Lines of great education can blur the truth revealed in Scripture, twisting the uniformity of the message into sectarian bias and even outright heresy.
Perhaps that is why Jesus thanked the Father for not revealing the truth to those with recognized wisdom and decorated tassels of high education. Don’t get Jesus wrong, study and training is a valued instrument, but our human tendency is to rely upon our trained patterns of intellectual research and accepted explanations that comfort our intellect while at times falling short of bowing to what the Word of God actually says.
Such is the problem with what is often touted as Pauline Theology.
Particularly within Protestant circles of faith, the idea has been championed that the Apostle Paul had a unique corner on the gospel message that governs Christian understanding of the rest of Scripture. In other words, what Paul wrote, apparently takes precedence over what Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Jude, Peter, James or any other canonized writer of Scripture.
This view becomes necessary when faced with apparent discrepancies between authors of New Testament (NT) letters. Who are we to believe when church leaders wrote things that appear to us as contradictory?
Pauline promoters tell us that Paul’s theology supersedes all others. But is that correct? Does Paul teach something different from the other writers? There is substantial evidence of theological twists and fabrications in contemporary writings outside of the biblical canon, but does such contamination infect Scripture itself?
Is there really something unique about what Paul wrote?
In order to distinguish incidental differences from substantive ones, several observations should be noted. First of all, almost every writer of NT letters, including Paul, specifically credit what they wrote as having come from God and not from their own well of intellect. They claimed divine inspiration and, Paul in particular, renounced reliance upon their personal training and depth of education (see Phi 3).
Secondly, this highlights what ought to be obvious, but which is commonly ignored: The Holy Spirit is the Author of NT theology. He is the unifier between every detail of theological doctrine whether written by Paul, Peter, John, or some unknown author, like that of the book of Hebrews. Differences of personality can be observed through their writings, what was being taught by that author to a specific audience may have emphasized different subject-matter, and even their style of phraseology can reveal unique marks of identity, but when it comes to the substantive message itself – there is only one theology, that dictated by God himself through his chosen instruments.
Those who profess otherwise, like those who claim a Pauline distinction in the gospel, defy the biblical record.
Thirdly, for those willing to take God at his word, the writings of Paul demonstrate that he has the exact same theology as that of what was written by the other NT writers, including John, Jude, and James (ones who are often dismissed by the Pauline crowd as inferior).
As with nearly everything, it becomes necessary to color in the outlined sketches of our ideas in order for interested parties to recognize congruence between what is actually being addressed. In this case, Pauline theology, or at least that form which is being questioned here, stems from the underlying belief that God gave Paul special knowledge beyond what was revealed to the original apostles and in most cases even beyond what is recorded as having been spoken by Jesus himself and documented by the early gospel writers.
This results in a prioritization of select statements in Paul’s letters as both foundational and even superior to anything else recorded in Scripture. The most significant difference revolves around definitions of grace, salvation, and the volatile issue of good works.
A classic representation of this apparent conflict was noted by Luther, Calvin and other giants of Protestant Christianity between Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith “alone” and James dismissal of faith if not accompanied by works. To add butane to such coals, compare what Pauline proponents claim is a heretical issue of works impacting salvation with what Jesus taught in the reason he separates the goats from the sheep in his Kingdom—personally chosen works. Match that with Jesus’ words recorded by John in Revelation and again the Pauline crowd cries fowl because the Lord demands that Christians “Repent and do the things you did at first”, which means works.
Understandably, Luther and later Protestants reacted strongly against the well-documented abuses of the Catholic Church at that time. And yet, when Luther added “alone” (in Rom 3) to his German translation to help bolster his theological resistance against the works-abusing practices of Roman Catholicism he inadvertently set the mold of misquoting Scripture towards a Pauline distinction.
Of course, he was not the first to alter the writings of the early apostles to back up private theological positions. The early church priest named Marcion, who was eventually excommunicated as a heretic, went so far as to propose his own canon of Scripture containing only partial writings from Paul and historical background material on Paul from some of Luke’s writings.
Although Luther was also cut-off as a heretic from the Catholic church, I am of the belief via the historical record that Marcion was a blatant wolf, whereas Luther was simply over-zealous on this issue. Nevertheless, both contributed as forerunners of modern Pauline theology and will likely be held accountable for their dismissals of a unified gospel message in favor of selective theology from one apostle.
In truth, Scripture proves that Paul wrote exactly the same theology as James, John and Jesus. The book of Acts records that they didn’t always hold the same views in daily life, but when it came to writing what we now rely upon as Scripture, there can be no halitosis from the breath of God. As Jesus declares, it will be given you what to say; it will not be you, but the Holy Spirit speaking through you!
For brevity in this post, I refer interested disciples of our Lord to consider the verses presented in Claiming Christ for biblical evidence of a common theological doctrine. There are differences in approach between the writers, but absolutely no conflict between what they all taught in their canonized letters about grace, salvation, faith and works.
In short, there is no such thing as a Romanesque, anti-Jewish or Pauline theological distinction within Scripture. Such exclusivism was warned against by Paul himself (to the Corinthian Christians).
Jesus final words in Scripture are recorded in Revelation by John. To the Philadelphian believers he commends them for keeping his words—words that specifically reveal works as impacting salvation. He then denounces as liars, those who claim a superiority in their connection to God. Apparently they were lying about what they were claiming as God’s specially chosen ones. In contrast, because the true believers contributed the works necessary to “keep my command” and “hold on”, Jesus promises the crown of life.
Jesus Christ, God and Lord of all, Author of life and Source of Scripture, the true Word upholding a unified theology in what the gospel actually teaches, denounces those who teach otherwise as the Synagogue of Satan.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit, rather than primarily a re-worded Paul, says to the churches.