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Another Look at Paul and Jesus

Since our recent discussion about “why Paul didn’t quote Jesus” I’ve spent more time thinking about the question. Since what follows is about 3 times longer than a post of “reasonable length” you may not have time for it now. But I hope that, if not now, when you have a chance you will see if you agree with the conclusions I’m coming to. The conversation we started on a March 20 post begins again here:

Critics of the church raise an interesting question about the credibility of the Apostle Paul.

The query sounds something like this: If Paul was representing Jesus as much as he claims, why does he rarely quote Christ in his letters?

If we haven’t heard anyone raise this challenge before, it might surprise us to know that Paul was not the only one who did not quote Jesus as much as we might expect.

Peter, James, and John follow the same pattern. After spending three years with Jesus, their letters reflect almost no specific mention to what they had heard their teacher say. None of them referred to their teacher’s now famous words about the kingdom of God, the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the poor, the sick, or the oppressed.

By Jewish standards this lack of direct mention is unusual. Students of rabbis were known for memorizing and quoting their teachers.

So why don’t the letters of Jesus’ disciples give more attention to his stories or sayings?

Some critics suggest that Paul didn’t write more specifically about Jesus because he came later and didn’t know enough about the rabbi from Nazareth to do so.

But if Paul could only speak personally of his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, that doesn’t explain the silence of Peter, James, and John.

John, in turn, did have personal contact with Jesus, and quotes him at length in his Gospel, but only once in his three letters (1John 3:23). When Paul follows a similar pattern in his letters, his credibility is questioned. So it’s important to understand the distinct roles of New Testament Gospels and letters.

The letters have a different purpose than the Gospels. The gospels provide a record of what Jesus said and did. The letters of Paul and the Apostles  explain the meaning and practical implications of who Jesus was and what he did for us.

The authors of New Testament letters were not writing in the measured tones of rabbinic discourse. Nor were they compiling the historical facts we find in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Instead, because of what they had seen happen to Jesus, they were not identifying themselves in their letters as disciples of a rabbi, but as servants and sent-ones (apostles) of the risen Lord. In the process their letters became an important part of the Bible.

If we miss God’s “voice” in the letters of the New Testament we could make the mistake of thinking  that the words of Jesus carry more weight than the words of Moses, Paul, or his Apostles.  That’s why it is so important to remember that the Lord himself promised that, after his return to his Father, he would send his Spirit to help his disciples give witness to what they had seen and heard (John 14:26; 15:26-27).  This assurance helps us understand how we can listen to Paul as we listen to Moses and Jesus.

The authors of New Testament letters wrote by the same Spirit of God who inspired Moses and spoke through Jesus. By the same divine inspiration that gave us the Old Testament and Gospels, they helped their readers understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

  1. Paul wrote 13 letters about the practical implications of believing that “God in the flesh” has purchased the eternal salvation of anyone who would believe in Jesus (1Tim 3:16; 2Tim 2:19).
  2. John writes about the love that will show we really believe the eternal “Word of life” loves us enough to die in our place (1John 1:1-3; 2:1-2; 1John 3:23).
  3. Peter describes what it takes for followers of Jesus to live out their faith in the Messiah who gives us a living hope by his resurrection from the dead (1Peter 1:3; 2Peter 1:5-7).
  4. James sees Jesus as the King and Lord of glory (2:1), who gives us freedom from guilt (1:25) so that our lives can be full both faith and action (2:17-22).
  5. Then there is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He urges his readers not to lose hope in Jesus as one “through whom God made the worlds”, and who, as “the brightness of [God’s] glory”, and “the express image of [God’s] person”, and the one who upholds “all things by the word of his power”, “purged our sins” and then “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Transformed by their faith in Christ, and inspired by the Spirit of God, these authors wrote letters that are as important to the Church as Moses and the prophets were to the nation of Israel.

The letters of Paul and the apostles resonate with the Spirit and purposes of Jesus. Everything they wrote reflects the Spirit of God whose power and presence were so evident in Jesus.

Although Paul only made one direct quote of Jesus (1Cor 11:24-26), and even though John also may have only repeated Jesus’ words once in his three letters (1John 3:23), everything they wrote expressed the attitudes, mission, and principles of the Son of God.

For example, much of the Apostle Paul’s credibility is seen in his willingness to endure repeated imprisonments, beatings, and the scorn of countrymen in order to do whatever it took to share in the sufferings and purposes of Christ (Col 1:24).

