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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peter Vs. Paul: Did Paul Change the Gospel Message?

I. The Charge against Paul, the Apostle

One of the many objections to modern day Christianity, none has excited the masses as much as the idea that the Apostle Paul changed the Gospel message. For this reason,  many accuse modern Christianity of being the church of Paul than the Church of Christ and his original Apostles. Seeing that it was Peter that was to originally head the Church (Matthew 16:13-20; John 21:16+17), appointed by Jesus himself, they supposed that Paul was clever and smart man (not saying that he wasn't a smart man) who knew he could not stop the movement which he persecuted, at that time called "the way" decided to later join it. After awhile he took the movement away from the original Apostles and firmly planted it in the Gentile world. They who make such an accusation of the Apostle Paul neglect the fact that the Apostle Paul was also made an apostle by Christ himself after a confrontation between Saul (now known as Paul, the Apostle) of Tarsus and Jesus, the Christ on the road to Damascus.(Acts 9:1-16, 22:1-15). What gets lost in the debate is also the fact that Peter was to be the first preacher and spokesman of the Church, which was a position appointed by Jesus himself before his ascension, while the Apostle Paul was to be the great missionary Apostle to the Gentiles or the nations,(Galatians 2:1-10  ) Peter's missionary ministry was to be toward the Jews. Peter's ministry to the non Jewish nations or the Gentiles occurred after Paul's death. So Peter's initially ministry was to the Jews in and about Jerusalem. Let see how that all came about.

II. The Initial History of the Gospel Message

In the early days of the Church, the Christian community in Jerusalem were primarily made up of Jews that had converted to "the way" and felt that it was to the Jewish population that the Gospel of Christ must be preached to. Not one of them conceived of the notion to share the Gospel with a Gentile, forgetting the great commission that Christ gave them to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. One day all that changed, for Peter was instructed by the Spirit of God to not discriminate when sharing the Gospel to the Gentiles. (Acts 10). During sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles in Ceasarea, Peter came to the revelation that ".... Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." (Acts 10:34+35) Peter was called to the church council in Jerusalem to explain his actions (Acts 11:1-18) for He being a Jew went in among the ceremonial unclean Gentiles and preached to them the Gospel. When Peter stood in front of the Jewish church council, he rehearsed to all how God allowed him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles in Ceasarea. After hearing his explanation all the Jewish Christian believers of the church council said, " Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18) This shows that the Jewish Christians thought the Gospel was to be shared with only the Jews that did not yet believe. Right after that, the Gospel spread to Cyprus and the first Christian community was formed in Antioch when Greek and Jewish believers in the Gospel came to Israel from Cyprus to learn more of "the way" which was the name of the movement before the name Christian was assigned to it. To whom the Church council in Jerusalem sent Jewish Christian teachers of "the Way" to ground them in the faith, Barnabas was one of those teachers that traveled to Antioch from Jerusalem to carry out this assignment. It was there people started to call them Christians, (Acts 11:26) from that point on, in order to differentiate themselves from the Jews who did not convert and the Pagans who still did not believe in "the way" . Peter started preaching to the Gentiles, under the direction of God before Paul began to preach to them.

Another reason that we went through these early Church events is to point out the fact that if the Apostle Paul changed the Gospel message and founded the modern Church, where was he when all this foundational stuff was happening not by Paul's direction but rather by the direction of God? The Apostle Paul was being discipled in Damascus (Acts 9:17-20), and preached the Gospel to the Jews during his discipleship in Damascus. When he heard of the Christians gathering in Antioch, he left Damascus and went there. Barnabas met Paul in Antioch, after which the Holy Spirit set them apart for the preaching of the Gospel outside of Israel. (Acts 13:1-3) The question here is, if Paul changed the Gospel Message, why did the Holy Spirit send him and Barnabas out to preach it without correcting his theology? It is because it was not changed as we will see later in this article.

Now after Peter was being hunted down to be martyred by unbelieving men (Acts 12:1-19) like the Apostle James the son of Alpheaus, Paul and Barnabas took up the call to continue the work of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:1-3) Their directives was to approach the Jews first with the message, if rejected by the Jews, preach then to anyone else willing to hear. This is clearly displayed in the book of Acts, where the first place they entered was a Jewish place of worship, when the Jews rejected the Gospel message that they presented, both Barnabas and Paul began preaching to the Gentiles.

