The Apostolic Kerygma
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35; Orthodox Study Bible) The Gospel that Jesus is talking about is not a book, it is more than that, it is the Divine Message of our Salvation, and this Message of Salvation must be preached to the ends of the earth, not only by the Apostles but also by all faithful Orthodox Christians. Our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ expects us to take up our cross and follow him in this fashion by the proclamation of his Gospel and by engaging in spiritual warfare, even if it means that we are persecuted, or that we lose our lives for the Gospel's sake. In this verse from the Gospel of St. Mark we have the encapsulation of the message of the Kerygma or the entire Apostolic Preaching of the Apostles. The Apostles preached Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead the Great Lord, Messiah, and Savior of the world, who would come again to judge the living and the dead. The Cross equals the Kerygma, for without the Cross there would be no Resurrection, and our Faith and preaching would be in vain. If there was no Cross the sayings of Jesus or the oral tradition of the Apostles would have been rejected. The Gospel is grounded in the Faith that Jesus is the Risen Lord who is living and true, all truth is contained in the Gospel which are the Divine Words of our Savior Jesus Christ. The Kerygma is the Proclamation of the Cross and the Resurrection in this Gospel! The Apostles preached this Gospel with great conviction being full of the Holy Spirit because this Gospel is the essence of the Kerygma.
The Kerygma or the Apostolic Message, formed the Rule of Faith for the Early Church, for the Gospels, we know today became the recorded preaching of the Apostles. Thus, We have the Evangelist being inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down in limited human language the Kerygma of the early church, and the Divine Words of Jesus himself, which he passed down to his Chosen twelve Apostles. Therefore, the Kerygma equals the words of the Divine Logos Himself. This Kerygma, and the Scriptures which it produced, belong solely to the Orthodox Church, and she is the only one that is able to teach with Apostolic Authority, and likewise, she is the only one that is able to interpret the Kerygmatic Scriptures. St. Irenaeus would say that Sacred Scripture; “Has its own pattern or design, its initial structure, and harmony. The heretics ignore this pattern or rather substitute their own instead. In other words, they rearranged the Scriptural evidence on a pattern which is quite alien to Scripture itself. The interpretation of Scripture must be guided by the Rule of Faith, which is the Apostolic Preaching, the Kerygma, handed over and faithfully witnessed to in the Church.” (The Gospel Image of Christ; Veselin Kesich, pg. 50.) As Orthodox Christians we received this Rule of Faith in our Baptism and Chrismation, because it is contained within the Sacred Creed and Profession of Faith that we recited before we were immersed in the life-giving waters of Baptism and signed with the sanctifying oil of the Holy Spirit, our entrance into the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. Through this Apostolic Teaching and Rule of Faith, Divine Revelation itself can be detected and grasped. (Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View; Georges Florvosky, pg.76)
The dynamic power of God acted in actual history by Jesus Christ living on earth as a human person, through the activity of his public ministry, His passion, death, and resurrection. All of these things were enacted by Jesus Christ for our Salvation. Where the Gospel is there is Jesus Christ, therefore, the Gospel came to members of his community not only in His Word, but also by His Divine Presence, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, especially after the Pentecost event. The same powerful message of Salvation was proclaimed in a Kerygmatic fashion by Saint Paul the Apostle. His preaching of the Gospel was what he received from Christ himself on the road to Damascus, and from what he gathered from his meetings with Saint Peter and the rest of the Church. St Paul's “gospel” was the Gospel of the primitive Christian community. “The Kerygma, on the other hand, was the public proclamation of the events in the life of Jesus which did not belong to a “private tradition,” but which was observed by many.” (Kesich, pg.58) All of the Apostles preached in this Powerful Authoritative fashion proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is amongst us and that we are in the end times, because the coming Messiah, who is Jesus Christ, is the truly human and truly Divine living signal of the end times. For the early Christians, Jesus and the Gospels were one and the same, because through oral tradition when people would hear the words preached about Jesus they formed a personal relationship of commitment with the one whom they believed on, and committed to memory these Jesus sayings. As the number of disciples grew it was necessary for the Church to begin the written tradition of these Gospels or what had been known as the Jesus tradition. Saint Paul was one of the first Apostles to begin the written tradition through the writing of his letters to the various Christian Church, of which he desired to visit in person, but was unable to because of his imprisonments, and house arrest.
The written tradition of the Synoptic Gospels is the written Kerygma of the Apostles. The Church was rapidly growing so written letters became necessary for missionary work, for the instruction of new believers, and for worship. The three Synoptic Gospels were written for different audiences for both Jews and Gentiles Christians who lived in different areas throughout the Roman world. The evangelists depended heavily on eyewitness accounts of those who walked with Jesus particularly the witness of the disciples. What Jesus taught and accomplished we know from those who were closest to him, The apostles who suffered greatly after his death and resurrection for listening and following him. The written Gospels, while they reflect the preached Gospel and the response of the disciples to it; they did not suddenly just dropped from the Heavens, there was a definite development of the Synoptic Gospels. In the preface to the Gospel of Luke 1: 1-4; We see a strong suggestion that there are three stages of development in the writing of these Gospels. The first stage would be the events of the life of Christ or the things that Jesus would have accomplished among his people, The second stage was the transmission of these happenings by witnesses and The ministers of the Word or The Apostles and the followers of Jesus, and the final stage would be the actual composition of the Gospels by the Evangelists. (Kesich, pgs. 62-63.)
