Obedience to the Gospel?

For many years I’ve been enamored with Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9, in which he claims that those who have been troubling the Thessalonians would be dealt with at the return of Jesus

with/in flaming fire, meting out retribution to those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty–everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power (translation mine).

There are a number of issues that surface here, but I’ve puzzled over the phrase μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ–how does one not obey the gospel? This question stems from the assumption that the whole concept of εὐαγγέλιον is less a body of commands and/or directives, such as the Torah, and more the general base meaning of the word–good news. However, in Paul’s writings, the gospel seems to be more than just an announcement of good news (it certainly retains that meaning), but more a collective of truths (though not necessarily codified or written down at this point), perhaps the ever-growing body of traditions about Jesus that were seen as authoritative. In Gal 1:6–9, for example, Paul speaks of the gospel as more than merely an announcement, but rather as a collective of propositions (?) that one must embrace in order to be justified by God–this seems to be the typical Pauline usage. The question remains, then, how does one not obey the gospel if Paul is speaking in terms of accepting and embracing certain tenets about Jesus? The idea of obedience could easily indicate that it was Jesus’ ethical teachings in mind, but we don’t know to what extent Paul knew Jesus’ teachings (though he certainly would have known much of what Jesus taught). Presumably whatever Paul received from the risen Christ on the road to Damascus informs his conception of εὐαγγέλιον.

So what does it mean to disobey the gospel? Likely it means to refuse the message that Jesus is the Christ and is the only way to the Father. It’s not about following rules, as the English term “obedience” may imply, but rather being subject to what was prescribed as the gospel by Paul and the other apostles–that Jesus was Lord and there was no other means by which one could be made righteous before God. cf. Rom 10:9–10

Αυτω η δοξα

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3 thoughts on “Obedience to the Gospel?

  1. Good post. I remember reading a Michael Horton book wherein he was mad at Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright for their focus on spiritual formation. He said, “The Bible says to believe the gospel, never to obey it.” I could only chuckle.

    Concerning this line:
    “The idea of obedience could easily indicate that it was Jesus’ ethical teachings in mind, but we don’t know to what extent Paul knew Jesus’ teachings (though he certainly would have known much of what Jesus taught). ”
    I would say:
    A: Paul probably knew as much as we do, if not more. For instance, nearly every ethical teaching of Jesus is mirrored in Paul’s letters. And while that it certainly related to common sources (OT, DC, and G-R ethics), Paul seems to always want to connect his written ethics with the content of what he preached while in those cities (ie: his gospel).
    B: Canonically (yes, I know this is bad form), the codified gospels we do have include Jesus’ ethical teaching as a part of the gospel/teaching of the early church, which tells me that under the influence of Jesus (and Paul) an ethical deposit was considered a part of the message itself.

    So I agree with you and then some. I think to disobey the gospel was to:
    A: Reject Jesus himself.
    B: Reject the life to which Jesus is calling the nations (the obedience of faith from Romans 1:1-7).

    1. Geoff: Thanks for the reply! Yes, I am inclined to think that Paul knew quite a bit of the material that would later comprise the Gospels, I’m just less confident in saying how much. I still wonder why Paul used ὑπακούω rather than something else, but those questions are asked all the time–I suppose he just wanted to use that verb instead of another!

      1. Right.

        I suspect our works (of the law) vs faith arguments need to consider how similar ὑπακούω and πιστεω could be when reference toward God/any patron or benefactor.

        Something about works as a concept differentiates it from obedience as well as love itself. Pretty interesting to think about.

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