Questions from the Grab Bag 2019 #1

J. in Shreveport, asks:

“I saw a website recently which said that we should reject the writings of Paul as being contradictory to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. What do you think?

Mark Riser – Apologist, replies: That’s a very interesting question, J.

The website in question “argues the inspired New Testament consists of Jesus’ words only. Paul’s status is questioned.” The author states that Paul was neither a prophet nor an apostle of Jesus. He makes that assertion on the idea that Paul’s claims to apostleship were self-serving and that Paul set aside the Old Testament Law and that anyone who did so was a false prophet. Therefore, the author argues, Paul must be rejected.

Was Paul the leader of a dangerous and deceptive cult which was opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ? I believe the evidence says no for three reasons.

First, Paul’s own actions were confirmed by the apostles. Paul goes to great length in his letters to the churches to defend his apostleship. He relates in Galatians that, after staying in Arabia, he meets Peter (Cephas) and James in Jerusalem for a short time (Galatians 1:18-19). Paul, then, begins his preaching ministry. Fourteen years later, he goes to Jerusalem to meet the church leaders again. The purpose of this meeting was doctrinal in nature. Paul says that he “presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2, HCSB). The result of the meeting was the Jerusalem leaders recognized Paul’s teaching and mission to the Gentiles. He was given “the right hand of fellowship” by them (Galatians 2:9). This was an act of confirmation of Paul’s message and mission.

Second, Paul did not differ with Jesus in his teaching. If Paul was teaching cultic doctrine, he would differ with orthodox doctrine in essential points, such as the deity of Christ, His resurrection, and salvation by faith. This is the standard we use today in declaring groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as cults. Paul taught the deity of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8, Colossians 2:9). He also proclaimed the truthfulness of Jesus’s bodily resurrection (I Corinthians 15:3-4). Paul’s message, his “gospel,” was a proclamation of man’s sinfulness (Romans 3:11-12) and Christ’s atoning death for sin (Ephesians 5:2). In each of these vital areas, Paul was in complete agreement with Jesus Christ. The main claim of the website author is that Paul abrogated the Law in opposition to Jesus. Jesus said that He would fulfill the Law, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). He summed up the Law in two commands, loving God and loving your neighbor (Luke 10:27). Paul said love fulfills the Law (Romans 13:8-10). Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law perfectly and served as the once-and-for-all and once-for-all sacrifice for sin and salvation. Paul confidently asserts that, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4, ESV). Far from invalidating the Law, Paul takes Jesus’s teaching and actions in their proper context and application.

Finally, the believing community would have acted as a brake on false teaching. Paul established churches in many places in the Roman world and wrote letters to those churches which we include in the New Testament. Most of the New Testament documents, the canonical Gospels and Paul’s letters, were written within the same period (45-65 AD). The church had the opportunity to examine the words of Jesus and the words of Paul together. They would have been able to detect any differences that existed and reject Paul’s writings if they were heretical. The Jerusalem church which served for a time as the center of the Christian movement would have acted in its capacity as a leadership group over doctrine, as in Acts 15, and advised the churches to avoid any false teacher. It is important to note that, contrary to the website’s assertion, the Jerusalem Council told the Gentile churches that they did not need to follow the Mosaic Law in its most important ceremonial provision, the circumcision of males, thus abrogating the Law.

Jesus and Paul do not disagree. Many have tried to “divorce” Jesus from Paul for various reasons. Issues of social justice and homosexuality, among others, have been used in an attempt to drive a wedge between the gospels and the epistles in our Bibles. However, a full doctrine of the Bible and its inerrancy suggests that Jesus’s words would not pass away (Matthew 24:35) and that the Holy Spirit would lead believers into all truth (John 16:13). The process of canonization by the early church discovered and recognized those works which were inspired by God. I believe that because of internal consistency and the canonization process, we can be confident that we have the Biblical books necessary for correct doctrine and discernment (II Timothy 3:16-17).

One other thing, J. I use a simple rule of thumb in my studies and research. Anyone can put up a website or a FB page. The internet is full of them. It is best to read a website or author’s statement of faith before looking at their articles or information. In the case of the website you found, the author claims to be an “evangelical Christian,” but his views from his statement of faith (and accompanying links) on Christology and salvation are questionable. With so much information available, believers must be cautious and contend for the Christian faith (Jude 3).

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