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* A "philosophy major," when I quoted Acts 2:38, said that was just Peter expressing his opinion.
* A feminist said I based all my beliefs on the teaching of "that old reprobate, the apostle Paul."
* A Muslim leader (El Dareer) in debate claimed that Paul's teaching differed from that of Jesus. Others have claimed that Paul's teaching disagreed with that of Peter.
* A defender of homosexuality said that "Jesus said nothing about gays" - meaning that He personally said nothing, so we can disregard clear teachings in the epistles regarding homosexuality.
* Others have said that the apostles, especially Paul, did not show as good an attitude as Jesus in teaching: they expressed less love and tolerance but were more condemning of other people's views.
* For these reasons, some follow only the "Red Letters" as being necessary to salvation.
To such people, what Jesus said may be worth considering, but other teaching in the New Testament is optional. They feel free to reject the teaching of some apostle or prophet, especially Paul, if they don't like it.
Are the teachings of these other men somehow inferior so we can disregard them and still please God? Or must we respect and obey what they taught, as well as what Jesus taught, in order to receive eternal life? Consider the following points:
To understand the authority of the apostles' teachings, we must understand who apostles were, the nature and purpose of their work, and how they became apostles. In particular, we must consider whether or not Paul possessed the qualifications and authority of an apostle equally with the other apostles.
Apostleship involved all the following things:
One could not become an apostle simply by volunteering, by choosing to take the office upon himself, by deciding to meet certain requirements, nor by being selected by other men. Each apostle had to be personally selected by Christ, who then had to directly reveal which men He selected.
If one claimed to be an apostle, when he lacked this calling, he would not be a good man at all but would be a false apostle - 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Revelation 2:2.
Luke 6:12-16 - Jesus personally chose 12 men and named them to be apostles.
Acts 1:24 - When one was chosen to take Judas' place and be numbered among the 12, the Lord indicated which man He had chosen to fill the office.
[Cf. John 15:27; Acts 10:40,41.]
Acts 9:15 - Jesus personally appeared to Paul (vv 1-9), then told Ananias to teach and baptize him because Paul was "a chosen vessel" to preach Jesus' name to Gentiles, etc.
Acts 26:16 - Jesus said that He had appeared to Paul to make him a minister and witness of what he had seen. [Acts 22:14,15]
Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:1 - So, Paul repeatedly affirmed in his letters that he had been "called to be an apostle," not by men, but by Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1]
Note that, if Paul's claim to be an apostle was not true, he would not even have been a faithful preacher. He would have been a false apostle, a false prophet, a liar, and a hypocrite. But Paul's claim to be inspired and a faithful teacher was confirmed by many other inspired men.
Acts 9:15 (26:16; 22:14,15) - Luke records that Jesus Himself endorsed Paul as a chosen vessel to preach His name.
2 Peter 3:15,16 - Peter classed Paul's writings along with other Scripture. This endorses Paul's writings as truth, including when those epistles claim that Paul was an apostle.
Galatians 2:7-9; Acts 15:22-32 - Other apostles and prophets confirmed Paul's claim to be inspired and to be a faithful preacher.
Acts 13:1-4 - Luke recorded that the Holy Spirit recognized Paul as one called by the Spirit to preach.
Revelation 2:2 - Jesus commended the church at Ephesus for examining and rejecting men who falsely claimed to be apostles. But Paul had done much preaching at Ephesus, and his letter to the Ephesians had claimed he was an apostle (Ephesians 1:1).
If Paul was not an apostle, the Ephesians surely ought to have rejected him; nor would Jesus have commended them if they had mistakenly accepted Paul as an apostle. So the fact Jesus commended the Ephesians for rejecting false apostles, even when they accepted Paul as an apostle, constitutes conclusive approval from Jesus Himself that Paul was an apostle!
So other inspired writers repeatedly endorse Paul's claim to be an apostle.
Apostles repeatedly affirmed that they were eyewitnesses - Acts 2:32; 10:41; 3:15; 1 John 1:1-4; etc.
Acts 1:15-26 (esp. vv 21,22) - The one chosen to replace Judas had to be an eyewitness.
Acts 22:3-16 (esp. vv 14,15) - Paul saw and heard Jesus so he could be a witness.
Acts 26:16 - Jesus said he appeared to Paul to make him a witness. [Acts 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:4-8; 9:1-5]
One special duty of apostles was to give testimony of Jesus' resurrection whereby others could believe. To do this, each one had to have personally witnessed Christ alive after the resurrection. Jesus' appearance to Paul was exceptional; nevertheless he did see Jesus alive, so he was just as qualified to do this work as were other apostles.