The Church grew under the Apostle Paul's ministry, now his first companion Barnabas is important to look at here, because this was the same man who was sent of the Apostles of Jerusalem to ground the young Gentile and Jewish church at Antioch. Barnabas was a teacher, Paul was a preacher, by these two men God founded Churches throughout Asia, Macedonia and Greece. What is so important about Barnabas? Teachers of the faith have a strong challenge and a charge. That is. they are to watch over what is preached and correct any errors or deviation from what supposed to be preached. Such was the role of Barnabas in the ministry with the Apostle Paul. Barnabas was a teacher of "the way", the teacher of the Christian life. So any deviation from what Paul was discipled to preach about Jesus, would have been detected by Barnabas. Barnabas would have departed from Paul and reported to the Church in Jerusalem that the Apostle had gone astray from the fundamental preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Paul would have been ostracized and excommunicated from the fellowship of the Apostleship of the Church. We know that Paul did not go astray from the fundamental elements of the Gospel of Christ, because when Barnabas did disagreed sharply with Paul it was not about his doctrine, or preaching. It was because Barnabas wanted to take again with them John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark and Paul did not want to take him, because Mark deserted them on their first missionary trip. Not because of any deviation to the Gospel message.

Now while Paul and Barnabas was out and about preaching the Gospel, certain Jewish believers in Christ which viewed Christianity as an extension of Judaism's customs and traditions came from Jerusalem teaching the people in Antioch that they had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses in order to be saved. This caused a great rift in the church, so much so that the Apostles in Jerusalem, now headed by James, the Lord's brother had to call a together the Church council to determine whether or not to require the Gentle believers in Christ to keep the Law of Moses. (Acts 15) To this Peter stands up and reminds the council how God allowed him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles to be accepted by them by faith only. The same way they, as all Jews was offered salvation in Christ without any requirement to observe any Law of Moses. What a surprise! It is Peter, a Jewish believer and an Apostle of Jesus that advises the Church council in Jerusalem to not burden the Gentile believers with keeping the Law of Moses, not Paul the Apostle. The reason? Because they came to the understanding that since they and their forefathers could not observe the Law of Moses, how could they expect the Gentiles to live according to the Law of Moses?  Paul and Barnabas, who were also attending the council meeting, then gave a full report of their ministry abroad among the Gentiles and how God worked mighty through them to the saving of many souls. Hearing this argument presented by Peter and the Missionary report of Paul and Barnabas, James ruled that a few simple rules needed to be observed so that the Gentile believers would not be and offense to the Jewish believers in Christ, furthermore James declared that those persons who informed them that they had to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved did not get that instruction or order from the Apostles of Christ. So the Gentiles believers was not required to keep the Law of Moses. Thereby confirming the Apostle Paul's Ministry to the Gentiles and to the Jews of those other nations. This again indicates that the Apostle Paul did not deviate from the elements of the Gospel, that he was discipled to preach. For if he did, Barnabas, Peter and the rest of the Apostles would have corrected Paul. No such correction of Paul's Gospel presentation is noted in the Book of acts by the Church council in Jerusalem

III. The Gospel presentation of Peter Vs. the Gospel presentation of Paul
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This now brings us to the issue of what was the original Gospel message and what was the Gospel message that the Apostle Paul preached. Is there any difference? If so why, and was it necessary? Does it prove the argument that Paul changed the Gospel message? In order to determine the answers to these questions we need to see the elements of the preaching of Peter in comparison with that of the Preaching of Paul. The way we must investigate this issue is comparing the Gospel elements in Peter's Preaching to the Gospel elements in Paul's preaching.

Peter's elements of the Gospel are as follows:

1) That Jesus is Lord [God] and Messiah [Christ] -Acts 2:36
2) That Jesus is God's appointed servant which was slain- Acts 3:22+23
3) That Jesus is God's resurrected Son- Acts 3:26
4) That Jesus is God's chosen Savior [Christ, Messiah]of Mankind- Acts 4:12

These listed above were the elements that made up Peter's Gospel message. So what is Paul's elements of the Gospel?

Paul's elements of the Gospel are as follows:

1) That Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God- Acts 9:20, 13:33
2) That Jesus is the promised Messiah [Christ]- Acts 13:33
3) That Jesus is the slain Messiah [Christ]-Acts 13:27-29
4) That Jesus is the resurrected Messiah [Christ]- Acts 13:30+31

These listed above were the elements that made up Paul's Gospel message. We must note here that the Apostle Paul spend some time being discipled by the believers in Damascus before he began to make his Gospel presentation after he converted to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The question is, is the same Gospel as the one Peter preached? When we closely compare the Gospel presentations of Peter and Paul, we find the following points between the respective elements of their Gospel messages to be similar.

1) The Divinity of Jesus

a)Peter states that Jesus' status is elevated to that of "Lord" in Acts 2:36. The Greek word that is translated to this English word "Lord", I have discovered that it also means "Supreme over all" and "God". Peter therefore testifies therefore that God elevated Jesus to divine status equal to His own divine status.

b)Paul states that Jesus' status is elevated to that of being "the Son of God" by reason of Jesus' relationship to God the Creator. God is the Father of Jesus, naturally born to Him and thereby Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. God the creator made Jesus divine, through the process of natural child birth He made him God and man -Acts 9:20, 13:33

