Alabaster Jars & Why We Could Be Missing the Gospel

broken-CopyThere’s a beautiful story Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9. Take a moment to read it. However, there’s an odd verse right at the end of the account, a verse that could (or should) make the champions of “the perspicuity of Scripture” squirm a little.

It goes something like this:

Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Matt 26:13)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to hear someone preach “the gospel” and include this story.

So what do we make of this? Are we not faithfully obeying a command of what it means to truly and fully proclaim the gospel?

This is the problem, or what I think might be a primary problem with our gospel, and why this verse could get our knickers in a twist: We don’t believe the gospels are the gospel. We think the gospels tell the story of Jesus, mainly existing to convince us that Jesus is divine by his miracles, while predominantly focusing on the book-end events of the incarnation and crucifixion. But they aren’t the gospel. The gospel is found after the book of Acts, mainly situated in places like Romans.

And we have theologians asking somewhat anachronistic questions like: Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?

Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel? – What?!

I think we need to ask the question the other way around, flip it over: Did Paul preach Jesus’ gospel? Of course, I think he did. But what is Jesus’ gospel?

The gospel of Jesus is found in the gospels…because, again, the gospels are the gospel. That’s why the gospels carry that lovely identifier. That’s why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are called “the evangelists,” which means “the gospel-bearers.”

The gospel is NOT the plan of salvation, meaning it’s not 4 spiritual laws or quoting a smattering verses across the letter to the Romans. And I’ve even go so far as to say a typical evangelical view of justification is not synonymous with the gospel.

The gospels are the gospel.

And, so, knowing the gospels tell the gospel – the full story of the rule of God, the order of heaven, coming in Jesus, who himself fulfilled the story of Israel (check out something like Mark 1:15) – we can make sense of what might seem like an odd passage: Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

With the gospels of Matthew and Mark embedding that story in their gospel, we have this account being proclaimed with the gospel. The gospel-ers were being faithful to the gospel. They were fulfilling their own gospel proclamation.

I think this shows the beautiful reality of the gospel, the actual story that is the gospel. It’s not cramming a few propositions into a summary presentation. But if the gospels are the gospel, then let people engage with the gospel story – the whole story.

Don’t run to Paul, or Peter for that matter. Sure, Paul, Peter and the other epistle writers contribute to the gospel story. But their words need to fall under the framework of the gospel as found in the gospels, especially upon the lips of the greatest gospel-bearer (or evangelist) to ever live: Jesus.

Then, and only then, will passages like Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 make sense.


19 thoughts on “Alabaster Jars & Why We Could Be Missing the Gospel

  1. Gobbledygook! Surely the Gospel of the Grace of God in/from Paul, is somewhat different, than the Gospel of or from Matthew in chapter 10! The Structure of the Gospel of Matthew is as a whole: “Behold, your King is coming to you!” (Zech. 9: 9)

    And in reality, the Four Gospels thus form one complete whole, and yet cannot be explained in any “synoptic” arrangement! And even John’s Gospel must be seen too from the structure to be essentially one of the four, and not one standing apart from the three. And yet each has its own unity and diversity, somehow a fourfold Divine presentation of the Lord: A King ; A Servant, A Man, and “Behold Your God” (Isa. 40: 9).

  2. Maybe the problem is trying to define “The Gospel”. Instead of making it a specific THING, why don’t we just translate it as it really means: ‘good news’? So, Jesus had “good news” – The Kingdom of God come to earth. Each GOSPEL contains “good news”, two of which include this particular story (I think the verse in question simply means “Don’t take this story OUT of these writings”.) And Paul had “good news” – Justification by grace through faith. I think we spend too much time getting hung up on defining the WORD “gospel”,rather than telling ALL of the “good news” that the word indicates.

    • This is why we must look at the original Greek, the noun is at least somewhat confined to Paul’s Letters, and in the Gospel’s the verb’s announce glad tidings. Here the word “preach” comes to play, with too at times with the noun. So the Gospel is both noun and verb: to preach! But as we note in Gal. 2: 14, “the truth of the gospel” is, not so much the true gospel, as the true teaching of it, in contrast to perversions of it. And we can note again with Paul: “I do all things for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.” (1 Cor. 9: 23) So the Gospel is only Good News when it is in Christ! Both His “person” and “work”, and ourselves as “joint partakers thereof”. As Paul can so profoundly say: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” … etc. (Phil. 3: 8) Depth of God’s grace, faith and knowledge…’In Christ’. This is the Pauline Gospel!

    • Ken – I like the multi-varied nature of gospel. We certainly find ourselves in a different narrative than first century Jews. But I would argue Paul’s gospel is not “justification by faith.” Justification is part of the gospel story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Abraham & his family.

      • But indeed for Paul the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile).” (Rom. 1: 16) And the Gospel IS the saving power of God, in which the righteousness of God is revealed… “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…beginning and ending in faith.” (Verse 17). The “gift of God” itself! (Eph. 2: 8) A qualitative change of identity has already taken place in the lives of believers, through God’s grace & glory…”and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3: 10) Here is the New Man “in Christ’! Both Justification & Sanctification, together, but always first God’s work before, or to Himself! (Rom. 3: 25, “expiation”). Indeed GOD is the Reformer, i.e. “maker” of Grace…”Whom God put forward as an expiation and satisfaction by his blood (death).”

