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Another On the Law, Pt. 2

After my earlier post, inspired by my study of the Words of the Lord concerning the Law and its relevance for His disciples today, I have sought to make close comparison with the relevant epistles of Paul and am “wondering out loud” if there are thematic differences between the teachings of the two. If you have not read the original post, I would encourage you to do so, as much of it is foundational to the following critique. In his epistles, Paul's explanation of why the Law was given and the purpose it serves seems to differ greatly from that offered by Jesus in the Gospels. I do not mean to arouse anger, but merely to be a witness for the supremacy of the Lord. Please, bear with me.

Paul wrote in the early chapters of Romans,

For he (God) will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:7,8).

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Romans 2:13).

Obviously these two texts appear to be in complete harmony with the prescription given by Jesus when He said, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17) and “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17).

But then Paul draws our attention to the wrath of God in v.18 and explains that humanity is without excuse for their wickedness and that therefore God “gave them up” to it.  This theme is repeated three times for emphasis and concludes with an exhaustive listing of the sins of mankind.  Paul intends for this indictment to be universal, and he lays the groundwork in the early verses of Chapter 2, where he attacks those who consider themselves righteous while judging others.

. . . in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Those who judge others are guilty of the same; therefore all are guilty.  He then gives the description of the Judgment that provides for both categories, the righteous and the wicked, and establishes the justification of the righteous through works of law.  Then, beginning with 2:12, he specifies that the Gentiles are also included on substantially the same basis as the Jews, for the same law binds them, and when they, though not having the law, do what the law requires they show that the law is written on their hearts (2:15).

Then he writes again of the Jews (2:17) who know the law, and indicts them for not obeying it even while they pass judgment on the evil deeds of the Gentiles who do not have the law.  He warns the Jews that their circumcision is of no value when they break the law and then proceeds to define a “real Jew” as one whose circumcision is inward, spiritual and not literal (2:29).

Beginning with 3:1, he notes advantages of the Jew and then explains how they have wasted their advantage so that, when we come to 3:9, we have the point that Paul has been working up to:

What, then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written, "There is none righteous, no, not one . . ..”

His earlier description of the Judgment in which God will render to every man according to his works such that “to those who by patience in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (2:6,7)," must be true in principle only.  According to him, in practice, absolutely no one thus qualifies for eternal life (“by patience in well doing”) because “None is righteous, no, not one...” Then he concludes with these words (3:20):

For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But Romans 4:20 seems a direct contradiction of both Jesus when He says, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17) and “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life.  What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me” (John 12:49,50), and Paul’s own statement in 2:13. Perhaps Paul's opinion is that 2:13 is true in principle, whereas for Paul, 2:30 supercedes in practice because there is, in fact, no human who does good – no, not one (3:10).  It must follow therefore that no one, Jew or Gentile, can obtain eternal life by keeping the law even though in principle this is the only way.

Nevertheless, he offers hope. At 3:21 he writes the essence of his gospel:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe

Then in 3:28:

For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Justification by faith is therefore Paul’s prescription for eternal life. God, incarnate as Jesus, shed His blood on the cross for our sins and Paul's teaching is all that He requires of us in return is that we believe that

Christ died for our sins, according to the scripture (I Corinthians 15:3).

According to Paul, it is a “free gift” that we can do nothing to earn, and therefore works mean nothing.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The result is that the sinner is to be judged, not on the basis of his own works, but by the righteous deeds of Jesus. Seeing that the righteous deeds of Jesus are imputed to him, he has confidence that the eternal glory of Jesus is also his for eternal life and that he will stand approved on the Day of Judgment.  The formula of Romans 2:6,7 above, that holds in principle, therefore applies ultimately also in practice because the sinner is judged to have upheld the Law and is to be judged not by his own works, but by the righteous works of Jesus.  The work of Christ was thus

. . . in order that the just requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4).

The sinner has therefore “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14;  See also Galatians 3:27).

But the truth is that the Teachings of Jesus knows (as described in Pt. 1) nothing of this “free gift” of righteousness by faith apart from works. According to Jesus, does God view sin lightly?  No, He views it with the utmost seriousness, such that He mercifully and sacrificially shed His blood for us (John 1:29; Matthew 26:28). Or is belief really all that Jesus requires of those who would follow him? No, for He said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26). In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He preached a truly radical Way of conduct and sternly asked ‘Why call me Lord but not do what I say?’(Luke 6:46). In fact, He promised to say “Depart from me, ye who practice lawlessness” to those who call Him “Lord” but do not do “the will of [the] Father” (Matthew 7:21-23), such as “to the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).

