Here’s another response to a comment that has outgrown itself and become an ad hoc summary piece. Peter Wilkinson points to Romans 3-4 as evidence that the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles was that Jesus died for their sins:
The argument is addressed to Jews and Gentiles v.9, v.19b. The righteousness through the faithfulness of Christ is “to all who believe. There is no difference, for all….are justified….through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus….a sacrifice of atonement….the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus….Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also?”
I maintain, however, that Paul’s gospel is that God has appointed Jesus as Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead, and that this is to be interpreted in “political” terms on the basis of Psalm 2:7-8:
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps. 2:7–8)
The quotation of Isaiah 11:10 LXX is a precise encapsulation of this gospel: ‘And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope”’ (Rom. 15:12). The good news for the peoples of the Greek-Roman world was that, in time, the Lord Jesus Christ would rule over the nations in place of the old discredited pagan gods and human pretenders to divine status.
It’s the same in the Synoptic Gospels. The “gospel” is not that Jesus is about to die for the sins of Israel, as important as that is. It is that the judgment and rule of God are imminent (Mk. 1:14-15, and parallels).
It’s the same in Revelation. The “gospel of the age” is not that people are saved from their sins by the death of Jesus. It is that the hour of God’s judgment on Babylon the great has come (Rev. 14:6-11).
So here I briefly give my reasons for thinking 1) that Paul’s argument about Jesus’ atoning death in Romans 3:21-26 is confined to an argument about Israel; and 2) that it is not in any case the “gospel”; it is a condition for engagement in the eschatological process that will culminate in the proclaimed new future.
In the first place, Romans 2-4 is not “addressed to Jews and Gentiles.” It is addressed quite explicitly and repeatedly to Jews—to those who boast in the Law, who are circumcised and have the oracles of God, whose unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, who know what the Law says, whose forefather is Abraham according to the flesh (Rom. 2:23; 3:1-2, 5, 19; 4:1). “What then?” Paul asks, “Are we Jews any better off?” (Rom. 3:9). It is an argument to the Jews about their status relative to the Greeks who have come to believe in Jesus. I agree with Käsemann here. Paul is effectively recapitulating arguments that he has had with the Jews in the synagogues of the Diaspora.
This immediately introduces a crucial distinction into Paul’s argument, which has been obscured by more traditional readings of the passage preoccupied with the “atonement” as a universal metaphysical event.
We should not separate theological content from rhetorical method. Paul’s quite narrow purpose here is to persuade the Jews that they will be justified on the same grounds as the Gentiles. Possession of the Law and other marks of national-religious identity, under the current eschatological conditions, are of no benefit to them.
God has put forward Jesus as a propitiation (hilastērion) for the sins of Israel—that is what the atonement sacrifice was for (Rom. 3:25; cf. Lev. 16:15; Heb. 9:5). The writer of 4 Maccabees says: “And through the blood of those pious people and the propitiatory (hilastēriou) of their death, divine Providence preserved Israel, though before it had been afflicted” (4 Macc. 17:22). In an argument with the Jews there is no propitiation for the sins of Gentiles.
By this act of divine forbearance God demonstrates that he has passed over the former sins of his people—sins that culminated, presumably, in the shocking crucifixion of his Son (Rom. 3:25). Therefore, he shows himself to be God not of the Jews only but also of the nations (Rom. 3:29) by justifying everyone on the ground of their belief that he has raised his Son from the dead and seated him at his right hand.
It is precisely a community of Jews and Gentiles, in one body, sharing one Spirit, believing in one Lord, which will most effectively bear witness to the coming annexation of the nations by the God of Israel.
The “good news,” therefore, is that Jesus has been made Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead, that he will rule over the nations (Rom. 1:2-4; 15:12).
The death of Jesus has freed Jews from their long history of national rebellion against YHWH to be justified on the same terms as Gentiles. They are all justified, Jews and Gentiles alike, solely by their faith in the new future guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But that is possible only because God has treated Jesus’ death as propitiation for the sins of Israel—and further, though this is not part of Paul’s argument here, because his death removed the requirement that Gentiles should be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be a legitimate part of this eschatological movement.
Again, for an extended treatment of the place of “propitiation” in Paul’s argument about Jews and Gentiles see my book The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom (Wipf & Stock, 2010).