Is the Word of Paul the Word of God?

Title: Is the Word of Paul the Word of God?

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Peter 3:15-16, Acts 14:8-18

Date: July 23rd, 2009

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been teaching about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. I’ll continue on that same subject today. One of the many problems with the Bible that people seem to have today is over the teachings of the Apostle Paul. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with people who are fine with almost everything the Bible teaches — except for the teachings of the Apostle Paul. And I’m not talking about unbelievers or non-Christians; I’m talking about professed Christians, church members and Bible readers. It seems today the Apostle Paul isn’t a very popular person – even within the Christian church. Now why is that? Why would people in and outside the Christian church have a problem with Paul? There may be many reasons, but probably the main reason why so many people object to the Apostle Paul today is that he speaks forthrightly about controversial topics in his biblical writings. Paul takes the gospel message and explains it in detail and also applies it directly. He speaks bluntly about sin, judgment, God’s wrath, damnation, confession, repentance and faith. He is willing to contend earnestly and argue strongly for the Christian faith. This style of outspokenness and frank truth telling gets Paul into trouble today, as it did in his own day as well. And so we can see how easy it is for some people to question whether the Apostle Paul deserves to have his words categorized as God’s Word in the holy Bible. Now what I’d like to do this morning is answer the question, “Should the words of Paul be considered the Word of God?” I’d like to show that yes indeed the Word of God includes the writings of the Apostle Paul as we have contained in the Bible. And I’d like to clear up some of the misconceptions that people have over the writings of Paul found in the New Testament. I’d like to ask and then answer three questions. First question, “Are we free to disagree with Paul?” I’ll argue that we are not free to disagree with Paul because to do so would be to disagree with a prophet of God speaking the Word of God. Second question, “Are all the writings of Paul the inspired Word of God?” I’ll show that all of the writings of Paul contained in the New Testament are indeed the inspired Word of God. Third question, “Wasn’t Paul just a man?” I’ll prove that Paul was just a man who God chose to inspire for the purpose of bringing forth God’s Word. It seems that most of the problems people have with equating Paul’s writings with the Word of God come from a misunderstanding concerning inspiration and how God inspires the prophets of old to bring forth the Word of God. Another reason why people have a problem with the Apostle Paul today is that they simply don’t like all of what he teaches even though it is perfectly consistent with the other inspired writers of the New Testament. I hope that I can help people understand and appreciate the Apostle Paul better so that they might be able to read, understand and follow his teachings as the Word of God, which it is. It’s simply not acceptable for anyone to pick and choose from within the Bible those parts to believe and follow, yet reject other parts. The fact is the writings of Apostle Paul are part and partial of the Bible; we must believe and follow them. Let’s go further.

 

First, are we free to disagree with the Apostle Paul? 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” It’s amazing how many Christians think that it’s perfectly permissible to disagree with the Apostle Paul. Perhaps because he wrote in the form of letters and the somewhat casual style he uses to communicate his message, or maybe because there are places in Paul’s writings where he makes such statements as, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)” or “Now about virgins; I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” or “In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God,” 1 Corinthians 7:12, 25, 40. For whatever reason, people today feel at liberty to dismiss the teachings of Paul in ways they would never do for Jesus and the original disciples – or even Moses and the Old Testament prophets. But they fail to remember that Paul’s writings in the New Testament are considered Sacred Scripture by the disciples and the early church, according to 2 Peter 3:16. And also, the historic Christian church considers Paul’s letters part of the canon of Scripture. So we are not free to pick and choose from different parts of the Bible, accepting Moses and Jesus, for example, while rejecting the Apostle Paul in places and accepting him in other places. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” and because we know Paul’s writings are included in the canon of Scripture, we therefore must conclude that “All Scripture (including the writings of the Apostle Paul) is given by inspiration of God.” We are not free to disagree with Paul’s teachings, any more than we are free to disagree with Moses’ teaching or Isaiah’s teachings or Peter’s teachings or even Jesus’ teachings, because all these teachings are included in the canon of Holy Scripture. When we receive the teachings of inspired prophets of God as recorded in Scriptures we are actually receiving the very words of God, from God. That’s what 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is saying, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God.” So also, we must follow that same pattern. When we receive the teachings of the apostles and the teachings of the Apostle Paul, we are to receive it not merely as the words of men, but also as the very Word of God. To disagree with Paul is to disagree with God. To agree with Paul is to agree with God. It is nothing short of spiritual rebellion to disagree with or reject the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Just because Paul writes in letter form, just because he sometimes speaks casually, just because he talks frankly about a wide variety of controversial issues is no justification for disagreement. However he writes or about whatever topic, his writings are holy writ – and that must be respected. There can be no legitimate disagreement with Paul.

