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