The second part of Paul’s sermon is a continuation of the first. Just as he has spoken of the Old Testament kerygma, so now does he also speak of God’s acts in what we refer to as the New Testament period.
2. The New Testament kerygma. I am sure Paul was acutely conscious of what he was doing. He had been reminding his mostly Jewish hearers (in a Jewish synagogue) of what God had done in the past for His people. Now, embracing his Gentile audience also, which he had addressed at the beginning, Paul reminds his hearers that God is not a God of the past only or of the Jews only. God is still acting and, moreover, has acted in recent times, doing something new. God established an old covenant, but now God has established a new covenant through the work of Jesus Christ.
Just as there have been helpful studies of the Old Testament kerygma, G. Ernest Wright’s God Who Acts being the best example, so also have there been good studies of the New Testament kerygma, the best known being the one I referred to in yesterday’s study, C. H. Dodd’s The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments.
In this book Dodd studied three blocks of New Testament material: 1) the early Christian preaching, which includes the sermons in Acts; 2) the handling of this message in the gospels; and 3) the summaries of the Gospel in the writings of the apostles Paul and John. Dodd points out that in each of these three blocks of material the same essential core is presented. In its simplest form, it has to do, first, with the ministry of John the Baptist, who announced the appearance of the Messiah. (It skips over the earthly ministry of Jesus, including His teaching and the miracles. Those things were handled in a different manner, being regarded as “teaching” or didache to be given to new converts.) Second, it concerns the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, the heart of the Gospel. Third, it deals with Jesus’ burial. Finally, it announces the resurrection, paying special attention to those who were the witnesses of it.
This is the outline of the gospels, seen most clearly in Mark which is the shortest. There is a particularly clear statement of the kerygma in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. And we find it here in Acts 13.
Notice how it works. In verse 23, picking up on his preceding reference to King David, Paul says: “From this man’s descendants [that is, from David’s descendants] God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” That is a summary announcement of the kerygma. Then Paul spells it out: 1) the ministry of John the Baptist: “John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel” (v. 24); 2) the trial and crucifixion of Jesus: “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (vv. 27-28); 3) the burial: “When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb” (v. 29); and finally 4) the resurrection attested by witnesses: “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to our people” (v. 30).
This means that Christianity is about facts, of course. Christianity is not just a philosophy or a set of ethics, though it involves these things too. Essentially Christianity is a proclamation of facts that concern what God has done. That is why Christianity is not malleable. Sometimes people try to remake Christianity, thinking a new version might be more acceptable to our contemporaries. But this does not work, and the reason it does not work is that, whether we like it or not, Christianity constantly brings us up against the facts. Rather than trying to change them, we have to learn, first, to conform our thinking and conduct to these facts and, second, to proclaim not our own ideas but these very facts to other people.