The apostles were granted special miraculous powers by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 10:1-4 - Jesus gave the 12 power to perform miracles. [Hebrews 2:3,4]
Mark 16:14,20 - Apostles used miracles as they preached to confirm the word.
The Bible contains many examples showing that the apostles performed such miracles - Acts 3:1-10; 8:14-24; 9:32-41; etc.
2 Corinthians 12:12 - He accomplished the signs of an apostle among the Corinthians.
Luke records many signs performed by the Spirit through Paul - Acts 14:8-10; 19:1-7; 20:8-12; 16:16-18; Romans 15:19.
Acts 8:14-21 - Apostles went from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on Christians there and give them the Holy Spirit. Philip, though he could preach the gospel and do miracles, was not an apostle and did not bestow these powers on others (vv 5-13).
Acts 19:6,7 - He laid hands on twelve disciples so the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
2 Timothy 1:6 - He gave Timothy a gift through the laying on of his hands. [Rom. 1:11]
2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11 - For all the reasons we have listed, Paul claimed apostleship fully and equally with the other apostles. [1 Corinthians 9:1-5]
Note that much of the evidence for Paul's apostleship comes from other men besides Paul. It is clear that his teachings possess as much authority as those of any other apostle.
If the apostles taught their own human opinions, then of course their teachings would be inferior to those of Jesus. But what was the source of the teachings the apostles revealed, as compared to the source of Jesus' teaching?
Jesus received His teachings from God.
Hebrews 1:1,2 - Before Jesus came to earth, God spoke through Old Testament prophets, but now God speaks through His Son.
John 12:49,50 - Jesus spoke exactly what the Father commanded to be spoken.
[John 7:16; 8:28; Acts 3:20-23; 10:38; Luke 4:1,14,17-21]
Their teachings were also from God, given them through the Holy Spirit.
John 14:26; 16:13 - Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would come and teach them all things, guide them into all truth, and remind them of Jesus' teachings.
Matthew 10:19,20 - When they taught, they were not teaching from themselves, but the Spirit of the Father spoke through them.
[2 Timothy 3:16,17; Acts 1:5,8; 2:1-4,33; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Peter 3:2; Revelation 1:1]
So the apostles' teachings came from the same source as did Jesus' teaching. All of them spoke the will of God as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. The apostles' teaching was as accurate and as authoritative as was Jesus' teaching. All spoke with the infallible authority of God.
If this is not so, then in fact we do not even really know what Jesus Himself taught, since He never wrote any of the Bible. All we have are records which apostles and prophets wrote of what He said and did. If we accept what they record of Jesus' teachings, why not accept the other teaching that the Spirit guided them to write?
What about Paul? Did His teaching come from the same source as did the teaching of Jesus and other apostles?
1 Corinthians 2:10-13,16 - The Holy Spirit revealed the things of God to Paul, so He taught in words the Spirit gave Him, just like the other apostles did. As a result, he knew the mind of Christ. [2:1-5]
1 Corinthians 14:37 - What Paul taught, therefore, were the commands of the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 - The teaching people received from Paul was, in truth, the Word of God, not the word of men.
2 Peter 3:15,16 - The apostle Peter classified Paul's epistles as "Scripture," right along with "other scripture." But "Scripture" is inspired by God and provides to all good works - 2 Timothy 3:16,17. Hence, Peter here confirms Paul's claim to be an inspired author of God's word.
The teachings of Paul came from the same source as did those of Jesus and of the other apostles. Therefore, they were equally as authoritative.
[Galatians 1:11,12; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; Romans 1:15,16; 15:15-19; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 13:12; 16:32; 1 Cor. 11:23; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 5:27; 4:8]
Many people realize that great blessings come from accepting and obeying Jesus' teaching, and serious consequences follow from rejecting it. Do the same consequences accompany the apostles' teaching?
John 14:6 - No one can come to the Father except through Jesus.
John 6:63,68 - His words give eternal life. [Acts 4:12]
John 12:48 - We will be judged by His words at the last day.
Acts 3:20-23 - We must hearken to all things He speaks or be destroyed.
[John 14:15,21-24; 12:50; Matthew 7:24-27; 28:18]
The only way to please God and have eternal life is by believing and obeying Jesus' teaching. If we reject His teachings, we do so at the peril of destruction. This is true, because His teachings are the will of God. We can please God only by accepting those teachings, and we reject the will of God Himself if we reject His teachings.