But faith in response to grace is Paul’s prescription for eternal life and this is the premise on which all of evangelical Christianity is based.

And yet another difficulty with Paul’s argument is that James, the Lord’s brother, seemed to directly counter it

Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God."  You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:20-24).

Later, I found another apparent contradiction in Paul’s writings. Explaining that one man’s trespass (Adams), led to condemnation for all humanity, and likewise, one man’s righteousness (Jesus’) leads to acquittal and life for all humanity, he then states that “law came in to increase the trespass.” (Romans 5:20)  The resulting increase of sin only causes grace to abound all the more.

But in his epistle to the Galatians he asks: “Why then the law?”  Then he explains that it was added because of transgressions.  He states:

Before faith came, we were confined by the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed, so that the law was our "schoolmaster" until Christ came (Galatians 3:23).

The Law, keeping the Jews under restraint, thus, according to Paul, reduced transgression.  But yet he wrote in Romans that it came in to increase the trespass.  And in Romans he was careful to explain that this is indeed the case, for “through the law comes the knowledge of sin,” (Romans 3:20) and “sin is not counted where there is no law” (Romans 5:13).  Describing his own experience as typical, he stated:

Apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died (Romans 7:9).

If the revelation of the Law brought sin to life in Paul’s experience, then it must certainly have resulted in an increase in transgressions.  But he asserted,

Where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:14).

So, does the law increase the trespass, or does it restrain and therefore reduce transgressions?

Can this be resolved by examining the two words, trespass and transgression, together with sin?  A trespass is an offense, and an offense to God must be categorized as a sin, and Paul used these two words (trespass and sin) interchangeably (Romans 5:20).  Presumably, one can trespass against or offend God in the absence of His revealed Law. Transgression is different, if indeed “where there is no law, there is no transgression.”  Therefore, a transgression must be a special case of offense to God, resulting from disobeying his revealed Law.  But this also, of course, is sin. So if both are merely categories of sin, the contradiction stands unresolved.  In addition, if we perceive a trespass as some type of offense to God apart from the Law, as we must if we accept Paul’s assertion that “law came in to increase the trespass” then it cannot be true that “apart from the law, sin lies dead” (Romans 7:8).

In his contrast of Christ and Adam, there is yet another problem I’ve encountered.

Than as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men (Romans 5:18).

Is Paul a universalist, believing that all men will receive life through Christ?  He rightly understands that all humanity suffers because of Adam (Genesis 3), writing to the Romans

All men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin (Romans 3:9).

Is he therefore saying that all, both Jews and Greeks, are acquitted by the work of Christ? The contrast would seem inappropriate if not.  But yet this does not seem to be the case, for he acknowledges that there is a judgment of wrath waiting for all that have not turned to God (I Thessalonians 1:10). Perhaps, as some assert, maybe he merely meant it is available to all. But then his contrast with Adam is a stretch at best. Then in v. 19 he seems to restate the same thing, but with the word "many" instead of "all":

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5: 19, emphasis mine)

So then, only "many" were made sinners because of Adam and thus only "many" will be imputed with Christ's righteousness? I am, admittedly, confused.

In summary, it seems that according to Paul, the Law, in principle, should have resulted in good works as humans responded through obedience to it.  They would have received God’s mercy at the judgment and would have been rewarded with eternal life (Romans 2:7).  But because of the flesh, the good works were not forthcoming, because sin, aroused in the flesh by the law (Romans 7:5), comes to life.  This results, of course, in the outpouring of God’s wrath at the judgment, and death that is eternal separation from God.  For all these, says Paul, there will be “wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).  There are no exceptions.  Death spread to all humanity because all have sinned (Romans 12:12). But then Christ offers life as the perfectly free gift of God’s grace, so that everyone who places faith in Jesus will receive the Spirit and the righteousness of Christ.  The perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to the new believer, who then is judged through the mercy of God to be worthy of eternal life, as though perfect in all his deeds and thought.

