Why the Words of Paul Are as Important as the Words of Jesus
A few days ago Beth Moore tweeted out the following response to an article critiquing the beliefs of popular author Rachel Hollis:
The idea of a "tension" existing between the Gospels and the epistles, or letters, of the Apostles is not new. The downplaying, and sometimes outright dismissal, of parts of Scripture has been going on since the beginning of time.
Adam and Eve dismissed part of God's word when they bought into the lie that they would "not surely die" if they ate from the tree God prohibited them to eat from (Gen. 3:1-4).
Israel repeatedly downplayed parts of the Law of God throughout the Old Testament.
Throughout the New Testament, the Pharisees are charged with elevating some parts of the law (along with their tradition) while diminishing others (Mt. 23:23-24).
No, the idea that the words of Jesus and the words of the Apostles are at odds with one another is nothing new. While I believe that there are some who purposefully distort or destroy the words of the Apostles to push their own ideas, I believe that most people give more weight to the words of Jesus because they do not understand the Apostles role in the forming of the church and the authority given to them from Jesus.
This article seeks to address that misunderstanding and prove that the words of Paul are just as important as the words of Jesus.*
The Authority of Jesus
Before we can understand the authority of the Apostles we need to understand where Jesus received both His authority to speak and His authority to commission the Apostles to do the same.** The text detailing the Transfiguration of Jesus serves as a great beginning point:
"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
The text of Mark 9:2-7 clearly shows us the authority of Jesus and His words. Standing among Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) it is Jesus that is elevated when the Father says "listen to Him." If there was ever any doubt in the Apostles (or the readers) mind about the authority of Jesus, the voice of the Father here puts those doubts to rest.
Jesus makes many claims to authority throughout His ministry (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:18, 10:49; 14:10). This claim to authority from the Father is not only the basis of Jesus' ministry, but the basis of the Apostles ministry as well. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20:
"And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (emp. mine)
Why were the Apostles to "go therefore"? Because Jesus, who has "all authority" told them to. By Jesus' command the Apostles were to make disciples by baptizing and teaching all that Jesus commanded them. This text is an extension of authority. By what authority are the Apostles able to make disciples? The authority of Jesus (see Acts 4:5-12).
Jesus' authority comes from the Father and, throughout His ministry, Jesus gives authority to the Apostles ultimately culminating into His directive to go and make disciples here at the end of Matthews gospel.
The Authority of the Apostles
Throughout His ministry, Jesus either bestows authority onto the Apostles (Mt. 16:13-20) or informs them of the authority they will inherit in the future (John 14-17).
Authority Bestowed during the Ministry of Jesus
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”...Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:13, 16-19 (emp. mine)
Again, this is a passage that is packed with meaning and, for some, controversy. For the purposes of this article I want you to focus on the underlined phrase. This phrase highlights a giving of authority from Jesus to the Apostles during His earthly ministry (Peter was not alone in this; see Mt. 18:18).
We can even go earlier in Jesus' ministry to the tenth chapter of Matthew and see His giving of authority to the Apostles (Mt. 10:5-15).
Future Authority Given to the Apostles
The greatest showing of the Apostles authority, however, is found in Jesus' discussion with the Twelve at Passover (John 14-17). In this lengthy discourse, Jesus speaks about His leaving, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the role that the Spirit will play in the lives of the Apostles. There are a few verses out of John we need to observe. We'll start with John 14:26:
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
We are told three truths about the Holy Spirit here in this verse:
1) He will be sent by the Father
2) He will teach the Apostles all things and
3) He will give the Apostles the ability to remember all that Jesus said to them (see John 2:17 for reference).
Later Jesus says this in John 15:26-27:
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning."
The same truths about where the Spirit is coming from (the Father) and what He will do ("bear witness") are reiterated from before, but then Jesus adds that the Apostles "also will bear witness". The Spirit then is not showing up just because, but because He is going to help them in their mission of bearing witness about Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say this in John 16:12-19:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
Here the "Spirit of truth" is spoken of as a "guide" that will bring the Apostles understanding of the truth of God. Jesus then follows this up by saying that the Father will take what is Jesus' and declare it to the Apostles. They are going to be given a message, a message that they are commanded by Jesus and guided by the Spirit, to share.
