Testament epistles, we will survey the gospel as Paul proclaimed it. We'll consider several important questions, including: What is the gospel? What are the essential elements of the message? How can we be certain we have it right? How should Christians be proclaiming the good news to the world?
NO OTHER GOSPEL
Paul himself might have begun a study of this subject by stating categorically that there is only one true gospel. Anyone who suggests that Paul introduced an altered or embellished version of the apostolic message would have to contradict every point Paul ever made about the singularity of the true gospel. Although he expounded the gospel far more thoroughly and painstakingly than any other New Testament writer, nothing Paul ever preached or wrote was in any way a departure from what Christ or His apostles had been teaching from the start. Paul's gospel was exactly the same message Christ proclaimed and commissioned the Twelve to take into all the world. There is only one gospel, and it is the same for Jews and Gentiles alike.
It was the false teachers, not Paul, who claimed that God had appointed them to polish or rewrite the gospel. Paul flatly repudiated the notion that the message Christ sent His disciples to preach was subject to revision (2 Cor. 11). Far from portraying himself as some kind of super-apostle sent to set the others straight, Paul wrote, "I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9).
Indeed, one major factor that set Paul apart from the others was the abundance of divine grace that had transformed him from what he once was (a fierce persecutor of the church) to the man we know from Scripture (an apostle of Christ to the Gentiles). The vast scope of the mercy shown to Paul never ceased to amaze him. His response, therefore, was to labor all the more diligently for the spread of the gospel and the honor of Christ in order to make the most of his calling. He wrote, "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I [Paul] or they [the rest of the apostles], so we preach and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:10 — 11). Notice he expressly stated that all the apostles preached the same gospel.
There is nevertheless a small but vocal faction in the visible church today who deny that Paul's gospel was the same message Peter proclaimed at Pentecost. Calling themselves "Pauline dispensationalists," they teach that there are at least three distinct gospel messages given in the New Testament, each narrowly applicable to a different dispensation or a specific ethnic group. They say Jesus' "gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 9:35; 24:14) was a call to discipleship, together with the announcement and offer of an earthly kingdom; when it was rejected by the majority of those who heard it, the offer was withdrawn and the "gospel of the kingdom" was set aside.
Next, they say, Peter's "gospel for the circumcised" (Gal. 2:7) pertained only to the Jewish nation. It was a call to repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19) and a summons to surrender to the lordship of Christ (2:36). This was the message preached by the apostles as long as the church was predominantly Jewish.
But with the introduction of Gentiles into the church in Acts 10, they claim Paul introduced a brand-new "gospel for the uncircumcised" (Gal. 2:7, 9). They say this Pauline message superseded those two earlier gospels. They teach it is a distinctive message that cannot be harmonized and must not be confused with the gospel according to Jesus or the gospel according to Peter. Furthermore, they insist, Paul's gospel is the only gospel that has any immediate relevance for the present dispensation. In effect, major portions of the New Testament — including all the major sermons and discourses of Jesus — are relegated to a place of diminished significance.
Most who hold these views also insist that it is wrong to speak of the lordship of Christ in connection with the gospel. Our Lord's own teaching on the cost of discipleship and Peter's call to repentance at Pentecost are both set aside as irrelevant to the present dispensation. Every theme that hints of Christ's authority is deemed an artificial addition to the gospel message — because any reminder that Christ deserves our obedience supposedly corrupts grace with the implication of works.
Such a system defies Jesus' Great Commission: "Make disciples of all the nations ... teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you' (Matt. 28:19–20).
Paul himself would have been a fierce opponent of "Pauline dispensationalism." He vigorously denounced the notion of multiple gospels. He took pains to defend his apostolic status by documenting his perfect agreement with the rest of the apostles. He said he learned the gospel directly from Christ Himself, just as the others had. He stressed the truth that authentic Christianity has only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5).
Because Paul was not a member of the original core apostolic company, and since his ministry rarely intersected directly with theirs, his complete agreement with them may not have been immediately obvious to all. Furthermore, on one occasion, Paul had publicly disagreed with Peter (Gal. 2:11–21). That disagreement was not about any point of doctrine; it had to do with Peter's potentially divisive behavior toward some Gentile brethren when Peter was in the presence of some legalistic false teachers.
