George Booker
What Are The First Principles?

8. The “Gospel” Test

The “gospel” (literally, the “good news”) is Scripturally defined as “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:15,16), and that which must be believed before baptism (Mark 16:15,16).

Conversely, there are many other things taught in the New Testament (especially in the Letters) which, while undoubtedly true and interesting and profitable, do not necessarily form part of the “gospel” necessary to be believed for salvation. These other truths are not “saving truths”, i.e., they cannot be shown to have been a part of the doctrines clearly and plainly taught by the apostles to those not yet baptized.

However, when a teaching appears in the Letters (or the Revelation, or the Old Testament, for that matter) and the context ties it directly to the “gospel” (or states that it was clearly taught to individuals prior to baptism)...then such teaching may rightly be considered “essential doctrine” or “first principle” teaching.

A further step in answering our question, therefore, will be to scan the remaining parts of the New Testament (other than Acts) to find teachings that qualify under these above-stated criteria. When we find such teachings, and if they are not already included in our “Statement of Faith”, then we may safely add them to our compilation.

What follows is a handful of such passages:

¶ “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved 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 among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46,47).

The significant “essential doctrines”, which should be preached to the nations:

¶ “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name” (Rom. 1:1-5).

The “gospel of God”, Paul’s teaching to lead the nations to repentance and obedience, plainly consists of:

¶ “Now it was not written for his [Abraham’s] sake alone, that it [righteousness] was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 4:23—5:9).

This “gospel” outline in Romans begins to look very much like another “summary” or “statement of faith”, along the lines of that found in Ephesians 4 and the Pastoral Letters. The relevant items:

¶ “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Being included as part of the “gospel” are these items:

¶ “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before [i.e., beforehand] the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:8-14).

The “gospel” was an Old Testament teaching as well, having to do with:

To this may be added, from later in the chapter:

¶ “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:11-20).

¶ “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:9,10).

These verses plainly spell out the “gospel” (v. 5), the gist of Paul’s first preaching to the Thessalonians before they were baptized:

¶ “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation [way of life] received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was...manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by [or as] the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:18-25).

That this is part of the “gospel” is shown also by v. 12. The first principles taught here are:

* * * * *

Quite possibly another handful of such passages could be culled from the inspired letters of the New Testament, passages which show a direct link between:

It would be quite a time-consuming task to find all the passages that fit this criteria. But the eight above, while not an exhaustive list, confirm the basic first principles already arrived at by other means, and add nothing substantive to what has been developed already. Taken by themselves, therefore, they provide a strong substantiation of our “Biblical”, or “Apostolic”, statement of faith.

And the point is not that we must find every single such passage before we can be sure we have the whole of saving truth. Rather, the point is this: Unless we discover some passage which plainly relates some other additional teaching to salvation (or the “gospel”), we may be satisfied that the items already adduced are the core of Bible truth necessary for eternal life.

The other way round

We may see the strength of this approach when we realize also what it does not cover. So let us put this the other way round, by considering some examples:

• “For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:1-3).

These verses introduce a section in the Letter to the Hebrews about the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ, a subject earlier hinted at in Psalm 110, but never mentioned in any of the “first principles lectures” of Acts, nor in any other list of “essentials” of the “gospel”. In fact, the subject is nowhere else mentioned in all of the New Testament, either by Jesus or the apostles.

Further, the author of Hebrews himself says this very subject is hard to be understood by those who are “dull of hearing”, or even young in the Truth (Heb. 5:10-13). For these reasons this very interesting — in fact, fascinating — subject should never be included among the things to be proclaimed as first principles.

• “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:5,6).

The phrase “the first resurrection” is found nowhere in the apostolic proclamation contained in Acts, and nowhere else in the apostolic writings for that matter. Its meaning is not obvious; learned brothers have suggested quite varying interpretations. Such verses should never be cited as a matter of doctrine to be believed by converts before baptism.

Please note: This is not to say that we cannot know what such passages as Hebrews 7 and Revelation 20 mean. Certainly we can, for every Scripture is given by God, and is intended to be understood, and is profitable in the understanding.

But it is well for us to understand also, that not all things taught in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, are fundamental! We CAN understand, yes! We MUST understand in order to be saved? No! The mature, seasoned understanding of the lifelong serious Bible student cannot be the criteria to test the validity of the faith of the new believer — even if that mature, seasoned understanding is totally correct (which is a big “if”!).

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