Master Sermon List
What Paul Preached "First of All"
by John Thomas, 1852
MOREOVER, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you that 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 on the third day, according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. 15:1-4).
Great stress is often laid on the phrase "first of all," to prove that when Paul preached the gospel, the first thing he did was to deliver himself concerning the crucifixion and death of Jesus for our sins, which is say "first of all;" but en protois, "among the first things" "I delivered unto you, among the first things, that which I received: how that Christ died for our sins," It is not true that Paul delivered this in the Gentile sense of the phrase "first of all," that is, that the first thing he preached was the crucifixion of Jesus for sins. When he went among those who had the Scriptures of the prophets, and professed to believe them, the first thing he did was to lay before them the things concerning the Christ; and when he thought he had sufficiently enlightened them upon these matters, he then submitted to them the things concerning Jesus and his name.
But when he went among idolaters who knew not the prophets, he first showed them the absurdity of idol worship, endeavoring in so doing, to turn them from dumb idols to the living and true God, whose messenger he announced himself to be; he then proclaimed God's future viceregent reign over the nations by A RIGHTEOUS MAN, whom He had prepared for the purpose, having raised him from the dead; which resurrection was an assurance that said divine kingdom would certainly be established. Having thus introduced the subject of the King's resurrection, he then preached to them Jesus, that is, the things concerning him; who confirmed the apostle's testimony "with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Spirit, according to His will."
The foregoing statement is proved by Paul's course at Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth; for thus it is written: "And Paul, as his manner was, went into the synagogue of the Jews, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures (of the prophets, the only Scriptures then in being) opening and alleging that it behoved the Christ to suffer and to rise from among the dead." While he confined himself to this, he was listened to without tumult. The Jews had no objection to listen to the discussion of the question, "Is the Anointed One to suffer death before he assumes the reins of government over Israel and the nations?" This is clear from Paul's adventures at Corinth as well as at Thessalonica. There he reasoned with the Jews for several Sabbaths, during which all was peace and quietness, and obviously, because he said nothing about Jesus.
He spoke only of the Christ, without affirming whether he had appeared or not. But when Silas and Timothy joined him from Macedonia, he was encouraged, and being pressed in spirit, could no longer forbear to affirm that the Christ had really appeared, and that the crucified and resurrected Jesus was he. This avowal threw the hitherto peaceable Jews into an uproar, as the announcement of the same truth had at Thessalonica. It is evident, therefore, from the effect produced at both places, that Paul did not preach the things concerning Jesus first of all. If he had, his first discourse would have resulted only in tumult. He would not have convinced a single Jew.
He had first to prepare the minds of the Jews by convincing them from the prophets that whoever the Christ might be, and whenever he should appear, he must prove himself worthy of exaltation to David's throne by obedience unto death, from which God would deliver him by a resurrection to everlasting life. If he could get the Jews to believe this, he would remove the great obstacle in the way of their confessing that Jesus was the Christ. This obstacle consisted in their belief that the Christ, whenever he came, would appear at once in power and great glory.
If Jesus had appeared thus, they would have received him gladly; but because he appeared in humiliation, contrary to their expectation, he became an obstacle, "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence." Knowing the state of their minds upon the subject, Paul proceeded cautiously and wisely; first opening to them the prophets, that is, expounding the Scriptures, that they might understand their teaching concerning the Christ. When they comprehended this, they perceived that the King expected by the nation was to appear as "a poor and needy man," despised and persecuted by his contemporaries to an ignominious death, and afterwards to rise from the dead; and that the crisis of his fate was to be made the foundation of a mystery, through which remission of sins and a right to share with the Christ in his kingdom for ever, might be obtained. A mind so prepared would have no difficulty in assenting heartily to the proposition that the Jesus whom Paul preached was that Christ, when the declaration was confirmed of God by the miracles wrought in his name before them.
Now, the things first preached by Paul, namely, concerning the Christ, were the things of the kingdom; for Christ is equivalent to king, because kings are anointed ones. In preaching Christ to the Thessalonians, he taught them that there was another King than Caesar (Acts 17:7), who should come from heaven with the angels of his power, taking vengeance on those who obeyed not the gospel he preached (I Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). He invited them to a participation in his kingdom and glory (I Thess. 2:12), a resurrection from the dead, if accounted worthy of it, and deliverance from the wrath to come (I Thess. 4:16; II Thess. 1:5; I Thess. 1:10). In preaching Jesus Christ, he taught them that Jesus was that King in whom would be fulfilled all the things written concerning him in the prophets.