But a careful look at the biblical record reveals that Paul never set himself or his message against the preaching of the other apostles. Even the expression "my gospel" (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8) wasn't a claim of exclusive ownership or ascendancy over the others. The expression simply indicates Paul's deeply personal devotion to the message Christ had graciously commissioned him to proclaim. The apostles were all in full agreement when it came to the content of the gospel, and Paul was prepared to prove it. He does so in Galatians 1–2.
AN ABBREVIATED BIOGRAPHY OF PAUL
In the process of documenting the proof of his agreement with the others, Paul, who normally avoided talking about himself or his "visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Cor. 12:1), gives us a rare bit of personal biography. He was the last of the apostles to be converted and formally commissioned — "one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8). Humanly speaking, he was probably the least likely person in the universe to find agreement and acceptance from the other apostles. Well known and feared throughout the early church as "Saul of Tarsus," he comes onto the pages of Scripture as the most feared and ruthless persecutor of Christians, passionately "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Then Christ stopped him in his tracks one day on the road to Damascus, instantly transforming his heart and dramatically changing the whole course of his life (vv. 3–19). In Philippians 3, Paul himself describes how his conversion radically reshaped his whole worldview and religion. (We'll look at that passage in this book's epilogue.)
Given the reputation Paul had earned as a brutal inquisitor, it would obviously have been awkward for him to go immediately to Jerusalem to try to meet with the leading apostles. So instead, shortly after his conversion, he went to the desert to spend some time in solitude. In Galatians 1:17 he says, "I went to Arabia." That is undoubtedly a reference to the wilderness of Nabatean Arabia, a mostly desolate region covering the Sinai Peninsula (an area known today as the Negev). He returned from there to Damascus and entered public ministry before he ever consulted with (or even personally met) any of the original Twelve.
In the first decade and a half of Paul's ministry, it seems the only one of the Twelve he met with was Peter. That occurred when Paul finally went back to Jerusalem, this time as a Christian. By then, Paul had been a believer at least three years. He stayed with Peter for just over two weeks (Gal. 1:18). He was perhaps still trying to remain incognito during that visit, because the only other major church leader Paul met was "James, the Lord's brother" (v. 19).
The point Paul was so keen to make when he recorded those details was that he did not learn what he knew of the gospel from the other apostles; he got it directly from Christ by special revelation. "I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11–12).
Fourteen years after that first meeting with Peter, Paul returned to Jerusalem again (Gal. 2:1). This was probably the same visit described in Acts 15. False teachers had spread abroad from Jerusalem, "certain men [who] came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'" (Acts 15:1). Because their teaching confused and divided the mostly Gentile churches Paul had planted, it became urgently necessary for the apostles to convene in order to answer the false teachers — and to announce clearly and publicly the apostles' full agreement regarding the one true gospel. That's what the first church council, described in Acts 15, was all about.
During this visit, one of the first items on Paul's agenda was to meet privately with the leading apostles in order to verify among themselves that they were all on the same page about the content of the gospel. This was evidently Paul's first face-to-face meeting with the apostle John (Gal. 2:9).
Far from needing to settle any disagreement about the gospel or adjust their preaching to some dispensational shift, the apostles all found themselves in complete agreement. Paul describes the scene in a way that makes clear his utter indifference to personal prestige, ecclesiastical titles, or other badges of human stature. Equally significant is the fact that he makes no claim of superiority for himself. He doesn't flash his academic credentials. He doesn't cite the extraordinary "visions and revelations of the Lord" that had given him such a thorough understanding of the gospel message (2 Cor. 12:1). There is no attempt to intimidate the others with either sophistication or sanctimony. He writes:
From those who seemed to be something — whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man — for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. (Gal. 2:6–10)
When Paul says the church leaders in Jerusalem "added nothing to me," he means that they gave him no new insights regarding gospel truth. They did not attempt in any way to revise what he was preaching or nuance it differently. They saw at once that Paul had been taught by the same Master who had trained them.
This would not have been the case if Paul had been preaching a different message. As Paul makes clear in that first chapter of Galatians, he himself would not have tolerated it for a moment if he had discovered the other apostles (or an angel from heaven, for that matter) were preaching a gospel that differed from the truth he had learned from Christ. Likewise, Peter, James, and John would not have received Paul so readily if they thought he was preaching anything other than what they had learned from Christ.
Thus when Paul speaks of "the gospel for the uncircumcised" and "the gospel for the circumcised" in verse 7 of the above-quoted passage, it is quite clear from the context that he is speaking of two different audiences, not two distinct gospels. In other words, what differentiated Paul's ministry from Peter's was only the ethnicity of the people on whom they focused their respective ministries — not the content of what they preached.
