In Luther's Galatians lectures in 1516–17 the comment on 1:11 is to the effect that the gospel preaches the forgiveness of sins and the fulfilling of the law that has already been accomplished, namely, by Christ. The law says: Pay what you owe, but the gospel says: Your sins are forgiven you. For this definition the content of the gospel Luther had appealed a year earlier, in his Romans lectures, to the quoting of Isa. 52:7 by Paul in Rom. 10:15. The message of salvation is lovable and desirable precisely because of the forgiveness of sins to those made anxious by the law.
But neither Paul nor Isa. 52:7 says anything of the sort. In Rom. 10:17 Paul speaks of the need to proclaim the message of salvation in order to make possible faith in the Lord, who is the content of the message. The reason why this message is a message of salvation is not directly stated but is presupposed: Those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (10:13). The whole complex of Paul's concept of eschatological soteria is bound up with this thought. But in Isa. 52:7 the reason for joy is the dawning of the reign of God. To relate this message to the promise of forgiveness of sins is at best a very spiritualized exposition. We have here an orienting of the gospel to the promise of absolution in penance as it was practiced in the Western church in the Middle Ages.
What is forgotten is that the gospel has to do with the dawning of the reign of God that brings salvation. The forgiveness of sins abolishes the separation between us and God. Basic here is the presence of the rule of God in the work of Jesus. Where the salvation of God's lordship is present, all separation from God is overcome. For believers, then, participating in God's reign means the forgiveness of sins and the new commandment of love. But to restrict the salvation of God's kingdom that found expression in common meals with Jesus to the forgiveness of sins is not keeping with the message of Jesus and makes sense only against the background of the penitential piety of the Middle Ages. Even the event of reconciliation that is the content of the gospel for Paul does not consist only in the promise of forgiveness. It is a matter of life and death.
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