The Jesus Paul Preached

W. Terry Varner
October 5, 2014

Paul said he preached “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). It ought to be the case that a study of Paul’s Epistles would reveal “The Jesus Paul Preached.” Paul does preserve a teaching of Jesus not found elsewhere in the New Testament. He told the Ephesian elders that Jesus taught: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In that Paul’s Epistles are among the earliest writings of Christianity, we ought to be able to know what the early Christians believed about Jesus. Remember that God made Paul an apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15; 13:46; 26:17).

Some Facts from Paul’s Epistles. One would reason that a devoted follower of Jesus would include two things within his writings. First, references to the teachings of Jesus, and Second, references to other events in His life other than the cross and the resurrection. There are very few references in his Epistles to these two points. This is also true of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. Two of these Epistles were written by James and Jude, the brothers of Jesus. Both were raised in the home with Jesus at Nazareth. Neither make any reference to any event nor preserve one teaching of Jesus. John’s Epistles follow the model of Paul’s writings. Peter leaves a clear reference to the example of Jesus at the crucifixion (1 Peter 2:21-24) and a reference to His transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). However, with this said, the Epistles of Peter give no clear reference to any other event in Jesus’ life.

The Center of Paul’s Preaching. If Paul’s Epistles, as well as the other Epistles, do not center on the life and teaching of Jesus, then on what do they center? The Epistles of the New Testament center on Jesus’ death (cross), resurrection, and ascension. Paul was “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The writers were “cross-centered.”

It is inconceivable that Paul would preach Christ and disclaim “all knowledge of the particulars relating to the historical Jesus .... If Paul used of Christ the highest predicates, Son of God, the Lord, the Judge, the Saviour; if he desired to make any impression upon his hearers . . . he must show who [Jesus] was thus an historical person; he must be ready with the proofs that this man was in truth the Christ, and it was impossible that this could be done except by the method of instruction and information as to the lire which Jesus lived and the work He accomplished” (Knowling 216-17).

Paul and his Epistles are unexplainable apart from the historical Jesus. Jesus was a historical person. Paul wrote: “Then last of all He was seen of me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). He argues that Jesus is historical. “Christ died for our sins ... He was buried, and that He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This is historical testimony that Paul has seen Jesus. This is testimony with confidence.

What the Epistles of Paul Tell Us about Jesus. They teach among other things that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:3). He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), implying no seed of man was involved. He lived under the Law of Moses (Gal. 4:4). He lived life in all ways that each of us have lived “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-16). He was crucified under the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate.

The Christian world would have been poor indeed if Paul’s Epistles had become lost. In Paul’s discussion of the relationship between the historical Jesus and the life he lived in Jesus, Paul makes clear the historical Jesus. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philip. 1:21). “For I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The Jesus in whom Paul believed cannot be separated from a living, historical Christ. If Jesus had not lived, then Paul’s faith was without content and substance. Paul claimed no significance beyond being an apostle of Jesus. His importance was not in him, but was centered in “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).