In the process, Paul and the other authors of New Testament letters were enabled by the Holy Spirit to express, in their own inspired words, practical counsel needed by the growing international body we know as the Church.

Do you agree that, without the letters of Paul and the Apostles, the unfolding, inspired drama of Moses, Israel, Jesus, and the New Testament church would be incomplete? And do you agree that by not quoting Jesus directly, Paul and the other New Testament letter writers actually help us to sense the authority that the Spirit of God has given to their words?

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32 Responses to “Another Look at Paul and Jesus”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    All of the Old Testament was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. All of the New Testament was also written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    God is the author of scripture.

  2. BruceC says:

    Good post Mart. Over the years I’ve been surprised sometimes to hear some Christians refer to the Epistles as “opinions” of the writers. I say “yes; the opinion of the Lord as all Scripture is inspired by God.” Some don’t like to hear that. In this day and age there are many that seem to have some strange and different opinions.

  3. chfranke says:

    Did you not write this with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
    Did you not write this struggling to wring out of scripture the essence of Christ’s mind?
    If Paul, John and the Hebrews author had not written what they did, would not the rocks on the ground cry out the meaning of the Gospels?
    How can we not agree with you?

  4. Charis says:

    I feel sorry for those who don’t accept the authority of the epistles as God’s Word. They are missing out on great spiritual treasure- very deep!

    In the wisdom of GOD, the epistle writers did not quote from Jesus. Personally, I have a tendency to be very “word” oriented, in the sense of wanting to understand precisely what the Bible is saying so I can OBEY. I think its a weakness of mine- a tendency to make the written word into an idol, and to render legalistic “obedience” and think that justifies me. God is not pleased if I make “The Bible” an idol. Seems to me it would be easier to be stuck there if the epistles had focused on repeating Jesus’ words.

    God wants relationship and God wants to transform me not just through words on paper, but through the Word/logos/Jesus and through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

  5. sjd says:

    I believe it is our tendency to want to always go back to the Words of Jesus that He spoke on this earth, and was recorded in the Gospels, and somehow elevate these above the rest of Scripture. These Words were breathed out on this earth. They are special, and I long to go back to them. We must cherish them. But I also must remember that all Scripture is God breathed! We must elevate all of it as inspired by God! All is profitable! All is living! I must live on every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

    If we did not have the Gospels recording the life and Words of Christ, I believe the writings of Paul, James, John and others would have looked different. The letters definitely have a unique purpose of explaining, as you say.

  6. poohpity says:


    You said, “The letters of Paul and the Apostles explain the meaning and practical implications of who Jesus was and what he did for us”. I thought that “of who Jesus is” and “what he is doing for us”, is Jesus not still living?

  7. daisymarygoldr says:

    In many ways God spoke to the prophets of the OT who then wrote and predicted the promise of God to reveal His love for us humans in Jesus Christ— the timeless truth of God.

    The promise was eventually fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ … and the Gospels give us an account of God’s love speaking to us humans through His living Word i.e. His Son Jesus Christ— the timeless truth of God!

    I agree that, without the letters of Paul and the Apostles…the Testament church would be incomplete because both… the writings of the Prophets as well as the letters of Paul and the Apostles (Eph 2:20)… laid the foundation to the Church— God’s household made up of us humans … the dwelling place of God’s love… built on none other than the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ—the timeless truth of God!

    Note: Throughout all the 66 books, whether quoted or not quoted…the timeless principles of God’s truth never changed… but remained the same. Although we humans change, God and His truth will remain the same for ever!

    How can we ever question and not sense… to readily obey and submit to the authority that the Spirit of God has given to every written expression of the timeless principles of God’ truth— the eternal Living Word… who was, is and is to come?!

    This is Paul’s testimony to Jesus Christ, the Messiah:

    “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God …through the power of the Spirit. …I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ…

    …It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” Rom 15: 17-21

  8. Mart De Haan says:

    poohpity, yes, you’re right “He is” Good catch.

  9. rokdude5 says:

    We recently studied in the Bible study Im attending which is lead by my pastor, how the Bible was canonized. We studied that scholars and religious leaders dont by their own proclamations make some letters Holy. We studied that Jesus Himself talked about “Scriptures” in Luke 11:51-52.

    The traditional Jewish canon that Jesus was referring to was divided into 3 sections – Law, Prophets and Writings. With that being said, we have a good clear idea what Old Testament included.

