Text Size: Zoom In

Jesus but not Paul?

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?

Vote on whether you think this post is something you'll be thinking about:
Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+37 rating, 38 votes)

17 Responses to “Jesus but not Paul?”

  1. swwagner says:

    I don’t feel that we can ignore Paul (or Moses). To me, Paul is a very central figure in showing the way to God on our side of the “rent” curtain. Since he was so immersed in Jewish law as a Pharisee before his conversion, he is the perfect person to demonstrate the bridge between law and grace. He does not ignore the Torah, he brings it to life. He is the original author of “both/and” thinking and writing.

  2. SFDBWV says:

    I believe that the written Word is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It proves itself by the test of time. I know how the Bible became the Bible. I also believe that was orchestrated, controled and concieved by that same Holy Spirit. Christ alive and working through HIS followers.

    In a short prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus thanked our Father for making faith simple. so that simple people could understand it.

    The Book of Acts and all the letters that comprise the New Testament are a testimony to the results of Jesus’s efforts and to the work of the Holy Spirit in the new believers. And if I may say, the emerging Church.

    Can we apply faith to the words of Paul? Paul states offten that the words he speaks are not from him but from the Holy Spirit. God the Father,God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. One spirit

    Where do we learn the very structure of our Faith? From these letters, that’s where. When Jesus spoke to crowds they were moved by what he taught them. They may have been devout Jews but Jesus had to teach them in order for them to understand what they had been told their entire lives.

    The gifs of the Holy Spirit are explained in the letters from Paul. The gift of teaching is one of such Holy Spirit inspired powers given to man for the purpose of lifting up the Christ and opening the eyes of “blind” men.

    I think, one can get lost in trying to intellectualize the Word of God. I believe we need to let our faith in our own intelligence give way to the Holy Spirit’s teaching. And let HIM have his own way in our heart.

  3. plumbape says:

    Didn’t God call Saul / Paul?? Sometimes it is difficult for me to remember that even though the Bible is written by man, it is the Word of God. Now we have become so enlightened by it we can pick and choose what is really important?? Not me.

  4. macsisson22 says:

    I did have a similar discussion and pointed out that even Peter recognized Paul’s writings and wrote; “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” [IIPet.3:15-16]. Peter walked with the Messiah. What better cloud of witness could we have?

  5. chfranke says:

    You’ve given us a one sided view of your conversation with your friend.
    Don’t you want to write out your friends point of view to better understand where he is coming from?
    It would also give us a better perspective from which to evaluate.

  6. luvenya7 says:

    The following book would be very helpful in these discussions with your friend. It should give you a way to explain it to him in a way that he can grasp it.
    Things That Differ: The Fundamentals of Dispensationalism.
    by C. R. Stam. This book is a comprehensive study of dispensational truth, demonstrating the fact that the dispensational method of Bible Study is the only one by which the Bible makes sense. Probably more than any other book in print, it has been used to help open eyes to what Paul called, “the revelation of the mystery.”

  7. Mart De Haan says:

    Just went back into the post and tried to clarify some what I said. And yes, it does still put you at a disadvantage not to be able to weigh more of my friend’s side of the argument.

    At the same time, I’m not trying to hide any of his argument. I’m more interested at this point in explaining why I think Paul is so central and consistent with the purposes and mission of Jesus.

  8. blowentw says:

    Hi, Mart.

    Thanks for a great post. This really is a major issue that has troubled the church since its founding. It seems pretty clear from the decision of the early church you refer to in Acts 15 that the Law was clearly not for the gentile church. Peter’s reference to Paul’s writing as scripture also make it hard to disregard his writings. Might I suggest that John’s letters also support Paul’s perspective on the Law?

    Jesus fulfilled the Law, we do not and cannot. John’s perspective is that there is a new Law, the Law of Love. What we do now is based not on the Law that we try to follow to fulfill righteousness, but on love that grows out of a relationship we have with Jesus.

    This ought to be the basis for all of our decisions and actions toward God and toward one another. If I love God I will worship only Him, and do the things that please Him. If I love my brothers, sisters, neighbors and enemies I will do what is beneficial for them. I will not take advantage of their goods (steal from them), take advantage of their emotional or physical weakness (manipulate or seduce them). I will love them as I love myself.

    I find the story of the rich young man compelling in such a discussion. He did all the right things (or thought he did) growing up according to the Law, yet still knew he lacked eternal life. Yet he failed to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. If he had gone and sold all his things and followed Jesus as if following a rule, without a change in heart, it would have been the same. Jesus was just showing him where his idol was. The Law brings no life, Love does. So I think John agrees with Paul, who agrees with Jesus.

    The challenge in doing theology at this practical level seems to be to seek understanding of each writer that builds a consistent understanding of the whole of Scripture (OT and NT), whereby we gain a deeper understanding of the depth of God, His character and His love. Many through history have tried to disregard this biblical writer or that, which in the end keeps us from being able to move closer to the whole counsel of God.

    Thanks again.


  9. poohpity says:

    I believe the first five books show a new creation coming into existence first through faith and direct communication with God, then faith again with adventure into the unknown. Then being taken out of an environment of lewd practices, idol worship and various other unhealthy acts had to be given instruction of how to be separate and different than everything around them. They had to be taught about how to be kept from diseases and to be a holy people who lived for God, by God and with God. If you are not aware that something is wrong how do you know it is wrong. How does a people not have chaos unless they are given rules to live by. So they were taught to be civilized.