Paul then goes on to recount the reason he and Peter had their famous disagreement. It was not a disagreement about the substance of the gospel message. The problem, rather, was that Peter was "not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14). He was being hypocritical, unintentionally denying by his conduct what he had proclaimed with his own voice.
Paul's point in recording this incident is not to embarrass or belittle Peter, but to defend the integrity of the gospel. The soundness of the gospel is infinitely more important than the dignity and prestige of even the most eminent apostles — including Paul himself. The importance of getting the gospel right supersedes even the honor of the highest angel. This is consistently Paul's position: "Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).
Peter implicitly conceded that he deserved Paul's admonition. In his second epistle, he referred to Paul as "our beloved brother." He acknowledged "the wisdom given to [Paul]." Indeed, he cited Paul's writings as "Scriptures." And he admonished his readers to pay careful heed to Paul's writings and take care how they handle the "things hard to understand" in Paul's writings, lest they twist God's Word to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).
MATTERS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE
Paul himself might have said the surest way to twist Scripture to one's own destruction is by altering the gospel — or even by passively tolerating those who preach a modified gospel. He strictly cautioned readers to beware "if [someone] preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted" (2 Cor. 11:4). He said alternative gospels are rooted in the same brand of deception the serpent used to deceive Eve (v. 3).
So this theme reverberates throughout Paul's inspired epistles: there is only one gospel.
That fact will become even clearer as we examine the principal gospel texts in Paul's epistles. The truths he contends for are all rooted in the teaching of Christ, and they are all echoed in the preaching of the early church. Every page of the New Testament is in perfect agreement. From Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to the book of Revelation, the message is consistent. It acknowledges the hopelessness of human depravity, but it points to Christ as the only remedy for that dilemma. Starting with the historical facts of His death and resurrection, it proclaims salvation by divine grace (rather than by the sinner's own works); the full and free forgiveness of sins; the provision of justification by faith; the principle of imputed righteousness; and the eternally secure standing of the believer before God. Those truths all constitute the very heart of the gospel. They are matters "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3 NASB), and it was Paul's unique role to highlight and explain all those facets of gospel truth with the utmost clarity and precision.
"THE GOSPEL WHICH I PREACHED TO YOU"
For anyone familiar with Paul's writings, one of the first texts that will come to mind as a succinct summary of the gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:1 — 5. Paul himself identifies this passage as a digest of essential gospel truths:
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, and that He was seen.
Excerpted from The Gospel According to Paul by John MacArthur, Phillip R. Johnson. Copyright © 2017 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Things of First Importance 1
No Other Gospel 2
An Abbreviated Biography of Paul 4
Matters of First Importance 8
"The Gospel Which I Preached to You" 9
The Problem in Corinth 10
Chapter 2 First, the Bad News 23
The Universal Guilty Verdict 26
Proof from the Old Testament 29
The Arraignment 31
The Indictment 33
The Verdict 45
Chapter 3 How Can a Person Be Right with God? 47
Job's Perplexity 48
The Human Dilemma 50
Who Then Can Be Saved? 53
No Merit of My Own 55
Chapter 4 Sola Fide 59
"Not by Works of Righteousness" 60
Just by Faith 63
Justification Demonstrates God's Righteousness 65
Justification Magnifies God's Grace 67
Justification Vindicates God's Justice 69
Justification Upholds God's Law 73
Chapter 5 The Great Exchange 75
The Offense of the Cross 76
A Key Passage on Penal Substitution 81
The Will of God 83
The Word of Reconciliation 85
The Work of Christ 89
The Way of Salvation 91
Chapter 6 Alive Together with Christ 95
We Have Been Resurrected from Death 98
We Have Been Resurrected by Grace 103
We Have Been Resurrected through Faith 106
We Have Been Resurrected with a Purpose 109
We Have Been Resurrected for Good Works 110
Chapter 7 The Lessons of Grace 113
Legalism: The Folly of Pharisaism 114
Antinomianism: The Dominant Error of the Present Age 116
Grace and Law Are Not Adversaries 118
Grace and Good Works 119
A Lesson from the Past: Salvation Came through Grace, Not Law 120
A Lesson for the Present: Grace Inspires Zeal, Not Apathy 123
A Lesson About the Future: We Can Live in Hope, Not Fear 126
Epilogue: Paul's Testimony 129
Appendix 1 In Defense of Substitutionary Atonement 137
The Quest for a Manageable Deity 139
Redefining the Atonement 141
Socinianism Redux 143
The Biblical Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement 144
The Battle for the Atonement 146
Evangelicalism? Hardly 150
Appendix 2 Christ Died for God 153
Christ's Death Was a Sacrifice to God 156
Christ's Death Was a Submission to God 158
Christ's Death Was a Substitution Offered to God 159