    What we have in the Gospels, the first Chapter in Act and in Revelations in a lot places are direct quotes from Jesus Himself. Of course, that makes it quite obvious that those Books are “Scriptual”(though some early religious leaders have problems with Revelations).

    So what makes the rest of the New Testament Scriptual? Why didnt James, the half-brother of Jesus, say in his Book “…and my Big Brother also said….?” We studied that these remaining Books are “God-breathed” and without “errors.” They are written by their respective authors to reveal accurate and authoritative revelations about God and what He wants from us. These remaining Books are reliable for our daily living TODAY AND TOMORROW!

    To me, the Bible as we know it today, clearly shows me the Trinity nature of God. God, the Father, spoke in the OT. Then Jesus spoke in the Gospels, Act and Revelation. Finally, the Counselor sent in Act moved and inspired (hence “God-breathed”) those disciples to write the remaining Books of the New Testaments. Praise God!

  10. daisymarygoldr says:

    Good post, rokdude5 and thanks for sharing!

    I think I missed the whole point … because after reading the March 20th post again I am sort of getting an idea about the point that today’s post is trying to make…so please, correct me if I’m still not getting it right…

    Mart De Haan, is this to point out that since Paul and the Apostles did not quote Jesus directly (word-for-word) instead used their own words… we should also not quote Jesus? …and that we should not quote scriptures word-for-word… but being inspired by the Holy Spirit, we may also use our own words to express the Word… to give practical counsel needed by the church?

  11. Rick123 says:

    Paul’s writings and all the other NT writers agree with the OT in that it was always about God’s saving grace through Christ’s Spirit and shed blood. It was Christ’s Spirit who spoke through the prophets of old. Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace [that should come] unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.(1Pe 1:10,11)

    Rev 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. From the beginning when Adam fall, Christ clothed them with his righteousness. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.(Gen 3:21)

    The One who created all things, and for his pleasure they are and were created, through Christ Jesus. Our heavenly Father is Awesome! the One who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. and the One who is unsearchable in his perfection, ways, and power. Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself. And who foreordained Christ before the foundation of the world as the lamb slain for us that were chosen in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.

  12. BruceC says:

    Jesus said “I and my Father are one!” and the teachers of the law went nuts. To take that one step further; if all of the Bible is inspired by God (Jesus), then I guess the Epistles could be red-letter too.
    I have a sister-in-law who attends her church regulary who says the Bible was written by man and therefore contains errors. I asked her to name me a verse or two or chapter and she didn’t. Then I asked her by what special knowledge she could tell the difference between truth and error when she couldn’t even give me an example. I think if her and her husband did’t sing in the choir they would have found a different “hobby” or “club”. She has also taught young folks catechism. No wonder we have the problems we do in many “so-called” churches. No offense to the RC’s. I’m not referring to that denominations teachings; just her viewpoint.

  13. SFDBWV says:

    In rereading the last paragraph of the topic, I must answer Mart and say that I agree that without the Old Testament the New Testament lacks foundation and without the New Testament the Old Testament is unfinished, or incomplete.

    Therefore the two Testaments make a completed Testamony of God and man.

    I also want to express that because I believe all Scripture to be God breathed, it becomes more important for me to be very careful of modern interpretations or opinions of what the scriptures say or imply. Simply to make them more modern in relevance to our modern society.

  14. Mart De Haan says:

    daisymarygoldr, it was not in my thoughts to not quote Jesus and Scripture word for word. Jesus quoted Moses to the Pharisees… and to the devil during his temptation. But he also captured the sense and spirit of the memorized and quoted text which both the Pharisees and devil were missing.

  15. Mart De Haan says:

    SFDBWV, I agree that if we are careless with God-breathed Scriptures in our attempt to “simply make them more relevant to our modern society” that is a dangerous mistake.

    It may, however, be just as dangerous– in some cases– to assume that our own understanding and applications are accurate if we have not given attention to the inspired intent of the historical and grammatical context.

    Jesus’ enemies quoted the Scripture to reject him, and to miss the present “relevance” of what Moses had said.

