Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Obey the Gospel?

“Obey” the Gospel?

. . . in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NKJ)

ἐν πυρὶ φλογός διδόντος ἐκδίκησιν τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν θεὸν καὶ τοῖς μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· (2 Thessalonians 1:8 STE)  (Stephanus Greek New Testament, 1550).(1) 

This discussion will only take into consideration the immediate context of the expression, “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” in 2 Thessalonians 1:8.(2)  What is the meaning of 2 Thessalonians 1:8 where Paul tells us that there are those who do not “obey” the Gospel?  This is a good question since the Reformed or Calvinist view is the same as the Lutheran view in regards to the law and Gospel distinction.  The general understanding of the Protestant Reformers, both Calvinists and Lutherans, is that there is an absolute distinction between law and Gospel.  The apparent problem with this verse and several others is that it “seems” to make the Gospel a law to be obeyed.  But is that what the text says in the biblical or Koine Greek of the passage?  This article will examine that issue in enough detail that the reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions in the matter.

One of the first considerations in determining whether or not a proposition recorded in Scripture is a command of the moral law (Galatians 3:10, 11) or a promise of the Gospel.  (2 Corinthians 1:20; Galatians 3:16-18; Hebrews 6:11-18).  The law must be distinguished from the Gospel in order to properly interpret Scripture and the law/Gospel distinction is fundamental to a proper interpretation and application of the Scriptures.  Moreover, this distinction between the moral law of God and the promises of the Gospel and the covenant of grace is a distinction recognized by both the Lutheran and the Reformed or Calvinist side of the Protestant Reformation.  
Since the Bible was not written in English, it is necessary to do an exegetical study to determine the Greek root of the word “obey” in 2 Thessalonians 1:8.  The word “obey” in Greek is a present active indicative participle and is in the dative case. The mood is “indicative” and not “imperative” as you will notice.  The root word here is “hupakouο̄” or ὑπακούω.(3)  Although participles sometimes function as an imperative, as in Matthew 28:19, there is usually an imperative mood verb somewhere in close proximity to the participles which function as imperatives.  In Matthew 28:19, the imperative is “make disciples” while the word “go” is a participle which literally means “as you are going”.  A more literal translation of Matthew 28:19-20 is “make disciples” and the command assumes a going and the following actions of baptizing and teaching.  

The nuances of the biblical Greek are often missed in the translation from the original language into the receptor language, in this case English.  A further problem is that the majority of Greek grammars simply repeat usages of the participle and cite these examples as a proof for a presupposed meaning or usage as a preferred translation into the receptor language.  The fact is no one is absolutely sure that the position taken by various lexicons and grammars is absolutely correct.  For example, “hupakouο̄” (1st person present active indicative root) of the participle ὑπακούουσιν or “hupakouousin” means literally to “hear” or “listen”.  Most of the lexicons indicate that the participle in the dative case, “hupakouousin”, is an imperative use of the participle.  The participle is itself one of the Greek moods or modes.(4)

Technically speaking, the Gospel is what God promises to do for us.  So why does the Bible command us to “obey” the Gospel?  (Mark 16:15-16).  The Gospel is not a moral law but what God has promised to do for us through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  (John 19:30).  So the problem here is that many Christians and ministers confuse the moral law and the Gospel when they read this verse and the only other verse where the negation of obedience occurs in conjunction with the Gospel:

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NKJ)

. . . in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NKJ)

What is interesting here is that the Koine Greek word used for disobedience in 1 Peter 4:17 is a different word altogether from the word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:8.  In latter verse the reader will remember the word was “hupakouousin”, a participle in the dative case from the root, “hupakouο̄.”  In 1 Peter 4:17 the word is “apeithounton” from the root word “apeitheο̄.”(5)  Additionally, the word Peter uses is a participle, also.  The difference is that Peter does not use the present active dative case but the present active genitive.  Also, the use of “apeithounton” does not need a negative particle since the prefixed alpha indicates unbelief or disobedience.

There are a couple of other similar verses in the New Testament that differ in that they do not use the word “Gospel”:

but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness-- indignation and wrath, (Romans 2:8 NKJ)

 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? (Galatians 3:1 NKJ)

You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7 NKJ)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18 NKJ)

 . . . that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:12 NKJ)

Without going into further details that would detract from the central point, let it be said that there are synonymous uses of several Greek words that mean in effect to believe or hear or listen to the Gospel.  Those who refuse to hear the message of the truth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  (John 3:18).  Perhaps a better way to translate both 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 is that those who refuse to believe in salvation by grace alone but seek to justify themselves by their own righteousness and their own works are lost because only Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and only His active obedience, applied to the believer by imputation, can make anyone legally justified in God’s eternal courtroom.  (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The faithfulness of Jesus Christ and His sinless life alone can justify the ungodly.  (Romans 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16 KJV; Philippians 3:9 KJV).  The Gospel is not a “law” to be obeyed but a promise made by God, which promise is to be believed.  (2 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 9:4; Hebrews 6:11, 12; Galatians 3:16, 21; 2 Peter 1:4). Although the sinner is not begged by God to be saved--nor is His desire unfulfilled to save all if they would just save themselves by believing--the promise is to all who will believe.  Since God is the ultimate cause of even our faith, His desire to save His elect is never frustrated.   Not one of his elect will be lost and not one of the reprobate will be saved.  (John 10:1-25).  

Yet it is not a suggestion that those who hear the Gospel should believe it and be saved.  Rather, it is a command to repent and believe the Gospel.  (Acts 2:38, 39, 40).  That particular command is given to all who hear the law’s condemnation, which drives the elect to Christ (Galatians 3:24, 25); the Gospel’s promise is to save those who listen and who believe.  (Romans 10:8-13, 17).  This distinction between the imperatives of the law and the indicatives of the Gospel promises is not to be confused.  Such confusion leads to an eternal consequence.  (Romans 10:1-5; Philippians 3:9).


1. I am using Robert Etienne’s Stephanus 1550 edition of the Greek New Testament here because it follows the manuscript families used by the King James Version translators.  There are some textual variations between the eclectic editions of the Greek New Testament and the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text.  The main differences in this verse apply only to the end of the verse and whether it refers simply to “our Lord Jesus” or to “our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The section of the verse pertaining to the phrase “obey not the Gospel” remains the same across the various text families and manuscripts.
2.  To view the interlinear of this verse at Biblos.com, click here:  2 Thessalonians 1:8.  (For best viewing of Greek text at Biblos.com, download and install these fonts to your computer:  Fonts.
3.  To view some words here you’ll need to download the SBL Greek fonts here.  Fonts.  You can also access the SBL Greek New Testament here:  SBL Greek New Testament.
4.  See Greek moods.
5.  See 1 Peter 4:17 interlinear at Biblos.com.

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