PAUL, JUST HOW IMPORTANT WAS HE? XI
Paul’s influence in Christianity was far more than monumental. Without Paul’s impact and without his contribution, Christianity may have been just another religious Jewish sect like that of the Qumran community. Paul’s religious journey began at the feet of Gamaliel, and not on the road to Damascus, when Christ revealed himself to Saul. Paul was brought up in the strictest tradition of the fathers. He described himself, “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in the city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day” (Acts 22:3).
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that If possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:2-11).
But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart form other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands (II Corinthians 11:21b-33).
Paul became a teacher of the “Scriptures,” known to Christians and to Bible students as the “Old Testament.” To Paul, the Old Testament contained the Revelation and the Word of God to Israel. As a teacher, Paul set an example in his life. Therefore, he instructed his Corinthians and his student Timothy to teach the “Scriptures” and imitate the teacher:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, the God who is over all be blessed forever (Romans 9:4-5).
I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us to live according to scripture, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift (I Corinthians 4:6-7)?
Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:10-17).
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry (II Timothy 4:1-5).
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (I Timothy 4:11-16).
Paul was trained to defend the faith of his fathers and the God of Israel! But, Jesus the Christ chose Paul to be his messenger to the world. Jesus the Christ had Paul trained and retrained to explain His redemptive purpose and promise made in the Old Testament to mankind. In addition to Paul’s knowledge of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit filled him with the disclosure of the promised Messiah and Jesus the Christ, the predestined and predetermined Savior of man and the world. To Paul, this decision was not made in Bethlehem or on Calvary, but before the foundations of the world were laid.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:15-23).
The Lord Christ confronted Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus, as reported by an eyewitness and not by Paul himself as in the other Acts accounts:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-9).
Paul received special instructions regarding the gospel to the Corinthians. This revelation came to him through the Scriptures:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (I Corinthians 15:3-11).
The Lord Christ chose Paul by special revelation and disclosed to him the “Gospel” in seclusion, away from any human interference over a period of seventeen years:
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me (Galatians 1:11-24).
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage—to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but 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 the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.
But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men from James, he came with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and though not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose (Galatians 2:11-21).
So, how important was and still is Paul to Christianity? Yes, he was handpicked to be a personal witness for the Risen Christ. No doubt, he was the founder of the Gentiles Churches, not just a church. But, Paul became much, much more that just a witness and a founder. Paul became the first theologian, who linked Jesus the Christ to the Scriptures. And then, Paul went ahead and laid the framework for a Christian theology, so that the Christians could define their faith. Paul’s “Letters” grew out of the problems his congregations had. And then they formed the basis for the guidelines Christians needed to live by. Paul, himself, grew in the faith as he sought answers to the delay of Christ’s return, the resurrection, the role of the Law, and many other pertinent subjects like faith, grace, and so on. Paul had to deal in writing while the Romans were holding him for his own safety from his fellow Jews. In all likelihood, Paul inspired the writing of the “Gospels” and the other “Epistles.” When Paul turned to the pen, to stay in touch with his converts, there were no “Gospels.”
It is inconceivable to separate Paul’s influence on the people who contributed literary works to supply Christianity with a Christian textbook, we know as “The New Testament.” The “Gospels” themselves contain references to the Old Testament that only a man like Paul, a Rabbi was able to inspire the link of Christ with the “Scripture.” Luke, the companion of Paul wrote Acts and the Gospel of Luke, and no one knows how many of Paul’s letters. John Mark was credited with the Gospel of Mark. And Mark was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). Towards the end of his life, Paul begged Timothy to come and “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me” (II Timothy 4:11). Mark’s Gospel has been reproduced in Matthew and in Luke. In addition, Paul had dealings with Barnabas, Cephas (Peter), John Zebedee, and James brother of the Lord. These men could not help but look up to Paul and extend their hands of fellowship to him (Galatians, chapter one and two). Paul was capable to dictate the Letter to the Hebrews, but so was Barnabas, a Levite versed in the best Greek in the New Testament. John Zebedee, in his Gospel and in Revelation, shows affinity to Paul’s thinking. The whole New Testament bears the imprints of Paul; and correctly so, because without his input, we may not have had “The New Testament.”