        And yes, here is both Abraham and Isaac…”So they went both of them together.” (Gen. 22: 6, etc.), which is both ‘the Father and the Son’ in typology! “Glory”! 🙂

      • I see Paul as an expounder of the gospel. He, as a scholar, defines the gospel in more complex terms. In fact, I would call Him the first theologian. So, where Christ preached (proclaimed) the gospel, Paul kind of took it a step further, for those who wanted/needed to know more of how it “worked”. Jesus’ gospel was simple faith in who He was for admittance to God’s kingdom, something even a child could understand. Paul explained what that faith DID in regards to our relationship to God – the “meat” of the gospel, so to speak.

        So, same good news, but different aspects/approaches to it.

      • BTW, I think that’s one reason why Robert likes Paul so much. He really does appeal to the intellect. He makes the gospel make sense – in as much as you can explain a mystery.

        And there’s nothing wrong with that.

        But some of us are OK with just a simple faith. Not that I don’t READ Paul (of course I have/do), I just don’t enjoy the intellectual depths that he gets to like Robert and others do.

        Isn’t it wonderful how God has provided us many different (and yet the same) ways to relate/receive His good news?

      • Indeed Saul/Paul the Jew and Pharisee MUST see God’s “justice” before His Glory, i.e. Law and Gospel! Paul is also the great Greco-Roman, from his Hellenistic Jewishness. “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors…” (2 Tim. 1: 3).

      • @Ken: Yes, I am a Pauline and somewhat “Paulinist” theolog myself! My theological education. Though I also like Western Philosophy too! But, I am also just a “Biblicist”… I love to read Holy Scripture or the Bible! I read my Greek NT in the A.M. for my morning devotion, usually with a Psalm or two.

  3. “So what do we make of this? Are we not faithfully obeying a command of what it means to truly and fully proclaim the gospel?”

    What a horrible thought to think that Luke and John may have been less than faithful in proclaiming the gospel.

    What a horrible thought to think that our security in Christ is less than secure because we might have missed something (that we didn’t actually miss) in proclamation of salvation and the Kingdom come.

    What a horrible thought to think that Paul or Peter cannot be relied upon to proclaim the full counsel of God and that God the Son’s words in red letter are more the gospel than God the Holy Spirit’s words in black.

    What horrible thoughts to think.

    • Ray –

      I somehow think you’ve jumped to conclusions. Nowhere did I say Paul, Peter, Luke or John were suspect. I was simply pointing out that these verses, which might seem quite enigmatic at first glance, are best understood when we see that the gospels are the gospel. That’s gospel 101. And Matthew & Mark help us see that by including this particular story and telling us this account will be proclaimed with the gospel. If we work from the assumption that the gospel is a smattering of statements found in Paul’s letters about, say, justification, then I think we find ourselves in a quagmire concerning this story in Matthew & Mark. But if we understand the gospels as gospel, not rushing to Paul nor trying to ask if the gospels fit with Paul (which can be somewhat problematic, maybe anachronistic), then I think this story fits in very nicely.

      I’m happy for you to offer an actual way to approach the story in Matthew & Mark.

      • Btw, we who do biblical theological study and work, know that the Pauline Corpus came before the so-called Synoptic Gospels, and maybe before John? Though I am one who believes that the whole of the NT was written before 70 A.D., on the basis that the fall of Jerusalem is never mentioned in the NT writings as a past fact! As scholars like old James Moffatt, who said this in 1918, in his book: Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. As too a more modern like C.F.D. Moule, in his book: The Birth of the New Testament, (1962). And of course Paul’s Letter of 1 Thessalonians is thought to be the oldest (50 A.D. early).

        I would recommend reading the now classic book by the profound scholar, John A.T. Robinson: Redating the New Testament, (SCM Press, 1975), and republished by Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000. (369 pages). See btw, chapter Four of this Book, Acts and the Synopic Gospels. And of course Acts traditionally, with Luke’s Gospel, are both attributed to Luke as the author. And of course too, Luke was one who was seen as very close to Paul, and is mentioned again three times in Paul’s Last Epistle and Letter, 2 Timothy!

        And btw, it should be noted that old A.T. Robinson (died in 1985 I believe, and RIP), was no overt biblical conservative. But an Anglican scholar, who wrote also, the very disturbing liberal book: Honest To God! Yes always the provocative scholar, but also always honest, at least to his own mind! But of course his work and book on redating the NT, is my favorite, since it surely does presuppose the classic and early NT authority!

    • I have a conservative book on the Gospels, and I think it is still in print (Kregel), and by an older English or British writer: Andrew Jukes (1815-1901)…’Four Views of Christ’, Revealing portraits of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in the four Gospels. Originally published under ; the Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospel. A fine book and read if ya can found a copy?

  4. “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Matt 26:13)

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to hear someone preach “the gospel” and include this story.”

    1. It says WHEREVer, not WHENever.
    2. I have.

    • Every where has a when. That’s great that you’ve heard this, though maybe ever so infrequently. I think the we can still say the gospel is embedded in the gospels.

      • Since according to Paul, the gospel is that Christ died, was buried and rose again, and this is not only IN all four gospels, but is the major and climactic element in them, then yeah, the gospel is embedded in the gospels.
        But y’know Scott, I’d really love to have a nickel for every blog post that starts, “You always/often hear people say…” And then its something I never hear people say… or else “You never hear/see thus and so…” And it’s something yeah I do hear not infrequently… if I had that nickel (let’s make it a dollar) we could go off to France and buy that place and never have to think twice about support. it’s just such an overused trope (and not just on PT…) it’s time to give it a rest… Methinks.

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