Some commentators have noted that once St. Paul becomes a Christian he seems much more aggressive and bold about taking the Christian message to the Gentiles than are the apostles from among the Twelve. St. Paul embraces the mission to the world in a way which the original disciples seem reluctant to do. Additionally, some have accused St. Paul of having changed both the message and the method of the early Church. Muslims in fact accuse St. Paul of preaching a Gospel different than the one that the rest of the apostles were teaching.
However Christian tradition accepts the writings of St. Paul as inspired by God and belonging to the authentic Scriptures containing God’s full revelation. The epistles of St. Paul were used by the early Christians to combat false teachings about Jesus.
In defense of St. Paul, we need to keep in mind that his experience of Christ and of Christianity differed from the original apostles. Paul is the first Christian leader to emerge from outside of the original inner circle of disciples (the Twelve or the Seventy). He didn’t experience the initial fear that those first disciples felt immediately on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The first disciples hid behind closed doors in terror of themselves being persecuted or killed because of being the followers of Christ. The first disciples had reason to fear not only their fellow Jewish compatriots, but also the Roman government which had carried out the execution of Jesus.
St. Paul on the other hand claimed to be a Roman citizen and so unlike the original disciples he may have felt some protection by the Romans, not just threatened by them. St. Paul does not in his writing express the hatred for Rome that is an undercurrent in the Gospels. Additionally St. Paul was part of the Jewish authority persecuting the Christians, so he wouldn’t have felt threatened by the Jews in the way the original disciples did.
St. Paul represented a new generation of leadership – one which felt emboldened by the Resurrection and not so threatened by being a bearer of the Gospel. St. Paul would soon experience the rejection of and persecution by both his fellow Jews and by his fellow Roman citizens. But Paul’s early embrace of Christ was shaped by his sudden encounter with the Risen Lord, not by three years of slow discipling that abruptly ended with the execution of the Master. As one who received the Gospel of the Risen Lord and was converted by it, rather than as one who had been a disciple who experienced the death of Christ before His Resurrection, Paul’s path to becoming a Christian was different than that of the original disciples. Remember, the original disciples were reluctant at first to receive Paul. St. Paul experienced and valued the notion of grace, of having received undeservedly the favor of God, and so was eager to share his received faith with others – he understood himself as having been grafted onto the original branch. His life as a Christian came only sometime after the Resurrection of Christ and after Pentecost. The disciples still were working through their own experience of the crucifixion of their Master, their own failure to believe, and the change that the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost had meant for them.
St. Paul did not alter the Gospel message, but he seems to have grasped its implication for the world and for Jews who embraced Christ, and was willing to challenge the pre-Christian worldview which was still in play among the first Jewish Christians. He was a true Apostle of the Lord who received the hand of fellowship from Christ’s own chosen disciples.
4 thoughts on “St. Paul – The Church’s 1st Generation of New Leaders”
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It is really true that Apostle Paul preached a different gospel and that’s the “preaching of the cross’, the grace gospel…
THE GOSPEL THAT PAUL PREACHED
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
“By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;
“And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (ICor.15:1-4).
Do you recall that during our Lord’s earthly ministry, and the announcements of His approaching crucifixion (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33,34), that His disciples didn’t comprehend a thing He had said to them about His impending death (Mark 8:32; 9:32; 10:35)?
“And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).
But it is suggested by some that the words of Christ in Luke 24:25-27 show that our Lord there revealed what He actually accomplished at Calvary. If the Lord had revealed to his disciples that “Christ Died For Our Sins” as He later revealed to the Apostle Paul, this would surely have been the good news that Peter and John would have preached on Pentecost. Instead we find Paul using the personal pronoun “I” in I Corinthians 15:1-4 regarding “the gospel” which he had “received” of the Lord Jesus, and “declared” and “preached” and “delivered,” to the Corinthians, and to us.
In early Acts the Apostle Peter had only known, and preached, the resurrection of Christ to sit upon the throne of David’s prophesied kingdom. He did not know what the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ had accomplished, nor did Peter preach Paul’s gospel at Pentecost. He rather called upon Israel to “repent” of their wickedness in the crucifixion of Christ and submit to water baptism “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:22-31, 38; 3:22,23). Clearly, at Pentecost, the disciples of our Lord did not know what the cross of Calvary meant; else they would have preached it from the housetops!
On the contrary, God raised up the Apostle Paul for the specific purpose of proclaiming Paul’s gospel for the obedience of all peoples today (Rom.16:25,26). And all this, beloved, though first revealed to Paul, is consistent with Paul’s words in Romans and Corinthians and Colossians that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection was “according to the Scriptures” (ICor.15:3,4).
A friend asks: “Have you heard the good news?” and you reply: “What good news?” Naturally! All good news is not the same. Yet few people follow this procedure when they read in the Bible the phrase “the gospel” — which simply means “the good news.” They have been taught that “the gospel is the gospel” and “there is only one gospel,” but this is simply not so in the light of the Bible itself.
God has not proclaimed only one gospel, one item of good news, down through the ages, but many. He has qualified the word “gospel” by distinctive titles, just as a woman labels her preserves to distinguish the different goodies she has put up for the winter.
The “gospel of the kingdom” and the “gospel of the grace of God” are not the same, and certainly the “gospel of the circumcision” and the “gospel of the uncircumcision” are not the same.
When we come upon the phrase “the gospel” without any qualifying title, we should immediately ask: “Which gospel?” and invariably the context will provide the answer. Luke 9:6, for example, simply states that the twelve disciples went about “preaching the gospel,” but Verse 2 of the same chapter explains how the Lord had sent them “to preach the kingdom of God” — not the cross, but the kingdom, since He, the King, was in their midst. These disciples could not have engaged in “the preaching of the cross,” as Paul later did, for it was not until at least two years later that the Lord “began” to tell them how He must suffer and die (Matt. 16:21) and Peter “began to rebuke Him” (Ver. 22) and none of the twelve even understood what He was talking about (Luke 18:34).
But whereas “the gospel of the kingdom” had been committed to the twelve while Christ was on earth, “the preaching of the cross” (as good news) and “the gospel of the grace of God” was later committed to the Apostle Paul and to us (1 Cor. 1:18; Acts 20:24).
Today we do not proclaim the kingdom rights of Christ. Rather we proclaim “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
Still in the Scriptures the word “Gospel” is in the singular not the plural. We do have the Gospel according to St. Matthew, according to St. John, etc, but there is only one Gospel. St. Paul denies in Galatians 1:6-7 that there is a different or another Gospel. Indeed the Gospel is multifaceted but like a well cut gem it is still one gem. The notion that the Gospel only begins with the cross of Christ is probably a more recent development in Christian thinking, rooted in Protestantism more than the Bible itself. The early Christian teachers by the 4th Century clearly understood the Gospel begins with the Annunciation to Mary, with the Nativity of Christ, with Christ’s baptism and transfiguration. The Gospel however is one, centered in Jesus the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. This is the same good news as the good news of the Kingdom. The Kingdom was present in Christ. The Good News is about the salvation of the world which begins already when the Son of God becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God and humanity are re-united and the enmity between us is ended. St. Paul clearly talks about salvation in the past tense, present tense and future tense. All is the same good news that God has become flesh and in this God is restoring His creation to Himself.