Did Paul Reject The Teachings of Christ?

Following a short break from apologetics, I stumbled across a rather strange group that claims the apostle Paul was in opposition to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Let’s see if they have anything of substance to say.

The apostle Paul is held by virtually all theologians and church fathers as an important figure in Christian history. Once a vigilant persecutor of Christians, Paul himself became a follower after seeing the Resurrected Lord on Damascus road. His life changed in an instant and he became the apostle we all know today. So how come a cultish group, simply known as “Jesus’ Words Only,” believe otherwise? Their goal is to uphold the teachings of Jesus and reject any and every opposing doctrine. It’s a noble mission, but for them, Paul is the biggest perpetrator. But was Paul really in opposition to Jesus Christ? Do his works really contradict Christ’s teaching?

A few red herrings are already present on the introduction page alone. One of their major sources is the scholar Rudolf Bultman, whose works are outdated and rejected in the academic world today. Bultman claims that Paul insisted we treat Christ’s pre-resurrection teaching as irrelevant (2 Cor 5:16) and that it is his own teaching we should emphasize. This is an interesting claim because Paul’s teachings often directly imitate Christ’s. I’ll come back to the verse in Corinthians later on, but first I want to show just how often Paul alludes to the teachings of Christ in His epistles.

Glenn Millar notes that,

“On one scholarly extreme is Alfred Resch, the German author who early in this century (the 1900s) found 1,158 allusions to Jesus (this is slightly over 2000 verses of Pauline writings). On the other end of the spectrum is Victor Furnish who can only find eight air-tight cases (Rom 12.14, 17; 13.7; 14.13-14; 14.14; 1 Thess 5.2, 13, 15)–although his search was focused on the ethical teaching of Paul only….This wide disparity between the extremes shows how speculative this search for direct dependence can be, but at the same time, shows how close in teaching content Paul and Jesus are.”

Further below he lists a wide range of direct allusions. I’ll list a couple here, but I’ll link the entire article below for further reference.

(JESUS) Luke 6.27-28: “Love your enemies...bless those who curse you”
(JESUS) Matt 5.24: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” 
(PAUL) Romans 12.14: Bless those who persecute youbless and do not curse

(JESUS) Mark 7:15: “there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.
(PAUL) Romans 14:14: ” I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is profane in itself”

(JESUS) Matt 17:20: “if you have faith…you will say to this mountain, ‘Move’...”
(PAUL) I Cor 13.2: “if I have all faith so as to move mountains…”

(JESUS) Mark 4.22: “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light.
(PAUL) I Cor 4.5: “who will bring to light the secrets of darkness and will make public the purposes of the heart”
(PAUL) Rom 2.16: “God judges the secrets of people, according to my gospel through Jesus Christ”
(PAUL) I Cor 14.25: “The secrets of his heart are made public

(JESUS) Mark 14:36: “And He was saying, “Abba! Father” (very uncommon usage)
(PAUL) Gal 4.6: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
(PAUL) Rom 8.15: “you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

(JESUS) Matt 20.26: “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
(PAUL) Romans 15.7: “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision

And these barely scratch the service. We can make a strong case that Paul’s writings directly stem from the words of Christ. Furthermore, he often pointed his readers to Jesus Himself, reminding them of the ways of their God (Rom 15:1, 1 Cor 11:1, Eph 5:1, etc.).

Another question the group asks is: why doesn’t Paul ever mention Jesus’s earthly life or even directly quote Him? Why the silence of the virgin birth, for example? What about the feeding of the 500 or the walking on water? This question isn’t exclusive to these loons either. Many skeptics and Jesus Mythers have asked the same thing. For them, the silence carries a weight too heavy to ignore.

The objection is swiftly answered by the social system of the time. Those in Biblical times lived in a high context society, that is a society that takes well-known truths for granted. On the other hand, we live in a low context society, thus we need everything explained to us before we understand something. For Paul, there was simply no need to bring up something already found multiple times in the Gospel accounts. Remember that Paul’s readers were believers and the church. To provide an account of the life of Jesus to them is akin to explaining the existence of dinosaurs to a paleontologist. Similarly, Paul hardly needed to include an “As Jesus said” before his allusions to Christ’s teaching. It’s not only redundant but completely unnecessary considering the strictly limited resources they had to write with. Every ounce of space had to count. Jesus’ Words Only need to demonstrate why Paul would ever need to recount Jesus’s earthly ministry before their claims of silence can be taken seriously. It’s the same kind of logic the “Remsberg List” used when it swept across the web some time back, and it’s as shaky as a broken leg.

Going back to the thrust of Bultman’s argument, Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:16,

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

Apparently, Paul is saying we should no longer remember Christ’s earthly ministry, and that his aforementioned silence supports this thesis. That’s not quite the case here. Let’s put the verse in proper context,

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:14-17).”

Here, Paul is establishing our current identity in Christ and is issuing a confession. We are no longer bound to the flesh but we are new in spirit, living according to the Father’s design. Paul once regarded Christ and His followers as people of the flesh, living for corruption and deception (seeing things through the Pharisaical class he once ascribed to), but he now sees them in a different light following his own conversion. That Paul is arguing for a new teaching isn’t supported at all.

We’ll look at more claims from this group in future posts, but if they’re anything akin to what’s argued here, I’m not hoping for much.

Link to the claims of an anti-Jesus Paul.

Link explaining a high context society in further detail.