Christ's Death Was a Satisfaction to God 162
Christ's Death Was Our Salvation to God 163
Christ's Death Was the Means of Our Sonship with God 163
Appendix 3 The Reason for Everything 165
Appendix 4 Paul's Glorious Gospel: Adapted from Sermons C. H. Spurgeon 173
The Savior 177
The Sinner 180
The Salvation 185
The Saying 187
Scripture Index 211
About the Author 219
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The first question one must ask is: Why read another book on the Apostle Paul? This is what I asked myself when I agreed to review THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL by John MacArthur. My answer was: it is written by John MacArthur and I respect his writings. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL is a type of survey of the teachings of the Apostle. In writing this book the author presents the basis of Christianity, there really is no other way to say it. What is important about this book is: it serves as a reality check for those who profess to be Christians. The book is easy to read and only 134 pages not counting the Appendix which brings it to 190. The Appendix is just as an important a read as the body of the book. I was intrigued by the discussions found in the Appendix particularly “Redefining Atonement” page 141; Appendix 1 “In Defense of Substitutionary Atonement.” THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL proves that you do not need a thousand page book to present information. This book, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL, is a necessary read and not like other books I have read or skimmed through. If you were going to purchase a book about the Apostle Paul this is the one. It is a very informative read thus I recommend it. — written by Marsha L F Randolph Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The writings of the apostle Paul make up a majority of the New Testament. He is a self-proclaimed defender of the gospel. So, what does Paul have to say about the gospel? John MacArthur lays out Paul’s message, calling upon his writings and the other apostles’ to make the case that Paul’s gospel truly is the gospel of Christ. The teaching in this book is sound, but I was not able to get through it. I listen to John MacArthur on the radio and I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of his books, but the writing in this book was off. Maybe a book of this brevity wasn’t the right format to present this topic. Maybe it was the structure. I’m not really sure, but it didn’t leave me looking forward to picking the book back up.
Delegitimizing if not the most influential apostle to the gentiles, Paul, whose epistles make up most of the New Testament is nothing new and has been a recurring plague in the church not only during his time but even now more than ever before and so John MacArthur delivers a clear and concise exposition in response to modern day detractors in The Gospel According To Paul. He lays out that the apostle was very much focused and intent on preaching the one and the same gospel that all of the original 12 apostles were commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself as evidenced in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Not only was Paul sound in doctrine, he was deeply schooled in Pharisaic teachings and often expounded on the symbols and typology found in the Old Testament pointing to what Jesus did for all humanity on the cross. In the book, Macarthur states that the gospel according to Paul begins with a guilty verdict, and that is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). While the world is unaccepting of the fact that we are all devoid of righteousness apart from God, people resort to “suppressing guilt and denying their sinfulness” which does not ever make the problem of sin go away. We are too depraved no amount of philantrophic involvement as a substitute or even to mimic religiosity can ever compensate and cover up our sinfulness and make us right with God. In effect, he makes a case that the concept of imputation, whereby Jesus’ atoning death makes available to anyone who believes in Him be credited with His righteousness, is key to understanding the gospel (Romans 3:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is basically an abridged version of what one needs to know about sound Christian doctrine and covers a wide range of theological points on atonement, grace, faith alone, getting right with God to mention, encompassed in 7 chapters ALL equally important, (since Paul’s writings were full of quotes and references to the Old Testament) in commentary form from a trusted source and expositor. There are also 3 appendices for further theological insights in addition to the chapters. I would recommend this book to any believer who knows or have encountered someone who may have had issues not just with the gospel, but particularly with Paul’s epistles and especially to those looking to attend Bible school as a primer on Paul, and even to skeptics looking for a compelling case that the Christian faith is one that is reasonable and grounded on actual and historically documented events namely the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and not founded on blind faith. The gospel IS evidential. It is presented in a brown hardcover with a tactile (reminiscent of linen) dust jacket and has pages of a trade paperback. If you enjoy listening to John MacArthur’s sermons (and debates), you will find this book a valuable addition to your collection.