Returning to the prescript, Paul states that the gospel is something that God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (v. 2). In other words, this new announcement is prepromised in the ancient faith of Israel. Paul shows the conformity of his gospel to Israel’s prophetic hopes. This is similar to 1 Corinthians 15:3–5, where Jesus’ death and resurrection are “according to the Scriptures,” and Galatians 3:8, where Paul says that “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” While we tend to treasure innovation and newness, in the ancient world it was the antiquity and longevity of religious traditions that were prized. For Paul the gospel is the continuation and fulfillment of the story of Israel (see Acts 13:32–33; 2 Cor 1:20). What is more, he assumes a particular way of reading Israel’s Scriptures, what we might call a christotelic hermeneutic, as Jesus is the goal of the scriptural promises (see Rom 10:4). The content of the gospel is enumerated in vv. 3–4 as:
regarding his Son,
who was born
from the seed of David
according to the flesh
who was appointed
the Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness
by resurrection from the dead:
Jesus Christ our Lord.6
It is likely that this is a short summary of the gospel that Paul himself received (perhaps it was an early creed, hymn, prose, or confession of faith given the non-Pauline language). It is probably the case that this gospel summary was already known to the Roman churches so that Paul quotes it to affirm their sharing of a common gospel tradition. In these brief verses we are instantly struck by its forthright announcement about the messianic identity and sovereign name of Jesus. The gospel here is the declaration that Jesus is the climax of Israel’s hopes, he is installed as God’s vice-regent, and his resurrection has inaugurated the beginning of the end of the ages. Note that the gospel is not four spiritual laws, nor a logical syllogism about reconciling God’s holiness and human sin. Instead, it is the announcement that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of Israel and Lord of the world. To tell the gospel, then, is to tell the story of Jesus.7
To regard the gospel as a story is not, as some might think, a recent postmodern fad. Paul had just stated in v. 2 that this gospel story lines up the story of Israel’s Scriptures. But if you believe not Paul, then believe Martin Luther, who said: “The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.”8
Michael F. Bird, Romans, ed. Scot McKnight, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 21–22.
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