Friday, January 15, 2016

Jesus and Paul

It is incontrovertible that the discussion on the message of Jesus and Paul is a highly debated area in biblical scholarship. The pendulum swings from the phrase 'Jesus or Paul' to 'Jesus and Paul?' When Paul made ethical pronouncement such as "Bless those who persecute you" (Rom. 12:14), why didn't he cite the authority of Jesus (Matt. 5:10-12)? When Paul says in Romans 8:26, "we do not know what we ought to pray for", does this mean he was unaware that Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer to his disciples (Matt. 6:9-13) and Luke 11:2-4)? Those who claim that Paul takes up an independent attitude towards Jesus would hastily conclude that they had a different message, a discovery I view as misleading. I support the viewpoint that "Paul's understanding of God is completely in line with Jesus' teaching" (Bruce 1977, 19) CRITICAL ANALYSIS A question scholars who believe that the messages are different normally ask is "why did Paul on page after page, in paragraph after paragraph appeal to the words of Jesus as authority for what he was advocating?" (Sandmel 1979, 107). They view it as incredible for Paul to give only one quotation from the statements believed to have been made by Jesus namely, His opposition to divorce. Why did he neglect the parables, aphorisms and annunciations of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Some like A.N. Wilson have even claimed that it was Paul, and not Jesus, who founded Christianity. But how does this thesis, which in various forms has been debated for over a century, stand up? Wright (2001) in his book What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity leads readers through current scholarly discussion of Paul and gives a devastating critique of views like Wilson's, showing that they fail to take account of all the evidence. Wilson (a journalist and biographer) dismisses Christianity as an unhappy accident, the product of a radical party based on Greek rationalism and partly on Jewish mysticism. Wilson fails in three areas - historical, theological and exegetical. The greatest value of Wright's work is that it clarifies and successfully defends the orthodox position as the only true one. Indeed Paul was not the founder of Christianity, rather a faithful witness and herald of Jesus Christ. Although it is realistic however to observe that without Paul "Christianity would probably never have survived" (Grant 1982, 1), it is misleading to call him its founder. Wenham (1985) in his book Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity provides a broad look at the relationship between Paul and Jesus. Considering the recurrent position of how much Paul knew and was dependent on the teachings of Jesus, he studies the Gospels and Paul's letters, systematically compares the teachings of Jesus and Paul, and convincingly reveals intriguing connections between them. Furthermore, Wenham (1995) builds on this study in another text, Paul and Jesus: The True Story, writing against the view that Paul is a religious freelancer who corrupted Jesus' teachings. Writing in dialogue with those who wish to distance Paul from Jesus, he shows the importance the ministry and teachings of Jesus were to Paul's own thought. Indeed, what emerges from a study of Paul's epistles is a man who drew extensively on the traditions of Jesus and faithfully worked to spread his message to the rest of the world. Although Paul never saw Jesus during his life on earth, Lahaye (1997) aptly noted that "his writings show he was thoroughly familiar with the life of Jesus of Nazareth many years before the Gospels were ever written" (103). Perhaps no contemporary evangelical scholar is better equipped like Bruce to refute the claim by liberal scholars that Paul represented a departure from that of Jesus. Bruce (1974) is among those scholars to delineate Paul's teaching (distinguishing between those elements Paul received directly from God and those that he received from Christian tradition) and demonstrating that the ways of salvation to which Paul and Jesus pointed were identical in essence. The beauty of the argument is in its apt summary: Paul agrees with the outline which we find elsewhere in the New Testament, and in the four gospels in particular. Paul himself is at pains to point out that the Gospel which he preached was basically one and the same as that preached by other apostles (1Cor. 15:11), a striking claim if we consider that Paul was neither a companion of the earthly Jesus nor of the original apostles, and that he vigorously asserts his complete independence of these later(Bruce 1974, 20) The above quotation is so central to the viewpoint of the writer that he quotes it verbatim on page 94 of another publication (Bruce 2000). Some portions of his book, A Mind for What Matters, could be sees as a "protest against the tendency to represent Paul as having no interest in himself in the character and teaching of the historical Jesus, and as depreciating any such interest on the part of the others" (Bruce 1990, 114). Many other writers echo Bruce in several ways. It is incontrovertible that "upon a careful inspection, a fairly full summary of the main contours of Jesus' life can be pieced together from Paul's writings" (Blomberg 1997, 379). Among examples cited are His descent from Abraham and David (Gal. 3:16; Rom. 1:3, upbringing of the Jewish Law (Gal. 4), gathering together of His disciples including Peter and John, having a brother named James (Gal. 1:19,29), an impeccable character