How does the Law come?  It comes through Moses and is passed down from generation to generation. This is how it came to Paul.  He wrote, “I was alive once, apart from the law, but when the law came, sin came to life and I died.”  He indicates that this is the only avenue for the Law when he wrote, “I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).  Yet he knew perfectly well that there were multitudes of Gentiles who lived as though they had received the Law of Moses. He accounted for these by saying,

When the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law (Romans 2:14).

Was God's Law not available to Paul on the same basis, before he was taught the Law of Moses therefore?  Presumably not – by his own rationale.

Paul is very ambivalent with regard to the Law.  On one hand, he writes these statements:

The law worketh wrath (Romans (4:15).

Through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20); and

It is the law of “sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

Yet his commitment to Judaism surely influenced these reverent words:

The law is holy (Romans 7:12).

The law is spiritual (Romans 4:14).

The law is good (Romans 7:16).

He incorporates “sin” and “sinful flesh” into his doctrine in such a manner as to personify sin and to credit this “sin” with all transgressions because of the weakness of the flesh (Romans 8:3).

If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me (Romans 7:20).

Comparing the writings of Paul with the aforementioned Teachings of Jesus, we find that Paul found the law impossible to keep (see Romans 7) even though the scriptures testified that it was not too hard (Deuteronomy 30:11).  When the Law came to him, sin came to life through the weakness of his flesh, and Paul died.  Jesus also provided for disobedience to the Law of Moses, such that disobedience leads to wrath and death (much the same as Paul). But in addressing how one finds salvation from this wrath seems to disclose a vast difference that distinguishes the doctrines of the two.

Paul, dedicating himself to the strictest clan in Judaism, the Pharisees, struggled to achieve righteousness but all to no avail.  His conclusion?

Wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from this body of death (Romans 7:24)?

Then, in his despair, he had his personal encounter with Jesus and, presumably, out of this came his doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, with a new life in Christ arising through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  By this means he felt assured of the mercy of God, and claimed the promise of eternal life.

But Jesus presented a radically different Way of salvation.  Accepting the Law as the basic standard, one that was not too hard to keep, he held all humanity accountable for keeping it. He then extracted its essence, thus distilling, radicalizing, universalizing, internalizing and clarifying it.  This did indeed make it too hard to keep by itself, but He made it possible for the children of God by imparting His Spirit to us and teaching us to disregard our selves (Matthew 16:21-26; John 3:5-8).

The critical difference is that in times when God's children fall into disobedience and sin, they need to, like the Prodigal Son, repent and God, who loves His children and sacrificed Himself to take away our sin (John 1:29; John 3:16), will forgive them so that we can have confidence of receiving mercy and the inheritance of eternal life at the Judgment in the end. The children of God, focused on the love of God and the hatred of this life, can become obedient to the standard of righteousness taught and exemplified by Jesus, so thus he said: "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17) but Paul asserted that, "the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me” (Romans 7:10). Righteousness is thus realized, not by imputation according to Paul, but by following Jesus in the Way to the cross, that is, bearing our own crosses, which is the Way of love of God and hatred of life in this world (Matthew 16:21-26; Mark 12:28-34), for if we are not preoccupied with love of this life, we will not seek vengeance (Matthew 5:38-48), not seek to dominate others (Mark 10:42-44), not be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34), not hold back from the needy (Matthew 6:1-2, Luke 14:12-14), etc.

This difference between the two seems to arise primarily from the contrasting views of God and His Law held by Jesus and Paul. For Paul, His Law is only a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ and thereafter has no practical relevance. But for Jesus, God is first of all the loving Father who desperately wants his children to repent of their waywardness and return into fellowship with Him (Parable of the Prodigal Son). Thus Jesus had compassion on the weak, oppressed, dominated, and outcast and taught us to do the same, preaching that the Law is the standard of righteousness that leads us to God, for, as He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:17).

Some other things Paul wrote that have always bothered me (I have your attention, so why not expound a bit?)

“Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:9-10)

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ, not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord, and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.” (Ephesians 6:5-8)

“Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.” (1 Corinthians 7:21)

“Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties.” (1 Timothy 6:1-3)

In modern times, any pastor who said anything remotely positive or acceptable of slavery would be ostracized and reviled—and rightly so! Think of the modern slave trade. It would be unthinkable. This is because the Abolitionist movement has made it culturally acceptable and even easy to condemn slavery. Why could Paul not do the same and hold the ignorant slaveholding believers accountable? Jesus taught that true merit is to be found in loving your fellows, not exploiting them, and that we are all children of the same Father; brothers and sisters. How can we thus be divided into castes and classes?

“Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should remain subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” (1 Timothy 2:10)

This is not the attitude that Jesus demonstrated toward women. He never disgraced or discriminated against women. He had many female disciples, some of whom supported Him out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). There were apparently a significant number of female disciples in the crowd to which He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50). Indeed, after His resurrection, He first appeared to His female disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and others and told them to tell the Twelve of his return, who did not believe them, for it seemed to them “an idle tale” (Luke 24:10-11). Jesus reached out to otherwise unnoticeable women (Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:30-31, Luke 4:38-39; Mark 5:25-34; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 7:11-17; Luke 13:10-17), used women in His parables as models of faith (Luke 4:24-26; Luke 15:8-10; Luke 18:1-8; Luke 21:1-4), condemned one-sided action against women by redefining adultery (Matthew 5:27-30), revoking divorce (Matthew 5:31-32), offering redemption to prostitutes (Luke 7:36-50), vindicating monogamy (Matthew 19:3-12). In the struggle between Mary and Martha, Jesus commends Mary for abandoning her domestic duties (typically lauded as the only acceptable place for women, by dictators and preachers alike) to choose what is truly important—following Jesus and listening to His Words for herself (Luke 10:39-42). I think many in the “quiverfull”, “conservative”, patriarchal strain of Christianity would do well to follow her example and start exercising your spiritual gifts, independent of male leadership. Finally, consider Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18). In The Sins of Scripture, John Spong writes:

"It is a shame that by denigrating the woman called Magdalene during Christian history, the church destroyed the healthiest female symbol in ancient Christianity. There is no evidence in the Bible to support the familiar claim that Magdalene was a prostitute. That charge was fabricated beginning in the second century of the Common Era, when Greek dualism portrayed flesh as evil. This flesh-and-blood woman at Jesus' side was perceived by the dualists as a threat to his holiness. So the church set about trashing her reputation. Church leaders began to identify her with the woman taken in adultery in John's gospel (8:1-11), though there is not a shred of evidence to support this identification. Just to be safe, they also identified her with that previously mentioned but still unnamed woman of the city in Luke's gospel (7:36-50), though once again there is not a shred of evidence to support this identification. With her character in tatters, Mary Magdalene was left to play the role of the harlot in Christian history. In her place at Jesus' side, the church installed the sexless, and therefore unthreatening, virgin mother, who was docile, dependent and passive. With the two major female figures in the Christ story relegated to the classical roles in male fantasy of virgin and whore, there was no viable female role model left in the Christian story."

And, finally, Peter said concerning the Gentiles who received the Spirit, “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47). The same rationale must surely apply. How can women who have equally received the empowering of Jesus’ Spirit and are equally expected to endure the hardship of being disciples of Jesus be excluded or marginalized in the church?

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good.  But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing.  Pay to all what is due them--taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due " (Romans 13:1-7)

Yet Hosea wrote, “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval” (Hosea 8:4) and 1 Samuel 8 details the many abuses of government and equates a desire for human authority with a rejection of God’s. In the Gospels, it is the demons that control the governments of the world (Luke 4:5-8; Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13) and offer power to those that worship them.  Jesus did not dispute this. And Jesus’ very life began in an act of defiance to the state; He was born a criminal (and indeed was crucified by the Romans under the pretense of claiming to be a rebel King). If it were not for Joseph and Mary’s intentional act of defying that which they knew to be King Herod ‘s will, Jesus would have been mercilessly killed and His ministry and the fulfillment of the Prophets would never have come about. Later, Jesus preached that “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). It is impossible for those in government, which attempts to maintain a hierarchical regional monopoly over judicial decision and legally obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for contracted services rendered but by coercion, to obey this Principle. In short, the state does to its subjects what it outlaws its subjects from doing, and as Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters…” (Matthew 6:24).

Also, Jesus was known for not being a “respecter of persons” (titles of nobility for example, Matthew 5:17, 18). His disciple James continued this tradition when he wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8,9).

Jesus spoke against the rich (Luke 18:18-30), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32) and lawyers (Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:46,52) and cautioned against involvement with money (Matthew 22:15-22) and courts (Matthew 5:25,26; Luke 12:57-59).

