Monday, December 6, 2010

Jesus or Paul? Whose gospel do we follow? Scot McKnight suggests a way to bridge the divide.

One thing that anyone who studies the New Testament for any length of time comes to realize is that Jesus and Paul and can appear to be very different. Jesus seems to be all about the Kingdom of God, taking care of the poor and outcast and bringing justice to the world. Paul is more interested in justification, how one gets saved and the ongoing problems facing the order of the church. And for many, New Testament scholars in particular, it seems as if reconciling the gospels of Jesus and Paul is impossible.

But an article by Scot McKnight in the recent issue of Christianity Today suggests a way forward. Scot does not deny the challenges, but does suggest a different starting point than is traditionally taken. Below is an excerpt from, the article.

It is not exaggerating to say that evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and that many today are choosing sides. I meet many young, thinking evangelicals whose "first language" is Jesus and the kingdom. Yet despite the trend, perhaps in reaction to it, many look to Paul and justification by faith as their first language. Those addicted to kingdom language struggle to make Paul fit, while those addicted to Paul's theological terms struggle to make Jesus fit. I know the experience because I, too, struggled to make the Pauline message fit the kingdom vision, and that was after struggling to make Jesus fit into the Pauline message.

Evangelicals have offered two ways to resolve this dilemma—that is, to bring Paul and Jesus into a more perfect harmony. What stands out is that each approach imagines that it is articulating the gospel itself. One approach is to master Jesus' gospel, the kingdom vision, and show how Paul fits. The other approach is to master Paul's gospel, his theology of justification, and show how Jesus fits. Each approach requires some bending of corners and squeezing of sides but, with extra effort and some special explanations, each thinks it can show the unity of the messages of Jesus and Paul and that the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of justification are one and the same.

Take the Jesus approach. The kingdom of God, if one follows George Ladd's line of thinking (often called "inaugurated eschatology"), is defined as the "dynamic reign of God." It is grounded in texts like Matthew 12:28, where Jesus says that if he casts out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has (presently) come upon them. Or Mark 1:15: the time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God has drawn near (so near that its presence is now being felt)—therefore repent and believe. It is not hard to fit "justification by faith" into the mold of the dynamic, personal, redemptive presence of God in the work of Jesus Christ. With some careful nuancing, the witness of Romans to justification and the witness of Ephesians to a cosmic redemption in Christ can be drawn into the ambit of the kingdom.

But a few problems always emerge. They have always given me an uneasy conscience about this kind of harmonizing. First, Paul doesn't talk about the kingdom enough to make me think his theology is really kingdom-shaped. His letters include fewer than 15 references to the kingdom. Fitting Paul into a kingdom mold is more by hook than it is by the book. Furthermore, Paul thinks more in terms of soteriology, justification, and ecclesiology than he does kingdom. So, if we are to be fair to Paul, we have to let Paul be Paul.

Also, here is the first of a set of video interviews with Scot on the topic. There are eight more on youtube.


  1. This is a very interesting topic. At virginiabeachchurch we believe that the Bible was written by God. The truth is, Paul can't be compared to Jesus because Paul was just a man and Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior! Paul, like all of us, was just a man.... a man who denied Christ in his moment of weakness. Paul was a great man...but just a man.

  2. Harvest Church,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I am curious about something you say, however. You say that you believe that "the Bible was written by God," but you also say that Paul was "just a man". But half or more of the New Testament was written by or attributed to Paul. How then can the Bible be "written by God".

    Perhaps you mean inspired by God, in which case you would not mean that God wrote the Bible but did speak through fallible human beings who used very human means to communicate the gospel.

  3. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about Paul of Tarsus:

  4. The bible was written by men. Some of them were inspired and others were not. Men chose which books would go into the bible not God, although God did make sure that the truth was there for the seeker to find. In Matt 19 Jesus tells the rich young ruler how to attain eternal life and that is to keep His Father's commandments and follow Him. Paul founded the Christian church and helped to plant the tares. The followers of Jesus are the wheat and they abide in His words and not the words of anyone else.

  5. It was the Gospel that jesus brought down from heavan,all that he heard from God.
    And this good news of the kingdom will be preached all over the world to testify to all the nations,and then the end will come.
    If God had intended paul to recieve a later gospel dont you think he would have told jesus and the 12 as well/,
    If we use ocams razor,in light of the claims of pauls gospel,then we must also do so for muhaamad,as both have claimed a extention from the good news of the kingdom.
    It has farce written all over it.
    Im of the strong opinion,that a Christian has certainty of faith and salvation thru the Torah 4 Gospels Psalms profits,
    For here one finds the Authentic voice of God and of Jesus.
    It is the inner intent of the believers heart that matters to God and to Jesus,Jesus left the Gospel at the feet of the hearer,how they respond was up to them.
    I fear for people hoodwinked by people drunk on foolish doctrines.
    Jesus taught jewish monotheism and that the law and letter would remain,paul and the church changed this and people must seek the truth as pilate said what is truth,-jesus said all those who hear his voice-are of the truth.
    Jesus said rejecting his word,would judge a person at the last day,not pauls or the popes or luthers,
    Aussie Bible based believer,non church.-

  6. Jesus did not committ himself unto them,...for he knew what was in man,;;j1124.
    Judge paul in this light,

  7. Jesus also said that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all the Truth, and that He had much more to say which the disciples were unable to bear at the time. SO, that Jesus continuied to speak through the Holy Spirit, of whom Paul certainly had an experience and wrote much about is logical. Remember too that the writings of Paul are the earliest NT scriptures, and they were written after Paul had met and been accepted by the Jersusalem church and especially Peter. They had their differences, but Peter acknowledged him by saying, for example, that Paul's letters contained teaching that was hard to understand which wicked people contorted to their own ends. He sees Paul's writings as SCRIPTURE inspired by God, and that a correct understanding of it is certainly in keeping with the teaching and work of Jesus. I also believe Acts of the Apostles is a perfect bridge between the gospels and the writings of Paul. Here you find Jesus, the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit and the teaching and practice of the church, along with the person of Paul. I think the difference is being exaggerated here!

  8. This is an ongoing topic with dispensationalists who follow Paul in his Gospel of Grace. But truly, Jesus and Paul taught the same, Jesus teaching forward to the cross and Paul teaching after the cross. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved! AMEN! One question to ask, what is the gospel? Is the gospel the entire Bible, or only 1 Corinthians, the death and resurrection of Jesus? I perceive the gospel as the entire Bible because ALL is inspired by God. Paul was "just" a follower of Jesus whom Jesus chose to preach the good news. Another question, is the "good news" different than the gospel? The Bible in itself will save. We should follow Jesus as His life shared how we should life today. Knowing we will never be perfect, one should repent because we need Him. Pick up the cross and follow Him and share His love in this world. Great topic!~ Thank you for sharing Him. <3