 

Second, are all the writings of Paul the inspired Word of God? 2 Peter 3:15-16, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” I bring this verse up again to point out that the Apostle Peter, in speaking of the Apostle Paul, equates his writings with that of Holy Scripture. And there is no distinction between one particular writing of Paul and another. All of Paul’s writings are considered Scripture, that is, all of the letters we have from Paul included in the canon of Scripture. There were no doubt other letters that Paul had written, but these are not considered Sacred Scripture and thus not included in the canon of Scripture. In this we see the providence and inspiration of God at work. What Christianity teaches is that God inspired certain writers to write certain prophetic writings – these are included in the canon of Scripture. No doubt there were other writings that these holy men wrote but were not considered Sacred Scripture for one reason of another. There is even evidence that Paul himself wrote an additional letter to the Corinthians, but it was not preserved. In the providence of God it must not have been meant to be preserved, or maybe it was not something inspired directly by God as the Word of God. In either case, the early church made a distinction between a prophet writing and a prophet writing the Word of God. So too, the historic Christian church eventually came to recognize authentic Scripture from merely good writings. So in answer to the question, “Are all the writings of the Apostle Paul inspired as the Word of God?” – the answer is that all of Paul’s writings included in the holy canon of Scripture are the Word of God. Nothing in all of the writings of Paul included in the New Testament is anything less than God’s Word. If it were not so then we would need some extra-biblical revelation from God in order to help us distinguish which parts we could trust as the truth and which parts we should not trust as the truth. In other words, we would need scripture beyond scripture to help us determine God’s Word in the Bible. But 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” And everywhere in the Bible Scripture is equated with the Word of God, and the Word of God equated with Scripture. So there really isn’t any justification for considering some teachings of Paul God’s Word and other parts not God’s Word. The early church never made such distinction, the historic church never made a distinction, and neither should we today. The word of Paul in Scripture is the Word of God.

 

Third, wasn’t Paul just a man? Acts 14:11, 14-15, “When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, humans like you. . . .” For some people, viewing Paul’s writings in Scripture as the Word of God is like making Paul out to be something more than a man, but rather making him out to be a god. But that kind of thinking is going to extremes. People will sometimes say, “Stop elevating the man Paul too high. After all, Paul was just a man, not God himself. Stop making his word, the Word of God.” But we could say that about the entire Bible. “Stop equating the words of Moses with the Word of God in the first five books of the Old Testament. Stop equating the words of the prophets Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel with the Word of God; they were after all just men. Stop equating the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John as the Word of God because after all they were just men.” But this kind of argument, again, misses the whole point of divine inspiration and prophetic writings. God chooses certain men to be prophets to record the Word of God. So then, even though they all are mere men, they are used by God to record the Word of God. The prophet Isaiah often says, “This is what the Lord says.” Is that taking too much upon himself as a mere man? No, because he’s fulfilling his role as a prophet. In the same way, the Apostle Paul and the other apostles communicate the Word of God in their writings. In that sense, they too fulfill a prophetic function for God. Even as mere men, they carry out their assigned task of communicating sacred Scripture. This doesn’t mean that they are anything other than men, but it does mean that they were used of God to bring forth the Word of God. So the argument that because Paul was a mere man he shouldn’t be listened to in everything he teaches in the New Testament misses the point of what prophecy is and what divine inspiration is. Nobody is advocating worshiping Paul or elevating him to the status of a god. Paul himself discouraged such a thing in the passage I pointed to at the beginning. But Paul, or for that matter the Apostle Peter, was not hesitant to claim full divine inspiration for their writings. They were conscious of the fact that they were bringing forth the Word of God. And they expected everyone to receive it as the Word of God and not merely the words of men. So we see then there really isn’t any reason for doubting or mistrusting the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. Just as Peter says, there are many things in Paul’s writings that are hard to understand — and with that we can all agree. But let us study harder and think deeper and pray more fervently in an effort to understand more clearly the Word of God brought forth through the writings of the Apostle.

