The Orchard Christian Church

The Orchard Christian Church__________ "where Fruit of the Spirit grows"____________________________ north Montebello ______________ Matthew & Kumi Perri

Friday, February 22, 2008

Like Paul or like Jesus?

A dialogue between “CHRISTIAN” and “PAULIST” about the interpretation and application of the 66 Books of the inerrant Bible.

CHRISTIAN: My friend, I’m glad we agree on most things. We accept every word of the 66 books of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, in a category above everything else that has ever been written or spoken in all human history.
PAULIST: Amen to that. There are a lot of liberals today who are teaching, “Paul was wrong.”
CHRISTIAN: Yes, everything Paul taught was right, the same way that everything all the other authors of Scripture taught was right.
PAULIST: So we agree on everything then, don’t we?
CHRISTIAN: I have a different interpretation and application of the inerrant account of the Apostle Paul’s personal ministry, recorded in the second half of Acts and in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians.
PAULIST: What do you mean “different”?
CHRISTIAN: Just because Paul’s teaching was inerrant does not mean that his life was inerrant or his ministry was inerrant. Paul didn’t always practice what he preached. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he taught us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” and he was right. But if we look objectively at Paul’s own ministry, we don’t always see that fruit coming from Paul.
PAULIST: I thought you believed in the inerrancy of Scripture!
PAULIST: But you are saying that Paul was wrong!
CHRISTIAN: No, I’m saying that all Paul’s teachings were right, and he taught, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Are you saying that Paul’s teaching was wrong here, and that Paul lived a sinless, perfect life?
PAULIST: No, of course not. The Bible is inerrant.
CHRISTIAN: Yes, the Bible is inerrant. Here is a 2-question diagnostic test to help determine if you are unconsciously idolizing the Apostle Paul.
Question #1: Where does the inerrant Bible reveal Paul’s sins and mistakes?
Question #2: Are you willing to examine the life and ministry of Paul compared to Paul’s teachings, to all the other teachings of the Bible, and to the perfect life of Jesus?
If you draw a mental blank trying to answer these questions, you feel a bit uneasy, and you start thinking of Biblical justifications that you have read or heard for almost everything that Paul ever did or said, then maybe you are unconsciously idolizing Paul.
PAULIST: Of course, Paul wasn’t perfect. But I don’t understand where you’re going with this, and it makes me a little uncomfortable.
CHRISTIAN: Jesus is the only person in all history who is without sin. So we don’t want to be like Paul, we want to be like Jesus. The inerrant records of Paul’s ministry accurately show that Paul’s actions fall into many different categories: clearly right, clearly wrong, partly right, questionable, or just decisions that reflected his personality.
PAULIST: But Paul wrote a huge portion of the Bible.
CHRISTIAN: Solomon and Jonah (and David, Moses, Peter, John, etc.) also wrote significant portions of the Bible, and we clearly see their sins and flaws revealed in the inerrant Word without questioning the inerrancy of their teaching. The teachings of the Bible apply to everyone, including the human authors of Scripture. Just because Paul never admitted to any specific sins or mistakes does not mean that he didn’t do anything wrong. Why should Paul be an exception?
PAULIST: But Paul was the greatest missionary that ever lived!
CHRISTIAN: Most of the New Testament authors wisely tried to make themselves as invisible as possible in their own writings. They didn’t write extensively about themselves and their own ministries like Paul did, maybe because they realized that they could not be objective and unbiased about themselves. I try to do as Paul taught the church at Corinth to do, and “not take pride in one man over against another”- except in the case of Jesus. I think Jesus was the greatest missionary that ever lived.
PAULIST: But why do you think that the Bible covers so much of Paul’s life if he is not to be a role model for us?
CHRISTIAN: Probably the same reason that the Bible covers the lives of Solomon, Jonah, and all the other authors of Scripture who were not perfect. Paul’s life is an example, sometimes good and sometimes bad. He is should not be our model. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not automatically assume that whatever Paul did was correct. Jesus is our only perfect role model. If we just took Paul’s letters at face value without having Luke’s inerrant account in Acts that exposes some of Paul’s flaws, we would be tempted to think that Paul was some sort of superman, like a second messiah.
PAULIST: Yes, there are some “problem passages” in Scripture where it appears that Paul was inconsistent, but many good Bible commentaries and other books provide an explanation and justification for most of these “problems.” There is general agreement among most Evangelical scholars here.
CHRISTIAN: I agree with most Evangelical scholars on most issues. However, when it comes to the interpretation and application of the inerrant account of Paul’s ministry in the second half of Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, my understanding is different than some of them. Many of these scholars approach this portion of Scripture with an unstated premise, or underlying assumption, that I do not share. They preach the life of Paul as if it were the perfect life of Jesus. They take a deductive, “Paulo-centric” approach instead of an inductive, “Christo-centric” approach. They tend to use Paul’s life as the standard that trumps his teaching, or any other part of the Bible. They start from the premise that whatever Paul did was correct, and then they search the Scriptures for verses to back up this forgone conclusion and explain why Paul was correct. They assume that if Paul disagreed with anyone, Paul was right and everyone else was wrong. They assume that Paul was always perfectly in God’s will, and always obeyed God’s leading. In many cases, Paul is to Evangelicals as the Virgin Mary is to Roman Catholics.
PAULIST: Are you saying that all these Bible scholars are wrong?
CHRISTIAN: Lets think about how Jesus, Martin Luther, Copernicus and Galileo responded to the traditions of the Bible scholars of their day. We all know how Jesus was often at odds with the Scribes and Pharisees about their traditional interpretation of the Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church put their tradition above Scripture, and Martin Luther cried out for “Sola Scriptura”. Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, observed that the sun is the center of the solar system, and the earth revolved around the sun. Later the Italian mathematics professor Galileo agreed with him. In 1632 Galileo published, “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems”, which put forth the idea that the sun was at the center, not the earth. Galileo was convicted of “suspicion of heresy”, and spent 10 years under house arrest, because the Bible scholars of his day were so sure that, according to the Bible, the sun revolved around the earth. Copernicus and Galileo did not challenge the inerrancy of Scripture- they challenged the traditional interpretation of Scripture common in their day, which put the center of the solar system in the wrong place. Likewise as Christians today, we cannot put Paul, an imperfect man of the earth, at the center of our faith- we must be centered on The Son, Jesus Christ, and revolve around Him. Jesus Christ is the center.
PAULIST: Isn’t this kind of a “slippery slope”? If you start questioning things Paul said and did, where will it end?
CHRISTIAN: We face slippery slopes every day in life. The way to deal with them is to remain walking in close relationship and constant communication with our Lord Jesus, in prayer, worship, and the Word. We should not be like the Scribes and Pharisees who tried to create a religious “system” that they could master and control. “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” [Psalm 145:18]
PAULIST: I’ll have think about this.
CHRISTIAN: Jesus reminded us that He is the center in the closing chapter of the Bible, with these words [Revelation 22:13, 16]: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End… I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”