Finally, Jesus says this in His prayer to the Father:
"But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world...Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word..."
John 17:13-20 (emp. mine)
Notice the repetition of "word" here:
The first time it is used in this passage it is spoken of as a gift given by Jesus to the Apostles.
The second time "word" is used it is a statement about what the "word" is, "truth". Furthermore, Jesus prays that the Apostles would be sanctified in the truth.
The final time the term "word" is used it states the mission of the Apostles. At the beginning of chapter 17 Jesus is praying for His Apostles, but He shifts His focus briefly in verse 20 to "those who will believe in [Him] through [the Apostles] word." In other words, the focus shifts from the Apostles to the target audience of the Apostles message, us.
John's writing makes it clear that Jesus gave the Apostles both the job to share the gospel and the Tool (the Holy Spirit) by which to do it.
What About Paul?
So far we have established the authority of Jesus from the Father, and the authority of the Apostles from Jesus, but what about Paul? Paul was not there with the original twelve Apostles. He wasn't there when the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Where then does Paul get his authority to write so many New Testament letters? The short answer: from the same place as the Apostles.
Luke, the author of both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, records the story of Paul's conversion in Acts 9:1-19. It is Luke who reveals to us that Paul, at this point named Saul, was confronted by Jesus Himself as he walked along the road to Damascus. He is made blind for three days until he is approached by a disciple named Ananias who heals him, gives him the Holy Spirit, and baptizes him (Acts 9:17-19) as Jesus commanded Him to do (9:10-16). From this point onward, we see Paul preach the gospel of Jesus.
It's at this point that we need to note a couple of truths about Paul:
1) He was specially chosen by God to share the gospel (Acts 9:15) just like the Apostles were (Mt. 28:18-20)
2) He was similarly "filled" with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17) like the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4).
Even with these truths and a very obvious change of heart, the Apostles were still not convinced that Paul was one of them until they were showed otherwise:
"And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised."
Galatians 2:6-9 (emp. mine; see also Acts 9:26-31)
Notice the underlined phrases here.
First, Paul is said to have been entrusted with the gospel "just as Peter" was. He is given the same gospel, and the same mission to share it as the Apostles were.
Second, the same Commissioner (Jesus) that gave the Apostles their mission gave Paul his mission.
Third, the other Apostles (specifically James, Peter, and John) who we know are both filled with the Spirit and have authority from Jesus, recognize Paul as one of their own.
This recognition is seen even further in the second letter of Peter when he writes:
"And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures."
2 Peter 3:15-16 (emp. mine)
Peter not only acknowledges Paul as a "beloved brother" he also lumps the letters of Paul in with "the other Scriptures".
If Jesus gave the Apostles the truth and the authority to share it, why do we seek to discount their words? And if the Apostles, who were given authority to bind and loose, accepted Paul and his writings as the holy Word of God, why do others try so hard to remove them?
You might be wondering why I spent so much time and effort trying to prove the chain of authority from the Father to Jesus and from Jesus to Paul and the Apostles. I spent so much time on this article because there are a lot of people looking at the words of their Bibles and ignoring large parts of them because they aren't written in red.
Jesus said a lot of very important things, but there was so much more He didn't say because He intended it to be revealed later through Paul and the Apostles by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I spent so much time working on this because there are many who want to throw away parts of the mind of God because they either don't like what it says or don't understand why they are there.
The words of Paul and the Apostles are not there to be ignored, but read and understood because it is through them that we are given both a fuller picture of the mind of God and the body of Christ. The words of Paul and the Apostles are just as important as the words of Jesus, because they all come from the same point of origin, the Father, and each one of them reveals to us how to become the person and church God created us to be.
*For the sake of brevity, I will not be covering every single piece of Scripture that deals with authority and it's transmission. Instead I will look at a select few passages under each point that highlight what I am trying to prove. If there are passages you would like me to cover or have specific points you would like me to deal with in another article you can email me at StrongChurchMinistries@gmail.com.
**This article is more about the Apostles authority than it is the authority of Jesus (I assume most of you reading this article believe His words to be authoritative). It's still necessary to cover, but not in as much depth as points 2 and 3.