Graham Paul’s book The Importance of Jesus’ Teachings, is a New Zealand manifestation of a rising tide of anti-Pauline sentiment. The “Jesus Only” crowd identify conflict between Jesus’ words, life & teaching (Kingdom teaching) and that of Paul (justification by faith). The book is well laid out and easy to understand – perhaps a little less easy to digest if taken in “full-stride”! It’s a book of theology with a powerful message and deep personal challenge. The author takes one side of the divide, strongly, thus lacks the wisdom that balance brings but his message is important to all, nonetheless.
A decade after being Called Out of the mainstream religious systems of Christianity, I’ve gotten used to having to digest and deal with theological issues for myself. It is not my natural inclination to deal with theology (I much prefer others to squabble about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin) but being outside now I have to. When submitting to an organised church structure we have no choice but to comply with the theology of that leadership. This makes it simple for all but the most independent of thinkers. This book is a huge theological statement and this makes us think!
When in the Catholic church we do things the Catholic way with religious symbolism and rules to the fore [the Pope has an elevated position of authority & as an outsider I am not permitted to partake in Communion, etc]; likewise with Lutheran doctrine focused on justification by faith [my original denomination of conversion was Lutheran]; when attending and committing to Valley Road Baptist Church, I got baptised and learned to dance under the guidance of David & Dale Garrett [a real challenge for a very insecure young guy with two left feet]; while ‘under’ Bishop Brian Tamaki, I dressed with formal attire and tithed religiously [by choice] and when in the Assemblies of God movement I acted along with my other ‘happy-clappy’ friends [shock, horror – I was free to raised my hands during worship!].
Unless we are happy to let life pass us by and we simply don’t care, going alone requires us to think for ourselves, and to wrestle with the deeper theological questions that exist. Jesus vs Paul is one of those tricky ones that Graham Paul tackles, presenting his case that Paul’s wrong and Jesus’ teaching alone is the answer. The very title of the book makes his position clear . . . “The Importance of Jesus’ Teachings”.
Graham does a good job of laying out his case. He is writing for people who have never considered the possibility that Paul got it wrong. That Paul’s teaching contests & conflicts with Jesus and His teaching may seem blasphemy to most Evengelicals and probably most Protestants but there are certainly real issues to work through.
Graham Paul (b. 1963) is a part-time doctor of Medicine [Australia], living in Christchurch, NZ, with a son whom his wife homeschools. He is involved with House Churches and had major spiritual experiences in 1982 (which led to his medical training), in 1993 (which led to a positive change in his life practices) and in 2008 (which led him to his focus on Jesus’ teachings).
He breaks his message down into six parts, each with a chapter, a key concept summarised and then his explanation/teaching. This makes it easy to navigate and to understand his message. Reading his layout and structure gives a better understanding than if I attempt to recap the entire book so here it is:
A. Why Jesus’ teachings are so important
A1. Christians believe Jesus came from God and spoke the truth
A2. All the blessings of Jesus’ new covenant are conditional upon us keeping Jesus’ teachings
A3. Jesus’ teachings are for all the nations
A4. Jesus’ teachings continue to apply until the Day of Judgment
A5. Covenants and the Law of Moses
A6. Jesus’ teachings define the new covenant
A7. Jesus’ new covenant was completed at the Last Supper
A8. Teachings after Jesus cannot redefine the new covenant
B. What Jesus Taught
B1. Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and How to Enter it
B2. “What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”
B3. Overview of Jesus’ main teachings
B4. Overview of the Law’s main features
B5. Relationship between Jesus teachings and the Law
B6. Minor confusing issues: Sabbaths, Tithing and Circumcision
C. The History of the Bibles
C1. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the best records we have of Jesus’ teachings
C2. What “Bible” did Jesus use?
C3. Different Churches have Different Bibles
C4. Definitions of “Bible”, “Scripture” and “Testament”
C5. The Nature of Biblical Writings
C6. Types of books in the bibles
C7. How should we view the books in a bible?
D. Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s teachings
D1. Jesus’ gospel was complete
D2. Paul of Tarsus’ life overview
D3. Paul’s gospel to the Romans
D4. James said faith without works is dead
D5. John said a righteous person does righteous actions
D6. A closer look at Paul’s gospel in Romans
D7. Other differences between Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings
D8. How should we view Paul?
E. Issues surrounding Paul
E1. Reasons why Christians assume Paul was infallible
E2. History of the development of the bibles
E3. Churches can make serious mistakes
E4. The History of Jesus-and-not-Paul groups
E5. How could God ever “allow” such things?
F. Summary and Conclusions
And of course as you can see from the headings laid-out above it is that Paul got it wrong, it’s “Jesus only”.
I quote from his Summary [references removed]:
Jesus said that all the blessings of the new covenant – eternal life, the Holy Spirit, freedom from sin, answered prayer, and the love and presence of the Father with us – are conditional upon keeping his teachings, which are recorded in Matthew Mark Luke and John. Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and teach people to obey his teachings.
Jesus’ teachings can be summarised as loving God with all my heart mind soul and strength; and loving my neighbour as myself. These have many aspects to them.