  16. diamonds says:

    Mart, yes I agree with you on both points. I think the reason Paul and other NT writers, such as John and Peter, could speak with such authority is because they had The Authority within them. When Jesus died, rose, and ascended, He became the glorified Christ, something new and different, something He had never been before. The Spirit of the Glorified Christ dwelt in Paul and the other NT writers. Therefore, they could speak for and speak forth Christ. I think where we as Christians today miss it is in not understanding that we too have the Glorified Christ within us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He comes to us at salvation, but only as a Seed. As we learn to listen to Him and obey Him, His Spirit becomes larger in our spirit. As we study God’s word, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand it and it becomes more than words on a page; the words become Spirit and Life to us. As we continue to walk in His commandment of love, out of our bellies flow rivers of living water that refresh each and every person with which we come in contact. I KNOW when I come in contact with a believer who has the Spirit overflowing in his or her life. It is because when he or she speaks (or writes), my baby jumps. That is, the Spirit of God in me leaps as Elizabeth’s did when she came in contact with Mary. I think we often forget that the Spirit is our power source. It is only as we relinquish/surrender our rights to ourselves that He can be enlarged in us. It is difficult and it must be done daily. I definitely struggle in this area. When we do allow the Spirit to rule and reign, our words will be life to the hearers, just as Paul’s words were. We won’t need to say “Jesus said” because it will be evident where the words are coming from. Let’s pray that each and every one of us will submit to the Glorified Spirit of Christ within us.

  17. SFDBWV says:

    Mart you are quite right, trusting ourselves can be as deceptive as well as trusting someone else to be “right”.

    So we are left to that personal connection with the Holy Spirit. To present a peace within our heart about any issue.

    It begins with reading the Word, being in a prayerful state of mind, and listening to our hearts.

    Yes I am very aware that “our” enemies quote the scripture. It can be twisted to validate incorrect doctrine. So a good knowledge of scripture is one of our defenses against the foe.

    We here can, in interupted short conversation, attempt to hear the wisdom of others and learn from more mature Christians. However because it is so personal, we all can agree but at different levels of knowledge. Sometimes the complication that creates can be misunderstood as non agreement.

    So goes the dance…back and forth. Sometimes to no conclusion sometimes to a better understanding. No guarantes of either.


  18. Mart De Haan says:

    Steve, I think you’re describing the process very realistically.

    Diamonds, I like the way you describe the “seed” in us. Have often thought about John’s use of that word picture (1John 3:9). It reflects the real life of Christ in us– without confusing “us” with “Him”.

  19. poohpity says:

    I think it so interesting that Jesus quoted what had been given to the prophets to clarify what they were talking about when pointing to Him and also corrected their misinterpretation of the law and how to carry it out. The epistles also were correcting continued misinterpretation of prophets and the law through the Holy Spirit. The same theme continues today, there seems to be loads of misinterpretation and misapplication. That is the obvious continuity of the scriptures (The Word) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    It is just like this blog when you post something Mart and it seems like it finds it own way to some other point. I imagine that pastors feel the same way when teaching some get it, some miss it and some are way in left field.

    The principles have remained the same through out the whole bible and those who got it were given the job to teach through writing letters to address questions, misinterpretation and application and some to give visions about the future. They all have that golden thread that weaves it’s way through all the scripture that begins with God and ends with God.

  20. poohpity says:

    OOps! “That is the obvious continuity of the scriptures (The Word) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” I meant that there is an obvious continuity of the scriptures (The Word).

  21. SFDBWV says:

    Mart, I know very little of other religions. But what little I do know about them, they almost exclusivily only quote their “teacher” or “prophet”.

    There doesn’t seem to be any “life” after the death of their particular “teacher”.

    Christianity is so very different. Our “Teacher” continues to give revelation as one alive. No need to quote only His first words to us, as He continues to lead through His Holy Spirit.


  22. daisymarygoldr says:

    Good thoughts Steve/SFDBWV!

    Mart De Haan, Thank you for the clarification! I agree that Jesus quoted scriptures and also captured the sense and spirit of the memorized and quoted text i.e. applied it correctly… while the devil quoted but misapplied scripture and the Pharisees simply quoted but never applied scripture.

    So, I am for quoting scriptures… it is the powerful 2–edged sword and is an offensive weapon that cuts both ways … i.e. it always applies first to me even though it was intended for the other person.

  23. daisymarygoldr says:

    …been thinking a lot… about your second question: “…Paul and the other New Testament letter writers actually help us to sense the authority that the Spirit of God has given to their words?”

    Although Paul and the other writers did not quote Jesus, I do sense the authority of God’s Holy Spirit because their teachings did not contradict the teachings of Jesus. The writers of the NT letters never strayed away from the scriptures.

    Moreover, Jesus Himself authorized the words of the Apostles: “…If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20) “…I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (John 17:20).

