I received the following questions:

Question #1. What was the gospel preached to Jews in the land during the Acts period? That the man Jesus was their promised Messiah, and belief in him would bring forgiveness of sins and eternal life?

I understand your explanation for gospel, about it being good news because it is right, and that it is spoken in view of a need.

I also understand that the Jews and “Greeks” outside the land were promised forgiveness for their sins of not following the law (they were unable to outside the land).

But I just don’t have a handle on the simple question: What is the gospel?

Here are the verses in Acts where the word gospel is found:

Acts 8:25
And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

Acts 14:7
And there they preached the gospel.

Acts 14:21
And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

Acts 15:7
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

Acts 16:10
And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

Acts 20:24
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Yes, the gospel preached to the Jews in the land during Acts was that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that He had died, been buried, and rose from the dead. They were called upon to believe these facts and to submit and be identified with Him. Then, they would be on God’s side and save themselves from the rejecting generation of their wicked leaders. That is what was promised to them in Acts 2 (Acts 2:38-39). No mention of sins was made to these men since, as law-keeping Jews, they were already in relationship to God through being part of His nation. They were only required to submit to the new work of God that He called them to.

To the sinful Jerusalemites who had already rejected Christ and called for a murderer in His place, however (Acts 3:14), there was a call not only to submit, but also to turn around so that God could blot out their sins (Acts 3:19). Here there was mention of sins since they had sinned by not submitting to Jesus Christ already. Yet the thing that Christ added to the gospel Paul proclaimed, that forgiveness of sins was actually paid for by Christ’s death on the cross, is missing from the proclamation of the gospel as it is made here in early Acts. A comparison of what Peter proclaimed in Acts 2 and what Paul proclaimed in Acts 13 will reveal that one element only is found in what Paul taught that is not found in what Peter proclaimed: Acts 13:38-39.

38. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39. and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

This matter of justification of sins was necessary for the Jews outside the land since they, by reason of where they lived, had transgressed God’s law in multiple ways. It was to them first, then, that God revealed this great element of His gospel. That the Lord Jesus’ death on the cross was the only means by which sins are ever forgiven is clear, but this was not proclaimed as yet to the Jews in Jerusalem. It waited for the disenfranchised Jews outside the land for this part of the truth to be unfolded.

Yes, it is very true that Jews and Greeks outside the land were promised forgiveness for their sin of not following the law outside the land, and is why the forgiveness in Christ’s sacrifice was for them such a major deal.

I think the gospel in Acts is not really different from our gospel today in any hugely significant way. As I said, to the Jews in the land it was proclaimed that the Lord Jesus is their long-promised Messiah, and they were commanded to believe in His name. To those outside the land was added the promise that sins and transgressions of the law could be forgiven by belief in Him. Our gospel today is very similar. We need to believe Who the Lord Jesus is: that He is the Christ, the Anointed Savior, and that He is the Son of God, God’s representative in human form. Paul proclaimed His death for sins, burial, and resurrection, and I believe we need to believe this as well. In other words, we need to believe in Who Christ is and what He did.

This is one of those things that carried through from the Acts period. The difference is only in that we are not Jews, and so breaches of the law do not concern us, nor do we need to believe that the Lord is the One promised to Israel, as they did.

Acts 8:25. Samaritans were half-Jews, and so their gospel was very similar to what the Jews were to believe. They would also be forgiven of failing to worship God as He commanded, but creating their own way of doing it on a mountain.

Acts 14:7. Paul proclaimed the gospel wherever he went, along with Barnabas. He explains what his gospel of the Acts period was in I Corinthians 15:1-4.

1. Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2. by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

Paul proclaims this to be the gospel which he proclaimed to the Corinthians. We must recognize, however, that Paul is reviewing his gospel here for the purpose of leading into a chapter focused on resurrection, and so, as we see from verses 5 and on, that he fleshes this part of his gospel out in great detail. What he does not cover here, though he certainly reveals the truth of it in many other places in his writings, is just Who this Christ is Who died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Yet this gospel is, I believe, still the same for us today, and this is what we need to believe. We must believe Who Christ is and what He did to take away our sins. In other words, we must believe in His Person and work. This is what God desires of us in believing the gospel.

Acts 14:21. Again, this would refer to the gospel Paul proclaimed, as we see it in Acts 13, and as we read it in I Corinthians 15, as well as elsewhere in Paul’s ministry.

Acts 15:7. We can read what Peter proclaimed to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43. It clearly contains the message of Who Christ is and what He did, His death and resurrection. I do not believe that there is any significant difference between what Peter proclaims to Cornelius in Acts 10 and what Paul proclaims in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13. The one difference might be that Paul mentions that forgiveness is possible through Jesus Christ regarding all things the law provided no forgiveness for. Cornelius would have not been worried about that, being a Gentile and thus not under the law at all. But forgiveness of sins is certainly a part of what Peter tells Cornelius. The only difference between Peter and Paul in Acts 10 and Acts 13 is tailoring the message to the audience, not any real difference in substance.

Acts 16:10. Paul was to proclaim the gospel in Macedonia. Of course, this was the same gospel he was always to proclaim.

Acts 20:24. The gospel certainly has to do with the grace of God, for it deals with forgiveness of sins by His grace, and His gracious sacrifice on our behalf on the cross. This too carries over to today, though we have unmixed grace in God’s dealings today, which was not the case in the Acts period.

Question #2 I don’t understand why the pure Gentiles in the Acts period would be interested in and come to believe the gospel as I presented it above. They, after all, were never promised a Messiah.

I do know that God foretold that he would provoke Israel to jealousy with another nation (Deut 32:21), presumably with these few Gentiles? Still, why would they even be interested? Weren’t they pretty much pagan idolaters?

Thanks for all your help!

How the gospel was proclaimed to Gentiles in the Acts period can be gleaned from the three examples we see of it being proclaimed to them. First is the gospel proclaimed to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43, the desperate and incomplete statement of truth to the idolatrous Lystrans in Acts 14:15-17, and the proclamation of Paul to the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31. The Old Testament is generally not quoted here. It is only referred to in Peter’s proclamation to Cornelius, who had been living in Israel and must have learned something of the beliefs of its inhabitants. God is presented, the Creator, rather than the more familiar Jehovah of Israel. Forgiveness of sins and Jesus’ Lordship are emphasized. It is the gospel tailored to Gentiles by the Holy Spirit, but it is the same gospel. Who Christ is and what He did is clearly presented in the first and third. The second, as I said, was fragmentary.

He did indeed use Gentiles to provoke Israelites to jealousy, as we see, for example, in Acts 18:7-8, when Paul went to the Gentiles and THEN “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household,” apparently being provoked to jealousy, as was predicted.

Why would they be interested? Because many of them were already God-fearers. Typically, as in Pisidian Antioch and Corinth, every indication is that these particular Gentiles were already interested in the God of Israel, and so had every reason to be interested in such an offer. Cornelius, though we have no reason to suppose he was attached to the synagogue as these other Gentiles were, still was a worshiper of the one, true God and with the heavenly communication given to him it is no surprise that he responded. So most of the provoking Gentiles were not pagan idolaters at all, but people who already had an interest in the true God.

When the word was spoken to idolaters among the Gentiles, it does not appear to have been very successful in Acts. The desperate appeal of Acts 14 seems to have had little effect. Paul’s proclamation in the marketplace and later on Mars’ Hill produced but few believers. Idolaters were not very interested in the gospel as it was proclaimed in Acts. It was only after the word was thrown open to all, as in the dispensation of grace, that it started to spread among the former pagans in a significant way.

You are welcome for the help!