My sense is that there is renewed interest at the moment in defining the ‘gospel’ or ‘kerygma’ of early Christian figures – particularly Paul. Three recent contributors to this discussion are Benjamin Edsall, Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction, Matthew W. Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation, and my own Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians: The Impact of Paul’s Gospel on His Macro-Rhetoric…
Edsall shies away from the term ‘kerygma,’ finding it too ‘plastic’ due to its association with form criticism. Nevertheless, he discerns that Paul’s own witness to his formational church teaching suggests that he did teach, and assumed that others taught, key elements of a ‘Christ-centered, monotheistic symbolic universe’ (174):
In both cities [Corinth and Thessalonica] Paul taught about God as the one true God the father (both of Jesus and of believers), Jesus as Christ and Lord who died ‘for us,’ was raised by God and will come again imminently as judge…. The Holy Spirit featured in Paul’s formative instruction as accompanying his preaching, a gift to the believers from God and itself a bestower of gifts such as prophecy and glossolalia. According to Paul, he preached his gospel as an apostle and without sophistry. (170)
Edsall compares these features with the elements that Paul assumed were known and embraced by the Roman church – a church he did not plant. He finds that each element involves some continuity and discontinuity. Paul appears to expect that other Christian teachers will have laid common foundations regarding God as the Father of the died-and-risen Lord Jesus Christ, belief and baptism in Christ, the work of the Spirit, and the impetus for moral transformation. But Paul seems to infer that some of the mechanics and details of these things the Romans have not understood in a Pauline sense.
In Bates’ analysis of Paul’s interpretative instincts, he is happier to use the descriptive term kerygmatic, using it to encapsulate the vantage point from which Paul considers the Scriptures. He summarises his approach:
Paul received, utilized, and extended an apostolic, kerygmatic narrative tradition centered on key events in the Christ story as his primary interpretative lens – a narrative tradition that already contained a built-in hermeneutic…. In short, the received apostolic proclamation acts as a ‘center’ for Paul, giving fundamental hermeneutical guidance as it operates within his larger notion of a divine economy. (56-7)
The key ‘christocentric narrative sequences’ (60) that characterise Paul’s kerygmatic hermeneutic are crystallised in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, in which Christ is portrayed as having died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures, been buried, been raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and appeared to Cephas and the Twelve. Bates points out that in holding to the primacy and hermeneutical significance of these convictions, Paul was in continuity with other apostolic teachers:
Paul’s rhetorical use of 1 Corinthians 15:3b-5 in 1 Corinthians 15 demands that Paul himself accepted the protocreed in its entirety, including the normativeness of its hermeneutical statements. It is necessary to stress emphatically this point, since there is a tendency in some quarters to argue for a hermeneutical disjuncture between Paul and the pre-Pauline tradition he cites. (64)
In my own work on Paul as a letter-writer in 1 Corinthians, I suggest that Paul’s kerygma, which I take to be focused on Christ’s death and risen exaltation – as informed by the Jewish motif of reversal – impacts both Paul’s conceptualisation of issues in Corinth and the rhetorical shape of his response. Thus Paul’s gospel both draws on and interprets the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as directing Paul’s apostolic ministry.