When William Tyndale, one of England's earliest Protestants, a disciple of Martin Luther, wrote about “the gospel,” he didn't mean “the gospels”--Matthew, Mark. Luke, and John. He meant “the gospel” in the sense of the message: the good news that, because of Jesus's death alone, your sins can be forgiven, and all we have to do is believe it, rather than trying to impress God with doing “good works.” “The gospel” in this sense is what the early Reformers believed they had found in Paul's letters … (6)
Thus in many classic Christian circles, … there has been the assumption, going back at least as far as the Reformation, that “the gospel” is what you find in Paul's letters, particularly in Romans and Galatians. … Atonement and justification were assumed to be at the heart of “the gospel.” But “the gospels”--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—appear to have almost nothing to say about those subjects. (6)
"[i]f Augustine was a second Bible to the dark and middle ages, he was all but the gospel of the three great heresies, Lutheranism, Calvinism and Jansenism ... [Jansenism was a Catholic heresy that was accused of being a form of Calvinism]."
[Treating the gospels as somehow optional preludes to the “red meat of Pauline theology”] has been the case for much of the past millennium in the West, during the Middle Ages and then during and after the Reformation. That historical story … must wait for another occasion, and probably another writer. (21)
Canon and Creed
The great creeds, when they refer to Jesus, pass directly from his virgin birth to his suffering and death. The four gospels don't. Or, to put it the other way around, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all seem to think it's hugely important that they tell us a great deal about what Jesus did between the time of his birth and the time of his death. In particular, they tell us about what we might call his kingdom-inaugurating work: the deeds and words that declared that God's kingdom was coming then and there, in some sense or other, on earth as in heaven. They tell us a great deal about that, but the great creeds don't. (11)
What Were The Creeds And Where Did They Come From?
Before we examine the great creeds in more detail, let's remind ourselves of the reason why they came to be formulated in the first place. The early church faced many problems and battles. … Sometimes it was internal division … There were ongoing debates with Jewish groups and individuals … In particular, there were the great battles with Gnosticism in the second and third centuries ... and with Arianism in the fourth and fifth centuries … All these … controversies … were enormously important in shaping the way the early Christians understood and articulated what was significant to them.
As Christian teachers gradually came to realize that some things were absolutely essential to the faith … the things that were essential … were listed and agreed upon for the avoidance of doubt. These lists turned into a rule of faith … and the rule of faith was codified into the creeds. (11-12)
In the Septuagint [the Greek OT] this [Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema] reads:
"Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."
What Paul seems to have done is as follows. He has expanded the formula, in a way quite unprecedented in any other texts known to us, so as to include a gloss on theos [God] and another on kyrios [Lord]:
"But for us
there is one God the Father
from whom are all things and we to him
and one Lord Jesus Christ
through whom are all things and we through him."
Paul, in other words, has glossed “God” with “the Father” and “Lord” with “Jesus Christ,” adding in each case an explanatory phrase … There can be no mistake: just as in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from the Old Testament's quarry of emphatically monotheistic texts, of the doctrine that Israel's God is the one and only God, the creator of the world. (129)