 

As Christians we must ask ourselves whether we are going to be fully obedient to the Word of God or not? The Bible presents to us many challenges. God has chosen to communicate his will and way and word to us through the writings of the prophets in Sacred Scripture. God uses the personalities and vocabularies and styles of the individual prophets to communicate his Word. Many of these different personalities and styles challenge us to be more flexible and think bigger than simply straightforward commands dictated from heaven. For example, in giving the Ten Commandments, God used a rather straightforward style – he etched the Word of God on tablets of stone. But for most of God’s revelation, God’s Word, he used the personalities and styles of the prophets to record his will. There are many different types of revelation recorded in the pages of Sacred Scripture. The Old Testament is God’s Word not because it comes in only one format or style, because it actually comes in many different forms including poetry, proverbs, history, commands – to name only a few. The same with the New Testament. The four Gospels present God’s Word in the form of historical narrative plus spiritual commentary. The Book of Revelations presents a unique challenge to all Christians as it presents the Word of God through the use of signs and symbols. The Apostle Paul’s writings come to us in the form of letters to individuals and different churches. Paul uses different literary techniques in his letters. Sometimes he recounts history and adds spiritual commentary. Other times he presents the Word of God as didactic teaching. Most of the time he is responding to questions presented to him from individuals and churches, or addresses situations and problems that come to his attention. Sometimes Paul is rebuking individuals, at other times he is encouraging. A few places in his writings he seems to be almost cursing false teachers and false prophets. And while these individuals no doubt deserved something in the form of rebuke, it still challenges our thinking to consider such writings as included in the Word of God. But we must because this is how God would have us receive his total revelation. Perhaps a main problem that many people have with the Apostle is that, to their way of thinking unfortunately, Paul wrote too much. His writings make up a such great portion of the entire New Testament. And because he wrote so much he opens himself up to greater criticisms from his critics. But as Christians we must not make ourselves critics of the Bible or biblical authors; we should not sit in judgment of the Bible. But rather, we must permit the Bible, God’s Word, to judge us. God has given us his Word; it comes in many different forms in Scripture. We must receive it as such and submit to it’s final authority – not submit it to our judgment as if we are the authority. God is calling us to humility.

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12 Responses to “Is the Word of Paul the Word of God?”

  1. Ray Bennett Says:

    Hi.
    Is this the Jeff Short I know?
    May I copy this study, and perhaps others from time to time, to use as one of the weekly studies that emanates from Berachah Baptist Mission?
    Are you still living in Mantachie, MS?
    Ray

  2. jeffshort Says:

    ray, feel free to use any of my messages in your studies. i’m from michigan originally and now live in new york, so i don’t think i’m the one you know. i’m glad you find the messages helpful. God bless, jeff

  3. Jahlom Says:

    All the scriptures you use to validate your point are from the new testament. But the “new testament” wasn’t known as the Word of God when Paul and rest were writing them. The Bible (Torah and prophets) were what Jesus and Paul, etc. used to quote from.
    Question? Where did the New testament come from? Also, there are no copies of the original text.
    I don’t think most people are saying that Paul’s writings aren’t true or important, but to call them the Word of God? I see nothing wrong with asking the question. Besides, the “new testament” tells us to search out these things to see if they be true!
    Thanks for sharing

  4. jeffshort Says:

    jahlom, thanks for your comments. if you read my sermon again, you’ll find that the apostles equated their own message with the Word of God, for example, 1 thes. 2:13. Peter referes to Paul’s writings as “scripture” classifying them in the same category as the Old Testament writings, 2 Peter 3:15-16. the early church called both the Old Testament and the apostles’ writings the Word of God. mke a study of the entire New Testament and you’ll find that Christians included the newer writings of the apostles and their associates with the older O.T. writings. all of the new testament writings were complete by the end of the 1st century and being circulated and read in the christian churches. a few centuries later, the canon of scripture was officially recognized and closed, but by that time the writings were already considered the Word of God or scripture. i hope that answers your question. thanks again for asking.
    jeff

  5. mxmagpie42 Says:

    I am really intrigued by this topic, and so far this is the most substantiated discussion I’ve found on it so I’d like to ask for your consult if I can.
    The problem I have with Paul isn’t his writings, but the emphasis so many churches I know put on it. They literally seem to value his word higher than Jesus’.
    I take the gospels as the word of God, because it’s a record of what Jesus said, and as Jesus and God are one and the same (well, trinity, you know what I mean) I trust his word as being the ultimate truth. When I study his word, I feel enlightened, secure and like I am growing in my faith.
    However, at these sermons which focus so strongly on Paul, they always resort to “this is what Paul says, are you doing this? No? Well you should be if you are a christian, so are you really a christian?” It does nothing but breed doubt and uncertainty. There’s also a focus on judgement, not in a way which points back to what Christ did, but in a fear-mongering, guilt-tripping way. (Yet at the same time, the pastor will profess that we are not saved by works, and Jesus is our means of salvation. It feels like such hypocrisy.)
    This made me think that Paul’s writings are not…all good, but when I read them as they are, I don’t take much issue and Paul himself said that he shouldn’t be bowed down to or revered in the same position as Christ, so why is it these churches practically do that?
    Not only that, but they substitute Jesus’ word for Paul’s, without a mention of Christ. Also the Canon of the bible is somewhat debatable in that people have been messing about with it for centuries, what with the Vulgate and the Apocrypha. Given that these books were decided by various groups of people, should we assume that these people had the power of God too? How far do we take this? Even the Reformists added their own little things. Even though they were more right than the Catholics, they elevated themselves to a position where they felt they had the authority to doctor scripture, just because they believed they had the authority, should we in turn believe that?