In the early centuries of Christianity, it was the custom of the people to communicate verbally with one another and to pass on ideas and sayings by word of mouth because the writing down of such ideas or sayings would be very costly to produce. This is not to say that the early Christians did not believe in writing things down about Jesus and the Church, but there was a great emphasis that the second coming of Christ would happen immediately and that the world as they knew it would shortly come to an end. In other words, there was more pressing work to do in that brief span of time in regards to preaching and baptizing all nations; just as Jesus had commanded them to do, then to write down physical books. Even when the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the early Christian communities because they lived in an oral culture he expected that his letters would be read aloud to the Christian communities so all could hear them, for he meant the letters to substitute for his own presence as he would deliver advice for dealing with specific problems in the individual Christian communities. The Apostles and disciples that went out on mission were the frontrunners in writing these early document because we have records of Barnabas and Philip doing the same thing. As far as we know no one had tried to compose a continuous account of the entire life of Jesus Christ before the Apostle and Evangelist Saint Mark. There are a variety of reasons which encouraged the Early Church to put into writing the preached Kerygma of the Apostles. The reasons for recording these Jesus traditions are as follows: the passing away of eyewitness authorities; the Apostles themselves by Martyrdom, the postponement of Jesus's return or the Second and Glorious Coming, instructional aids for catechumens and other persons preparing for Baptism and Chrismation, aids for worship, corrective to distortions, support against persecution, struggle with Judaism, and the protection of the sayings and teachings of Jesus from corruption or heresy. (The Synoptic Gospels; Keith F. Nickle, pgs. 64-67.)
Jesus Christ our God is the center of all the stages of the development of the Gospel Tradition. Being the Eternal God, Jesus is the beginning and the origin of the Gospels. He is the one who is proclaimed and preached after His Resurrection, He is the same yesterday, today, and unto the ages of ages. The Kerygmatic Gospels bear the imprint of Christ and his very portrait. The written Gospels which are proclaimed in the Orthodox Church bring to the world the living Icon of the Holy Trinity, bearing the image of Jesus Christ the Eternal Word made flesh. We proclaim the risen Christ living and true in the same fashion in which the Apostles proclaimed in the very early days of our Church. “The Apostolic Kerygma and the mission of the first Christian community, and the period of the writing of the Gospels all lead to an encounter with the same Jesus of Nazareth.” (The Gospel Image of Christ; Kesich, pg. 63.) The Gospels can properly be called the verbal icon of Jesus Christ the Eternal Logos. This icon is not produced by extraordinary creative talents of the Evangelists, but by the very living tradition with which they acquired the Good News of Salvation. Within this living tradition the Evangelist, Apostles, and the rest of the disciples experience the living presence of Christ, and from this tradition, they drew their material to develop the written Gospels. (The Gospel Image of Christ; Kesich, pg. 63 & 65.)
It cannot be emphasized enough that the formation of the Gospels was enacted through the inspiration, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit in which the Orthodox Church preaches, this is precisely why our tradition is living because it has the spirit of Almighty God within it, the living and True Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Divine Kerygma Himself! The inspiration in the writing of Holy Scripture was given by God in a condescension that should be taken at face value. It is completely unrealistic to believe in absolute inerrancy of Scripture because if this were so we could not really believe that God has condescended to the human sphere, but rather he would have transformed it into something else. The Bible as a whole testifies that the Divine Word of God is mediated through the genuine human condition, with human limitations. The inspiration did not miraculously change the worldview of the biblical authors into a view that would be acceptable to modern scientists and their viewpoints. The worldview of the evangelist, like our own was not absolute but relative; their language like our own was conditioned to their cultural surroundings. The important thing is the Message of the Gospels, and the reality that they convey through human language is not in the least bit relative. What the Gospels bear witness to is the absolute Truth and the power of God, not to their own freedom of error. they are free from falsehood and deception, but they are not free from natural human errors. “The concept of inerrancy conflicts with the Incarnational approach to the Bible, and with the New Testament concept of the synergetic activity of the Holy Spirit. The concept of inerrancy reveals more about a desire for absolute certainty and then it does about the inspiration of a Biblical book. God committed his message to human beings with human limitations. To cling to inerrancy, then, is to reject the reality of Christ's humiliation or kenosis.” (The Gospel Image of Christ; Kesich, pg. 69.)
The Gospels are the records of the Divine Revelation of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God, the Eternal Logos, which have been recorded by his inspired Disciples, therefore they are not dictations from Heaven, nor did Sacred Scripture just fall out of the sky. The human element is proved by the sheer fact that it was the Disciples themselves, and the Church Community for which they wrote who guarantees the truthfulness of their books. The Orthodox Church is the same Church of the Acts of the Apostles, and she is the living continuation of the Apostolic Kerygma in the modern world, the Ark of Salvation for all of mankind. Everything regarding the Kerygmatic oral and written traditions of the Gospels ultimately ties together with the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, We fall down in adoration of the Cross of Christ, and we praise and glorify His Resurrection. “Without Christ's Resurrection, neither the Church nor the Gospels would have existed. The Gospels record the facts of the past from the post-resurrection perspective, and for the Evangelist, there is no other possible perspective.” (The Gospel Image of Christ; Kesich, pg. 81.)