Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Guilt Gospel (1)

Guilt is a central aspect of the modern evangelical gospel. The first stage of sharing the gospel is to persuade the hearers of their guilt before God. Some preachers are very good at doing this. They believe that repentance is not possible until the people listening to the gospel message feel guilty.

  • Guilt is the feeling.
  • Guilty is the verdict.
In the evangelical gospel, repentance is thinking about your sins and feeling guilty and remorseful. For repentance to be real, guilt must proceed to sorrow and regret and a choice to stop being bad.

The gospel message starts with guilt. Once the listeners to the gospel feel guilty, the consequences are reinforced by explaining that their guilt deserves death or punishment in hell. Once this is understood by the people listening, the preacher can introduce Jesus as the remedy for the problem of guilt and hell. He explains that Jesus died in the listeners’ place, taking the punishment they deserved. If the listeners accept the offer, they are freed from the threat of punishment, but their guilt remains. The evangelical gospel also ends with guilt.

Given that guilt is so central to the western evangelical gospel, I was surprised when I studied the New Testament and found that it is only rarely used in the New Testament. When I did a search for “guilt/guilty” in a bible tool, it threw up only five references in Mathew, one in Mark, and one in Luke and five in John. All the references in John and three of those in Matthew were incidents where Jesus was confronting the Jewish leaders. Jesus did not use the word guilt when challenging ordinary people.

Three of the five occurrences of the word guilt in the book of Acts were references to Paul not being guilty of breaking Roman law.

My search threw up five occurrences in Romans, but four of the references were to headings, and only one was in the actual text. This result shows the bias of the editors of the various English translations. They came to Romans expecting to find guilt, so they put guilt in the headings, even though the word guilt was not used in the text of their translation.

Most of the other half-dozen references in English versions of the epistles were translations of Greek words for debt or liability for making a payment, so “guilt” or “guilty” might not have been the best English word. Some translations used the word “liable”.

I was surprised by the results of my online search. Given that guilt plays such an important role in the western evangelical gospel, it is odd that the concept of guilt, as we understand it, is not mentioned much in the New Testament. The New Testament cannot be wrong, so the problem must be with our interpretation of Jesus’ gospel.

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