    What’s more, Christ never said that the writings which followed him would be as divinely credible as his own word. If this is the case, why is there this general assumption that Paul’s word is as credible or important as Jesus’?

  6. jeffshort Says:

    Good question. The New Testament itself says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16. You’re making a mistake when you separate the words of Jesus and the rest of the Scriptures. The ancient Jews never divided God’s Word, although there were more important passages than others. Paul speaks for God because Paul was inspired by God, just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses and other prophets. We accept by faith that the New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament prophetic tradition. All of the New Testament is given by God for our inspiration and instruction. All of it should be followed, in context.

    Paul says nothing Jesus didn’t either say directly or words consistent with Jesus’ teaching.

    I’ll try to explain further in a little while, thanks,

    • mxmagpie42 Says:

      Ah, I’m glad you replied! I was worried, given how old this post is. Also that verse about scripture being God-breathed, given that the only scripture they had at the time was the Old Testament, isn’t that what is being referred to there?
      And I don’t intend to separate things in a black and white way, I know the OT shows the character of God and is an extremely valuable resource, but as far as the New Testament goes, some things came straight from Jesus and some things came through a secondary source, and it upsets me that this secondary source’s opinions are being treated as more important and even a replacement for Jesus’ teachings.
      Yeah, as I said, it’s not Paul’s actual teaching I take issue with, it’s how it is used to invoke guilt and doubt in your salvation when Christ’s word could be used in conjunction with it to build and encourage people instead.
      But yes, when you have the time, an in-depth response would be appreciated so much, and thank you for replying to my initial comment!
      I have very few people to turn to about this right now and even less who won’t jump down my throat and judge me for what I’m thinking, so thanks again.

  7. jeffshort Says:

    You state, “it’s not Paul’s actual teaching I take issue with, it’s how it is used to invoke guilt and doubt in your salvation when Christ’s word could be used in conjunction with it to build and encourage people instead.”

    I reply, unfortunately we live in a culture that ignores God’s warnings against sin. we ignore God’s warnings about judgment and eternal punishment. So when we hear these teachings from the Bible, they come across as harsh and offensive. So much of preaching today in churches in aimed at creating good feelings and psychological comfort in people. But the New Testament is a balance of comforting and convicting truths. we’ve got to learn to face reality, our sins, our selfishness, our rebellion against God, etc. and apply the solutions God gives us to cure our spiritual sickness. The Apostle Paul is plain-talking and blunt. he gets to the point and diagnoses our spiritual sickness of sin and selfishness — then he applies the gospel cure from God. don’t be put off by the harsh reality of humanity’s sinful condition as described by Paul. Accept it, but then receive Paul’s message of redemption through Jesus Christ. Yes, some preachers may dwell on the harsh things in order to drive home the point, because our culture almost refuses to hear these unpleasant truths. But if they are faithful to God’s Word, preachers will return to the gospel salvation cure for our ills. As far as encouraging people about salvation, that should only happen if people have it right. You don’t want to encourage someone to believe that “everything will be all right” when they aren’t right with God. It isn’t the job of a pastor to tell people “everything will be alright” when he doesn’t know their spiritual condition. Most of us need rebuking for sin occasionally; some even more often. The Bible isn’t too concerned about making people good about themselves all the time. It encourages us to follow God and trust him, but it doesn’t over-emphasize this touchy-feelly psychological approach that churches are taking today. The bottom line is, in today’s confusing world, we need truth to cut through all the lies and half-truths. The Apostle Paul is what we need, along with the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. We need pastors with enough courage to teach what the Bible says and trust that the truths God gives us are what we need. My advice to you is to not expect sermons to always build you up in the way you think they should. If God’s Word is preached, trust God that you are being built up in the manner God’s wants. Let God’s Word work in its own way. On the other hand, if you have a pastor who only emphasizes the harsh realities of sin and never talks about the gospel grace, find someone who is more biblicaly balanced.

    i hope that helps

    • mxmagpie42 Says:

