Is Paul’s Gospel Out of Step with the Teachings of Jesus?

According to some critics, Paul hijacked Christianity. He preached an entirely different Gospel than Jesus. We are asked why Paul’s teachings and tone are so different than what we read from Jesus in the four Gospels. Plus, there are times that Paul and Jesus are seemingly at odds with each other. Critics will say that modern Christians don’t believe in Christianity, but Paulinism.

One natural response would be to say that Paul had a lot more to say about the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just going to come out and say what his death would accomplish, he was cryptic about it. But another response would be, “is their teaching really all that different?”. Because there are literally dozens of times where Paul and Jesus are on the same page. Let’s take a look at a few.

34 Times Paul Is on the Same Page as Jesus in the Synoptics

1. God can be referred to as “Abba”. (Romans 8:15, cf. Mark 14:36) 

2. We are to give to God what belongs to God. (Romans 12:1-2, cf. Mark 12:17) 

3. We’re to bless those who curse us and love our enemies. (Romans 12:14, 19-21, cf. Luke 6:27-28) 

4. We’re to live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18, cf. Mark 9:50) 

5. Love fulfills God’s law. (Romans 13:8-10, cf. Mark 12:28-33) 

6. We’re to remain alert to Christ’s coming. (Romans 13:11-14, cf. Luke 21:28, 31, 34) 

7. We’re not to judge others. (Romans 14:1-13, cf. Matthew 7:1-2) 

8. All foods are clean. (Romans 14:14, 20, cf. Mark 7:15)

9. Salvation is open to the Gentiles. (Romans 15:8-9, cf. Matthew 8:11) 

10. We’re to be wise as serpents regarding what’s good and as innocent as doves regarding evil. (Romans 16:19, cf. Matthew 10:16)

11. The kingdom is offered to those of low status. (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, cf. Luke 10:21-24)

12. Ungodly men seek a sign. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25, cf. Luke 11:29-32)

13. The Gospel will offend many. (1 Corinthians 1:23, cf. Matthew 11:6)

14. We are called to be trustworthy stewards who will one day be judged by Jesus. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5, cf. Luke 12:41-46) 

15. We’re to expect mistreatment in kingdom work. (1 Corinthians 4:12-13, cf. Matthew 5:11-13)

16. Remaining single is a gift from God. (1 Corinthians 7:7, cf. Matthew 19:12)  

17. Divorcing a woman to marry another is adultery. (1 Corinthians 7:10-12, cf. Mark 10:11-12)

18. People must take care not to cause others to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13, cf. Mark 9:42)

19. Those that preach the Gospel should be financially supported. (1 Corinthians 9:14, cf. Luke 10:7)

20. We are to practice the “Lord’s Supper” or communion. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, cf. Mark 14:22-26) 

21. Faith moves mountains. (1 Corinthians 13:2, cf. Mark 11:23) 

22. Our earthly temple is “made with hands” but we shall inherit a temple “not made with hands”. (2 Corinthians 5:1, cf. Mark 14:58)

23. If we give, it will be given to us. (2 Corinthians 9:6, cf. Luke 6:38)

24. Kingdom work is accompanied by signs and wonders. (2 Corinthians 12:12, cf. Mark 6:7)

25. Knowledge of Jesus’ identity comes from divine revelation. (Galatians 1:12-16, cf. Matthew 16:16-17)

26. Rejecting God’s messenger is rejecting God. (1 Thessalonians 4:8, cf. Luke 10:16)

27. Jesus is returning. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, cf. Mark 13:26-27)

28. The day of the Lord is unexpected. (1 Thessalonians 5:6, cf. Luke 12:39)

29. We must return evil with good. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, cf. Matthew 5:39-40)

30. We are not to worry. (Philippians 4:6-7, cf. Matthew 6:25-34)

31. Jesus shed his blood for us. (Romans 5:9, cf. Mark 14:24) 

32. The law is established. (Romans 3:28, cf. Matthew 5:17)

33. Man is sinful. (Romans 3:11-12, cf. Mark 7:21-23, 10:18)

34. The kingdom of God is to be the believer’s central focus. (Romans 14:17, cf. Matthew 6:33)

35. Signs of the end come like birth pains (1 Thess. 5:3, cf. Matthew 24:8)

Note: Most of this list came from Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd’s fantastic book The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition.

Paul Knew Jesus’ Closest Followers and Was a Faithful Messenger

So did Paul preach a message so different than Jesus? We’ve seen that’s not the case.

There’s also the fact that Paul spent 15 days with Peter. This happened 3 years after his conversion. (Galatians 1:18-19) As skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman says, “it defies belief that Paul would have spent two weeks with Jesus’ closest companion and not learned something about him…” (Did Jesus Exist?, 145)  

What Paul would’ve learned would have to include what Jesus taught. And Paul relied much on the oral tradition that proceeded him. On many occasions, Paul speaks of passing teachings he picked up from others. (1 Corinthians 11:2, 15:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

Going back to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we read that 14 years later Paul returns to meet with John, Peter, and Jesus’ own brother James. He submits his gospel to him out of concern that he was teaching a different message. (Galatians 2:2) Rather than being rejected by these men who personally knew Jesus, they endorsed his message and mission to the Gentiles. The only thing that they asked is that he would remember the poor–which Paul was eager to do. (Galatians 2:9-10) It’s interesting to note that the apostles trusted Paul to collect offerings for the poor saints affected by the famine in Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26, 1 Corinthians 16:3, 2 Corinthians 8-9)

Also, the Corinthian church is familiar with Peter and Jesus’ brothers, so they could have cross-checked Paul’s message with them. (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5)

Jesus’ Mission Was To Die — And Paul Taught Why

While Paul’s main interest was teaching on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he clearly echoes and alludes to many traditions attributed to Jesus in the synoptic Gospels. Sometimes directly so. (1 Corinthians 7:10-12, 9:14, 11:23-26, 1 Thessalonians 4:15)

Moreover, the Jesus of the Gospels often spoke of his imminent, voluntary death. (Mark 8:31) And Paul insists that if a person could be made right with God by keeping the law, there’s no reason for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:21) 

If Jesus really thought that a person could have eternal life by following Moses, then why think it’s necessary to undergo a seemingly suicidal mission?  People could simply be Torah-observant Jews, and that would be enough. Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, apparently didn’t think that was enough. (Mark 10:45) To create a wedge between Jesus and Paul is based on a poor reading of the Gospels and the apostle’s letters.

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