Was Paul Telling the Same Story as the Gospels?

In the realm of New Testament smart people, it’s been a long held belief that Jesus proclaimed the good news of God, while Paul preached a good news of Jesus.  So the smart thinking goes, Paul proclaimed a religion Jesus never intended.  The apparent discrepancy looks legitimate.  Jesus, after all, talked about the Kingdom of God being close at hand.  Paul, however, talked about salvation by calling Jesus Lord (Rom 10:9).

To the average believer confronted with this notion, it seemed a real crisis of faith.  Did Paul really invent Christianity wholesale?  Did Jesus really never envision a formal faith centered on himself?

Turns out, the smart people have been, well, not so smart.

The basic question that drives JR Daniel Kirk‘s first few chapters in Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? is whether Paul is really telling the same story the gospels do.

For the part of the gospels, they are multifaceted stories, telling (1) how Israel’s narrative reaches its climax in their true representative Jesus; (2) how God is reclaiming His jurisdiction over creation in His true representative Jesus; and (3) how the creation itself is restored to wholeness through the true human Jesus.  (You can see more on these themes and others in NT Wright’s How God Became King, which I worked through a year ago, starting here.)

Kirk then does well to demonstrate how Paul uses each of those key gospel themes in his interaction with the churches throughout the Mediterranean.  (1) The churches Paul was building and promoting were, in his mind, extensions of the story of Israel, now that the story had passed through Jesus and the cross (especially in 1 Cor 10).  (2) Jesus, according to Paul, was now Lord over the entire creation by virtue of his resurrection (see Phi 2:5-11).  And (3) Paul clearly recognizes that now, on the other side of the resurrection, a new creation has dawned (1 Cor 5:11-21).

All of this is to say that although Paul doesn’t always use the same language as the gospel writers, Paul is very clearly on the same page thematically, and is working to translate those themes to the new post-resurrection world he traveled.  Paul may have been using different words, but he and the gospels are telling the same rich story.


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