      Am I right in thinking you live in America? Not to generalise (much) but I do think american churches have more of the “feel good” attitudes than the ones in England and I don’t agree with it either really.
      I do think I need to find a more biblicaly balanced church, thanks. I mean, what you said about encouraging people in their salvation, obviously we should only do that with people who are already saved, isn’t that in itself what makes anyone “right with God”? The problem I’m experiencing is that I get the message of “Oh yes, you are saved, but there are conditions” which is why we are preached Paul’s rebukes so often. Rebukes which were written to specific churches in specific situations which needed specific help.
      I do take sin seriously, and have done since I was saved, that, coupled with the church teaching I received, has lead to some quite serious bouts of depression, because when I went to God, all I could think about was what a horrible, sinful person I was and how undeserving and insignificant and worthless I am and all that… how is that encouraging on any level? My salvation was barely certain, and from putting that mentality and all the church teaching I’d received along with it behind me and actually reading the gospels, I found that Jesus’ message is SO far apart from that. Which is why this massive schism has happened. As far as church and God’s word is concerned, what is in the bible is God’s word, not what comes out of the pastors mouth, hence my skepticism. This based on the fact that something like 80% of sermons I’ve heard have crushed me down but 100% of the time, God’s word builds me up, even when challenging.
      And to be honest, anyone who is in Christ can be told “everything will be alright” without undermining sin, after all, once saved always saved right?

  8. jeffshort Says:

    What I’m saying is that the Bible is balanced in it’s treatment of our sin problem and its application of the only cure, salvation in Christ. I don’t know your specific situation in your local church, but if your pastor is preaching God’s Word, there will be points where he talks about our sins, and there will be points he talks about God’s grace, because it’s proportioned that way all through the Bible. Now I have no doubt that at certain times in all of our lives we personally need to hear more of one than the other, because of our specific situation. But a healthy church will simply present God’s Word “as is,” as it is presented from verse to verse. I would hope that your pastor is preaching more or less, verse by verse from the Bible and not just choosing passages to say what he wants to say. Sure, there should be occasional topical sermons, but you should be receiving mostly Bible exposition — or, sermons that explain what God is saying, not sermons that explain what the pastor is saying. There are some pastors who use the Bible as an excuse to say what they think or feel about everything. But a faithful pastor will make sure God’s Word is presented, not his own opinions. The only way to do that is exposition of the Word of God, verse by verse, so that God’s Word is explained and applied, so that the exhortations are truly coming from God, not man. Again, I don’t know your specific situation, but you should be receiving encouragement from attending a church and hearing the sermon. If the Word of God is preached you will. If your pastor is over-emphasizing sin, judgment and hell — you need to ask him if he’s doing it for some reason, or is he aware of doing it? See what he says. If he isn’t over-emphasizing sin, and it’s just you who hear it that way, maybe you need to ask yourself, “Why am I not able to deal with this?” But above all, realize that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ, apart from all human works. If you see sin in your life, confess it and repent immediately, then keep going in the grace and salvation of God. Don’t doubt salvation because you find yourself to be a sinner. But if you are trapped in a specific sin, that could be causing your depression, if not, there could be something else. But the problem isn’t the Apostle Paul, but like you said, it could be how we apply his teachings. We must find a church where God’s Word is interpreted, explained and applied accurately.

    • mxmagpie42 Says:

      Hey, thanks again for your response! A lot has happened since I last posted, and after not being able to talk to the pastor there (and I was not the only one getting those feelings, but it’s quite a status-quo church if you know what I mean) I left. I’ve now found another church which seems so much more wholesome, and more Christ-centered than sin-centered. The people are more genuine in their love for each other I feel, rather than ‘loving’ because they’re told to, and the pastor is much more open to communication and relationship and it’s just SO much more spiritually enriching.
      I think I was blaming my problem on the wrong thing, I was in such limbo biblically, but it was a church thing which was the problem.
      In fact the second sermon I heard when I was there was about how to be an encouraging church, from the last half of 1 Thess: 5 as well as other relevant verses, Acts and such.
      Anyway, I feel like I’m climbing out of the rut now, I’ve realized that it was people who were the cause of my depressive mindset, not Christ, and that Christ can in fact help me out of it.
      So I thank you for your help and advice along the way, I really do appreciate it. 🙂

  9. jeffshort Says:

    mxmagpie42, i was under the impression that most all churches in England deny most of the historic Christian truths or if they do hold to the Bible’s teaching they are small. What city are you in? Isn’t the official Anglican church pretty dead and dull, generally speaking? Are you saying that you belong to an independent Bible teaching church? Are there many of those in England?

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