The duty of the church is to preach the gospel. This ministry responsibility is unanimously affirmed by Bible believing Christians.
However, there is no small disagreement about our pattern for gospel preaching. Different churches pattern their ministry after who they believe preached the gospel first.
The first to preach the gospel sets the pattern for those that follow.
First, we must define the plain and simple gospel. Surely, we must all agree with the clear gospel of the cross found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
“I declare unto you the gospel… By which also ye are saved… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” – 1 Cor 15:1-4
The gospel is Christ and his finished work on our behalf for salvation. Through faith in the cross of Christ we have God’s grace, atonement for sins, and eternal life. By the gospel we glory in the cross of Christ (Gal 6:14).
Now, we already know this gospel was clearly preached by Paul in 1 Corinthians, but Paul also says he was the last to see Christ(1 Cor 15:8).
For this reason, we can place Paul at the end of our list of potential first preachers of the gospel. It requires more investigation to see who could possibly have preached the gospel first before him.
John the Baptist
Mark 1:1 starts with “the beginning of the gospel”, and it is here that the Baptist churches plant their pattern for ministry.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” – Mark 1:4
The gospel of John the baptist included water baptism, and repentance for the remission of sins. Unfortunately, John did not know who Jesus was for much of his ministry (Matt 11:2-3).
“And I knew him not…” – John 1:33
This would make it obvious that John could not have been first to preach the gospel of Christ and his cross. The future death of Christ was totally absent from John’s preaching.
Jesus’ Ministry to Israel
Jesus is the Son of God, and began his ministry shortly after John. For this reason, Evangelical churches think the pattern of gospel ministry should come from Jesus’ ministry to Israel.
However, when we read what Jesus preached when he began his ministry we find that it was not his death for sins and resurrection, but a kingdom that was prophesied to Israel (Matt 15:24).
“Now after that John was put into prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” – Mark 1:14
Clearly, Jesus ministered to the circumcision about the promises made to the fathers(Rom 15:8). Jesus showed himself to be the King and the Son of God, but was silent about his future death until later in his ministry.
Peter and the Twelve
The Roman Catholics find their pattern of ministry in the hands of Peter, who was given the keys of the kingdom in Matthew 16:19. In this same chapter Jesus began to tell his disciples that he must suffer, die, and be raised (Matt 16:21).
This sounds promising, since Christ’s death and resurrection are events so essential for the gospel of salvation, but at this time Peter did not know this was a gospel.
“Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” – Matt 16:22
Obviously, Peter was not here preaching the gospel of the cross, since he tried to prevent the cross the first time he heard about it. Hardly the pattern of church ministry.
We should remember that the twelve disciples were sent by the Lord to preach the gospel of the kingdom, not the gospel of the cross:
“And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God…” – Luke 9:2
When Christ began to tell them privately of his future death, they did not understand.
“And they understood none of these things…” – Luke 18:34
This could only mean that the gospel that the twelve preached did not include the cross. If their preaching did not include the cross, surely their gospel was not the gospel of the cross.
Peter at Pentecost
It is at this point we move forward to the time when Pentecostals think the gospel began. After all, it was after his resurrection that Christ gave his disciples a commission to preach the gospel.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – (Mark 16:15).
Which gospel was preached at Pentecost? Was Peter the first to preach the gospel when he was filled with the Holy Ghost?
“Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” – Acts 2:38
What is clear from Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost to Israel was that he repeated John’s preaching of baptism, and Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom, but where is the cross?
“But ye denied the Holy One and the Just… and killed the Prince of life.” – Acts 3:14-15
While he preaches the death of Christ, Peter condemns Israel for killing Christ and does not preach the cross as their glory (Acts 5:28, Acts 10:39). Killing their own Messiah on the cross was their shame.
This is not preaching the cross as good news.
Having investigated every minister and ministry before him, we are left with Paul’s gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.
Looking closer at Paul’s ministry we find something very interesting about who preached the gospel first.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins…” – 1 Cor 15:3
Though Paul was the last to see the Lord, apparently, he was also the first to preach the gospel of salvation as the glory of the cross (Gal 6:14, 1 Cor 1:18).
A dispensation of the gospel was committed to Paul (1 Cor 9:17), and he wrote very early in his ministry a certification of his unique apostleship:
“I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.” – Gal 1:11-12
Since Paul was the first to preach the gospel, it follows that the church must find its pattern for preaching the gospel of Christ from Paul.
“…that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe…” – 1 Tim 1:16