    The same may be said about modern translations… they should not contradict the essence of God’s truths. I also like reading/listening to paraphrased passages as long as the attempt is to simplify… not change the original meaning. For ex. Head means nothing but Head whether we read it in Hebrew or Greek or Latin or English…

    This is how I put the interpretation to test: it should always glorify God. God’s wisdom sometimes may be “hard sayings” which will offend our flesh but not our spirits… i.e. if we are being led by the spirit. On the other hand if the interpretations reek with human wisdom it will gratify the flesh but will offend our spirits which is in communion with God’s Holy Spirit.

    I’m not sure if anybody else can relate to this, but in my experience God can speak to us in different ways through the same verse. However, if it is indeed God speaking… He will speak the same thing to more than one person.

    As we grow in the Lord… the same verse may hold a different meaning… it is not that God’s truth changes rather as we grow and mature our understanding of Him changes… as we begin to see more of Him and less of us. Just my thoughts…

  24. poohpity says:

    I agree that our understanding grows as we grow. The closer one gets to God the more our eyes and heart will be open to truths revealed through scripture the Living Word. We learn how everything ties together from the OT and the NT. When we go home it will all make complete sense. I do not believe we were ever called to know it all just to do what we know and then more is revealed.

    The NT writers give evidence that the Holy Spirit was upon them and that evidence can still be seen today in those who follow the Lord. It is the only constant we have in an ever changing world.

    Off topic– With all that is going on in my life I am experiencing complete emptiness. I was wondering if you guys/gals would please pray for me. I feel drained.

  25. Rick123 says:

    Bless be our heavenly Father who is the greatest, and who shed his greatness upon his Son-Jesus to redeem us from the curse of the law. For who in heaven is like unto you O Father? for I know none like you, greatly feared among your sons. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him? To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? Have I not created all out of nothing? Have I not chosen the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are? I lift up and I bring down, I give life and I take away life. I give every man according to his deeds, and in no way will I clear the guilty and he shall bear his iniquity. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. The Father who sits above the circle of the earth, and all the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales, behold, he takes up the isles like fine dust.

    Gal 6:3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. Mat 22:35

    If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, [even] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness. He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings.(1Ti 6:3,4) Then one of them, [which was] a lawyer, asked [him a question], tempting him, and saying, Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.(Mat 22:35-40)

  26. BruceC says:


    I will pray for you sister. Don’t get worried about feeling “drained”. The Lord may be telling you to rest for a while. I’ve felt that way before too. Be assured that just like a gas tank; if you feel drained that means a “filling” is on its way!

  27. sjd says:


    Will be praying for you. I never have enjoyed the empty feeling but always enjoy the filling as Bruce mentioned. I am thankful that our position in Christ is not dependent on our feelings. Thankful for His Word and the truth that He is always faithful, that is who He is.

  28. laney says:

    Bruce and Claudia are right you need to rest.Rest in Gods Love for you.The joy of the Lord shall be your strength.In his presence there is fullness of joy at his right hand there are pleasures forever more.
    Father I pray your joy over my sister this day.You are her strength and power for every battle.A very present help in times of trouble.Father if her strength fails and she feels weak let your Holy presence just engulf her because you will never leave her or forsake her.
    Thankyou Lord that you give strength to your people and you bless us with peace.In Jesus name I ask for comfort and peace for my sister.

    Put on some praise and worship music.I find it always helps me no matter what my need.

  29. daisymarygoldr says:

    poohpity, you are God’s dearly beloved and His grace is sufficient for you “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart…”. Ps 73: 26. Praying for you…

  30. papafig says:

    I came accross this blog while studying the exact question at hand. Why didn’t they quote Him?

    The longer I study the Bible the clearer it becomes to me that, up to the moment of Canon completion, we have a progressive revelation unfolding before us in those blessed pages.

    I strongly believe that the identity of the NT church is bound up in the concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As such, this period we call the “church age” begins and ends with that fact.

    Having said that, that places Jesus in the OT. I am more and more convinced that a proper interpretation of the Gospels must be completely conditioned by that truth.

    What, in practical terms, does that mean to us? It means that what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry was a continuation and clarification of what He had said through the prophets of old. I believe that Jesus was giving the Jews one more chance for national repentance, knowing (as He does all things) that it (He) would be rejected, but doing what He always does: Being Just.

    Most, then, if not all of what He taught and that is recorded by the Gospels, while of great benefit to us (as all Scripture, OT and NT is), it needed tranlsating into NT practice. Enter the Epistles.

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