Acts 2:42 - The first disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." The teaching of the apostles was their standard of authority, because it was the word of God.
Luke 10:16 - If we accept the teaching of inspired prophets, we are listening to Jesus (because they taught His will). If we reject them, we reject Jesus and His Father, because Jesus and the Father guided them in what they taught. [This refers in context to the teaching of the 70, but the same would be true of the apostles' teaching.]
1 John 4:6 - Jesus called and sent the apostles to teach. They taught what God through the Holy Spirit guided them to teach. If we hear what they say, we are of God. Otherwise, we are not.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 - Apostles and prophets were "ambassadors for Christ." They carried His message to the world instructing and urging men to be reconciled to God. As when a country sends an ambassador to another country, insulting an officially commissioned ambassador is insulting the one who sent him.
So the consequences that follow from accepting or rejecting the apostles' teaching are the same consequences as follow from accepting or rejecting Jesus' teaching, because they are the same teachings from the same source. Hence, we must respect the teachings of the apostles just as we do those of Jesus.
[2 Peter 3:2; James 2:10; Revelation 22:18,19; 2 Timothy 3:16,17]
What about Paul's teaching? Are the same consequences associated with accepting or rejecting his teaching as compared to the teaching of Jesus and other apostles?
Galatians 1:6-12 - The gospel Paul preached came from Jesus, not from man. Therefore, anyone who preaches a different gospel is accursed.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 - Men must hold fast the gospel as preached by Paul, because it is the means by which God calls people to salvation and to the glory Jesus offers. This includes holding fast Paul's written epistles.
2 Peter 3:15,16 - Paul's epistles are classified by Peter as "Scripture," right along with "other scripture." Those who twist and pervert it, do so to their own destruction. But we have already seen that "Scripture" is inspired by God and provides to all good works - 2 Timothy 3:16,17.
Again, the teachings of Paul carry as much weight as those of other apostles and as those of Jesus, because they are the teachings of Jesus. To reject them is to be lost. We can be saved only if we accept and obey them.
[2 Thessalonians 3:4,6,12,14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 2:16]
Were the apostles less loving and more condemning in their teachings than Jesus was?
Matthew 22:36-40 - Loving God and our fellowman are the greatest two commands.
John 14:15 - If we love Him, we will keep his commands.
[Matthew 7:12; John 13:34,35; 14:21-14]
John 8:24 - He said those who did not believe in Him would die in sin.
Matthew 22:29 - He said the Sadducees were in error for rejecting the resurrection.
Matthew 23 (esp. vv 14,15,25-28,33) - He plainly rebuked Pharisees for hypocrisy.
[Matthew 7:24-27; 15:1-14; Mark 16:16; 8:33,38; 12:27; John 5:42; 8:24,41-55; Matthew 21:12,13]
1 John 3:14-18 - Some people call John the "apostle of love," because he showed our need to love like Jesus loved. [4:7-5:2]
1 John 5:3 - But John taught that this is the love of God, that we keep his commands. [2 John 6]
Acts 8:20-23 - Peter plainly rebuked a member of the church (Simon) for trying to purchase a power that he had no right to have.
2 John 9-11 - The apostle of love said anyone who would not abide in Jesus' teaching (which the apostles delivered), did not have God.
[2 Peter 2:1-22; 1 John 2:18-22; 4:6; James 2:10; Revelation 22:18,19]
Did he show less love or more condemnation than did Jesus or the other apostles?
1 Corinthians 13 - The chapter on love was written by Paul.
Galatians 5:6 - But what avails in Christ is faith working through love.
[Ephesians 5:25-33; Romans 8:35-39; 13:8-10]
Acts 13:6-11 - He called Elymas a son of the Devil and an enemy of righteousness.
Galatians 1:6-9 - Those who preach a different gospel are accursed.
[2 Thessalonians 3:6-14; 1:7-9; Romans 16:17; Galatians 2:4,5,11]
The real lesson to be learned from a study such as this is, not the contrast between the teaching of Jesus and that of the apostles, but rather the harmony that exists. Regardless of what inspired man taught the message, it was consistent with and equally authoritative as other inspired teaching, because it all came from the same source.
The only real question that remains to be answered is whether or not we are willing to submit ourselves to the teaching. We receive the blessings the message offers and avoid the consequences it warns us about, only if we believe the message and obey it.
Copyright 2008, David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.