and exemplary life (Phil 2:6-8), 2 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 15:3,8), the Last Supper and betrayal (I Cor. 11:23-25) and numerous details surrounding his death and resurrection (Gal.3:1, 1 Thes. 2:4-8). These are therefore "some clear indications of Paul's knowledge of and interest in at least some basic aspects of the historical life and teaching of Jesus" (France 1986, 93). A closer examination reveals other striking similarities in the messages of Jesus and Paul. Does Romans 12:17-19 contain a cluster of allusions to the Sermon on the Mount and the principles of love? Is Romans 13:7 familiar with Jesus' famous teaching on paying taxes? These could be answered in the affirmative. I Corinthians contains three direct references: the first is on marriage and divorce (7:10), the second on a worker and his wages (Luke 10:7; 11:23-25) and the third with its detailed knowledge of the teaching of Jesus about the Passover bread and wine (11:23-25). According to Blomberg (1997), I Thessalonians again contains three clear clusters of references to Jesus' teachings: 2:14-16 resembles selections of Matthew 23:29-38, with its invective against the Jewish leaders; 4:15-17 refers to a word of the Lord concerning his return and contains several echoes of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13); and 5:2-4 refers specifically to the Day of the Lord coming like a thief, in dependence on the parable in Matthew 24:43-44 and Luke 12:39-40. More generally, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 refers to belief in a coming AntiChrist reminiscent of Jesus' teaching about the abomination that causes desolation... (Blomberg 1997, 379). It is realistic to note that key themes in Paul's theology, as different as it superficially seems to be from Jesus' own thought, also suggest stronger lines of continuity. One cannot deny the fact that "the great mind in the New Testament to interpret the meaning of the person and work of Jesus is the converted Jew, Paul" (Ladd 1974, 360). It is also forcefully argued that although "the hardest of direct reference is meager... it is possible to trace many more echoes of themes of Jesus in his (Paul's) letters" France 1986, 92). Paul's understanding and proclamation of Jesus Christ did not by-pass the life and character of the One proclaimed as crucified and risen. It is clear from Paul's own letters that he did not know Jesus directly but this does not mean that he did not know Jesus' teachings. He refers to himself as "Paul an apostle - sent not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead" (Gal. 1:1). Further down he observed that "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (11-12). There are similarities in the teachings of Jesus and Paul on divorce, treasure, government and parousia. Paul's fullest discussion of this is I Cor. 7:20, immediately prior to the passage listed above where he issued the maxim. Jesus issued a very firm teaching against laying up of treasure on earth. In admonishing his followers, Jesus said: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth rust and destroy, and where thieves bread in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be" (Matt. 6:19-21). Paul had a similar doctrine though one may be tempted to note that it was a different term. As he observed, "set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1-2). Paul's conviction of the imminent end of the age heavily influenced his acceptance of the Roman authorities. Why rebel or mount a revolution and go to all the trouble and grief of planning and executing a violent overthrow of Roman authority in Judea, when the Lord was about to take care of it any day? Here again, Paul agrees with Jesus in his stance towards the Romans. Jesus also acknowledged the authority of the Romans when Pharisees deceitfully confronted him to know whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. In His reply, he observed that one should "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's". There are certain similarities in the message of Jesus and Paul in connection with the parousia. All through Paul's writings, one sees a striking parallel with Jesus' emphasis to be prepared and also compared His return with the coming of a thief (Matt. 24:42-22; 13:34-37; 25:1-13; 32:36. In all fairness to Paul, he was consistent with the teaching on watchfulness and preparedness. Paul's comment on the right of gospel preachers to have their material needs supplied is not inconsistent with Jesus' teaching. Before sending the seventy-two, he gave them several instructions. One was to "stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7). When admonishing the Corinthians, he based his argument on the advice of the Lord when he stated that "in the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel" (I Cor. 9:14). Elsewhere he observed thus: "the Scripture says 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages" (I Tim. 5:18). Commenting on communion, Paul observed that he was merely passing on what he had received from the Lord. He quoted Jesus directly: "This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 12:25). It must be noted that Paul was well acquainted with the sayings of Jesus even in areas where he did not quote His actual sayings. It is realistically noted that. We ought to compare the ethical section of the Epistle to the Romans (12:1-15:7), where Paul summarizes the practical importance of the gospel for the lives of the believers, with the Sermon on the Mount, to see how