I have seen a spate of comments on social media that boil down to this: "I accept what Jesus taught but what Paul taught is subject to change". Not many come right out and say this, although some do, but it is clear that is what they mean. Paul is looked at with a very suspicious eye by many in the church due to constant clamoring about him being misogynistic or "homophobic". It is pretty easy to airily claim that while the words of Jesus (at least the ones about love and caring for the poor) are to be taken literally, Paul must be examined in light of current opinion and where he clashes with that opinion, Paul must be set aside or explained away. In Paul's teaching on gender relations or on sexual immorality, a lot of people go through some serious exegetical gymnastics to explain whey he didn't really mean it or if he did it was because he was a meanie. It reminds me of the gymnastics some conservatives go through to explain why "just war" is OK and Jesus didn't really take that whole "love your enemies" thing all that seriously.
Paul certainly thought of himself as an apostle and he wrote authoritatively. His contemporaries did as well. So has the church since the letters were written up until relatively recently. Taken in context it is pretty clear that when he wrote...
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:8)
...he was laying claim to having witnessed the Living Christ in person after some fashion. So it seems to me that we should default to listening to what Paul has to say rather than finding ways to ignore him.
In fact, as an ironic twist, everything that we know with any authority and confidence about Jesus comes from the pen of Paul or other men who considered Paul an apostle and authority in the church. What this means is that Paul knows more than me or you or your favorite author/blogger/conference speaker on topics such as:
- The Kingdom
- The Church
- The person and work of Jesus
- Church Discipline
- Christian ethics and morality.
- Pretty much any other related topic you can think of
Paul doesn't have to answer to us and he doesn't have to tolerate having us sit in judgment of him. Paul also didn't teach anything different from what Jesus taught because he was called by Christ and taught by Christ Himself and was acknowledged by the apostles as one of their own. What Paul transmitted to the church is what Paul received from Jesus Himself.
John Piper, speaking at Together for the Gospel in 2010, addressed the common misconception that Jesus preached one Gospel and Paul another in his talk: Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?. Seeing as how Paul got his Gospel from Jesus directly, it is kind of foolish to assume that he just arbitrarily changed it when Jesus already struck the dude blind once. Check the video below out when you have an hour to spare, it is worth your time.
Back to my point. If you hear someone denying what Paul taught or diminishing him as an apostle and authoritative source, you need to be very cautious about anything else they say because that attitude betrays a lot about their general approach to Scripture. Paul wrote so much and so powerfully and so vividly that he is, when read with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the very best source we have to interpret what Jesus taught apart from Jesus Himself. Indeed on many topics he takes what Christ taught pre-cross and make it make sense post-cross for the benefit of the church.
Paul is not a 1st century Archie Bunker, an anachronism that needs to be kept under glass in a museum. God specially and powerfully chose Paul to be the chief author of the Epsitles. If you think that God is so incompetent that He allowed Paul to preach and proclaim a different message from His Son and that those false teachings were preserved for time immemorial in the Bible, you have to wonder what sort of God you think He is.
Read Paul as you read Jesus. Read him deeply and read him with confidence. Jesus knew what He was doing when He interrupted Saul on that dusty road to Damascus so it seems to me that we owe it to Jesus to take what His chosen vessel has to say with the greatest of seriousness and sobriety.