Fulfilling The Gospel: The Scope Of The Pauline Mission -- By: Paul Bowers

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:2 (Jun 1987)
Article: Fulfilling The Gospel: The Scope Of The Pauline Mission
Author: Paul Bowers


Fulfilling The Gospel:
The Scope Of The Pauline Mission

Paul Bowers*

When the apostle Paul surveys his missionary career in Rom 15:17–21, his summary statement gives rise to a fundamental question about the Pauline mission. Paul declares that “from Jerusalem and around as far as Illyricum” he has so “fulfilled the gospel” that he no longer has any room for ministry in these parts. What to Paul’s mind had he done within these geographical limits to achieve such a firm sense of a task completed? In Paul’s understanding, what sort of activity fell within the scope of his mission? What did he take himself to be doing in his mission?

The activity that for Paul was proper to his missionary vocation would on first glace seem a matter hardly requiring further inquiry. The evidence appears to be straightforward and familiar enough. And yet it is not least when evidence appears to be obvious that inaccurate judglnents are risked. In this case the influence of Paul’s characteristic terminology in summing up his career, or our own unexamined impressions of what is (properly speaking) missionary activity, may well unwittingly have led either toward a too exclusive or a too inclusive notion of what Paul took his task to be, or perhaps toward an adequate delimitation but with the accents wrongly placed.

At the risk therefore of belaboring the obvious I propose to call into review the data available on the activity that for Paul fell within the intended scope of his missionary vocation, beginning in brief with the more apparent and continuing in detail with the less apparent.

I. Evangelism

That in Rom 15:19 Paul speaks of having within certain limits “fulfilled the gospel” immediately highlights how characteristic it is for the apostle to refer to “the gospel” as that with which his own vocation is centrally involved. In the very same passage in Romans, for example, he has already defined his assignment as “ministering the gospel” (Rom 15:16). At the beginning of the letter he has identified himself as one “set apart for the gospel” (1:2) and as one who serves God “in the gospel” (1:9). He tells the Thessalonians that he has been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess 2:4). To the Galatians he recounts how the Jerusalem leaders recognized that he had been “entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcision” (Gal 2:7). He does all things “for the sake of the gospe...

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