This doctrine of a king from heaven to rule the nations upon the earth as Yahweh's viceregent, sounded out from Jerusalem to every part of the Roman dominion, until it reached the ears of the reigning emperor, whose jealousy it excited so much that he made decrees forbidding anyone to proclaim it. Now I would like to know, if Paul had taught that Jesus was king of a dominion in the skies, or beyond them, would the Roman emperor have forbidden his subjects to affirm it? On the contrary, is it not clear that Paul preached the establishment of a kingdom on the Roman territory, and that it was this alarmed Caesar. What would Caesar, a Pagan, have cared about the kingship of Jesus so long as he supposed it was to be confined to the heavens, and not to interfere with his jurisdiction? He would have regarded it with as little concern as Victoria does the preaching of the kingdom by the dissenters, who declare that the Lord's kingdom is not to be on this earth, but purely spiritual and ethereal.
Paul had a special reason for reminding the Corinthians that he delivered to them the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for sins, "among the first things." It was this. There were some of Hymenaeus and Philetus's disciples among them, who affirmed that "the resurrection was past already" (II Tim. 2:17, 18), and that, consequently, "there is no resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:12) hereafter. They had embraced again that old clairvoyant fable of heathenism concerning souls or "separate spirits." They affirmed that man had a soul in him which was capable of a disembodied existence, which it actually assumed at death. This was the current and universal opinion of the day, which made Paul's doctrine of the resurrection of the mortal body so absurd in the estimation of the people.
(Titus who was contemporary with Paul, in his speech to the Roman soldiers before the attack on the tower of Antonia, at the siege of Jerusalem, thus addresses them: "For what man of virtue is there who does not know that those souls which are severed from their fleshly bodies, in battles, by the sword, are received by the ether, that purest of elements, and joined to that company which is placed among the stars: that they become gods, demons, and propitious heroes, and show themselves as such to their posterity afterwards? "Wars of the Jews, by Josephus, book 6, c 1, sec 5).
The holders of this fabulous tradition argued from their assumption to conclusions subversive of the truth. As souls are received by the pure ether, and joined to the company among the stars, a resurrection of the body to inherit a kingdom in the land of Israel, is unnecessary, manifestly. They denied it, therefore, and so rejected both the resurrection and the kingdom. Now, it was to vindicate the truth concerning these things, and to demolish their "philosophy and vain deceit," their "science falsely so called," to the conviction of every right-minded reader that he wrote the 15th chapter of his letter to the ecclesia at Corinth. In the 11th verse, he reminds them that he preached a resurrected Christ, in whom they believed. He did not preach a Christ who died for sins, whose soul was received by the ether, and joined to a company among the stars. The Christ he preached was raised bodily from the dead, not from among the living in a world of spirits; but the same bodily person who was buried, and continued buried till the third day, after which he was seen by 512 persons, and last of all by himself, as one born out of due time. "Now," says he, this being so, "if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead."
Here is the reason for his reminding them that Christ's resurrection was preached to them "among the first things." It was to elicit from them self-condemnation for obviously stultifying themselves in, at one and the same time, admitting the resurrection of Christ, the first-fruits, and denying the resurrection of the dead in him! He did not introduce the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for sins as a definition of the gospel; but as among some of the first things of which the gospel treats. The gospel stated in the fewest words is, "In Abraham shall all nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8; Gen. 22:18); but if there be no future resurrection, there can be no blessing of the nations in him and his seed (Dan. 12:2; Gal. 3:29); for both he and they are sleeping in the dust of the earth, where they must for ever remain if the dead are not raised.
Though I object to the 3rd and 4th verses containing a definition of the gospel, I admit that the chapter at large contains a declaration of the gospel preached by Paul. It is evidently so, for he informs the reader in the first verse, that he is about to declare or make known the gospel which he had preached to them. It had become necessary to do so; for some of them were letting slip the things they had once believed. Now, look at the items of the declaration, and behold the topics treated of by the apostle when he preached the gospel. Here they are - the death of the Christ for sins, his burial and resurrection; the future resurrection of the dead by him at his coming; his subsequent reign till the end comes; his subjugation of all enemies during his reign, and the destruction of death at the end of it: the delivering up of the kingdom to the Father then, when the mediatorship shall be abolished, so that God may be all in all; the kind of body the resurrected saints shall possess, and their glory, to fit them for the possession of the kingdom of God; the transformation of the faithful contemporary with the resurrection; and the ecclesia's victory over "the gates of hell," through Jesus Christ the Lord.