Yet Paul’s writing here has been used to justify tyrannical oppression, manipulate otherwise thinking people into compliance (look at this!) with literally insane state commands, and Christian noninvolvement, or worse waving flags to support it, or worse still, putting on one of the state’s uniforms to carry it out. For it affirms the “divine right” of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Rothschild, King George, Milosovich, and Robespierre to seize power and commands obedience and respect, even financial support.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

“If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:34).

Paul’s words here sound quite callous. Such passages were used by the Calvinist Puritans (and their intellectual descendants) who believed that poverty was the fault of the poor and indicative of the judgment of God (leading to the assumption that wealth and prosperity is evidence of divine blessing). But Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7) and taught us to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). He advocated throwing banquets attended by the poor and unfortunate (Luke 14:13-14) and radical giving (Luke 12:32-33; Matthew 19:21) and warned us to “not store up for ourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19) or ‘be anxious about your life, what you will eat, drink or wear’ (Matthew 6:24-34), stressing that “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

There are many beautiful passages penned by Paul. And on balance, it may even be possible to defend him by quoting other passages which his name is affixed to. But the fact remains that his writings contain many things that have provided for and continue to provide biblical justification for some of the worst bigotry and atrocities. Such people do not look at a verse “in context”, so often touted by concerned biblical exegetes.  They take what suits their purposes wherever they can find it, even when context shows that they are misinterpreting. Knowing that, I am at a loss to imagine that God would allow His Name to be attached to the compromise found in some of the writings of Paul of Tarsus.

An explanation?

In his writings, Paul demonstrates a profound desire to please others of his time. For example, he writes “for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21) and instructs his followers to “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all men” (Romans 12”17). Elsewhere he claims that “I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Yet Paul also said that “we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)?

Now Jesus clearly admonished us on many occasions to do good to others, teaching that we should “Let your light so shine among men, that they may see your good actions and deeds and recognize and give honor to your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16), especially to the hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46).  But Jesus taught that “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15), saying “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26), and blessed us when “people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Is this perhaps why Paul tolerated slavery, the marginalization of women, tyranny, and callousness toward the poor—to please others of his time as these were the common pagan attitudes and practices of the day? Perhaps Paul did not want Christians being viewed as subversive or radical and so encouraged us to do nothing to challenge the status quo. If so, it is an attitude opposed to that of the Saviour. For He deliberately provoked the religious leaders against Him on many occasions and at least twice, directly attacked manifestations of blasphemous injustice and greed (Matthew 21:12, 21:23-27; John 2:12-25).

Why the apparent discrepancies?

Some suppose that Jesus laid the foundation for Paul to later build upon. But Jesus declared that he had revealed “all that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15) and that his Word would endure though heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Also, Paul specified the foundation of his teaching to be the apostles and prophets, with Jesus being, not the foundation, but the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Is there a difference?

But Jesus also said,

"I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . ." (John 16: 12, 13).

Does this explain the apparent discrepancy? I do not believe it can, for what Paul taught, a free gift of grace, seems much easier to bear than what Jesus, with his "hard teaching", left us. Furthermore, Jesus there indicated that it would be His Spirit who would “guide you into all the truth”, without any suggestion that the Spirit would require an intermediary such as Paul.

Please remember that I am not quoting self-claimed apostles or any other mere human, but God Incarnate, Himself. What I know for certain is that every epistle, creed, catechism, council, synod, prophecy, and impression must be submitted to the revealed character, actions, and teachings of Jesus and if it is not, and contradicts Him, then it should be rejected. My analysis and interpretation of all of this may be flawed or incorrect, but is this last principle not reasonable?

Before you write to tell me that we are saved by grace and not by works you should know that I agree (John 3:16). However, as James affirmed, faith without works is useless.

Before you write to say we are all sinners and will therefore continue to sin throughout our lives (1 John 1:9) you should know that so do I (but it is the attitude we have towards our sinning that is more important).

Before you write to tell me how wrong I am, you should know that I agree with you (only Jesus had perfect doctrine, the rest of us must rely on God not to judge us on our imperfect doctrine).

There you have it. Rebuke me, affirm me, challenge me, applaud me--whatever.

 

Comments

(Anonymous)

These posts on the law look interesting. I've only had time to skim them just now, but hope to read them more thoroughly later.

Jason