The Gospel Importance of 1 Corinthians 15
If you pay careful attention to Mark 8:27-31, which is a gospel passage, you will notice that the word “gospel” doesn’t appear anywhere. While Mark 1:14-17 expressly states that Jesus was “proclaiming the gospel,” Mark 8:27-31 does not.
It’s obviously a theologically stout passage, but it doesn’t explicitly state that it’s a gospel passage.
This is, in part, because Mark 8:27-31 was a prophecy of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus hadn’t actually died and been resurrected yet. It was only after Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples began to understand that his prophecy about these three elements were essential to the gospel. That said, how can we know for certain that the three elements revealed in Mark 8:27-31 are truly essential elements of Jesus’ gospel?
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While Mark 8:27-31 doesn’t specifically state that Jesus being the Christ, his death, and his resurrection are elements of the gospel, Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, it’s no overstatement to say that 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is one of the most important gospel passages in the entire New Testament. As you’ll see, this passage confirms that the three elements revealed in Mark 8:27-31 are, indeed, essential elements of Jesus’ gospel.
The Importance of 1 Corinthians 15
Pay careful attention to the inspired words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. Look for the three essential elements we noted in Mark 8:27-31:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to [Peter], then to the twelve.
—1 Corinthians 15:1-5, ESV (emphasis ours)
Much has been written about the theological and historical significance of this passage (more than we’ll unpack here), but we want to underscore just how important it is, especially as it relates to the gospel. Paul’s words here are critical for a proper understanding of the gospel, not to mention our understanding of Jesus’ resurrection—the linchpin of the gospel.
In the first verse of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul expressly states that he is writing about “the gospel.” Like in Mark 1:14-17, this scripture expressly states that it’s a gospel passage. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he had preached to them, which they received, and by which they were being saved. He states, quite emphatically, that the gospel is of “first importance.” Clearly, he’s talking about the actual message of the gospel.
Stunningly, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is almost an exact mirror of Mark 8:27-31 and only an expansion of the essential elements. Both passages speak of Jesus being the Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15, though, we’re told that Jesus not only died, but that he died for our sins. We also learn that Christ’s resurrection wasn’t unforeseen, but was foretold long ago, according to the Scriptures. What Jesus predicted would happen in Mark 8—his death and resurrection—did happen. In light of these prophecies being fulfilled, Paul goes into greater depth into their significance in 1 Corinthians 15.
First Corinthians 15 confirms that the three elements revealed in Mark 8 are, in fact, essential declarative statements of the gospel. Paul also adds multiple layers of theological significance to Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this way, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 are critically important in helping us gain clarity on what the gospel is.
5. Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona do excellent work extrapolating these things in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004).