These are the great gospel truths taught in that Word which Paul taught in Corinth for a year and six months, and which "many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:11, 8). There is not a syllable here about "separate spirits," and sky kingdoms, but everything to the contrary, adduced too, to refute them. The major part of the Corinthians remained faithful to the things declared, as the apostle says in reference to them, "wherein ye stand;" and adds, "by which ye are saved, if ye hold fast to a certain word I preached to you unless ye have believed in vain." In the Common Version these italics read: "if ye keep in memory what."
There are two words in the dative case in Greek answering to "what;" namely, tini logo, "to a certain word" - the Word of God, that is "the law and the testimony" bound up and sealed among the disciples (Isaiah 8:16), from which, by the reasoning of the apostle, were brought out the things set forth in the declaration of the gospel of the kingdom, so interestingly filed in the 15th of Corinthians. "I worship the God of my fathers," said he. How did he worship Him? "Believing," he adds, "all which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24:14), and as he believed, so he preached, "witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which Moses and the prophets did say should come" (Acts 24:22). This was that "certain word" which he preached, and upon the holding fast to which the salvation of men is predicated.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for sins, according to the prophets, is only an item of the declaration filed. The great multitude of professors believe this in our own day in a certain sense; that is, they assent that in same way remission of sins is connected and dependent on the death of Jesus; though of the prophetic and law-instruction in the case they know nothing. But while this is credited, they ridicule the other items of Paul's declaration with Epicurean and Stoic mockery. If they assent to the resurrection of Jesus, they nullify the resurrection of the dead at his appearing, and a posteriori his, by their animal magnetism about "separate spirits" and 'the spirit world," making it perfectly unnecessary and superfluous; which is in effect denying it, nay, numbers say boldly, that all the resurrection there is, is the awakening of the soul at its final separation from the body when the heart ceases to beat. The item of the declaration about the appearing again of Jesus in the world, is one against which they are particularly spiteful.
They crack fool-jokes at the idea of his coming to this cursed and sin polluted earth again, not having wit enough to perceive that it is this very defilement of earthly things that makes his return absolutely necessary, that he may take away the sin which curses them. The kingdom meets with no more favor at their hands than at the appearing of its king. This is an item of the declaration which they have nullified as completely as the resurrection of the first-fruits. Paul preached one kingdom only. He said nothing about "a kingdom of grace" distinct from a kingdom of glory. Moses, the prophets, John the Baptizer, Jesus and the apostles, and the whole Israelitish nation, hoped for and discoursed about but one kingdom, namely, "the kingdom of God." This, our contemporaries say was set up on Pentecost, and that men enter it when they are immersed!
I would like to know if men are not in possession of the kingdom when they are in it? So the leaders of the people teach; for they say the apostles ascended the thrones of the Twelve Tribes of Israel on Pentecost, when they entered and possessed it! According to this, flesh and blood can and do inherit the kingdom of God, which is contrary to the declaration of the apostle, which says, "they cannot; in other words, that the putting on of incorruptibility and immortality are indispensably necessary to the inheriting of the kingdom. Then, as to the nature and place of the kingdom, they resolve it into principles assented to, and locate it among the stars; while the apostles, being in the promised land, placed it at the coming of Christ to reign over his enemies, not at his going to; and exhibit it as a proper kingdom with the Twelve Tribes as its subjects, the nations for its empire, and Jesus and his brethren as Yahweh's kings and princes throughout all the earth.
Look at the declaration, item for item, and analyze the reasoning which elicits them, and after comparing the whole with the pulpit gospels, then let any man of sense and candor conscientiously deny my position if he can, namely, that the thing now preached for gospel, and assented to by the people is not the gospel preached by the apostles at the command of Jesus, but "another gospel," which can give no one that trusts in it remission of sins, and a right to eternal life in the kingdom of God. If the apostle worshipped the God of his fathers, modern "Christians" do not; for they not only do not believe all things written in the law and the prophets, but they are destitute even of respect for their authority, treating them as old, musty, unintelligible records, which have long since answered their end, and consequently of no further account to the generations of an age so enlightened as the nineteenth century!