Evangelizing Christ to Gentiles

March 9, 2011

How should we evangelize Christ to Gentiles? In answering this question, many would say that we are to go to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 because it is the paramount passage concerning the content of the gospel message. Paul says that the gospel that he had preached to the Corinthians was 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 of Cephas, then of the twelve.” This summary of the gospel that he preached to them is plainly, however, not an exhaustive record of all the actual content that he gave them when he evangelized them because Paul does not tell us specifically how he said what he said to them to communicate that Jesus was the Christ. His summary tells us what he told them about key events concerning the Christ, but it does not tell us anything specific about what he said to them to explain the meaning of the term Christ

If we were to hold that all Paul did was to say the word Christ to them without any explanation, we would need to consider what that would reveal about the Corinthian people whom he evangelized. If in fact he did not explain the term itself, the unsaved Corinthians must have already known correctly what meaning to attach to that term. Was that really the case? If that was the case, how representative are they of the Gentiles whom we evangelize? 

Because Paul does not give us any more information in 1 Corinthians 15 about what he said to the Corinthians to communicate to them who the Christ was, we must look elsewhere in the book to see if there is any information in that regard. Paul uses the word Christ 54 other times in 1 Corinthians (40 times prior to his summary statements about the gospel), but he does not provide any explanation of the essential meaning of the term. This lack shows that they did not need any such explanation prior to receiving the book because they already knew what the term signified. 

The account in Acts of his ministry in Corinth (18:1-18) similarly provides us with no information about what Paul said to Gentiles concerning the meaning of the term Christ. The only relevant information given about his ministry in Corinth was that he “testified to Jews that Jesus was Christ” (18:5). 

In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul makes two important statements about his preaching in Corinth. First, he spoke of “the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among [the Corinthians] by [Paul and Timothy; cf. 1:1]” (1:19). Later, he says that they preached not themselves, “but Christ Jesus the Lord” (4:5). These references do inform us about Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Christ, but they do not seem to tell us directly how Paul explained the basic meaning of the term Christ itself to Gentiles. Scripture, therefore, does not seem to provide us with any explicit information about how the apostle Paul presented the meaning of the term Christ to Gentiles. 

What should we make of this lack of explicit information? Of course, we are not to conclude that explaining the meaning of the term is unnecessary or irrelevant. Instead, we should understand from this analysis that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 was never intended to present exhaustively to us what we must communicate about Jesus in evangelism to explain to lost people the essential meaning of His being the Christ. Paul’s summary statement rather takes for granted that providing lost people with the proper understanding of the essential significance of the term Christ must precede giving them the summary statements of the key events recorded in 1 Cor. 15:3-5. 

This conclusion is verified when we look elsewhere in the NT for information on how to evangelize Christ to Gentiles. From a thorough examination of the rest of the NT, we learn that God has provided us with only one account that gives us an explicit record of detailed information specifically about how to present Jesus as the Christ to an exclusively Gentile audience. (Interpreters debate whether Paul’s message at the Areopagus presented Jesus to his audience or not.)  Luke’s record of Peter’s message at Gentecost (Acts 10:34-43) is the premier passage in Scripture about Gentile evangelism in the sense that it provides us with the preeminent inspired account from which we are to learn about evangelizing Christ to them by providing them with the information about its essential meaning. 

Peter makes at least two key statements in his message about Jesus as the Christ that have bearing on our understanding of how to explain the essential significance of the term in evangelism (10:36, 38). First, he says, “The word, which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all” (10:36). Peter’s first statement about Christ presents Jesus as the One through whom God was preaching peace to the children of Israel. His first statement also makes known that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5 above). Regardless of what Peter means by his statement about Jesus as Lord of all (I plan to treat this in a later article), his first words make known Jesus as the Agent of God. As we shall see from examining his next statement, it is this idea that is essential to the meaning of the term. 

