Some have questioned whether the apostle Paul preached the same gospel as Jesus the Messiah and try to draw distinctions. This often occurs by proof texting or sometimes not being fully acquainted with the text itself. Nonetheless if we read the gospels carefully and in context and the Pauline epistles considering when they were written, who they were addressed to and why, we see that there is in fact no contradiction but harmony. To answer this we will consider Paul’s credentials regarding his background, training and call to be an apostle, Paul’s commission and how he faithfully complied with that, Paul commended by the apostles in Scripture and the Jerusalem Council and lastly Paul’s communication of the gospel.
Paul was circumcised the eighth day and was of the seed of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, and a Pharisee (Philippians. 3:5; Romans. 11:1). He was born and raised in Tarsus at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of the law of his fathers (Acts 22:3).
In that era, the two prevalent schools of Jewish thought were headed by Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel and the first to receive the honorary title “rabban” instead of “rabbi” meaning “our master” or “our great one” instead of “my master” or “my great one”.[i] Paul was incredibly zealous to the extent that he even went out of his way to persecute the followers of Jesus until his encounter with Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:4-6).
Paul authored a vast amount of the Brit Hadasha (New Testament literature) and possibly the letter to the Hebrews and he made three missionary journeys before he headed for Rome.
Unlike the other apostles, Paul never spent time with Yeshua during his earthly ministry. Hence Paul described himself as an apostle born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:8). Nonetheless, Paul met Yeshua on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), an event which completely transformed the course of his life and ministry, he spent three years in Arabia where God revealed His Son to him (Galatians 1:15-17) and he also had a vision of paradise which he modestly described in the third person (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Paul also commenced many of his letters making mention of his apostleship. An apostle in the full sense is someone who is ‘sent’, has seen the risen Lord and has been able to perform the signs of an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1-2; Acts 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
Paul’s commission was to be a chosen vessel of Yeshua and to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15-16). As we read through the book of Acts, we see exactly that but also an interesting pattern. Paul consistently and determinedly heads for the children of Israel in the synagogues first, and then the Gentiles; and finally in the closing chapters of Acts proclaims the gospel before kings.
Some have said that Jesus and Paul preached two different gospels and that point will be addressed specifically in “Paul communicates the gospel”. Before we even get to that we need to consider, if that were the case, why did Luke who authored Luke and Acts speak of Paul in such favourable terms and as a genuine apostle who had dramatically been reformed, if he really preached a different gospel? In addition, in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council concerning the conflict of circumcision, Paul was declaring how many miracles God had worked through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Following the verdict at the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas were referenced from a letter written by the apostles as men who have risked their lives for Jesus the Messiah (Acts 15:24-26).
Others have said that Paul was an apostle and preached the gospel that Yeshua did, though consider his writings as purely commentary though not inspired. However on one occasion, Paul corrected Peter when he withdrew from eating with the Gentiles when some Jewish believers appeared (Galatians 2:11-12). More importantly, Peter considered all of Paul’s epistles to comprise part of the Scriptures ( 2 Peter 3:14-16).
Peter explains further that although men wrote the Scriptures, they themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so.
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21).”
Paul communicates the gospel
Paul taught that the grace of Messiah was so imperative that he warned that if anyone or even an angel taught a different gospel let them be accursed. In fact he repeats that to make his point emphatically clear in Galatians 1:8-9. What was the focus of his message? “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
In the Corinthian fellowship, a dispute had arisen amongst the members since some were saying they followed Paul, or Apollos of Cephas (Peter). Paul demolished their reasoning by asking rhetorically, was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13)?”Paul explained that Yeshua sent him to preach the gospel and that they were only to glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:17, 31; c.f. Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Paul further expounds that compared with knowing Jesus the Messiah; he counted all other things as loss.
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).”
Let us now compare the doctrine which Jesus taught and what Paul taught concerning the law, justification by faith, Yeshua being the only way and loving your neighbour.
In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus said.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
In Romans 3:31 and Galatians 3:17, Paul wrote.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
“And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.”
Justification by faith
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus spoke concerning justification.
“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In Romans 5:1-2 Paul explains the means by which we are justified.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith,we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Jesus is the only way of salvation
Yeshua famously said in John 14:6
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except by Me.”
When Peter addressed the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12, he stated.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
What did Paul teach in 1 Timothy 2:5-6?
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
Loving your neighbour
When Yeshua was tested by a lawyer in Matthew 22:34-40, He answered him concerning the greatest commandment and explained that the second is like it. He was of course quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18.
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
What did Paul write in Romans 13:8-10 about loving one’s neighbour? Paul writes a mini midrash drawing from Exodus 20:13-17, Deuteronomy 5:17-21 and Leviticus 19:18 which again ties in with Matthew 22:34-40 concerning the essence of the law.
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
The gospel that Yeshua preached and the gospel that Paul preached were entirely consistent. Like Yeshua, Paul constantly quoted from the Tanakh (Old Testament). Paul refused to receive the adulation of potential followers of him, but persuaded others to follow Yeshua who was crucified and gave Himself (Galatians 2:20). We must remember that Paul was preaching after the crucifixion and resurrection, absolutely critical events concerning the power of the gospel to save sinners and transform lives. Compare what Paul and Jesus said in Matthew 17:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. We must bear in mind that Paul wrote his letters to a different audience then those to whom Jesus addressed since he was given a specific commission from Him (Acts 9:15-16).
Paul continues with essential doctrine that expounds and does not contradict what Jesus taught. In every way possible in how he lived his life, the suffering that he endured and in his faithful and uncompromising teaching, Paul sought to honour and glorify the risen Lord and give him the glory alone. In short to suggest that Paul introduced an altered or embellished version of the apostolic message would inevitably contradict each point Paul stated concerning the original gospel.[ii]
[i] David H. Stern Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992; Clarksville), p237
[ii] John MacArthur The Gospel According to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017; Nashville), p2