Jesus teachings included all of the Law of Moses, but with the important difference that loving God is done via the Holy Spirit instead of via the temple and its priests; and Jesus did not include the Law’s national functions. This was probably because he knew that the temple would be destroyed and Israel exiled in 70AD, making the temple form of worship and national functions impossible until such time as Israel and the temple are restored.
Later, Paul of Tarsus became a Christian and preached a gospel which differed significantly from Jesus’ teachings, especially on the need to keep any of the Law in order to gain eternal life. Examination shows that Paul’s gospel was based on the incorrect assertion that “no one is righteous”, which is contradicted by numerous instances of righteous people under the Law. Paul quoted phrases from the Psalms out of context to create the (wrong) impression that everyone was sinful and no one was righteous.
To the reader who still finds it hard to believe that Paul could be wrong, let me offer this truth:
A retelling of the gospel by an apostle cannot be more reliable than the original gospel taught by Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. You will come to no eternal harm by following the original, which I encourage you to do.
Writings supported directly by Jesus are the Gospels, Law, Prophets and Psalms, since he either spoke them (Gospels) or quoted from them. However, the churches have compiled bibles with many additional writings besides, notably Paul’s letters, some of which conflict with Jesus’ teachings.
We need to follow Jesus’ teachings in Matthew Mark Luke and John; and the Father sends the Holy Spirit to help us with this. We should ignore all other teachings which are contrary to Jesus’ teachings and not be led astray by them, even if they are “apostolic” or church teachings widely held in high esteem.
The False Dichotomy
Author Graham Paul is not alone in his teaching – simply search for “JESUS vs PAUL” to see the similar teaching – but his conclusion that there is total error on Paul’s part grates with me. Yes, true, I can recognise the strong influence of Pauline doctrine within my Christian walk having been involved in mainly Protestant churches for decades, but limiting the number of options here to two – making this a binary, right/wrong, black/white, Jesus vs Paul is to me a logical fallacy, technically called a false dilemma.
While the author has taken a strong theological stance, essentially boiling down to; I’m with Jesus, I’m right, Paul’s wrong, others attempt (as he says himself in the book “unsuccessfully”) to merge the two into a coherent message. It takes an impartial big-picture approach to see beyond any theological argument. This is one of the reasons that I try very hard, as a big-picture thinking truthseeker, to stay out of theological arguments!
Amalgamating two conflicting positions may not be successful but I like Scot McKnight’s commentary on this supposed conflict where his take is that in the context of the Gospel, both messages can be seen as valid. The link is to a six page article and for me, the key arguments are in the latter sections.
I endorse Graham Paul’s dedication to hearing and doing that which Jesus commanded, and also his clear intent to present the positive side of this issue (focusing more on Jesus’ teaching rather than Paul’s supposed failings) but I do not concur with his contention that Paul will probably not be hearing the words, “Well done good and faithful servant!” but that he and his followers will. There are too many theological matters to squabble about when you get into this “Paul is wrong” thing and I’m not up to that theological challenge.
My take though is that when we do accept and apply the ‘gospel of grace’ [which is the heart of Paul’s teaching], it is only natural that we seek to hear and obey the Master [which is the heart of Graham Paul’s teaching] . . . this is the process of sanctification, the life-long process of becoming like Christ.
This then causes us to see and understand the importance of Jesus’ teachings . . . naturally.
I came to learn of Graham Paul’s work from a friend who intended to help me in some Samoan matters. The impact of this book on his life was seriously unnerving to the point of concern. I know that the simplicity of following Jesus’ teachings can be hugely threatening to many but I saw the signs of cult leadership with my friend’s total dedication to the principles of Jesus Only cutting off natural relationships elsewhere. This sort of blinkered thinking for the sake of it, is not ‘of the Lord’.
I quote from my friend who had reneged on an agreement:
. . . the direction I want to go, that direction being a ministry based upon “The Importance of Jesus’ Teachings” . . .
I guess I knew we weren’t really on the same page when you palmed off Graham’s document as theological and that you weren’t particularly interested in theology! That’s OK, I am well used to most (almost all) readers rejecting it, either whole or in part. I understand the various reasons, and I am not offended! As for me, Graham’s work has been positively life-changing and I am completely committed to it. Taking the time this week to seek where the Lord wants me, my heart is at peace with the challenges of presenting Jesus’ teachings . . .
Graham has run seminars, training and conferences in the past and taken a leadership role in and around this book. I sought to discuss his book and the way he approaches his ministry with a view to assessing the early signs of cult leadership that I saw in my friend’s attitude, essentially what I saw as one of idolatry, placing his commitment to this book. I would be concerned if there are others in the same boat.
I will update this post if or when he returns my call.
In the meantime however, to others who seek to hear and do the will of God, it may be possible to obey the teachings of Jesus (both His historical teachings AND in the present time through the work of the Holy Spirit) without rejecting the writings, teaching, life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. I would also encourage a deliberate retention of relationships with those outside of the “Jesus only” adherents to avoid any cult-like tendencies.