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Because Paul only preached the gospel where Christ was not already named, right?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012 in scripture | 7 comments

Because Paul only preached the gospel where Christ was not already named, right?

Over the next few days, I’m going to examine a few statements made by Paul that I think are taken out of context in the way the statements are often applied today. This is not really a series, because the posts won’t really build on one another. Each post will cover a different statement.

For example, in this post I’d like to consider another statement made by Paul that I think is often misunderstood and/or misapplied today. The statement is, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20 ESV)

Again, it’s not my intention to interpret what Paul is saying. Instead, I want to look at a few ways this passage is often used. First, here is the passage in context:

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. (Romans 17:20-25 ESV)

Now, I’ve heard this passage used to justify only serving people in one way, perhaps only in evangelism or perhaps only in teaching or some other type of service. The justification? Well, Paul only proclaimed the gospel (evangelized).

Also, I’ve heard this passage used to justify separating areas of service, especially when used by various missions organizations. The justification? Well, Paul did not want to build on anyone else’s foundation.

But, this statement could not have meant these things to Paul. How do we know?

1) Paul could not have meant that he ONLY evangelized. While Paul definitely proclaimed the gospel and wanted to go to other places (such as Spain) to proclaim the gospel, that is definitely NOT all that he did. Even in this passage we see that Paul had put off traveling to Rome (and then Spain) because he was working with other believers in Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15:26) to help out some brothers and sisters in Christ in Judea. We find several other examples in Acts and in his letters where Paul spent extended time teaching and encouraging people who were already believers.

2) Paul could not have meant that he did not serve where other believers had evangelized. The most obvious evidence that this could not have been Paul’s intention is that Paul was planning to go to Rome, where there were already several thriving groups of Christians. Who evangelized these people? We don’t know, but it was not Paul, because he had never visited Rome. In Acts and in Paul’s letters, we see several other examples of Paul working in areas where others had proclaimed the gospel first. (For example, consider Damascus, Antioch, Colossae, and even Ephesus.)

So, when Paul said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation,” he could not have meant that he only evangelized, and he could not have meant that he never worked in the same area where someone else had already evangelized.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-13-2012

    Alan, your use of sound biblical hermeneutics is much appreciated. The synthesis principle, comparing scripture with scripture, is always a safe place. After all, you can’t go wrong following Jesus example in this area.

  2. 9-13-2012

    I’m enjoying this series, Alan. Wondering if you’re going to cover Paul’s infamous “I can do all things” statement in Philippians 4:13?

  3. 9-13-2012

    I’m hoping you’ll cover the “I have become all things to all men” statement of Paul.

    As to this particular posting above, I reckon my simpleton intellect is failing to understand the controversy. I mean, Paul says he doesn’t want to preach Christ where it has already been preached and is being built upon, so he is headed to Spain (presumably to do so)and wants to visit these other believers, to whom he is writing, on the way to Spain.

    If I were to visit you where you live, Alan, and thought to bring The Gospel with me for the purpose of spreading it, why would I do so unless it is apparent your ekklesia is failing to do so? If Christ has been proclaimed, I can see the need for further ministry, of course, but not for preaching. (That sounded very odd, I know, but work with me here) It is akin to a pastor preaching Salvation each and every Sunday to the congregation. What’s the point? The congregation should already be saved, and needs deeper and richer food and not just spiritual milk. But I digress.

    Again, I simply fail to see why this is an issue or why it matters. That’s not meant as a slam on you, Alan, for each of us has our priorities and interests, but I don’t see what you are speaking about. (What can I say? I’m just a simpleton prophet. Hyuck-yuck-yuck.)

  4. 9-13-2012


    That’s a huge compliment. Thank you!


    I had not planned to write about that one. You can tackle it though. :)


    No, I wasn’t going to write about that statement. Feel free to write about it yourself. :)

    In the post, I tried to explain that my concerns are when this statement is taken to extremes to mean that 1) Paul ONLY evangelizes (i.e. he does no other form of service, because that’s not what God has called him to), or 2) Paul ONLY goes whether other people have not been before him. Paul could not have meant either of those extremes partially because of the evidence that I gave in this post.


  5. 9-15-2012

    Thanks for clearing that up. I have often wondered about this verse, and believe you have cleared up some of the confusion. Thanks, Alan!

  6. 9-15-2012


    Thank you. That’s a great compliment.