2) The Messiah ship of Jesus

a)Peter states that Jesus was Christ. Christ is the English translation of the Greek word which is also a translation of the Hebrew word that is again translated into the English word Messiah. In other words, Christ and Messiah are terms that refer to the same thing. They are exchangeable in English. It is notable that Peter only uses the word "Christ" when speaking in reference to Jesus when he needs to communicate to an audience that knows Greek and or Hebrew.- Acts 2:36, 4:12

b)Paul also states that Jesus was Christ [Messiah] that was prophesied about by the Holy Prophets in his Gospel message.-Acts 13:23

3) The Death of Jesus, the Messiah [Christ]

a)Peter states that Jesus, the chosen Messiah [Christ] was slain -Acts 3:22+23

b)Paul also states that Jesus, the Messiah was slain-Acts 13:27-29

4) The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah [Christ], God's Son

a)Peter states that Jesus, God's son and appointed Messiah was resurrected from the dead by God the
Creator.- Acts 3:32

b)Paul also states that Jesus was raised up from the dead by God the Creator- Acts 13:30+31

As we can see, Peter and Paul used the same four elements in their Gospel presentations: 1)The Divinity of Jesus, 2)The Messiah ship of Jesus, 3) The death of Jesus, the Messiah and 4) The Resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Seeing that they used the same elements in their Gospel presentations, this proves again that the Apostle Paul did not change the Gospel Message in any elementary way. However, there is a noticeable difference between their Gospel presentations. The difference is seen in the perspectives they each preached from as well as the audience they preached to.

IV. The Differences Between the Gospel Presentations

When Peter preached the Gospel, he preached it from the perspective of being an eye witness. When Paul preached the Gospel, he preached it from the perspective of being a second hand witness. The difference between that being a first hand witness and a second hand witness is the quality and the credibility of sources. Peter quality of sources were the other Apostles who walked with Jesus, heard Jesus teach, seen Jesus suffer and seen Jesus be crucified. He and the Apostles also seen Jesus alive after his passion and fellowshiped with Jesus for 40 days (Acts 1, John 21). So Peter's sources for his Gospel presentation are of the highest quality and authenticity. Now this is important to understand, the second hand witness presentation of Paul rests upon the quality and authenticity of his sources. If there is a degree of a lesser quality of credibility, then Paul's Gospel presentation is of lesser credibility than that of Peters. So what are the Apostle Paul's sources for his Gospel presentations? They are the same Apostles of Christ and the disciples who heard Jesus speak, seen Jesus suffer and die on the cross and seen him be raised from the dead. Paul's Gospel presentation was not questioned by the Apostles of Christ when He and Barnabas made their missionary report to them. (Acts 15) After Peter presented the argument to not burden the Gentile believers in Christ with the keeping of the Law of Moses, which no one Jew of them could keep. The salvation of God was presented to the Jews not on the basis of keeping the Law of Moses' administration, but rather it was offered to them on the basis of faith on the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah [Christ]. It appeared to them that God made the same offer to the Gentiles who would choose to believe in Jesus, the Christ and to make them observe the law that no one could keep except for Jesus was not just or fair or right. This was also the offer of salvation in Paul's presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles and Jews outside of Israel. So we see here that the quality and credibility of Paul's presentation of the Gospel is equal of that of Peter's for they both testified from the same sources. Even though Paul is preaching from the perspective of a second hand witness, his Gospel presentation is equal to Peter's Gospel presentation.

Another difference between the Gospel presentations of Peter and Paul is that Peter's presentations were geared toward the Jewish audience until he was directed to make a presentation to the Gentiles in Ceasarea. Paul's Gospel presentations took on the added elements of preaching against idolatry and Paganism, elements that Peter never had the opportunity to develop in his early  Gospel presentation. Peter's missionary work did not start until Paul met his end. Peter's work was more about the encouragement of the believers that Paul and Barnabas was used of God to reach with the Gospel presentation. This however. does not indicate a change in the Gospel message by Paul, for Peter did not come behind Paul to change what he had preached to them for them to believe for their salvation. Peter rather came behind Paul to confirm what he taught in those fledgling churches. When Peter preached his Gospel message, he emphasized the knowledge of the ministry of God through Christ to the Jews and accused the Jews of slaying Christ. Paul used the knowledge of his audience conscience of righteousness, their spiritual awareness and revelation of the mystery of the Gospel when preaching his Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles outside of Israel.

V. The Verdict

So the question is, was this enough of a change to make Paul guilty of changing the Gospel message? The answer is no. Why? Because when Peter had to make a Gospel presentation to the Gentiles in Ceasarea under the direction of God, he adjusted his message and did not accuse the Gentiles of slaying Jesus. He left that accusation squarely up his Jewish brethren that did not believe in Christ. He rather told the Gentiles what the Jews did to Jesus, the Messiah. They heard, and believed and thereby received Christ. Paul preached and those who heard him also believed the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Since then the Gospel message has been presented in various ways but always remaining true to the fundamental elements of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ which always contains the four elements first proclaimed by Apostles Peter and Paul. To them and the rest of the Apostles the Church of Christ owes its growth and founding beliefs that has lasted for over 2000 years without change.
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