thoroughly imbued the apostle was with the teaching of his master. Besides, there and elsewhere, Paul's chief argument in his ethical instruction is the example of Christ himself. And the character of Christ as understood by Paul is in perfect agreement with his character as portrayed in the Gospels (Bruce 2000, 93). Paul's mention of "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (I Cor. 10:1) reminds us of Jesus' words, "I am meek and lowly at heart" (Matt. 11:29). When Jesus called the crowd, he said, "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to lose his life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). Paul notes that "...even Christ did not please Himself..." (Rom. 15:3). Therefore, "we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves" (Rom. 15:1). If Paul's aim was to preach Christ and Him crucified, it would be misleading to observe that his message was different from that of Jesus. After his conversion, he observed that he no longer lives but rather Christ Himself dwells in him. One may be tempted to use the first part of a verse in one of the letters by Peter to support the likes of Wilson who see the teachings of Jesus and Paul as different. Peter may generally have been referring to the exhortations of holy living when he observed that "he (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:16). A part of the above verse that states that "his letters contain some things that are hard to understand" may be sued by critics to argue that Paul, unlike Jesus, preached on themes that were hard to understand. This argument is merely building on a sandy foundation because even the learned Pharisees could not understand when Jesus observed that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. There is supportive evidence in Scripture that Jesus gathered His disciples to explain what they did not understand when He was preaching to the crowd that followed Him. The second half of the above verse clearly states that unstable and ignorant people would twist Paul's message just as they do other Scriptures, with fatal consequences. On cannot deny that Paul's writings can be complex. We cannot also presume that everything he wrote about will necessarily be relevant to our twentieth century. In all fairness however, Paul was dealing, after all, with problems arising out of a world very different to the one in which we live. Is it perhaps Paul's style that puts people off him? They may not be the first to discover that he does not always read as smoothly as one would wish. Paul's letters are obviously not carefully planned theological treatises, otherwise one might have the right to complain about his lack of clarity. They are most emergency writings, written... to answer special needs. Paul did not just sit down and write as one might sit and write an article (Richards 1990, 5). His letters therefore were not the result or product of reflective thinking behind closed doors in the comfort and isolation of a study. They emerged out of his experience as a church pioneer, and their contents inevitably reflect that experience. It is therefore necessary to be sensitive to the above when we read his letters today. Paul never intended these letters- to be read either separately or all together- to be a comprehensive account of the Christian faith. Furthermore, Paul did not expect them to be read by anyone other than those to whom they were addressed. Some were detailed replies to other letters that had been sent to him - letters that no longer exist for us to consult. This is very important in our understanding of Paul. If one is listening to a telephone conversation, it is possible to misinterpret the communication simply because he is not listening to the individual from the other end. It is possible that there could have been some important information in a missing letter that would have explained what now seem difficult to understand. Maybe the nature of the writings we now have as letters increases our difficulties. Paul's letters are not books of theology dressed to be like letters. It is almost certain that "if Paul had not come up against the Judaisers in the Galatian churches, we should not have had the letter to the Galatians with its explanation of the relationship of the Christian to the Old Testament Law" (Drane 1986, 358). By extension, there would have been no I & II Corinthians had there been no factions in Corinth. Without involving in these arguments, would he have written Romans in the way he did? CONCLUSION It would be a misleading oversimplification to state that Jesus and Paul had a different message. If he was "Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead" (Gal.1:1), how can he have preached a message that was different from Jesus? Paul's attitude therefore was not to invalidate Jesus' teaching but rather to carry it on in the proper way. He does not abandon Jesus but continues his teaching. The situation is brilliantly analyzed when it is observed that "Jesus and Paul are looking towards the same mountain range, but whereas Jesus sees it as lying before Him, Paul already stands upon it and its first slopes are already behind him" (Schweitzer 1955, 114). The message however is the same in essence. One may only understand Paul when his background is carefully studied. It is a truism that "a good understanding of Paul's thought as could be gleaned from his writings therefore entails a reference to his background" (Gwamna and Pali 2000, 267). Article Source:

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