Is the Gospel content or confrontation? Baird on the Kerygma

Baird, William, R. “What is the Kerygma: a Study of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Galatians 1:11-17.” Journal of Biblical Literature 76, no. 3 (1957): 181-191.

Part of the fun of scholarly research to me is finding materials that look at things a little differently which in turn helps me to think a little differently. This short little study is a comparison of the concept of kerygma in C. H. Dodd and Rudolf Bultmann, each of whom had a different understanding of what that was. Dodd was focused upon the content of the apostolic preaching, that is, the facts or doctrines about Christ, while Bultmann focused upon the existential act in which the individual came face to face with the risen Christ. In this article Baird compares 1 Cor 15:3-8 and Gal 1:11-17 as a way to analyze the different conceptions of Dodd and Bultmann. His central argument is easy enough to follow: Emphasizing 1 Cor leads to Dodd; emphasizing Gal leads to Bultmann. The via media which considers both passages equally allows one to affirm that the content of Paul’s gospel was the same as that transmitted by the apostles but its dynamic, confrontational character was only communicated by divine revelation. The words Baird writes in conclusion are helpful:

It seems possible that both make valid emphases which when taken together contribute to our understanding of the early Christian message. The communication of God's revelation demands words and doctrines, yet the form of this communication should not be absolutized. Since the revelation occurred in history, the gospel involves a report of historical events, yet the proclamation of the gospel is itself a powerful event. Perhaps Dodd and Bultmann are mutually corrective; the latter reminds us that the gospel should not be dogmatized, the former reminds us that the gospel should not be "de-historicized." Dodd points to the importance of history for the gospel; Bultmann, to the importance of the gospel for faith.

This dual emphasis is helpful for making sense of what Paul says regarding his gospel both in these passages and elsewhere in his writings, and it gives us some parameters to evaluate our own proclamation of the gospel in the present day.

If you have access to the ATLA database through EBSCO, here’s the permalink to Baird’s article.