Jesus verses Paul?

One of the common lines of liberal theology is that the church created Christianity and in so doing distorted or institutionalised the radical message of Jesus.

In fact this is not a new phenomenon. This is the issue which is address by John in his first letter. His message is simple: We have no Christ other than the Christ presented to us by the apostles.

1 John is written reassure the members of a church after some leading figures have left them. They have left a particular local church, claiming to follow a superior version of Christianity. But John says they went out from ‘us’ (in contrast to ‘you’, his readers). ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.’ (1 John 2:19-20)

The ‘us’ here is the apostles (as 1:1-4 makes clear). The reason these people left the church is actually that they have left apostolic Christianity. And to leave apostolic Christianity, says John, is to leave the truth (2:20-27). Why? Because the apostles were the ones who heard and saw and touched Jesus – as John repeatedly emphasises in 1:1-4.

Not only were they eye witnesses of Jesus, but Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit to testify to the truth about Jesus so that the apostolic testimony would be accurate (John 15:26-27; 16:12-15). Paul’s inclusion among the apostles was always going to be controversial, but that issue was resolved during his lifetime, nearly 2,000 years ago.

God revealed himself in Jesus, the Word-made-flesh. How do we have access to that revelation? Through the testimony of the apostles who heard and saw and touched Jesus. How do we have access to the apostolic testimony? In the Spirit-inspired writings of the New Testament. To pit Jesus against Paul is to claim to have a better grasp of the person of Christ than the Spirit-inspired eye-witnesses.

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