I had a discussion with a friend over lunch the other day that got pretty intense. We’ve had these kinds of conversations before and have always ended up parting with a smile and looking forward to the next time. This day was no different, except that, looking back, we came closer to being farther away in conclusions than I can remember.
This friend is one of a growing number of people who focus on Torah (Five books of Moses), believe Jesus is the Messiah, but have trouble with Paul, or at least with the way most of us understand Paul.
Much of our discussion has been around statements Paul makes about whether followers of Jesus should be subject to the Law of Moses. The friend believes, for instance, that when Paul says followers of Christ are not under the law, he is referring to not being under rabbinic law. He reasons that Paul never meant to take followers of Jesus out from under the law of Moses even though we’ve talked at length about the decision of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 (that gentiles should not be burdened with the laws and customs of Israel).
In the past, we’ve found some common ground not only in our belief that Jesus is the Messiah, but in recognizing that, in Romans 14, the Apostle Paul gives followers of Christ freedom to decide for ourselves whether to honor and retain some of the outward customs of Jewish law, as long as we don’t think such practices are, in any way, a basis for spiritual merit or acceptance with God.
This time, though, it became evident that my friend has real issues with Paul and isn’t sure we should even be reading him as Scripture.
From my point of view–-even though I admit that I struggle to understand and apply some of the things that Paul says— writing him off is like breaking ties with the whole history of the Church.
The friend went on to say that he didn’t see any relationship between Jesus and Paul.
I said in reply that I’ve found the relationship between Jesus and Paul one of the most compelling elements of my faith. I tried to give him a few reasons– which were not satisfying to him. We once again parted with a smile and agreed to continue the discussion later.
Since that conversation is so fresh in my mind, I’ve been thinking about why I believe the Church down through history has recognized Paul’s writings as inspired. Here’s what I’m coming up with,
1. Although Paul maintained that his authority was not from men but from the resurrected Christ who appeared to him on the road to Damascus, his story and message were eventually approved by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). That same group wrote letters of endorsement for Paul and his co-workers as they took the message of a crucified and resurrected messiah to the gentile world.
2. The ways Paul suffered to get the gospel of Christ to the gentiles (2Cor 6:1-10; 11:23-33) reflects his sincerity and is consistent with the inexpressibly greater ways Jesus suffered for all of us.
3. As Moses gave the nation of Israel instructions for how to live in a covenant relationship with God, Paul gave international churches instructions for how to live in a Christ-centered community.
4. Both Jesus and Paul bear the characteristic marks of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
5. Both showed how their teaching was consistent with Moses and the prophets.
6. Both lived lives of single devotion to God.
7. Both mentored others to carry on their work and message.
8. Both had messages authenticated by the kind of sign-miracles that became a matter of public record.
9. Both emphasized Jesus’ uniqueness as the Son of God.
10. Paul was consumed by his desire to honor Christ, and to tell the story of how God had sent his Son into the world to die for our sins and to rise bodily from the dead to offer everlasting life and forgiveness of sins to all who would believe.
11. Paul did not exploit his gospel for financial gain and did everything he could to affirm others who were taking the message of Christ to their communities and region.
12.In the process Paul provided an international church not only with a message of Christ-based forgiveness and eternal life, but also with principles that express the heart of the law (without the external forms of i.e. the temple, sacrifice, priesthood, etc. that have been once and for all fulfilled and personified in Jesus).
But now let me ask you. Have you had similar discussions with your friends? And on which side of this conversation do you find yourself? Are you left with lingering questions for us to talk about?