    It seems the rest of the OT was like the teen years when a parent says I know what is best for you but you have to make your own decisions. Some followed their parent as best they could while other said that the peers around them had it better and wanted to follow their practices and customs. God let them while sending prophets and angels to relay messages that God is still wanting you back. Like a lover pursuing the one loved and letting them know that all God wanted was for them to put Him first and treat each other and themselves with the same love God felt for them.

    Then the new testament was the great aha of adulthood when everything is brought together and some achieved maturity while others still wanted to remain uninformed and child like. If one accepts the deity of who Christ is and chooses to be led by the Spirit of God, then the argument is simple yet again as it always has been. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and with all the strength you can humanly muster and treat others with the same love you have been shown. We are unable to follow all the rules all the time that is why Christ died on the cross and with the same forgiveness we have received give it to others. Paul showed that in his life.

    We are not to follow Paul we are to follow God just the same way that He wanted us to in the OT. Nothing different He is the same in the OT and NT. Obviously we are the same too different peers but still human doing the same things in a different time. While we argue over doctrines, the emerging church and who to follow, we have been given the same mission as before. There are people out there that do not realize that there is a God who loves them soooo very much that He took on human form and died on the cross for our wrong doings which are called sins. That he wants a relationship with us and wants to help the broken hearted, sick, lonely and the unlovely. Gosh what is so hard about that?

    When we have faith it shows in what we do for the lest of these which is all human beings. It is so neat when you do these things that is when God reveals more of Himself to us and these arguments will pass away and all that will remain is faith, hope and most of all LOVE.

  10. cherielyn says:

    Wow, poohpity, your summary is awesome! I agree with you! Yes, “what is so hard about that?” We so often complicate what is actually so simple to understand!

  11. SFDBWV says:

    Just taking a break from a busy day. Re read the post and comments.

    Mart, For several years now I have been blessed by RBC ministries. The greatest gift your little booklets and commentaries have been to me is conformation. I sometimes need reasurance that what I know is also believed by others. I may already feel very confident in what I think. But it just helps to hear it or read it from people I respect or admire.

    If it helps you at all, let me say I agree with your attitude concerning the teachings of Paul. I cannot even begin to understand how a person can seperate the whole of the New Testament and only base Christian faith on the Torah. It sounds as though he has also seperated most of the Old Testament from what he chooses to focus on.

    You also stated “a growing number of people” are thinking this way. I gotta tell you Mart you meet some strange people.

    This is what happens when people refuse to be taught…Oh that’s right,that is a quote from Proverbs, I wouldn’t suppose that friend of your’s has spent too much time focusing on that either.

    Your Other Friend,

  12. wearetheservice says:

    Hello Mart:

    I have accepted Jesus as my lord and savior and have learned some interesting things from reading this line today. Thanks so much for sharing.

    I agreed with chfranke, even though you may have tried to clarify.

    There is no question for me that Paul is “central and consistent with the purposes and mission of Jesus”, as you said. Maybe your friend agrees with that too.

    However, from what you have given us, it seems that your friend finds more “comfort” in the authorship of the Torah as being fresher from GOD, than Paul’s writings, which are letters/epistles. That “comfort” should not be cause for argument; it’s more a matter of individual preference or perspective, which can be discussed and debated some more.

    Also too, you seem to imply that you do not believe that “Paul never meant to take followers of Jesus out from under the Law of Moses”. This, I believe, is the source of your disagreement with your friend. Clearly, your friend distinguishes between rabbinic law and the Law of Moses (10 commandments).

    Remember, Paul was not part of the Acts 15 decision, except indirectly.

  13. daisymarygoldr says:

    Never had such discussions with friends… Personally I follow Paul’s teachings and his boldness motivates me at times… when I get doubts about my close-minded stand for Christ, especially when I’m the only odd one out there flowing against the tide. These days we are going through the book of Acts at home and it is really inspiring to read about Paul witnessing, testifying, and preaching Christ before the Roman authorities. And you are right, Paul did meet with the other apostles at Jerusalem (Acts 21:18)

    Paul humbly wrote about himself as one who was “born out of due time” “the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He also calls himself as the “chief of sinners”…hence he cannot be compared with Christ who knew no sin. In 1Cor 1, Paul urges the Corinthians to follow Christ who was crucified and not Paul, Apollos or Peter.

    Paul was not widely accepted even back then and Peter writes: “This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. (2 Peter 3: 15-16)…maybe your friend has a problem with accepting some of Paul’s teachings…

  14. g.p.wilms says:

    Such a converstation I had myself, the person was not saying that Paul does not belong in the Bible, but that we interpret him wrongly:
    Because Jesus kept the Sabbath, we have to do the same.
    The person said to me: How can you call yourself a christian when you DO not do what Jesus did?
    I told that person that I am always in the Sabbath, through faith in Christ, and I am never out of it.(Heb 4:8-10)
    But they are differently interpretted by that person.
    Like all the other verses of Paul about the OT teachings: for instance in Col 2:16-17 Paul says that these festivals are … a shadow of things to come, the reality however is found in Christ.

    So we parted with an immense gap between us.

    My question is, how can we as Christians be one in Christ, when we have such differences in what we have to DO?

  15. poohpity says:

    The one way I see is service if we all do what Jesus asked us to do that is where we will find unity. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve as an example for us to follow and if we are busy working then we will have no time to quibble about things that have no lasting value.

  16. scarvin says:

    Jesus and Paul do have a relationship – a very special one that’s made a true difference in the history of our faith and the world. For this we are thankful BUT whereas Jesus was fully God and fully man, Paul was fully man and fully man. So, whenever Jesus and Paul are not in agreement, I go with Jesus every time.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.