Peter next speaks about Cornelius’ prior knowledge of the widespread proclamation of the word that God sent (10:36), which he said was “after the baptism which John preached” (10:37). He then says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” (10:38). Although this statement does not have the word Christ in it, it still gives us the key information that we need about how to evangelize Christ to Gentiles. It does so by using the cognate verb of the word Christ. Peter says that God anointed Jesus. This is one aspect of the essential meaning of Christ that we must give to Gentiles in evangelism.  The gospel message about Christ at its essence thus is a God-and-Jesus message. To unsaved Gentiles who do not already have relevant information from some prior source, a Jesus-only message does not fully present the foundational truth expressed by the term Christ

Peter specified that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and power. He then presents what that God-anointed Jesus did and explains that He did so because God was with Him. Making these statements, Peter emphasizes that Jesus did what He did through the empowerment that God gave Him and through God’s accompanying Him. Both of these closely related ideas explicitly stress the agency of Jesus as the Christ. 

By examining the essential ideas in both statements (10:36, 38), it is clear that making Jesus known as God’s Agent is at the heart of presenting Him as the Christ to unsaved Gentiles. We should, therefore, derive our approach to evangelizing Christ to Gentiles by combining key ideas from both Acts 10:33-41 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 in the following way: 

Christ (1 Cor. 15:3a), the One through whom God was preaching peace (Acts 10:36), was the One whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 10:38a); He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him (Acts 10:38b). He was the Christ who died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3b; Acts 10:39b), was buried (1 Cor. 15:4a), rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4b; Acts 10:40), and was seen by Peter and the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5; Acts 10:41). 

Gentile evangelism that does not stress the agency of Jesus as the Christ risks coming short of making known essential information about Him. The supreme importance of this matter should lead us to make these truths known to all unsaved people without exception whenever it is possible. We must evangelize Christ to Gentiles by carefully explaining the essential meaning of the term to them.

Rajesh

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3 responses to Evangelizing Christ to Gentiles

  1. Bradley McKenzie March 10, 2011 at 4:09 am

    There are two things that I would like to supplement to your article. 1) People often overlook the words “for our sins” in 1 Corinthians 15:3. In so doing they pass over the necessity and purpose of Christ’s death. Furthermore, many people are unclear about the point at which Jesus Christ was anointed. I had an unsaved lady in the hospital the other day ask me that, as I was explaining to her the meaning of Christ (John 20:31), before we commenced reading the Gospel of John. I told her – and I hope I am right, but please correct me if I am not – that oil is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and that the act of anointing kings, prophets and priests, was to depict the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and a sort of imprimatur of God upon their ministries. The Lord Jesus at His baptism did not receive oil poured upon Him by man, but the reality otherwise depicted by oil, the Holy Spirit, Whom He received from the Father at His baptism with the naming of His identity, “You are (or this is) my beloved Son.”
    Incidentally, I find it interesting that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. The Lord Jesus, however, received the Spirit (apparently) for the first time at about age thirty. This in no way indicates that He was unrighteous before that, but it gives pause, because if we had expected anyone to be filled with the Spirit before His birth, it would have been the Son of God. Anyway, if you have any comments on these musings, I would welcome your response, since I myself am constantly seeking clarity with regard to the Scriptures. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the two additional points. They also deserve attention I am trying to keep my articles from getting too long; there are many more things that I would like to say and need to be said. As I am able, I nearly always end up using either 1 Cor. 15:3 or 2 Cor. 5:21 or both in covering your first point.

      I’ll have to give your observation about Jesus and John more thought. We are told that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Luke 1:35) and that He who was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 2:20). I am not recalling any other explicit data that pertains to this point. . . . Maybe one of our more theologically adept friends could provide direction for going beyond these initial thoughts.

      • I just now saw what you were probably wanting to point out: I left out the words “for our sins” in my paragraph that combines 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and Acts 10. I fixed that omission, which certainly was not intended to downplay that truth in any way. Thanks.